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This paper discusses the question of whether a philosophical account of love can proceed independently of a judgment about the beloved’s value (qualities) or what promotes his or her well-being. I start by introducing a common philosophical problem of how one can love those who are not lovable. I use an example from Death on the Nile to show a different variety of love for an unlovable person. Christie’s narrative highlights nonjudgmental loyalty and equality between the lovers as its essential aspects. To show the distinctiveness of this loyalty-based notion of love, I pair it with accounts likely to be sympathetic to it.

Lovefor most of its theorists—involves thinking about certain further things that define what love is. Thus, according to some theories, love amounts to unconditional concern about the beloved’s well-being.1 Other theories, such as Troy Jollimore’s, suggest that love is a kind of appreciative response to the qualities of the beloved person (though the reasons consisting in the recognition of these qualities don’t oblige us to love).2 These viewpoints seem to require a particular kind of epistemic focus on the part of the lovers. You have to be clear about what promotes your beloved’s well-being; spare an active thought for it. According to this view, loving someone cannot do away with preoccupation about that person, for instance, the issue of her proper nutrition: could you pass as loving someone if you did not spare a single thought for her consumption of vitamin C? (That is, provided you know that people need vitamin C.)

Similarly, if loving someone amounts to a responsive appreciation of her personal qualities, one seems to have to spare separate thoughts for [End Page 519] this issue as well—if the question of the beloved’s character or actions comes to the lover’s mind at all. But if it does—and a notion of love ignorant of the beloved’s actions or personality seems strange—then love is likely not possible without a certain focus on the person who takes preferentially some of her qualities or actions into account. One recognizes one’s beloved as (judges her to be) a lovable person.

However, one can assess and promote another’s well-being without this being love; the same seems true about the appreciation of the other’s qualities or actions. You can conceive these separately. Hence, unless love is only a particular subspecies of the more general phenomenon of care or admiration, these analyses might seem unsatisfactory. I do not wish to deal with these issues here, opting instead for a theory of love as a particular kind of emotion. Each of these ways of looking at love plays an important role in our making sense of what we experience as love and what we recognize as love in others. Yet these ways of making sense of love may also be misleading when it comes to certain central aspects of loving attitudes. I will mostly focus on the analysis of love as a kind of appreciative response to lovable traits in a person.

In section 1, I introduce the particular problems in cases of love for persons who are little lovable or unlovable (villains) and a well-established form that philosophical reflections on this problem take. In section 2, I use an example from Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile to show that a significantly different variety of love for an unlovable person is intelligible. In section 3, I identify, as the most important aspects of love exemplified by Christie’s narrative, nonjudgmental loyalty and equality. In section 4, I confront the loyalty-based notion of love with some accounts of love likely to be sympathetic to it (Jollimore, Robert Nozick, Rush Rhees), to show both its place in this broader context and its distinctiveness.


When I referred above to the theories of love as an appreciation of lovability in the beloved, I did not distinguish between valuing the person’s character and valuing her actions. In love, however, the beloved’s personal qualities seem more central than her actions. We do say that we love a person despite what she has done, implying that we love her as a person of a certain character, despite the fact that the action doesn’t appear to be an action of a person of lovable qualities. We do not say (it would be difficult to make sense of it) that we love someone as the [End Page 520] author of certain (lovable) actions, despite her unlovable personal qualities. Actions qualify our view of the other’s character that we have already formed. In extreme cases, these qualifications can cancel the overall loving attitude toward the other’s character. If the beloved person commits murder, that can subvert the preceding view of the person altogether. One might then say: after what she has done, I cannot love her anymore. Jollimore thus suggests that, while we cannot talk about reasons obliging us to love, we could talk about good reasons for not loving a person (anymore). Reasons relating to particular events or actions can lead to the extinction of the overall attitude of love.3

