Saturday, August 07, 2004

Do We Love Only Qualities?

Here is a remarkable passage from Pascal’s Pensees:

A man goes to the window to see the passers by. If I happen to pass by, can I say that he has gone there to see me? No; for he is not thinking of me in particular. But does he who loves someone for her beauty, really love her? No; for small-pox, destroying the beauty without destroying the person, will put an end to love.

And if I am loved for my judgment, for my memory, am I loved? No; for I can lose these qualities without losing myself. Where then is this ‘I,’ if it resides neither in the body, nor the soul? And how love the body or the soul save for these qualities which do not make the ‘me,’ since they are doomed to perish? For can one love the soul of a person in the abstract, irrespective of its qualities? Impossible and wrong! So we never love anyone, but only qualities. (p. 337, tr. H. F. Stewart)


This passage raises the following question. When I love a person, is it the person in her particularity and uniqueness that I love, or merely the being-instantiated of certain lovable properties? These are clearly different. If it is merely the being-instantiated of lovable properties that I love, then it would not matter if the love-object were replaced by another with the same ensemble of properties. But if it is the person in her uniqueness that I love, then it would matter if someone else were substituted for the love-object. It would matter to me, and it would matter even more to the one I love. Now it is a point of phenomenology that love intends to reach the very haecceity and ipseity of the beloved: in loving someone we mean to make contact with his or her unique thisness and selfhood. It is not a mere instance of lovable properties that love intends, but the very being of the beloved. And what some of us of a personalist bent want to maintain is that this intending or meaning is in some cases fulfilled: we actually do sometimes make conscious contact with the haecceity and ipseity of the beloved. But how is this possible given Pascal’s argument?