Love and Relationships On Nozick's "Love's Bond" Nozick begins his article by noting that to love someone is (to a certain extent) to regard their well being as linked to your own. There is, he notes, an inclusion of certain individuals (and a regard for their well being) within what he calls "your boundaries." They become part of someone's circle of concern, so to speak. In the early stages of romantic attraction (infatuation if the feelings are somewhat mutual, unrequited love if they definitely are not) our actions reveal an intense preoccupation with the object of our interest. If a relationship manages to move past the infatuation period, according to Nozick, it "transforms itself into continuing romantic love" and the two individuals involved eventually unite to form a new entity known as "we." Nozick goes on to define romantic love as the "want" or desire to form a "we" with a specific person. This desire to become part of a "we" is not something that may or may not happen in cases of romantic love, it is, Nozick maintains, an integral part of what it means to love someone romantically. So what exactly does it mean for two people to become this kind of "we" and become a new entity, and in what does this new entity consist? Nozick proposes the following: 1. Your well being is tied to that of another. This is risky because what adversely affects them adversely affects you. But it also has an upside: what benefits them can benefit you as well. 2. Your autonomy becomes limited, but not entirely vitiated. Decisions on how the "we" unit will live become products of a joint decision process. 3. Becoming part of a "we" affects your identity. You are not just two distinct individuals working and living in conjunction with each other, but a significant part of your identity will derive from being part of this particular union or bond with this particular person. 4. You devote part of your directed attention toward monitoring the other person's well being. 5. There may be a certain voluntary division labour in that both persons take on certain tasks for themselves voluntarily as a way of reducing unnecessary redundancy, or for deeper symbolic reasons. Nozick then goes on to describe how participation in a "we" union can "change the boundaries of the self and alter its topography." Personal boundaries between what is inner and outer become blurred with a degree of overlap occurring. There are two ways to view yourself in this situation, Nozick says, one can either see the "we" as an important part of oneself, or oneself as an important part of the "we". He suggests that the former may be a more masculine view and the latter a more feminine perspective. Nozick also suggests that each person initially desires to possess the other person completely, but that each person needs to see the other person as being sufficiently autonomous in their own right. There is a kind of tension here but it is resolved, he points out, by the formation of a joint identity. Nozick also suggests that by being the object of another's love in the "we" an individual finally receives the personal and exclusive gratification of another that we are denied in the original Oedipal triangle (cf. Freud). At this point Nozick points out a problem with love. Love, in its ideal form, means accepting of people as they are. That is to say, people want to be loved for themselves. But here a complexity develops. The phrase "for themselves" cannot be an empty formula. It must designate some kind of characteristic (of set of characteristics) that someone must possess. But if it is a person's characteristics that we are drawn to, why do we end up loving one person over any over person who has those characteristics? What if those characteristics change or disappear? If we find a better example of someone with those characteristics - why not as Nozick notes, just trade up when the chance arises? (cf. the Problem of Fungibility - Love's Dilemma) But the truth is that individuals in love relationships do not engage in as much trading up as this picture might indicate. Presuming that the project of fostering romantic love is not basically a irrational impulse - how do we explain this preference for exclusive pair bonding with respect to romance rather than widespread cases of "trading up"? Nozick presents a few reasons: 1. Trading up ones romantic partner represents a distinct loss of invested resources. The longer you are together, the harder such a transition is going to be. 2. Even investing the resources to "research" the likelihood of another candidate is likely to have detrimental effects on ones current relationship. 