From this viewpoint, we may appreciate the importance of explaining the cases of loving those who seem unlovable. We assume that some people are more difficult to love, and perhaps even that only a saint can love a truly despicable person. This requirement of saintliness concerns both cases of overall despicable character and cases of individual outrageous actions. Kamila Pacovská discusses Dostoevsky’s characters Alyosha and Sonya, who exhibit a saintly kind of love toward a person of utterly despicable character (father Karamazov) and toward a person who has committed an atrocious crime (Raskolnikov).4

The saintly ability to love such people is difficult to explain. In terms of the accounts of love as the appraisal of a special quality in the person, this ability is difficult to sense. To claim a particularly lovable quality in a despicable person is not love but rather hardly more than blindness. And blindness is, under certain readings, contrary to the interests of love, because it cannot promote the beloved’s well-being.5

The demand for an impartial, realistic intuition of the beloved’s character seems inevitable, if one wishes to have the notion of love defended against illusions and self-deception.6 Consequently, if we see realistically that a person isn’t very lovable, then we must be saints in order to love her. Raymond Gaita, inspired by Simone Weil, suggests that even to see such people as our brothers and sisters means to be constantly aware of the immense preciousness of every human life, and to feel pity and compassion for one’s fellow human whose life has been degraded by affliction or moral decline.7

These are admirable accounts, and I do not want to detract from their value. But the solution they offer is clearly an extreme one, and they can mislead us into seeing certain cases of love in a distorted light—not least because their focus gravitates toward the all-encompassing love for every human being, and as such tends to misrepresentation of central aspects of preferential love, typically between partners, and parents and [End Page 521] children.8 I would like to argue that love for a bad person is possible without the urgent need to come to terms with her imperfections—such as to judge them, with a clear awareness of their magnitude, as outweighed by the beloved’s positive qualities, or to overcome them through the lover’s saintly purity. Love for a bad person is possible even without that, because it is not a saint’s love. Yet, it needn’t mean that such love is blindness or corruption. I will point to notable differences from the way we respond to paradigmatic examples of selfish or corrupted love-like attitudes.


I would like to demonstrate my point using an example from Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile.9 It is a whodunit novel and, as can be expected, the following parts of the article unfortunately contain major spoilers concerning the identity of the culprit.

The plot introduces a young couple engaged to be married: Jacqueline and Simon. They are poor, and Jacqueline introduces Simon to her friend Linnet in the hope that she could give him a good job (Linnet is a rich heiress who needs a land agent for her estate). Later on, we discover that Simon has abandoned Jacqueline and has married Linnet instead, while Jacqueline stalks the two on their honeymoon journey in Egypt and harasses them with jealous scenes. Eventually, detective Hercule Poirot reveals the whole matter to be an intricate scheme crafted by Jacqueline and Simon with the aim of murdering Linnet and grabbing her money. When Jacqueline first introduces Simon to Linnet, it is with good will. Only later, when Simon wants to have both Linnet’s money and life with Jacqueline, does Jacqueline sacrifice her friendship and design the criminal plan for the sake of her love.

Jacqueline’s and Simon’s actions are, of course, morally highly questionable. Yet they do not trigger the same response as the actions of a person who would murder out of mere self-interest, or self-love. Love, as Christie’s detectives often observe, makes people do terrible things (it is “the most frightening word,” as Miss Marple states in Nemesis—something with the power to kill). Despite his conviction that crime should be punished, Poirot does not reflect on Jacqueline and Simon as horrible, repulsive people; he warns Jacqueline against “opening her heart to evil” and watches her determination with sadness (DN, p. 69). “Tragedy” is how their case is characterized in the end (p. 333). [End Page 522]

Criminals as Jacqueline and Simon are, they do not do what they do out of hatred toward Linnet as a person. Clearly, murdering her is not their first choice for arranging a comfortable life for themselves. The story contains notable differences from cases of self-love. Jacqueline suggests that love gives one the strength to do horrible things, but a reader would reflect on her actions—conspiring to kill her good friend—with repulsion only if the love that gave her such terrible strength was love for herself and not for another. But Jacqueline is not a simply repulsive person. In Kantian terms, to use another as a means for one’s ends is plainly wrong. To use another as a means to an end, if the end in itself is yet another person (not the agent herself), is a situation of much higher moral complexity. Here, it is a rather messy complexity.

