Tag Archives | Unethical Philosophy

My Love Must Be a Kind of Blind Love

[Cross-posted at POT]

Continuing the courtly-love theme: the following comments on Andreas Capellanus’s definition of love were written for my mediæval philosophy course page, but I thought others might be interested also:

Love is a certain inborn suffering derived from the sight of and excessive meditation upon the beauty of the opposite sex, which causes each one to wish above all things the embraces of the other and by common desire to carry out all of love’s precepts in the other’s embrace.

(Contrast Richard de Fournival’s more unruly and ecstatic definition of love as “a folly of the mind, an unquenchable fire, a hunger without surfeit, an agreeable illness, a sweet delight, a pleasing madness, a labor without repose and a repose without labor.”)

The word here translated “suffering” is passio, which could be translated as “passion” or still more weakly as “feeling,” “emotion,” or even “undergoing” – though “suffering” does capture the mood of much (not all) of the courtly-love literature that Andreas is seeking to systematise, and what Andreas goes on to say does suggest that “suffering” is the best translation.

It’s worth noting that Wittgenstein argues against this approach to defining love:

Love is not a feeling. Love is put to the test, pain not. One does not say: ‘That was not true pain, or it would not have gone off so quickly’.

Incidentally, writer Steven Moffat puts the Wittgensteinian view into the mouth of Doctor Who: “Love – it’s not an emotion; love is a promise.”

Of course it’s the same author who tells us, in his Jekyll adaptation, that “love is a psychopath,” so make what you will of that:

Returning to Andreas’s definition: Andreas insists that love must originate in “sight,” and accordingly draws the corollary on p. 33 that “blindness is a bar to love.” Yet on p. 35 he tells us that “a well-instructed lover, man or woman, does not reject an ugly lover if the character within is good,” which would seem to cast doubt on the central role of sight. And on p. 92 he has one of his lovers tell his beloved that he thanks God that “it is now granted me to see with my eyes what my soul has desired above all else to see,” since “the whole world extols your virtue and your wisdom,” with the result that he has been “tormented” by “so great an impulse to see you” –implying that he has in effect fallen in love with her sight unseen, or at least gone a long way toward doing so – contrary to the definition.

(That it was possible to fall in love with someone one had never seen or met, simply by reputation, was in fact a recurrent theme in many troubadour love songs, most notably those of Jaufré Rudel, whose songs of amor de lonh, “love from afar,” inspired a probably fictional biography of Rudel himself [involving his falling in love by hearsay with the countess of a Crusader kingdom in North Africa, traveling to meet her, taking sick on the journey, and finally arriving only to collapse dead in her arms], which in turn inspired Edmond Rostand’s play The Faraway Princess – one of two Rostand plays on courtly-love themes, the other of course being Cyrano de Bergerac, which is a perfect example of the adulterous, unconsummated, ennobling passion of a lover who is physically ugly and financially poor, but skilled in both the arts of war and the language of courtship, and worthy in character, and able to win his beloved’s heart when he speaks to her unseen:

Compare also Marie de France’s courtly romance Le Fresne, in which the hero, before ever having met the heroine, “heard tell of the maiden and began to love her”; her Yonec proceeds similarly, while in her Milun and Lanval it is the heroine who falls in love with the hero without having seen him. Ibn Hazm, in The Dove’s Neck-Ring (often regarded as a predecessor to and possible influence on Andreas’s book), notes similar examples in Arabic poetry. Anyway, my point, and I do have one, is that if Andreas’s goal is to systematise the themes of the troubadour songs and courtly romances, then his emphasis on the necessity of sight is probably a mistake, and at any rate he does not seem to have stuck to it consistently.)

Excessive”: Don Monson, in his book on Andreas, argues that the word translated here (immoderata) can simply mean “immense” with no necessary suggestion of being overly immense.

Opposite sex”: one difference between the Christian courtly-love tradition and its Arabo-Andalusian antecedents, as Arabic love-poetry is frequently homoerotic. (Although apparently-homoerotic love poetry is not by any means nonexistent in mediæval Christendom….)