3. There is an element of uncertainty in forming a new relationship. It is one thing to face the element of uncertainty and face the challenge of forming a new relationship when one single or unattached (no better options around to sway ones decision) but if one is already in a relationship that is not entirely unsatisfactory - the risk might then seen as too much to bear. Nozick seems to be quite correct when he notes that people tend not to look to form new love relationships until (at least in their own mind) they no longer see themselves in vested in the relationship: when they decide that they no longer love the other person. Love, Nozick proposes, moves individuals in a direction opposite to that which is proposed by Plato. Plato argued that love moved people from particular things to more and more general considerations and ideas. Nozick turns this notion on its head by suggesting that with time love focuses our attention upon the particular. What we love and are more drawn to as time goes on is "this" or "that" particular individual in all their particularity. This emphasis on particularity combined with the formation of a joint identity (and all of our pre-relationship selves that we invest in this new identity) seem to combine to explain the pull toward intimacy and exclusivity with respect to love relationships. Since sexual intimacy is one of the most personal and intense forms of intimacy, it is not unusual that this form of intimacy would be reserved for those who we are in a "we" relationship with. Nozick notes that the high degree of attention needed to invest in a relationship of a "we" nature may detract from other possible life projects. Perhaps it isn't possible to maintain a satisfactory "we" relationship "and" pursue certain other grand life projects (cf. Paul Gaugain). Finally Nozick talks about how individuals in a "we" bonding sometimes choose to structure their lifestyles to reflect this union (a home, children etc …) and how various bonds serve to change the contours of the self. Intimate bonds like the "we" bond can change a person's life. In this sense they are similar to other life changing experiences such as religious and ideological changes of perspective (depending on how seriously we take them) that can change the topography of our identity. Consequently, this process of developing a new identity and the formation of a new entity are seen as elements in a much more universal process. Identity formation (and re-formation) isn't just something that happens to humans, it is a process that is at the very heart of the human condition. Notes on Conlon's "Why Lovers Can't Be Friends" Conlon claims that the possibility of lovers being friends is mistaken and is based on what he claims is "mistaken model of human intimacy". This mistaken model, Conlon claims, has its roots in Plato's thinking and assumes that: 1. Each human self is a discrete substance combining essential and unique qualities. 2. All attraction is a desire for union. 3. The purpose of this union is to share in, possess or otherwise take part in these qualities. (Stewart 295). As a relationship deepens or becomes more intimate this possessive or participatory overlap increases, supposedly. Conlon notes that as the Platonic lover moves up Diotima's ladder he does not leave anything "significant" behind as he moves along the successive stages in his quest. Only the limitation of the previous manifestations are left behind. The experience of knowledge and acquaintance with the lower forms becomes subsumed within knowledge of the higher forms with nothing important left behind. (Recall in the Symposium how Alcibiades is frustrated with Socrates' lack of interest in him and his beauty. Socrates on the other hand is virtually uninterested in these lower levels of beauty in favour of the higher beauty that is contained in the world of the forms.) The common assumption here, (applied to relationships) is that increased intimacy between individuals subsumes lesser forms of intimacy. Friends who become lovers are now seen as lovers and friends. Conlon challenges this model by suggesting that increased intimacy does not automatically augment or "add something extra" to a present relationship, but that a significant change takes place with increased intimacy. More to the point, Conlon points out that increased intimacy results in a loss of something in a relationship. He argues (in this example) that professional colleagues who become close friends lose the ability to share and relate to one another purely as professional colleagues. The argument seems to be that at every stage in a human relationship there are features of that relationship (kinds of relating or kinds of intimacy) that are unique to that stage and that once that kind of relationship has changed, we can't go back or recapture that particular aspect of the relationship. Perhaps a specific aspect of a relationship cannot be recaptured because its occurrence has to take place under specific conditions, and if those conditions change too much, the conditions for its occurrence are one forever. Plato vs. Nietzsche Conlon introduces Nietzsche's critique of Plato's theory of knowledge. For Plato, all knowing falls into a single continuum that can be subsumed under a form of higher knowledge that helps us to master and understand all the other lower forms of knowledge. Nietzsche rejects this picture of human knowledge in favour of an alternative outlook. Knowledge, Nietzsche argues, is not a single unified body of facts with rules that apply universally, but rather, knowledge mirrors the arts in the sense that what we actually encounter in our attempt to understand the world are different "genres" of knowing. To follow Nietzsche's metaphor further, there are a myriad of genres in the arts (forms of art, music and theatre) none of which can be said to be definitively superior to any of the others. Each genre has standards of its own and it would be a mistake to assume that we could come up with a