This structure, after all, underlies many of our actions involving both people toward whom we adopt a preferential attitude and people toward whom we do not. When someone hires a trained nurse to tend his or her sick spouse, the nurse enters as a means to an end that is another person (different from the hirer), in a way not completely dissimilar from buying a tube of ibuprofen (whichever tube of certified ibuprofen).

As I mentioned earlier, some theories of love would pay attention—for good reasons—to the beloved person’s relationship to her deeds. A realistic assessment of a person as lovable requires, if she does something wrong, proper remorse on her part. Or, at least, the person would become significantly more lovable than if she didn’t display any remorse at all.

Again, there is a significant difference from acting out of mere self-love. Those who do something terrible out of self-love only improve the impression if they manifest sincere remorse (they confess their offense, try to make amends, and so on). A lack of regret for their reprehensible, self-centered actions would make them despicable.

When they have done something wrong for the sake of love for another, the picture changes. Remorse and desire for confession can also be understood as a mark of betrayal or disloyalty to the other, especially after joint action. On the other hand, the lack of second thoughts testifies to the agent’s having her beloved in front of her eyes as the primary object of her interest. Jacqueline and Simon’s perseverance in their plan to the bitter end is thus not only a case of obstinately criminal nature. While to feel compassion for father Karamazov is a task requiring a saint, the same is not so with the two of them. (But that may have to do with the melodramatic way the author tells their story.) [End Page 523]

Jacqueline and Simon know that what they do is wrong: When they fail, their reaction is not the righteous anger of people deprived of what is due to them. They know very well that what they tried to grab was not theirs and they react with fatalism: “A fool’s game and we’ve lost” (DN, p. 332). Simon provides the motivation for the scheme. However, although Jacqueline accepts the idea, she does not love Simon despite the atrocious act that it (he) requires from her and that she disapproves of. Even though she hardly thought killing Linnet was a good thing, her situation is not the situation of one urged to overcome her disapproval by further arguments. Her (loving) attitude10 toward Simon is not an attitude of overcoming disapproval.

If we describe her attitude as a sequence of 1) a disapproving judgment and 2) that judgment being overcome by another judgment, it is a misrepresentation. The very attempt to explain attitudes in terms of judgments is unfortunate. Jacqueline does not pass judgment on Simon as a preferentially lovable person, as opposed to others compared to him.11 That would mean judging Simon’s traits—his plans, his desires, his personal qualities, his actions—as if they were better than corresponding traits in other people. Nor is she, so to speak, acting against her better judgment. Judgment of Simon does not play a significant role in her actions: it neither corroborates or justifies them nor poses an obstacle for them to overcome.

Neither Jacqueline nor Simon shows pity for the murdered Linnet. This is not a manifestation of psychopathy. Linnet simply does not occupy an important place in the way they perceive their lives. On the other hand, their perception is not simply selfish: they are both capable of great sacrifices for the sake of their scheme to benefit their beloved. (This self-denying attitude is quite striking in Jacqueline.) If there is an admirable quality inherent in Jacqueline’s and Simon’s actions (and it seems impossible to see such a quality in murder committed out of mere self-interest), it has to do with their loyalty to each other. It is also loyalty that vindicates their story as a story of love, though a lot of the defining attributes of love, employed in the philosophical theories of love, seem to be missing here, for example a realistic assessment of the other’s moral merit or of appropriate ways to promote her well-being and acting upon this assessment. [End Page 524]


Loyalty and equality are, however, obviously important in loving relationships, despite their being overlooked in favor of the focus on the issues of appraised/bestowed value or promoted well-being. Without the appreciated importance of loyalty, it would make no sense to understand Death on the Nile as a tragic, disconcerting story of love. Poirot’s pitiful response would be unintelligible. Relationships of love involve things done for the beloved’s sake. But whether the lover passes a judgment on the appropriateness of these actions, or—if they are morally problematic—whether the lover has a sense of their morally problematic character needn’t play a foundational role with respect to these acts. Both alternatives are compatible with love: the judgment simply may or may not take place just as well.

