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Love and Morality: Toward an Ethic of Universal Love


In this dissertation, I examine the normative force of the claim that one should love others.

In the first part of the dissertation I provide an account of loving. In chapter 1, I argue that love necessarily involves activity aimed at benefiting the loved-one for her own sake. In Chapter 2, I develop this definition and argue that loving-activity is activity which aims to contribute to the well-being of the loved-one. I advance this view against the influential view of loving-activity given by Harry Frankfurt, who claims that loving-activity is aimed at the interests of the loved-one. In Chapter 3, I show how theories of listening can help us to understand how those who love can disagree with a loved-one while continuing to act lovingly toward the loved-one. I argue that by listening to the loved-one, one-who-loves allows the loved-one to exercise her ability to direct her own life thereby treating her as an individual and contributing to her well-being.

In the second portion of the dissertation I account for the normative force of the claim that one should love others. While several philosophers have claimed that cultivating love is impossible, I argue in chapter 4 that love can be cultivated. I explore two methods of cultivating love: Stoic oikeiōsis and Buddhist metta meditation. I argue that these methods do in fact cultivate love. In chapter 5, I argue that given the influential account of right and wrong developed by T. M. Scanlon, there can be no moral obligation to love. Finally, I argue in chapter 6 that the imperative to love others expresses a normative ideal, which supports various values including philanthropy, charity, forgiveness, and loving-community. In so far as one embraces the ideal of love, one should recognize the goodness of these values.

As love is a topic that has been neglected by most moral philosophers, the aim of this dissertation is to raise as well as resolve questions about the role of love in moral life. The framework developed in the final chapter is meant to start a conversation about how philosophers could begin to integrate the importance of loving into our normative frameworks.

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