single, universal set of rules that could be used to evaluate all of these genres. Nietzsche argues that Plato's assumption that there is a single, perfect and unified body of knowledge that stands over and above all others is a "philosopher's dream", but it is only a dream. There is no overarching body of knowledge. There are only genres of knowing or understanding the world, each with its own autonomous means of being good or correct. Conlon applies Nietzsche insight about the nature of knowledge to relationships, which, in a fashion, is a form of knowledge about others. Romantic relationships are not a matter of increasing the degree of intimacy (which is also a kind of knowledge) of a simple friendship along a single continuum where earlier stages are included or subsumed as the same relationship deepens or grows. A relationship can change so significantly that the result is a completely new relationship. Certain formative transitions can alter and even destroy certain aspects of a relationship forever. As Conlon notes, some forms of intimacy will be incompatible with each other and a person will be forced to choose between them. Consequently, friendship and love (romantic love) are, Conlon suggests, two distinct types of relationships. Friends, he argues, share a view of the world and focus their efforts on that vision. They delight in a shared vision of the world and what they can derive from it. Lovers he points out are absorbed in each other and delight from their experience of each other. This alternative model of relationships presents a couple of interesting consequences. 1. It runs contrary to the tendency in our culture to glorify romantic union as the best form of union one can achieve. 2. It explains the awkwardness and puzzlement that results when people try to go back to being "just friends" after having been lovers. The key question seems to be which model most accurately represents the reality of our relationships: Plato single continuum of knowledge that is only changed by degrees, or Nietzsche's vision of incommensurable and autonomous kinds of knowledge. Both articles pose interesting views that attempt to explain why we formulate and maintain the relationships we do. Nozick's article is an interesting attempt to advance a rationale concerning why individuals choose to stay together when certain considerations would seem to dictate that the rational choice would be to "trade up" to a different relationship. Love, Nozick argues, is about forming a joint identity or a "we" and this effort to form a joint identity takes much time and personal investment. But is love really this pragmatic? Is the reason people stay together in relationships really a matter of what business minded individuals would refer to as "sunk costs"? Love and Relationships (Continued) Introduction The readings in this section challenge the assumption that having romantic and sexual relations with more than one person is wrong per se. Wasserstrom examines the issue of adultery and asks what seems (at first) to be an obvious question: what makes adultery objectionable? The answer, he argues, lies in certain assumptions we make about sex and love and what we think their role ought to be in relationships. He then goes on to ask some penetrating questions that are designed to get his reader to think critically about these assumptions rather than take their validity for granted. McCullough and Hall's article is an attempt to provide non-monogamists a glimpse into the rationale behind approaching relationships from a non monogamous perspective. It questions and challenges many of the assumptions that monogamists have when it comes to how we structure our love relationships. Both readings can, if considered seriously, challenge of the assumptions we hold about love and relationships. Wasserstrom on Adultery Wasserstrom strategy in his article is twofold: 1. He poses the question: In what sense is adultery immoral? 2. He examines various arguments advanced against adultery. He defines adultery as "any case of extra-marital sex." And proceeds to look at considerations advanced in support of regarding adultery as morally wrong. Adultery is wrong because it involves the breaking of a promise. Adultery is wrong because it introduces the element of deception into a relationship. Adultery is wrong because it is an inappropriate expression of intimacy. Wasserstrom then goes on to examine all three of these reasons that are marshalled to justify our condemnation of adultery. The first two objections point to promise breaking and deception as the problem while the third suggests, more than argues for, that intimacy is something that ought to be kept within certain boundaries. The objection to promise breaking seems to be the strongest objection to extra-marital relations since even the most morally jaded person would be hard pressed to justify behaviour that they would not want anyone to do to them (cf. Kant's Categorical Imperative). On the other hand, this objection falls to the ground at once if all the parties involved are informed and consenting with respect to everyone else's behaviour. Once the element of deception is eliminated, another argument needs to be marshalled against extra-marital relations. This returns us to thinking about intimacy as something that must be kept