The case of Jacqueline and Simon can, I think, illuminate the problem of loving a despicable person. Simon, with his desire for Linnet’s money and willingness to murder her, is certainly a much less than admirable person. Yet, Jacqueline is neither a saint nor is she simply blinded by her love such that she would happily ignore the fact that they are about to do something wrong.

The problem with this problem—how to love a person about whom there is something unlovable—is that it arises, as a problem, for a lover 1) who places absolute moral demands on the beloved, backed by her own moral “purity,” and 2) who has absolutely clear insight into the beloved’s character. As for 1), Jacqueline does not place absolute moral demands on Simon, nor does she necessarily prove to be a morally purer person than Simon. The task that she tries to solve is not to be a morally good person (or to avoid or revolt against the outdated requirements of moral purity) but to be happy with Simon. As for 2), she seems to be well aware of Simon’s flaws, which she enumerates in her confession to Poirot, when she pretends to be furious at Simon’s “betrayal.” But she loves him all the same. A banal and, at the same time, deep insight transpires through Christie’s melodramatic staging: it is not normal but rather exceptional for one’s beloved to be perfect, and basically every flaw can constitute a reason for not loving (“How could I love someone who bites their nails obsessively? It’s a disgusting habit and sticking to it despite my appeals is inexcusable”). Yet, coming to terms with one’s beloved not being perfect is not something that requires the nature of a saint. For if the lover is no better and does not consider herself better than the beloved, then there is no higher ground from which one [End Page 525] would have to condescend. The “technical” problem of love having to descend (since, in many philosophical accounts, love gives the impression of being able only to look upwards) does not arise.

Jacqueline and Simon’s case is one of a fundamental equality between the lover and the beloved: neither claims the moral high ground with respect to the other. Moreover, neither assumes the decisive word with respect to judging the propriety of the other’s character and actions. This does not play a role in what love for each other means for them.

The terms in which one could characterize the relationship between Jacqueline and Simon are thus distinctly “modern,” distant from the notions of love rooted in the Socratic/Platonic tradition. Love no longer involves the element of spiritual ascent or inherent purification. A lover no longer needs to see god in the beloved.12 The Socratic/Platonic conception seems to suggest the alternative: either love is a kind of justified ecstasy, or it is blind and self-deceptive. (And when the latter is the default setting, only saintly love appears to be capable of bridging this gap.) Literary narratives—Death on the Nile is by no means a unique instance—manage to escape from this tradition with surprisingly greater success than recent philosophical accounts of love.

The Platonic heritage may be a reason why the major theories of love I outlined at the beginning of this article—but also the minor, humanistic attitude stressing the preciousness of even the most unlovable person—seem to suggest that judgment precedes the possibility of love. In these approaches, love is, as it were, expected to cope with the results of a judgment. One must either have one’s love approved by judgment (which also includes Jollimore’s loving, favorable vision [LV, p. 54]) or be strong or compassionate enough to maintain the loving attitude despite the unfavorable view of the other. What makes Gaita’s nun a saint is her exceptional capacity to see directly the other’s humanity through the veil of unfavorable appearances, to disregard the other’s character and actions that other, less saintly people are unable to disregard (“GBV”).

Both of these are loving responses from a position fundamentally unequal to the position of the beloved. Isn’t it preposterous to suppose that to love someone means to install oneself as possessing acute insight of character, and issuing moral demands? Jacqueline and Simon’s case shows that it is possible to talk about love even when an offense is committed and the lover even participates in it. This is an extreme example, of course. But I have used it to highlight the fact that the way we understand the concept of love needn’t involve a judge’s authority [End Page 526] over the judged or a saint’s loving condescension to a sinner. This would overlook the idea that the lovers are often as great sinners and as little capable of reflecting properly upon the situation into which they are immersed as the beloved.

