Morality, Metaphysics, and the Romance of Friendship

Fiona Lynch

1. DISINTERESTED LOVE


Robert Spaemann begins his suggestive essay “The Paradoxes of Love” by quoting the empiricists Hume and Hobbes. Hume: “We never advance one step beyond ourselves.” Hobbes: to know a thing means “to know what we can do with it when we have it.”1 That is, human beings are incurably self-interested, lacking any capacity for engaging in anything other than what Simone Weil calls “first-person thinking.”2 Without this capacity, the entire possibility of genuine moral action collapses.

Spaemann advances the existence of friendship and love as a self-evident refutation of such a pessimistic view of human nature, and indeed little philosophical reflection is required to observe the apparent transcendence of self in some quite commonplace occurrences. My friend has had some good news; although it will not materially affect my own life in any way, I am thrilled about it. My friend has undergone some crucial medical investigations. I find myself reluctant to inquire about their outcome; if the news is bad, I am not sure that I will find the right thing to say. But I overcome my apprehension and make the phone call. My friend is very ill. I hate hospitals, but my sense of the duties of friendship surmounts my instinctive aversion to visiting him.

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