Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Love at first sight

Victor Reppert quotes the following statement from Bill Hasker:

“The value of free will does not end there. All sorts of relationships acquire special value because they involve love, trust, and affection are freely bestowed. The love potions that appear in many fairy stories (and the Harry Potter series) can become a trap; the one who has used the potion finds that he wants to be loved for his own sake and not because of the potion, yet fears the loss of the beloved’s affection if the potion is no longer used. For that matter, individuals without free will would not, in the true sense, be human beings at all, at least this is the case as seems highly plausible, the capacity for free choice is an essential characteristic of human beings as such. If so, then to say that free will should not exist is to say that we humans should not exist. It may be possible to say that, and perhaps even mean it, but the cost of doing so is very high.”

You know, even if I weren’t a Calvinist, that doesn’t mean I’d be a libertarian. Indeed, statements like this would turn me away from libertarianism.

It’s funny how otherwise intelligent, sophisticated thinkers like Bill Hasker and Victor Reppert suddenly succumb to such sublime Tommyrot when they get on the subject of romantic love.

This is because they begin with a theory. They feel that libertarian freedom must be true. To their mind, it’s necessary to make sense of other things they believe in.

Since it must be true, they then draw a picture of the world to comport with their theory. They are so bewitched by their theoretical commitments that they don’t bother to compare their theory with the real world. It’s the difference between an artist who paints a portrait from a real live model, and an artist to conjures up a portrait out of his imagination, to conform to his feminine ideal—like the ideal of womanhood in the Pre-Raphaelite school of painting.

How does Hasker actually define freewill?

“By ‘libertarian freedom’ is meant freedom such that the agent who makes a choice is really able, under exactly the same circumstances, to choose something different from the thing that is in fact chosen. The choices in question, then, are not causally determined to occur as they do; libertarian freedom is inherently indeterministic. This means that there is nothing whatever that predetermines which choice will be made, until the creature is actually placed in the situation and makes the decision,” Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion, 219.

Okay, let’s plug Hasker’s definition of freewill into Hasker’s illustration of romantic love. Remember that girl in high school you had a crush on? Some of you married her, while some of you pined for her while you watched a rival marry her.

Now, why did you have a crush on her? Did you choose to feel that way about her? Or was the way you felt about her spontaneous and irrepressible?

You simply found her delightful to be around. You couldn’t help yourself.

Of course, we also know from experience that this feeling can wear off. But just as we don’t choose to fall in love, we don’t choose to fall out of love. It just happens.

Right now I’m not talking about Christian morality. How we should choose a mate. I’m just responding to Hasker on his own grounds.

Imagine a love story written by a libertarian. Imagine a high school prom movie in which students “freely” willed themselves to love Susie or stop loving Bobby. It’s unimaginable—except as a spoof of out-of-touch philosophy profs.

Does a boy love a girl for her own sake? Or because she makes him happy? Does a girl love a boy for his own sake? Or because he makes her happy?

From highbrow playwrights like Racine to opera librettists to soap opera screenwriters to lovesick high school students, you’ll never find libertarian strictures at work. It’s a paper theory.

How many times have we seen youthful blond bombshells with fat, bald, middle-aged tycoons? Is it because the woman (wife, mistress, girlfriend) loves the man for his own sake? Is it because the man loves the woman for her own sake? No, the woman loves the man for his portfolio, while the man loves the woman for her body. They’re using each other.

Take two identical twins. Put one in a Hyundai. Another in a Porsche. I predict that this will have a statistically measurable effect on certain members of the opposite sex.

Isn’t that why they make sports cars in the first place? A way to buy sex appeal? Pheromones on wheels. Rent-a-Pheromone. (I have it on good authority that diamonds have the same effect.)

Why does a boy at 15 feel differently about girls than a boy at 10? It’s a little thing called adolescence. A boy at 15 has a built in love potion that’s injecting him with hormones.

Yes, Victor; yes, Hasker—romantic love actually has a wee bit to do with our internal chemistry. Our body mixes up a love potion.

Once again, I’m not discussing Christian morality. A Christian channels his natural impulses. You can either take advantage of nature, or you can let nature take advantage of you. A wise man does the former—a fool, the latter.

I used to take an aging relative to the local beauty school to have her hair done. Every student had her own station. And every station had a picture of The Boyfriend. Every student was orbiting a boycentric universe. Not only was it important for every student to have a boyfriend, but it was even more important for every student to be seen to have a boyfriend. So the student in the next station could see the student in the station right beside her had a boyfriend too.

In a libertarian universe, wouldn’t we expect a bit more nonconformity? Why not a picture of the Alps? But, no, it was always The Boyfriend.


  1. Imagine the marriage proposal: "You know, I really don't feel anything at all when I'm near you. It's not that I dislike you, but if we went our whole lives apart it really wouldn't matter that much. But I choose to love you, and that's enough. Let's get married."

    Compare that to: "Not a day goes by when I can stop thinking about you. Life has no meaning when you're not with me. I have no choice in the matter. I love you. I love you no matter what happens. I can't help it! Let's get married."

    Which seems to correspond to a proper definition of "love"? Which marriage has the better chance of working?

    In point of fact: the only people I can think of that I choose to love rather than just loving spontaneously are those people who I have to love (i.e., the pesky aunt or weird cousin from Iowa or whatever). I have family obligations; therefore, I choose to love them despite the fact I'd rather they not ever drop by and visit. I don't choose to love them for their sake. I choose to love them because duty requires it.

    Somehow this isn't the same thing as hanging out with my brother and my cousin on a Sunday afternoon because it's fun to play video games with them and crack jokes at Simpsons episodes. Somehow, I don't think you can call both attitudes by the same word....

  2. Oh, and one other thing would, of course, be that if love is based on free will choices, then what's the problem with God freely choosing not to love certain people?