The judge/saint imagery echoes an inequality of position in yet another respect. On the one hand, the beloved is depicted as a person with a particular character, with a history and a complex of emotions, capacities, and motivations that makes her imperfect in a unique, personalized way (it is this personalized dimension with which the lover must come to terms). On the other hand, the self-forgetting (“unselfed,” to borrow Iris Murdoch’s phrase) lover acts as an abstract God’s eye. She is the privileged, ideally rational subject without specific imperfections of vision, character, or personal moral track record—the same idea of subject that was a target of brutal attacks by postmodern philosophy or feminist theory. It, again, implies that love can be premeditated in the way that the purchase of furniture is premeditated.

For these reasons, a different conception of love would seem “phenomenologically” more appropriate.13 Just as it comes naturally to the beloved to do something morally problematic, the lover can be, equally naturally, completely free of second thoughts regarding the beloved’s ideas or motives. What comes naturally to the two is connected to the development of the relationship and their positions within it. It is typical, though certainly not without exceptions, that the two people are equally transformed by their relationship simply because both of them live with and within it for some time (usually more or less the same time). Why, then, should one of them occupy a position of the ideally rational judge without a history?

Just as in Jacqueline and Simon’s case—but minus the murder aspect—love for people in stable, long-term relationships involves standing by the other in whatever she does in the grey zone of everyday actions. The mechanism is one of taking an “ungrounded”14 action as a person loving—standing by—the other. Whether this mechanism applies is not internally related to whether one recognizes the person one loves as a murderer—which is why we respond to Jacqueline and Simon’s story as a story of love with equal justification, just as we would respond to a story of a husband supporting his wife in her decision not to include a particular person on the guest list for a garden party. This is not immoral or illegal, but an outsider might legitimately want to ask for further justification for the decision, or insist, if no justification that she would accept is forthcoming, on inviting the person. That the husband [End Page 527] does neither of these—that he need not feel any natural inclination to do so that he would have to suppress—manifests his attitude of loyalty. When we issue a well-justified moral condemnation of Jacqueline and Simon, we do not thereby say that they do not love each other or that what they have done, however horrible, was not in fact done out of love. These two perspectives can be separated.

This equality allows one to look at the initial problem of loving a despicable person from a different angle. I have tried to argue that the focus on the presence of a problem, and the perception of urgency in dealing with it, go along with the unequal “input” positions of the lover and the beloved with respect to the relationship. Equality does not mean that no problem (such as the perceived immorality of the murder scheme) can occur to the lovers. Another natural example of a loving reaction is that one would criticize or try to prevent the other’s intended action because one does not approve of it. Imagine parents’ love for their children (which is, of course, a different situation, asymmetric by definition). Equality only means that neither of the lovers needs to be more distanced from the particular course of action than the other. Both are equally immersed in the messy complexity of the situation. And while it strikes one of them as natural to act in a particular manner, it may strike the other as equally natural to stand by the one she loves. The other need not thereby ignore or deny the immorality. But its practical acknowledgment, the natural response of disagreement or preventive action, is suspended.

In a somewhat different manner, Tony Milligan points out that love involves both the cases where lovers “support each other even when they are in the wrong” and those where one doesn’t share, but disapproves of, the beloved’s desire because it wouldn’t do her good.15 Judgment does not fall out of the picture here completely, but it is supposed that love can be reconciled with both an endorsement and a negative view of the beloved’s desires. I share Milligan’s opinion that nothing (loyalty included) unproblematically serves as the universal criterion of love. The focus on loyalty can, however, illuminate and vindicate the genuineness of love in the cases of undisputed moral imperfection of the beloved person, which, however, goes unchallenged by the lover.