within certain bounds. Wasserstrom draws out the traditional connection that is been made in Western culture between intense affection for another and the level of physical or sexual contact that a person will allow someone to have with him or her. Under this perspective, the amount of sexual contact you have with someone is usually indicative of how intimate your relationship is with them and how deep your feelings of affection and love are for that person. Under this view of intimacy, the relation between sex and marriage and its confinement to the bounds of marriage become more understandable. If your spouse is someone with whom you have a primary love relationship, then it makes sense that they would be the only person you would express that kind of intimacy with, sexual or otherwise. But this traditional view regarding intimacy has been, and continues to be, seriously questioned. As Wasserstrom notes: 1. The assumption that there is a strict correlation between sexual expression and intensity of love and affection for someone is not as commonly accepted as it once was. 2. This connection between sexual expression and love may not even be something we continue to desire either morally, culturally or psychologically. Perhaps it might be healthier for us to: Separate sex from love and affection. Separate sex from the notion of exclusivity. The central assumption here that is exposed by Wasserstrom's article is that although sex, love, intimacy and exclusivity are composite elements of most relationships, there is no compelling argument to suggest that these elements have to be combined within a single relationship or that a relationship (such as marriage) cannot exist unless and until all of these elements are present. It might also be a challenge to present a convincing argument to suggest that relationships that do not incorporate one of these elements are inferior to those relationships that do include one or more of these elements (cf. Conlon). Wasserstrom ends his article with a final suggestion that "if" we were to decide that monogamous marriage achieved some instrumental good (if it preserved family units for raising children), then any prohibition that prevented that institution from breaking down would be a good moral rule. Or to put it another way, if encouraging exclusivity (prohibiting non-marital sex) induces people to get married and stay married (which is good for raising children), then the immorality of adultery could be supported by this instrumental argument. But this instrumental argument has two weaknesses: If the breakdown of families was of paramount importance and if maintaining monogamous marriages was of overriding importance, then divorce ought to be a moral evil and should be prohibited (forced marriages "shot gun weddings" would also be a moral alternative to broken families). But our society would hard pressed to adopt this particular moral high ground or see it as an enlightened alternative. It is an open and empirical question whether non-monogamous individuals can create successful family units capable of raising well adjusted children. Past experience would seem to suggest that we would be wise not to prejudge this issue in advance. A casual look at what has become to be known as "the lifestyle" scene (swingers) would seem to indicate that non-monogamous parents (like straight, or divorced, or gay, or lesbian, or cross-dressing or transgendered parents) seem to be quite capable of raising children that are as well adjusted (or no more maladjusted!) as any other segment of society. The final upshot of Wasserstrom's article is that although the immorality of adultery is a common moral position in Western society, it is a position that continues to come under increasing scrutiny. McCullough and Hall on Polyamory In Western culture, monogamy is such standard practice that we seldom take the time to step back and ask why we, as individuals and as a culture in general practice it. One answer, as we have noted earlier, comes from Natural Law theory which (at least in its Judaeo-Christian version) views a union between one woman and one man as the exemplar for normal relationships. But is love something that can only be practiced between two individuals? Isn't it possible to love more than one person at the same time? Monogamous philosophies of love tend to assume that love is a finite entity in that if you love one person then you can't also love another without diminishing the love in your original relationship. For example: If Adam loves Eve, then by expressing love (especially romantic love) for Holly he ends up diminishing the love he has for Eve or even spoiling his love relationship with Eve. Chances are Eve will be hurt and jealous of the attention and affection that Adam shows for Holly. On the other hand, individuals who believe that it is possible (but not always easy or simple) to love more than one individual at the same time (polyamorists) point out that monogamists tend to hold to two presumptions that, when questioned, are not as evident as one might assume at first think. They are: 1. Love is a finite entity. You can only love one person in the romantic sense of the word because love is such that it simply can't be "divided" between two or more individuals without each person getting a diminished portion of it. Under this view, love is like a pie, if you share it with more than one person, each person gets a smaller slice than if you were to give it to one person. In fact, the analogy goes, the more people you share the pie with the smaller the portion becomes! 