By common desire to carry out all of love’s precepts”: the grammar would be clearer here if the translation read “To carry out, by common desire, all of love’s precepts” – in other words, the requirement that the desire be mutual is part of the object of the lover’s wish. Carrying out all of love’s precepts is one of Andreas’s euphemisms for sexual intercourse (another is the “final solace”).

At least one more post on courtly love yet to come ….


A Question for Latinists

Does Ælred of Rievaulx, in his dialogue On Spiritual Friendship, identify friendship with God?

(No, that’s not the question for Latinists. Not yet. I need to lay out the background first.)

That identification is one of the claims he’s best known for; but the attribution has also been challenged.

As an example of the attribution: in his friendship anthology, introducing an excerpt from Eugenia Laker’s translation of Ælred, Michael Pakaluk (whom incidentally I recall as a T.A. when I was in college) writes:

Aelred ends Book I with the striking suggestion that “God is friendship.” … Aelred’s reasons for holding that “God is friendship” are probably to be located in the doctrine of the Trinity – God as a communion of Divine Persons ….

By contrast, Marsha Dutton, in her introduction to Lawrence Braceland’s translation, says:

Aelred … rejects the temptation to equate God with friendship, an equation that would make God identical with and thereby limited to friendship. … Frustratingly, the misunderstanding that Aelred attempted to avoid by twice explicitly rejecting the identity of friendship and charity is today the treatise’s best-remembered and most frequently quoted idea ….

(Note that Dutton here takes the denial of friendship’s identity with charity to be equivalent to a denial of friendship’s identity with God. On this, see below.)

Well, let’s take a look at the relevant passage.

Some context: earlier in the dialogue, Ælred’s interlocutor Ivo has asked whether friendship (amicitia) and love/charity (caritas, charitas) are the same thing, and Ælred has replied in the negative, on the grounds that caritas is something that Christians are bound to extend to all humankind, even to the wicked and hostile, while friendship can exist only where there is intimacy and mutual trust – although this division between amicitia and caritas is in turn something that exists only because of the Fall and would not have arisen among humans in an unfallen condition. Thus friendship (at least in its highest and true form) is suggested to be greater than caritas, since friendship implies or includes caritas while caritas does not necessarily imply or include friendship.

Ælred has gone on to claim that (true) friendship is like wisdom in that it cannot “entirely” (prorsus) be misused (a qualification that invites more elaboration than it receives), and that although friendship is perhaps technically inferior to wisdom, it is so close to or so pervaded by wisdom that he would “almost say” (pene dixerim) that friendship is “nothing other than” (nihil aliud esse quam) wisdom.

It is at this point that Ivo asks whether we should then say of friendship what St. John says of caritas (“God is love [agapē]; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him” – I John 4:16), namely that friendship is God, or equivalently that God is friendship (Deus amicitia est). And here Ælred replies … well, now it depends on the translation.

In Laker’s rendering, Ælred responds with a yes:

That would be unusual, to be sure, nor does it have the sanction of the Scriptures. But still what is true of charity, I surely do not hesitate to grant to friendship, since “he that abides in friendship, abides in God, and God in him.”

Braceland, by contrast, has Ælred respond, if not quite with a no, than at least with a refusal to say yes:

This is novel indeed and lacks the authority of the Scriptures. The rest of that verse about charity, however, I surely do not hesitate to attribute to friendship, because the one who remains in friendship remains in God, and God in him.

Note that nowhere here is there any hint either of Pakaluk’s suggested reason for a yes (trinitarian considerations) or of Dutton’s suggested reason for a no (namely that if God is caritas, and friendship is narrower than caritas, then friendship must be narrower than God – which I’m not at all sure is how mediævals would have thought such predications worked, especially given that Ælred seems to regard friendship as a higher form of caritas, the form that would have been identical with caritas among unfallen humans). The only reason against the identification of friendship with God that Ælred gives is that it is unusual and lacks scriptural authority; and the only definite reason in its favour that the immediate text offers is that as with caritas (which is God), so with friendship, those who abide in it abide in God and vice versa (which is no surprise if friendship brings caritas with it).