The example I have used contains objectionable points. Such a love as described in Christie’s narrative may well be genuine, but that does [End Page 528] not mean it could not be improved, made better, if it were accompanied by sound judgment. To be able to question one’s beloved’s intention and to lead her to think it over is a capacity that Jacqueline lacks, but one that would have made their love better. I can only reply that I have not used Christie’s example to raise polemics against more “exemplary” forms of love: no doubt, love within which one can and wants to prevent the beloved from a morally problematic and self-destructive course of action is a good love. However, the question is: does the existence of such an exemplary love make Jacqueline and Simon’s story one that is not a story of love? And further: does the existence of an exemplary love make this a story of love that is, as love, worse or deficient or less genuine?

Could the answers to these questions, especially to the second one, be no? My discussion of Christie’s example aims to show that it could. If so, then what makes Jacqueline and Simon’s case a case of genuine love cannot be any of the attributes characteristic of the more exemplary cases, such as a lucid, critical view of what best benefits one’s beloved, or of her lovability as a person of high qualities (including, of course, moral qualities). Since such a critical attitude may be at odds with unconditional loyalty, it appears that not even loyalty is the defining characteristic of love. There may be no such thing, and our responses to a case as a case of love (admiration, envy, or being moved) may simply be triggered by noticing one aspect in one case and another in another case.16

A more serious problem is that love can be tarnished by joint wrong-doing. Christie does not address this problem; she cheats her way out of it, cunningly letting her characters die. Otherwise, Jacqueline and Simon would both have to live on with the fact that their beloved became a murderer. Unlike transitory and mostly unavoidable mischiefs, such as lying, murder is an action the singularity of which makes its author, once and for all, a murderer.17 It leaves its indelible mark on the person. Any long-term relationship with such a person would have to come to terms with that mark.

Christie only shows her characters in the midst of actions; they are never given the time to live with clearly seen consequences of their actions. If they were given the time, they might have to face certain dilemmas. Their mutual loyalty, for example, could crack and one of them might see the true loyalty to the other by ceasing to be loyal to her actions. (Although this gap can only stretch to a certain extent: there is something suspicious in saying, “I support you, only I don’t support [End Page 529] any of your actions.” Very little is left of a person if one abstracts her from all her actions.)

It is nevertheless true that what makes it possible to understand Jacqueline and Simon as an example of genuine love is the “midst of actions” perspective: neither of them is supposed to play the role of an abstract, rational judge. This is what makes their loyalty, as the core of their love, intelligible. But the loyalty would appear stronger if its capacity to accommodate the committed crime were tested in a long-term perspective. Can loyalty between lovers withstand and “bracket” the awareness of the beloved’s immorality after the deed, just as it was before it, when it was only an intention? Christie does not offer any material to test the reader’s reactions to the example thus elaborated; Death on the Nile would have to be combined with Anna Karenina.

Despite these problematic points, I do not want to pretend that my proposal of reflecting upon the issue of love with a stress on loyalty is unprecedented, revolutionary, or unusual. It is often taken as self-evident that love involves loyalty, and that, especially in love, loyalty seems to be an unproblematic virtue.18 But such statements usually don’t provoke detailed explorations, in contrast to the loyalty connected with issues such as patriotism, where it is seen as obviously potentially problematic.19

Theories of love as a bond or union are perhaps most sympathetic to my point, emphasizing loyalty. For instance, Nozick notably proposes that romantic love is to be analyzed as a union between the two lovers, consisting not in a focus on the beloved’s value but in relocating this focus and center of one’s interest and actions into the newly created joint entity (“we”). The points of interest of the individual members of the relationship don’t cease to be perceived, but they are deemed secondary by the interests and the well-being of the “we.”20

Nozick, as well as other bond theorists, takes over, however, the analysis of love as defined by the concern for the beloved’s well-being. Details vary from theory to theory—from identifying the beloved’s interest as one’s own interest to focusing on the joint interest of the newly arisen “we”—but, again, love involves identification of the beloved entity’s interests or of what its or “our” well-being consists in, and then following this insight. Love pursues a goal set by a passed judgment. Again, using the case of Jacqueline and Simon (as an exaggerated example of many of our everyday dealings in love), we can see that Jacqueline does not probably think their plan to be the most suitable way of securing Simon’s best interests or the best interests of their relationship. Yet she acts out of loyalty: to act otherwise would be difficult or impossible to [End Page 530] reconcile with her love for Simon. To put it in terms introduced by Bernard Williams, it would undermine some of her ground projects and, consequently, her very identity. It would be incompatible with who she is.21

