- Love's Enlightenment. Rethinking Charity in Modernity by Ryan Hanley
What place should love of others occupy in moral and political philosophy? As Ryan Patrick Hanley explains in this impressive study, many contemporary philosophers have recently tried to revive a moral psychology of love to remedy the egocentrism and narcissism that often seem to characterize modern life. But is love the answer to the problems we face today and how much can we expect of it? To try to answer these questions, Hanley turns to the ideas of four eighteenth-century philosophers for illumination: David Hume on humanity, Jean-Jacques Rousseau on pity, Adam Smith on sympathy, and Immanuel Kant on love.
All four philosophers, Hanley argues, helped to shape a distinctively modern understanding of love. Traditional ideas of love (Platonic eros, Aristotelian philia, and Christian agape) presuppose a concept of transcendence, but this appeal to transcendence is firmly rejected by the modern theories under discussion, which instead reconceptualize "love as a preeminent form of other-directed sentiment" (14). The book aims to take stock of what is gained and lost in this shift away from transcendental love. Hanley's overarching argument, in brief, is that while all four philosophers succeed in showing how other-directed sentiments can mitigate the worst effects of egocentrism, they also offer us reasons to be skeptical about the prospects of harnessing these sentiments to develop strong social bonds throughout society.
The book's central chapters provide sophisticated and nuanced expositions of Hume, Rousseau, Smith, and Kant, in each case situating the philosopher's reflections on love within their broader epistemological and moral theories. While debates within the secondary scholarship are usually relegated to the endnotes, Hanley clearly knows the literature [End Page 351] thoroughly and carefully crafts original interpretations of each philosopher's theory of other-directed sentiments. The chapter on Rousseau, in particular, offers arguably the most penetrating and convincing analysis of his conception of pity to date, largely due to the skill and ease with which Hanley integrates Rousseau's moral psychology and epistemology. The four main chapters may all be read profitably as standalone contributions to existing scholarship on each philosopher. Indeed, one of the most impressive features of the book is the balance Hanley strikes between presenting the ideas in a clear and accessible manner for non-specialists while also drawing important new insights that scholars of each philosopher would do well to take seriously.
While there is a great deal to recommend in the book, it is worth noting that it focuses a lot more on each thinker's moral philosophy than it does on their political ideas. For example, Hanley offers some illuminating but brief comments about the place of patriotic love in Rousseau's political thought and intriguingly suggests—but does not develop the idea—that the sentiment of pity undergirds the moral psychology of the Social Contract (91). Similarly, the analysis of Smith is largely centered on The Theory of Moral Sentiments, without considering how other-directed sentiments play out in different stages of human history, while the implications of Kant's moral philosophy might have been developed further with some attention to the place of "unsocial sociability" in his political writings.
To highlight these omissions might seem uncharitable; after all, there is only so much that can be covered in one book and the chapters are already remarkably detailed and wide-ranging. Nevertheless, the omissions speak to two broader areas where Hanley's analysis could have been extended further. First, for contemporary theorists who are trying to think through how love might complement justice, the four philosophers all have more to say about the difficulties of harnessing other-directed sentiments under specific socioeconomic conditions. Second, and relatedly, Hanley refers to "the unique challenges posed by self-love in modernity" (19), but it is not always evident that the four philosophers saw this problem as being distinctively modern. To be sure, they were all responding to the specter of self-love cast by Hobbes and Mandeville, but they did not all see...