2. Jealously is a natural reaction to a situation where we feel someone is getting something that we believe we deserve. If we feel that someone else is getting love that rightly belongs to us, then it is natural for us to feel jealousy. In Western culture jealously is frequently seen as a type of moral indignation (or even outrage) that people in certain situations are entitled to when the love they feel they ought to be getting is perceived as being given to another. Polyamorists tend to take issue with both of these assumptions, which they believe underpin monogamy in Western culture, and offer up the following counterpoints for consideration. 1. The belief that love is a finite entity is by no means a given. We have been habituated to think that it is within our culture, but even here there are notable exceptions. For example, if you were ask a parent (with more than one child) which child gets more of their love, they would likely respond by saying "neither" and that all of their children are loved equally. If you were to then go on and ask how their children feel about getting only 50% of their love (or less in cases where there are more children) it is likely that their answer will be that love cases such as these can't be strictly quantified. When parents say that they love their children equally they usually mean this without quantification, i.e. "Both of my children receive 100% of my love." Naturally there will be counter objections to this analogy. The first objection will be that romantic love and parental love are not the same. This is true, if they were the same then the example would not be analogous. Nevertheless, the basic concepts are involved are similar enough that the analogy should give us pause for thought about how we conceptualize romantic love. If we are comfortable with teaching our children not to be insecure or jealous when a new member is added to the family and that it still makes perfect sense to say that even though mommy and daddy may devote a discrete amount of time or energy toward this new arrival the amount of love they for both children is not diminished, then why would it be impossible for us to envision a scenario whereby three individuals consent to form a romantic triad? Naturally such an arrangement would have specific challenges that the individuals involved would have to deal with because of the nature of that particular arrangement. It has been said that the best polyamorists are highly organized, probably out of necessity in order to work through their unique "sharing" arrangements. But this is not unlike the relationship challenges that follow from pursuing other relationships that may not fit our conception of what a "normal" relationship would look like. People in same-sex and interracial unions, as well as individuals whose primary partner is or has become physically or mentally challenged, are well aware that if their relationship is to survive, it will probably have to face specific challenges that other couples may never have to deal with. So the main barrier to embracing polyamory as an alternative lifestyle choice, its advocates suggest, is not so much conceptual as it is prejudicial. It is something that we have become acculturated to view with a great deal suspicion. Like many alternative lifestyles (yes, there is a subculture out there that see themselves this way), it is a way of life that does not evoke very much empathy. When traditional monogamists think about "love triangles" and "the other person" within their own experience a variety of strong and negative emotions are usually evoked. This leads us to polyamorists' second counterpoint. 2. Jealously, polyamorists will argue, is a learned behavior. This fact is easy to overlook because we tend to learn it at an early age. It is not a drive like hunger or thirst, nor is it a somatic response like our reflexes or our sensitivity to pain. If you are sympathetic to a RET (Rational Emotive Therapy) outlook on the emotions, then you will be open to the suggestion that jealously occurs when perception and judgment combine to result in an assessment of a situation that we view as having a negative impact on us. My favorite example of this occurred to me during college when I introduced a male friend of mine to another male friend of mine. The introduction went very well and the two fellows began to engage each other in conversation. At this point a female friend of mine came along and entered the conversation and after some quick cross introductions and re-introductions it became clear to everyone that neither of my male friends were aware that at different times they had both been dating my female friend. One was her past boyfriend (the relationship was long over) and the other was her current boyfriend. Although the old boyfriend clearly had no issues with this new knowledge, the new boyfriend was another story completely. It became clear after a few minutes that his viewpoint concerning his girlfriend's old boyfriend had completely changed. Whereas before his assessment was positive and they