Rhees and his followers in the Wittgensteinian tradition (İlham Dilman, Raimond Gaita, David Cockburn) accentuate the role that language plays in the central territories of our lives such as love or religion.22 An arbitrary linguistic act does not establish a convention of love, but the way we express and reflect love and its aspects in the language we use develops and changes, along with what we know as love. To become familiar with a certain language of love means also to become capable of navigating in a variety of love-related contexts (one thereby becomes capable of pretending love or of recognizing love in other people through interaction with them). And, most important, some ways of expressing oneself with regards to love may betray that the speaker does not have love on her mind, even though she claims to do so. See Rhees’s discussion of Simone Weil’s dictum, somewhat misquoted by him: “If you love anyone, always think of him as though he were dead” (DSW, pp. 105–8).

Rhees points out that the way Weil talks about love betrays a certain ignorance or omission on her part—of things that are central to some important forms that love takes. Similarly, I believe that however deep are the analyses of the saintly capacity to love an unlovable-seeming person, they manifest an omission of something central to love in some of its other forms: the unquestioned loyalty of two equals. To talk as if the beloved’s unlovability poses a problem only a saintly lover can overcome betrays an omission, too: of the fact that unconditional (or almost unconditional) loyalty does not deal with this problem as a problem at all. (Which does not mean that the “ugly” intentions or qualities are directly those that the lover appreciates as the reason for love.23)

I have tried to suggest that acute awareness of the other’s moral imperfections, along with a certain demand imposed on her, is a constitutive part of the language of judgment rather than the language of love. On the one hand, within the latter kind of language, a significantly more important role would be played by expressions of such attitudes as “we are in this together.” The lover’s recognition that there is something to deal with (to forgive, for instance) about the beloved presupposes the recognition that the beloved did something wrong. On the other hand, if the lover does not pass judgment, she needn’t perceive anything that would call for forgiveness. “All right, I forgive you then” is an expression [End Page 531] typically following expressions in the language of judgment. As I have tried to argue, to assume the position of one who can pass judgment may be at odds with the spirit of love. It brings the association of the fundamentally unequal opposition between the beloved who is being judged, burdened by her imperfections and her past, and the detached lover-judge. For the reasons I have tried to offer, I think this implies a serious misrepresentation of love.

Cases such as Raskolnikov’s are, however, cases of wrongdoing directed toward people other than the lover herself. The genuine need for forgiveness arises when the offense has been committed against the loving person by the beloved, and when this has happened in the context of an already existing loving relationship. Then the issue is not simply a hypothetical case involving the question: should I (begin to) love this person at all, considering her character and actions? This difference in the situation of forgiveness is illustrated by Pacovská’s fine discussion of the example of Mr. and Mrs. Bulstrode in Middlemarch (see “LV”). The dynamics of their situation would be considerably different from the cases of loving unlovable persons that I criticized as alleged paradigms and would therefore be quite a different love story; again, a story of two equals.

As I have tried to show, a familiarity with the nuanced differences between various forms of language, expressing various attitudes, may help in identifying more clearly whether what is in front of one’s eyes is love or not. Stories of fiction serve here as the Wittgensteinian “objects of comparison,” presenting perspicuously the important internal relations among aspects of a phenomenon. Within the form of a story one can make sufficiently sure what kind of language is being spoken. Even seemingly unequivocal statements, such as “All right, I forgive you then,” can express different attitudes in the contexts of different stories.

