A Philosopher's Blog

Love, Voles & Kant

Posted in Ethics, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on March 14, 2014
Español: Intercambio de anillos entre los novios

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In my previous essay I discussed the current theory that love is essentially a mechanical matter. That is, what we regard as love behavior is merely the workings of chemistry, neurons and genetics. This view, as noted in the essay, is supported by Larry Young’s research involving Voles. This mechanistic view of love has some interesting implications and I will consider one of these in this essay. To be specific, I will consider the matter of the virtue of fidelity.

While most of human history has involved polygamous relationships (such as those enjoyed by the famous King Solomon), the idea of romantic fidelity has been praised in song, fiction and in the professed values of contemporary society. Given Young’s research, it could be the case that humans are biochemically inclined to fidelity—at least in the sense of forming pair bonds. Sexual fidelity, as with the voles, is rather another matter.

While fidelity is praised, one important question is whether or not is worthy of praise as a virtue. If humans are like voles and the mechanistic theory of human bonding is correct, then fidelity of the sort that ground pair-bonding would essentially be a form of addiction, as discussed in the previous essay. On the face of it, this would seem to show that such fidelity is not worthy of praise. After all, one does not praise crack heads for their loyalty to crack. Likewise, being addicted to love would hardly make a person worthy of praise.

One obvious counter is that while crack addiction is regarded as bad because of the harms of crack, the addiction that composes pair bonding should be generally regarded as good because of its good consequences. These consequences would be the usual sort of things people praise about pair bonding, such as the benefits to health.  However, this counter misses the point: the question is not whether pair bonding is good (it generally is in terms of consequences) but whether fidelity should be praised.

If fidelity is a matter of chemistry (in the literal sense), then it would not seem to be worthy of praise. After all, if I form a lasting bond because of this process it is merely a matter of a mechanical process, analogous to being chained to a person. If I stick close to a person because I am chained to her, that is hardly worthy of praise—be the chain metal or chemical.

If my fidelity is determined by this process, then I am not actually acting from fidelity but rather merely acting as a physical system in accord with deterministic (or whatever physics says these days) processes.  To steal from Kant, I would not be free in my fidelity—it would be imposed upon me by this process. As such, my fidelity would not be morally right (or wrong) and I would not be worthy of praise for my fidelity. In order for my fidelity to be morally commendable, it would have to be something that I freely chose as a matter of will.

One obvious concern with this sort of view is that it would seem to make fidelity a passionless sort of thing. After all, if I chose to be faithful to a person on the basis of a free and rational choice rather than being locked into fidelity by a chemical stew of passion and emotion, then this seems rather cold and calculating—like how one might select the next move in chess or determine which stock to buy. After all, love is supposed to be something one falls into rather than something that one chooses.

This reply has considerable appeal. After all, a rational choice to be loyal to a person would not be the traditional sort of love that is praised in song, fiction and romantic daydreams. One wants to hear a person gushing about passion, burning emotions, and the ways of the heart—not rational choice.  Of course, an appeal to the idealized version of romantic love might be a poor response—much like any appeal to fiction. That said, there does seem to be a certain appeal in the whole emotional love thing—although the idea that love is merely a chemical romance also seems to rob love of that magic.

A second obvious concern is that it assumes that people are capable of free choice—that is, a person can decide to be faithful or not. The mechanistic view of humans typically does not stop with the emotional aspects (although Descartes did seem to regard emotions, at least in animals, as having a physical basis—while leaving thinking to the immaterial mind). Rather, they tend to extend to all aspects of the human and this includes what we would regard as decision making. For example, Thomas Hobbes argued that we actually do not chose—we simply seem to make decisions but they are purely deterministic. As such, if the choice to be faithful is merely another mechanistic process, then this would be no more praiseworthy than being faithful through a love addiction. In fact, as has long been argued, this sort of mechanistic view would take care of morality by eliminating agency.



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Splitting Marriage: Love Unions

Posted in Philosophy, Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on July 26, 2013
Author: Bagande

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In previous essays I argued in favor of splitting marriage by proposing theological unions (for the religious folks) and civil unions (to cover the legal contract aspect of marriage). However, there does seem to be one aspect of marriage left out, namely the matter of love.

On the one hand, it is sensible to not include the notion of love in marriage. After all, a couple that is getting married does not have to prove that they are in love. People who do not love each other can get married and people who do love each other (in the romantic sense) need not get married.

On the other hand, the notion of marriage for love does have a certain romantic appeal—fueled by literature and movies (if not reality). As such, it seems worthwhile to include a third type of marriage, namely the love union. While the romantic image is appealing, there is also a more substantive basis for the love union.

