Ethics in the Shadow of Love. Quinn White (MIT)

February 7, 2020 @ 3:30 pm – 5:30 pm
NYU Philosophy Dept. rm 202
5 Washington Pl
New York, NY 10003

One of the central questions facing human beings is how we should respond to the humanity of others. Since the enlightenment, secular Western ethics has gravitated towards two kinds of answer: we should care for others’ well-being, or we should respect them as autonomous agents. Largely neglected is an answer we can find the religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Buddhism: we should love all. Analytic philosophers have started to pay more attention to love. But unlike those working within religious traditions, for whom an ideal of love for all serves as the central, organizing ideal in ethics, most of these philosophers see love as confined to the domain of intimate relationships between friends, family, romantic partners and the like. This paper argues that an ideal of love for all, of agape, can be understood apart from its more typical religious contexts and moreover provides a unified and illuminating account of the the nature and grounds of morality. Against challenges to the idea that love for all is possible, I offer a novel account of what it would be to love all. I go on to argue that while it is possible to love all, most of us should not, as doing so would rule out the possibility of loving particular friends and families. Instead, we should approximate love for all. I argue that the minimal approximation of love for all is, surprisingly, respect, deriving the basic, structural features of deontological ethics (including anti-welfarism and anti-aggregation) from my account of love for all.

Reception to follow.

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