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Can Love Be Irrational?

There are some who deny that love can be rational or irrational. The Syracuse philosopher Laurence Thomas, for example, holds that love cannot be rational or irrational because “there are no rational considerations whereby anyone can lay claim to another’s love or insist that an individual’s love for another is irrational”.

Thomas’s reason for thinking love cannot be rational or irrational is that “‘there is no irrationality involved in ceasing to love a person whom one once loved immensely, although the person has not changed”.

NYU philosopher J. David Velleman similarly thinks that no justification can be given for why we love some but not others. At best we can offer a causal explanation.

I am puzzled about this. Why is love so different from fear? Fear can be rational or irrational. We wouldn’t say that fear cannot be rational or irrational because there need not be any irrationality involved in ceasing to fear an object one once feared, although the object has not changed.

We can stop fearing an object because we perceive the object differently. That’s what happens when we no longer have a fear of flying. We don’t look at flying in the same way as we did before.

Similarly, we can stop loving a person because we perceive him or her differently. Perhaps we no longer see him or her as attractive. That need not be irrational. We might have idealized the person in the past while now seeing him or her in a less deceptive light.

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