were chatting up a storm, it was now clear that his assessment of the situation had changed and that he no longer viewed this person in a positive light. In this case the change in attitude resulted less from an alteration in circumstances as it did from a change in my friend's judgment about the situation. Jealousy results from a judgment we make about the significance of what we perceive in our environment. The key is to look critically at the judgments we make and ask ourselves if they are based on sound reasoning that can be examined critically. Polyamorists point out that in other matters we are quick to assume that jealousy is a sign of insecurity (usually perceived insecurity) on the part of the individual involved. But if we can recognize and deal with our personal insecurities, then the way is open to dealing with jealously. One would expect that if this is the outlook regarding jealousy that is embraced by polyamorists, then they would have strategies for dealing with jealousy issues, and they do. Most serious works on polyamory deal with the issue of how to deal with jealously by addressing a host of assumptions that people make that lead them to assume that when certain conditions within a relationship exist (sharing) or are non-existent (exclusivity) then the proper response is to feel insecure and, consequently, jealous. Another interesting point that polyamorists like to raise is that many issues surrounding jealousy can be traced back to the assumption that a person is like a thing that you possess and that, like a thing you own, possession brings with it certain rights. But does it make sense to embrace a view that treats persons like property, even if it feels natural to do so? If it's against our modern sensitivities to regard persons as things in other respects (people ought not to be slaves, women are no longer "chattel") then why do we continue to indulge this erroneous belief with respect to modern relationships? T alking Points to Keep in Mind for Discussion Wasserstrom and McCullough and Hall's messages will have different impacts on different individuals. For those who are comfortable questioning the traditional cultural status quo, these critical approaches to monogamy will be a welcome call for a more liberal outlook on relationships. For those individuals with a more conservative (small c conservative ) bent, Wasserstrom and McCullough and Hall's messages will seem like a move in the wrong direction or worse, they will seem like a pernicious move to undermine what has been recognized as a definite good by society. From a philosophical perspective the key here is to confront the arguments presented by these writers. Wasserstrom and McCullough and Hall do an excellent job of throwing a critical light on some of the basic assumptions that underlie our thinking on this subject revealing that these assumptions are not as obvious as we might think. Another point that I think bears mentioning is that polyamorists frequently compare their current situation to that of homosexuals. Until recently, practising homosexuality was illegal, it was also considered a mental disorder, and same-sex unions were not legally recognized. Polyamorists feel that their relationships are viewed through the eyes of a similar form of prejudice and that, as a result, non-polyamorists do not get a true view of their situation. People frequently assume that all women who engage in polyamory are brainwashed to do so and that their children are destined to be either abused (worst case) or maladjusted. The truth is that these are empirical facts whose truth needs to be assessed by an unprejudiced look at these relationships. Until recently people also assumed that gays and lesbians could not possibly raise well-adjusted children. The empirical evidence that is now coming in seems to indicate that gays and lesbians are as good (or certainly no worse) at raising well adjusted children than their straight counterparts. While it is true that not every woman enters a polyamorous relationship under ideal circumstances, the fact is that many women do enter into such relationships of their own free choice and it appears to smack of condescension to tell them that their choice to do so is not a genuine decision. The truth is, people enter into a variety of relationships for less than ideal reasons, including straight monogamous marriages. Practising polyamorists are also aware that their unions are not lawful. Many individuals I have received essays from have concluded that because their relationships are not legally recognized, that polyamory is immoral and that polyamorists are immoral individuals. Before making this particular jump in reasoning, however, I would recommend giving some thought to the validity of assuming automatically that illegal activity is also immoral activity. If this assumption were true without qualification, then there should never be a question of an unjust law arising since this would be a contradiction in terms so to speak. On the other hand, if unjust laws are possible, then building a case for the immmorality of a particular action cannot rest on the issue of its legality alone. Perhaps polyamorists are onto something when they suggest that the biggest problem they face is prejudice.
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