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Sunday, March 3, 2024
The Observer

A theory of love

What is Love? Love is a commitment. What is commitment? Commitment is dedication to someone or something. What is love a commitment to? Love is a commitment to the life of its object. The object could be oneself or another self. So, you ask, what then is life? Life is a constant attempt at approximating goodness. But what is goodness? Goodness is attainment of personhood which, as understood in African communitarian philosophy, is embodiment of moral excellence or virtuous living. It starts with conquering our errant and evil passions. Thus, life is the constant attempt to approximate moral excellence, which is its essence. Love, therefore, is a commitment to life thus understood as well as its essence. To love oneself is to be committed to one’s life, i.e., to one’s constant struggle to approximate goodness. To love, therefore, is to commit oneself to another’s life i.e., another’s struggle to approximate goodness. This is also the essence of romantic love.

Three questions arise. Firstly, where does love as described above come from? What causes it? Love is commitment to life and its essence i.e., the approximation of goodness. Life and its essence are immutable. And because love is a commitment to life which is immutable, love is also unchanging. Therefore, because love is unchanging, it cannot come from or be caused by things of a nature different from its own i.e., love cannot come from mutable things. It cannot come from physical attraction or attraction to values or ideas or material things. Beauty fades, money comes and goes, ideas evolve and values change. Because these things change, a love hinged on them must change and cease to exist once they change. But love does not change because it is a commitment to life, whose essence is immutable. So, where does love come from? 

Love comes from understanding. Particularly, love comes from understanding oneself. Understanding life starts with understanding oneself. If one understands that their existence is essentially a struggle to approximate goodness, one is then able to understand that others around them are engaged in a similar struggle. Understanding this enables one to extend their commitment to their life i.e., approximating goodness to a higher level where one can commit to another’s life i.e., to another person’s struggle to approximate goodness. Rising to this level is only possible after one has understood the essence of life through understanding oneself. Thus, when two individuals, armed with an understanding of self — and therefore an understanding of the essence of life as a constant struggle to approximate goodness — mutually agree to commit to each other’s struggle to approximate goodness, we say that they are in love. Indeed, Christ taught this as the second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself."

This understanding of love brings up another question.

If indeed love is as described above, then we can love anybody in this way. Yes, indeed, because we can love anybody in the way described here because we each have the potential to commit to life — our own and that of other people. But if this description of love is also the essence of romantic love, as earlier stated, how are we then to distinguish between romantic love and other kinds of love? The difference is twofold. First, love as here described is not passive. It is a love that requires us to actively intervene in the world to facilitate, encourage and support the other’s struggle to approximate goodness. Amongst all our relations, the degree to which we can intervene is the world is highest for our romantic partners, followed by our close family and perhaps some friends. The second difference is that for our romantic partners, we also happen to share romantic moments. Yet, romance is not the essence of such a relationship unless otherwise stated. Romance is primarily a means of perpetuating our species. That we have enhanced the method of species perpetuation to engender certain delights should not lead us to conflate the form with the substance. Romance, therefore, is but a peripheral aspect of love. It cannot be the basis of love because like material things, ideas and values, it is mutable; its intensity and interest levels fluctuate and wane. The essence of love is a commitment to life which is immutable. 

The third and final question that arises is: what is the character of love as here described? The character of such love is as described by the Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Corinthians. It is patient because it understands that approximating goodness is a lifelong process. It is kind because it understands the struggle in which its object is engaged because its object is of the same nature as its subject. It does not envy or boast, and neither is it proud because it understands that goodness is neither excludable nor rivalrous i.e., all can have it without making the other worse off. It does not dishonor others because it understands that the struggle to approximate goodness, which its subject is also engaged in, brings honor to its object. It is not self-seeking because it is committed to the life of its object. It is not easily angered because it is founded on understanding of itself, its object and of the complicated nature of the struggle both are engaged in to approximate goodness. This understanding predisposes it to sympathy and empathy. It keeps no record of wrongs because it seeks to encourage and support goodness as opposed to sabotage through constant reference to inevitable failings along the way. It does not delight in evil but rejoices in truth because while it is understanding, it is also an honest love that basks in the truth for the truth enhances goodness while deceit undermines it. It always protects its object i.e., keeps its object safe from harm or injury so as to keep it on course. It always trusts because it understands that trust is the foundation of a commitment to each other’s life. It always hopes because it recognizes the best in its object. It always perseveres because it is unconditional and is committed to the essence of life.

Trevor Lwere is a senior from Kampala, Uganda, studying Economics and Global Affairs with a minor in PPE. He is a dee-jay in his free time and can be reached at tlwere@nd.eduor @LwereTrevor on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.