There is much more to discuss about the self, but we left something hanging at the end of the second Justice post – whether or not the concept of justice as outlined tended toward a utilitarian justification of anything “for the common good,” or the perceived advantage of the many. I said then that we first had to look into what love means, and I think it is better to do this sooner rather than later.
We tend to use the word love to describe a variety of relational stances: we love our parents or children, our partner, our friends, certain activities, a book or movie, etc. On the more abstract level, of course, people speak of God’s love for them or their love for God, or a kind of universal love. Such wide usage makes discussion problematic, so we have to agree first on what we are talking about. Certainly we are not investigating erotic or sexual love, neither love of God per se. Then let’s dismiss casual usages of love as applied to objects. And while some people might indeed love animals, for example pets, or even flowers as much or more than they love anyone or anything else, let’s focus on love as a human interaction.
The various “forms” of love can be seen as different kinds of love, or degrees or intensities of love. Either interpretation makes some sense – or at least does not stand out as such a glaring inconsistency that we have to think about it – if we are unique individuals relating to each other in an infinite variety of ways. But once we remove the false distinction between self and other, what can it mean to love one, or a few, more than others?
Clearly, a selective kind of love does not fit in with the understanding that we are conscious instances of one life impulse, not really individuals. Theoretically, it would mean loving part of our self more than the rest; but effectively it would mean creating and indulging an extended individual self and neglecting others. The only alternative seems to be that love must be one and the same regardless of who is involved.
Two major objections immediately present themselves. On a personal level, you might assume that loving almost everyone more must mean loving family and friends less. And even if you tried to love everyone the same, how could you love someone you don’t even know as much as someone you know well? I see no way to reasonably overcome these problems if love is something we choose to do, or something we direct this way or that. So the love we are trying to describe must be something else. And obviously it cannot rely on emotion.
What is left is something along the lines of charity, a caring love not motivated by pity or other emotions but by the desire to nurture life in its many forms. The best word I can think of to express this love is compassion, in the truest sense of the word. We will know how to nurture life, how to act in helpful ways, not just by acknowledging our unity, but by entering into an experience of unity, by opening to the experience of the other instances of life around us. And this does not require any kind of mystical union, though of course it does not argue against it. The communication tools we possess in everyday reality are quite capable of confronting us with reality as experienced by people almost anywhere in the world.
What we have, then, is love as life caring for life, which takes care of the “why” in a remarkably simple way. If we are in fact expressions of one self, of one life, then love is nothing more than self-interest or self -perpetuation. And justice is merely the practical application of compassion. It recognizes that mistreating or depriving any part of life hinders evolution as a whole. But compassion is the active principle. It is the lived experience of unity, which provides the necessary motivation not only to behave justly, which could remain passive, but to nurture life as a whole. We do not choose to love and we do not choose whom (or what) to love. Love is simply the response we make when we, as life, recognize our self in the rest of life.
So loving all of life might or might not mean a non-stop emotional high, but it does exclude favoring your family or community to the detriment of others. The active component of compassion also means that you cannot choose to remain ignorant of whatever is not within your immediate environment. Knowing that you are not aware of what is going on in other places, you are compelled to make a reasonable effort to become aware. And becoming aware, you are compelled to take reasonable action that would address any outstanding needs or problems. Because you recognize these are your needs and problems.
Now I think we are ready to return to the question of utilitarianism. But next time, with a fresh start.