Posts Tagged ‘Selfishness’

Love, Sacrifice, and Ayn Rand

Posted on September 25, 2012 at 6.05 pm

Q. “To love a person is selfish because it means that you value that particular person, that he or she makes your life better, that he or she is an intense source of joy—to you. A ‘disinterested’ love is a contradiction in terms. One cannot be neutral to that which one values. The time, effort and money you spend on behalf of someone you love are not sacrifices, but actions taken because his or her happiness is crucially important to your own. Such actions would constitute sacrifices only if they were done for a stranger—or for an enemy. Those who argue that love demands self-denial must hold the bizarre belief that it makes no personal difference whether your loved one is healthy or sick, feels pleasure or pain, is alive or dead.”  Could you elaborate your views on this topic in relation to the self-sacrificial love Jesus portrayed? (P.S.: this isn’t political philosophy, but does just plain ol’ philosophy count?) – Moriah, from the internet.

A. Ah, Objectivism. I’ve read and enjoyed Ayn Rand, but on so many issues we must part ways. This quote comes from one Gary Hull, writing for the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights. It’s a selection from an essay which I’d suggest, not to put too fine a point on it, misunderstands love in just about every way possible—and particularly the love which you mentioned, namely the love of Christ. The main problem, I think, is Hull’s gross confusion of different types of love (romantic love, for instance, is not the same as friendship, or a parent’s love for a child—though English leaves us with just one word for them all) and really unfortunate misunderstanding of what the Christian concept of selfless love, or “agape,” entails.

The selfless aspect of agape love is that it requires that we put what is best for the beloved over our own desires. This is not unconditional love in the sense that Hull seems to understand it, where we would “condemn death camps but send Hitler a box of Godiva chocolates.” That’s not love; that’s foolish indulgence. It’s not best for Hitler to have a box of chocolates; it’s best for him to be brought to justice for his actions and, if at all possible, be brought to understand why they were wrong and how he might become different and better. To see how absurd Hull’s example is, get rid of Hitler and say that your significant other has gone mad, murdered someone, and doesn’t think their action was wrong. Would anyone think the loving course of action is to give the SO chocolates? No, of course not—it is in fact our love for them which would require us to inform the police and hopefully get the SO psychiatric help.

In short, Hull takes the vapid, greeting card love we’re encouraged to engage in at Valentine’s Day, sets it up as Love with a capital L, and then handily tears down his straw man. But a straw man indeed it is, and I’m rather disappointed to see an argument of this caliber written by so well-educated a man—let alone published.