As noted in another essay, the theological union was proposed to allow people to exercise both freedom of religion and freedom from religion. As was noted in the essay after that, the civil union was proposed to handle the legal aspects of marriage. In the case of the love union, the purpose is to allow couples to create their own relationship bond (and rules) apart from that of religion and the state. That is, this is a relationship defined entirely by the couple. While the couple might involve others and have a ceremony, a love union would not be a theological union and would have no legal status.  That is, the rules are only enforced (or not) by the couple. Naturally, a love union can be combined with the other types. A couple could, for example, get a theological union at their mosque, get a civil union from the state, and then have an event with friends to announce their love union.

Given that the love union has no theological status or legal status, it might be wondered what it would actually do. The answer is, of course, that this would vary from union to union. However, the general idea is that the couple would define the aspects of their relationship that are not covered by theology (which might be all of it) and do not fall under the dominion of the state. This sort of definition might be something as simple as a declaration of eternal love to a fairly complex discussion of the nature of the relationship in terms of rights, expectations and responsibilities. While not every couple will want to establish a love union, this does seem like a good idea.

Love is, apparently, the least important aspect of marriage when it comes to the political debates over the matter. This might be a reflection of the reality of marriage (that it is about religion and legal rights) or a sign of misplaced values. Because of this, I thought I would at least give love a chance.

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Posted in Business, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on February 9, 2011
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Marriage and other romantic relationships have often been cast as being fundamentally economic in nature. In most cases, this perspective has been taken by those critical of marriage (“marriage is long term prostitution”). However, there are some who take a positive view of marriage seen through the lens of economics. One recent book is Spousonomics, which I have not read. Like most men, I’m not much on reading books on relationships. However, hearing about the book did get me thinking about the general subject of casting a relationship in economic terms.

On the face of it, this perspective makes perfect sense. Legally, marriage is fundamentally about property rights: who owns what and who gets what when the marriage almost inevitably fails. However, that part is so obvious that it is hardly interesting to even write anymore about it.  Instead, I will focus on the view that characterizing relations in economic terms is a “bad thing.”

A case can be made for this being, in fact, bad. After all, deep in our secret hearts we want to believe in a love that is pure and unsullied by such matters as value exchanged and crass things like cash. I do, of course, agree with that. Love should not be about money (although money can kill love) nor should it be regarded as a crude matter of toting up gains and losses. However, I do think that it makes sense to consider relationships in terms of value.

While the feeling of love has value, it is one value among many in a relationship. While this might sound cynical, you can test this yourself: imagine that somehow all you have is love for someone and nothing else. No pleasure in their company, no common interests, and so on. Just someone the existence of love. While I suspect that is not even possible, that would seem to show that love is not the sole value in a relationship and is probably not enough to keep a relationship going by itself.

In addition to love (and one hopes that love is at least present) there must also be other matters of value. These things (though I dislike using that word here) could include the pleasure of the other person’s company, shared interests, emotional support, and so on. It is the sum of these factors that make a relationship worthwhile or not. This is, of course, a matter of value.

But, someone might say, this still seems like crude economics. It makes  relationship like a business merger or an alliance: you should be in it if it creates more value for you than the alternatives. That, one might say, is crass economics.

However, I have two responses. First, that is how you, good reader,  really function. Think about it honestly and  consider relationships you have ended and why. Second, this does not so much cast relations ships in a negative light as economics in a better light. Economics is, of course, based on human relationships (and not the other way around). As such, the reason why relationships seem to be analyzable in economic terms is that economics are forms of human relationships. As such, economics can be analyzable in terms of human relationships-although it is but a narrow set of possible human relations.

So, perhaps we should not say that marriage is a form of economics, but that economics is a form of marriage. Or not.

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A Successful Relationship

Posted in Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on March 3, 2009

Being divorced, I know a thing or two about unsuccessful relationships. Of course, my preference is to have a successful relationship. I infer this is true of most people (but not everyone, of course).

While almost everyone wants success and most people have vague ideas about what counts as success, I suspect that most people have not considered the matter in depth.

Naturally, we do have the illusions given to us in fiction as well as the social expectations handed to us by parents, friends, and others. However, these should not be accepted without some scrutiny. After all, why think that their definitions must apply to you?

Hollywood is, of course, not very helpful.  To be fair, the job of the movie folks is not to define successful relationships for the rest of us. Rather, their job is to entertain us in return for our money.  Oversimplifying things greatly, Hollywood tends to portray relations as worse than in real life or far better (“and they lived happily ever after”).

While approaching a relationship like an academic problem might not be the best idea, having an understanding of relationship success seems rather important.  After all, without a notion of success, achieving it would seem to be a matter of luck. To use the obvious analogy, it is like archery-success is more likely if you have a mark to aim for.

While it would be nice if there was one standard of success for relationships, the obvious truth is that success varies from person to person. There is also the added complication that a person could be mistaken in his view of a successful relationship. While these two claims might seem to be contradictory, they are not. After all, think about exercise. What counts as good exercise can vary from person to person. But, a person can also me mistaken-perhaps exercising in a way that hurts her.