Ondřej Beran
University of Pardubice

This paper was supported by the project of Operational Programme Research, Development and Education (OP VVV/OP RDE), Centre for Ethics as Study in Human Value, registration no. CZ. 02.1.01/0.0/0.0/15_003/0000425, cofinanced by the European Regional Development Fund and the state budget of the Czech Republic. I owe thanks to Kamila Pacovská, Glenn Pettigrove, and Miriam Pryke for their comments on an earlier version of the text, presented at the KCL workshop “Love, Forgiveness and Reconciliation.”


1. See Harry Frankfurt. “On Caring,” in Necessity, Volition and Love (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 155–80.

2. Troy Jollimore, Love’s Vision (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011); hereafter abbreviated LV.

3. See Elizabeth Anderson, “Uses of Value Judgments in Science,” Hypatia 19 (2004): 1–24 (9).

4. Kamila Pacovská, “Loving Villains,” in Love and its Objects, ed. Christian Maurer et al. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), pp. 125–39; hereafter abbreviated “LV.”

5. See Camilla Kronqvist, “Our Struggles with Reality,” in Emotions and Understanding, ed. Ylva Gustafsson et al. (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2008), pp. 202–20.

6. See Iris Murdoch, The Sovereignty of Good (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970).

7. Raimond Gaita, “Goodness Beyond Virtue,” in Common Humanity (London: Routledge, 2002), pp. 17–28; hereafter abbreviated “GBV.”

8. See, e.g., Rush Rhees, Discussions of Simone Weil (Albany: SUNY Press, 2000), p. 113, hereafter abbreviated DSW; or Bennett Helm, Love, Friendship, and the Self (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 187–89, on the importance of discernment.

9. Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile (London: HarperCollins, 2014); hereafter abbreviated DN.

10. The important Wittgensteinian notion of “attitude” has been characterized aptly by David Cockburn as a complex combination of how one “feels about and acts towards” the other (David Cockburn, Other Human Beings [Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1990], p. 6).

11. See Forsberg’s criticisms of Jollimore: Niklas Forsberg, “Thinking about a Word—Love, for Example,” Metaphilosophy 48 (2017): 30–46.

12. See more about the Socratic heritage in Tomáš Hejduk, “What Did Socrates Love?” in Love and Its Objects, ed. Christian Maurer et al. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), pp. 56–71.

13. An example would be Rorty’s analysis of loving relationships and attitudes as gradually evolving along with the personalities of the lovers and their perception of the relationship: Amélie Rorty, “The Historicity of Psychological Attitudes: Love Is Not Love Which Alters Not When It Alteration Finds,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 10 (1986): 399–412.

14. See Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty (Oxford: Blackwell, 1969), §110.

15. See Tony Milligan, Love (Durham: Acumen, 2011), pp. 78–83.

16. Note Wittgenstein’s notion of “family resemblance” between various particular games with no essential feature shared by them all. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (Oxford: Wiley, 2009), §65–67.

17. See Peter Winch, “Trying,” in Ethics and Action (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972), pp. 130–50.

18. See Troy Jollimore, On Loyalty (New York: Routledge, 2013), chap. 1.

19. The discussion reaches back to Josiah Royce‘s classic, The Philosophy of Loyalty (New York: Macmillan, 1908).

20. See Robert Nozick, “Love’s Bond,” in The Philosophy of (Erotic) Love, ed. Robert Solomon and Kathleen Higgins (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1991), pp. 417–32.

21. Bernard Williams, “Persons, Character and Morality,” in Moral Luck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), pp. 1–19.

22. Rush Rhees, “Religion and Language,” in On Religion and Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 39–49.

23. Velleman criticizes such tendencies in Vlastos’s and Nussbaum’s accounts of love, remarking that while “we want to be loved warts and all, as the saying goes, I don’t think that we want to be loved for our warts. Who wants to be the object of someone’s wart-love? What we want is to be loved by someone who sees and isn’t put off by our warts, but who appreciates our true value well enough to recognize that they don’t contribute to it” (J. David Velleman, “Love as a Moral Emotion,” Ethics 109 [1999]: 338–374 [370n101]).

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