Love and Reason

Dear Dr. Hurd:

I have been pondering this (Thomas) Aquinas quote from your site that seems uncharacteristic of your philosophy and I am curious as to its meaning:

“Love takes up where knowledge leaves off.”

I interpret this to mean:

Love is an emotion not based on reason, creating a fantasy to fill in the gaps where actual knowledge of another person is lacking. “Love is blind?”

Dr. Hurd’s reply:

I interpret the quote this way: Lead with your head; then follow with your heart.

That IS consistent with my viewpoint that feelings are based on

assessment (correct or incorrect) of objective reality. This even applies to love. If you love someone or something, it’s an emotion which implies an appraisal of something as correct, valid and true.

“I love John because he’s a great guy.”

John might or might not, in fact, be a great guy. But your very emotion is an expression of some implicit assessment of what constitutes great. It’s like a movie, or a book. One person finds a book or movie great, while another finds the same movie or book flawed, or even terrible. Sometimes this happens because people have different criteria for what makes a movie or book “great” or “terrible.” Sometimes, people actually have the same criteria — but different conclusions. “I agree with you that a great movie is one with lots of action combined with romance; but I don’t think this movie had enough action, and it really dragged at times.”

As with love or hate, like or dislike of movies — so too with people. You love someone because the person, according to your assessment, lives up to what you consider the standard of lovable. I realize that many people are unaware of, and have never even considered, their particular standard of “lovable.” Probably most people are not that self-aware. But that’s the thing about emotions. Emotions imply some kind of standards, even moral judgments. You cannot escape them!

There are those people who like to claim, “There is no right or wrong,” or “There are no value judgments that can be defended or opposed.” OK, but your emotions — assuming you have any — will always claim otherwise. You cannot escape the fact you have emotions, and that they make value judgments for you all the time. More than that, you cannot escape the fact that emotions never lie. Emotions tell you WHAT you love. They don’t tell you why, they don’t guarantee accuracy, and they don’t guarantee a healthy or rationally defensible standard of right and wrong. But that standard is in there, being felt by you, and being processed by your mind, if not intellectually and rationally, then always emotionally.

I don’t know if Aquinas agreed with any of what I’m saying here. I don’t know if I interpreted his quote the way he meant it to be interpreted. I can only tell you how I interpreted it, and how I see it. The most worthwhile love is the kind that’s informed by knowledge. Ignorance and naivetdo not lead to any love worth having or experiencing. Rationality and understanding of what’s true, does.

Love is not blind, or at least should not be. Love does not always know reason, but it had better know reason if it’s not to disappoint or even hurt you. People who love without reasons are no different than people who choose careers without reasons, buy houses without reasons, or do anything else without reason.

When you act and choose without reason, you roll the dice in the most important matters of your life. It might feel good at the time, but it will only feel good later on if you rolled the right way, i.e. got lucky. You’re leaving love up to chance. To an emotionalist, you have no choice, and it’s in fact more ‘romantic’ to choose this way. But we all have to live in reality. Romance is a wonderful dimension of reality ‘ but there still has to be reason.