Not surprisingly, people typically fall back on the easy and obvious vague answers about success such as “being happy” or “being with the right person.” Obviously, if you are happy and with the right person, then your relationship would seem to be a success. But, what is happiness and who is the right person?

Falling into the easy and obvious answers can be a problem in many ways. One is that a person who falls into them will be less inclined to reflect on the matter, thus making success less likely. Another problem is that the standard of success can often be set too high by the easy, obvious and popular answers. For example, someone might think that success means being happy all the time or that Mr.  or Ms. right has to be amazingly right. However, such unrealistic expectations are almost certain to lead to disappointment and failure.

That said, a person should not make the opposite mistake and set her standard of success too low. For example, a person who thinks that merely having a warm body beside them is success will probably find that disappointing as well.

So, all a person has to do is to find what counts as success for them (making sure that it is not too much nor too little) and then make it happen. Easy enough, right?

Online Dating & Rules

Posted in Relationships/Dating, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on October 1, 2008

I thought I’d take a break from writing about the doom and gloom of the economy and switch to writing about the doom and gloom of dating.

A while back, I wrote a post on online dating and said I had given up on that. Apparently I have what it takes to be a politician: I went back and tried it again. Naturally, this was against my better judgment, but I was having little luck meeting anyone single, compatible and mostly sane via running and social activities. To be honest, I was not really putting much effort into it. My divorce had been my own personal financial crisis and my relationships since then did not work out. As such, I was a bit reluctant to put both my remaining stuff and my heart at risk once more.

So far, the online dating is going as it did before-nothing seems to have changed. The basic rules remain. For example, when you get tired of someone, just stop emailing. There are some pleasant exceptions, of course. As another example, there is no need to actually read anyone’s profile. For us guys, you just look at the picture. For women (or so a woman said to me), you just look at the photo and income. I exaggerate, but only just a bit. After all, I get emails from women who love Nascar, seem to already be in an exclusive relationship with Jesus, and hate to read. I don’t like Nascar, I’m okay with Jesus, and  I love to read. I can only accept the ego boosting view that they were won over by my photos and ignored everything I had to say about my interests and religious views. In case you are wondering, I do read the profiles carefully…after looking at the photos.

One thing I have learned about dating in general is that most women have a set of dating rules. Some women will tell you a few of the rules right away, perhaps out of a sense of fairness or perhaps to show that they are in such demand that they need a codified body of dating law to keep the situation from decaying into a Hobbesian date of nature. Many of these rules involve set time limits for certain events. If the time limit is exceeded, the dating is off. For example, a woman might have a three day rule-you have to meet her in person in three days or the deal is off. Other rules involve certain actions that must be taken. For example, flowers must be sent as a gift or the deal is off.

I have also learned that while women are supposed to be less rule followers than men, they seem to be deadly serious about their dating rules (except, of course, when they are not). From experience, I have learned that if you break one of the rules (known or secret) that is usually it. There are, of course, exceptions but they seem to be fairly rare. In some cases, this response is reasonable. For example, if a woman has a rule that the guy cannot be sleeping with other women when they are dating, then it is fine for her to stop the relationship if she finds out the weasel is weaseling behind her back. In some cases, this response seems a bit insane. For example, if you cannot meet with a woman who has the three day rule until day four due to a good reason (work, for example) and she says “that’s it”, then that would be a bit crazy.

Naturally, it is good to have standards and some rules. However, I think it is a mistake to be strictly committed to rules that seem to be rather arbitrary. On the plus side, a person’s rules tell you a lot about her, so they can be very useful in making your own assessment.

I have most definitely learned that when a woman makes her dating rules known, that I have to either follow them or simply break things off at that point. If she is serious about her rules, then I should respect them. Also, from a practical standpoint, if I am unwilling to accept her rules then it is just going to end anyway-and probably in a bad way. If she is not serious about her rules, but makes it seem that she is, then she is being dishonest. I’d rather not be involved with someone who is not open and honest about her principles and standards.

In my own case, I do have some basic dating rules. I don’t date women I work with, I don’t date women who are likely to try to kill me, I don’t date women who are addicted to drugs, I don’t date women who are emotionally deranged, and so on. Most of these rules are involved in keeping me and my pets alive and my stuff undamaged. I do not think I have any unreasonable rules. But, of course, everyone thinks his/her rules are just fine. So, perhaps I also have some crazy dating rules and don’t realize how crazy they are.

Fortunately, I am at the stage of my life where everything is quite good (aside from being single). As such, I have an excellent incentive to be cautious about dating: I have a lot to lose. So, I suppose my most basic rule is this: I won’t date anyone who will make my life worse. My other main rule is: I will date someone who makes my life better.

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