So what does the text I’ve put in bold above actually say? In the original Latin, the phrase is:

Inusitatum quidem hoc, nec ex Scripturis habet auctoritatem: quod tamen sequitur de charitate, amicitiæ profecto dare non dubito, quoniam ….

To me the natural reading of the Latin is:

That is indeed out of the ordinary, nor does it have authority on the basis of the Scriptures: nevertheless, that which follows concerning charity, I assuredly feel no uncertainty in ascribing to friendship, since ….

Laker seems to have taken quod … sequitur de charitate to mean that “whatever follows from [the nature of] charity,” i.e., whatever is true of charity, is likewise true of friendship – which would imply that friendship must be God, since charity is so. The force of the tamen (“nevertheless”: Laker’s “still” and Braceland’s “however”) would then be: despite this identification being unusual and not sanctioned by Scripture, I nevertheless endorse it.

But “follows from [the nature of] charity” does not strike me as a natural reading of sequitur de charitate. If that were what Ælred were trying to say, I would expect sequitur charitatis or sequitur ad charitatem. To me, “that which follows concerning charity” seems to mean, rather, “what the Bible verse goes on to say about charity after saying that charity is God” – namely that those who abide in it abide in God and vice versa – and that would seem to support Braceland’s translation, “The rest of that verse about charity.” The force of tamen would then be: while I’m not prepared to ascribe to friendship what the first part of that verse ascribes to charity (namely identity with God), I’m nevertheless happy to ascribe to friendship the rest of what the verse ascribes to charity.

However, I would welcome confirmation or disconfirmation from anyone with a surer grasp of the nuances of Latin, especially mediæval Latin, than I possess. Hence this post.

If I’m right in my interpretation, though, then Dutton is correct (and Pakaluk, Laker, et al. are wrong) in this respect: Ælred never actually endorses the claim that God is friendship. But again, if I’m right in my interpretation, then Dutton overstates her case in saying that Ælred denies that identification. Instead, Ælred is contrasting what he does not feel uncertainty about (non dubito), namely ascribing to friendship what is said of charity in the second half of the Johannine verse, with what he does feel uncertainty about, namely ascribing to friendship what is said of charity in the first half of the verse. And the unusual and scripturally unsupported nature of the identification seems to be the only reason offered for Ælred’s uncertainty. I can’t see that the text offers either an affirmation or a denial here.


The Talents of Ted Chiang

I’ve just finished reading Ted Chiang’s recently-published second short-story collection, Exhalation: Stories. I’m happy to report that it’s just as good as his first one (from nearly two decades ago – Chiang is definitely a guy who focuses on quality over quantity), Stories of Your Life and Others. (See Joyce Carol Oates’ review of the second collection here.)

Chiang is the kind of science-fiction writer who appeals especially to philosophers (while remaining scientifically literate and responsible). He tackles such issues as free will and fatalism; the impact of information technology on our self-conception; the exploration of world histories, forms of consciousness, and even types of universe very different from our own; and the value of empathy. Even his story titles often evince a philosophical sensibility: “Hell Is the Absence of God”; “Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom”; “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling.” Highly recommended!

His work was also the basis for the critically acclaimed first-alien-contact movie Arrival (the one with Amy Adams, not the one with Charlie Sheen).

I’m currently part of a science-fiction-and-philosophy reading group that recently discussed the first collection and is preparing to discuss the second.

And I can’t quite believe that I’m the first person on the internet to think of this title, but apparently I am. Sorry not sorry.


Do We Need Government? No, But You Need This Anthology

[cross-posted at BHL and POT]

A long-awaited anthology I’m scheduled to appear in (with a couple of pieces on the question “Do We Need Government?”) has now, I hear, been split into two – one volume on metaphysics and epistemology, and the other on ethics, æsthetics, and politics – and in that form (and with a bunch of historical selections deleted) is/are finally slouching toward publication; see the tables of contents here and here. Some old friends are in it/them too, as you’ll see (if you know who my old friends are).

I’m told: “The eText will be coming out in February [2020], with hard copies soon to follow.”


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