Alienation and Love

This paper was written for the Summer@Brown course Themes from Existentialism, taught by Dr. Bernard Reginster.


Alienation and Love
I Introduction
Alienation is a phenomenon that occurs when one is dependent on someone else’s “freedom” (the ability of others to judge one without bias) for something that one wants. This dependency causes discomfort because one realizes that a part of her/him is entirely beyond her/his control--it is the part that other people see, and thus is responsible for obtaining things that are dependent on how other people see that part. For example, one’s social identity is partly formed by how other people see and judge a person, and identity is very important to people. The part of a person that other people judge is ultimately not controlled by the person, but it determines what the person’s identity is.
Love causes dependency because the lover’s happiness is determined by whether the other person loves her/him back or not; whether or not the beloved loves the lover is beyond the lover’s control, creating alienation. I defend this idea by breaking it into three steps and arguing for each:
(i) when one is in love, one’s happiness is determined by the reciprocation of that love; (ii) this reciprocation of love causes a dependency on the freedom of the beloved; and (iii) since the beloved’s opinion is beyond the lover’s control, the lover experiences alienation.
For the purposes of this paper I will use “lover” as one who loves the “beloved,” the object of the lover’s affections. I will restrict the definition of “love” as the lover’s appreciation for certain qualities in the beloved or vice versa. The love is formed in the lover. Love exists only between two people, as opposed to a person and an object, since it is unknown whether or not the reciprocation of love can even exist in a person-object relationship.
II Happiness Through Reciprocation
As stated above, the overall idea I am defending is when you love someone, you experience alienation because you depend on your beloved to love you back of his/her own free will. In this part, I will defend the first step of the idea: when you are in love, your happiness is determined by whether or not your love is reciprocated. In defense of this step, I will argue that if the beloved does not love the lover back, the lover is unhappy.
What I describe is obviously the phenomenon of unrequited love. Unrequited love is a widely known phenomenon with regards to crushes and other forms of romantic love: a deep unhappiness caused by a non-reciprocation on the lover’s behalf. Therefore a lover’s happiness depends on the beloved returning the love of the lover.
It could be argued that a lover does not require reciprocation of her/his love in the cases of familial (filial/parental or sibling) love, since these kinds of love exist in the lover inherently and do not require reciprocation in order to exist. However, the lover’s happiness does depend on reciprocation (regardless of whether or not the love itself requires it). For example, an abusive parent-child relationship features a parent who does not love the child and a child who still loves the parent to some degree, as filial love is inherent in all children. The child is unhappy that her/his love is not reciprocated, and thus the child’s happiness still depends on the reciprocation of her/his parent’s love. It could be said that parental love is inherent in all parents, but in this case the parent does not truly love his/her child since (s)he is abusive and thus perhaps the inherent parental love is absent.
With regards to platonic love, it could be argued that a friend’s happiness does not require that the friend’s love be returned. I reply that if a lover loves someone as a friend and the friend does not love them back, the friend is disappointed that the friendship does not exist--because the nature of friendship dictates that in order for a friendship to exist, the two parties must mutually love each other; i.e. someone who platonically loves another without known reciprocation is merely loving the potential friendship. In addition to her/his disappointment, the lover would be unhappy if the beloved did not reciprocate the love, because the inherent love in the lover went unfulfilled. Thus the lover’s happiness does depend on reciprocation with regards to the lover’s feelings about the friendship, not necessarily the lover’s overall emotional state.
If a friendship is going well and then one of the friends suddenly does not reciprocate the love, the snubbed friend will be unhappy about the unreciprocated love since their relationship was previously established.
III Reciprocation and Dependency
In this section I will prove the second part of the idea: the beloved’s reciprocation of love causes the lover to depend on the freedom of the beloved in order to be loved. Recall that “freedom” is defined as the ability of the beloved to judge the lover without bias. “Bias” refers to any of the beloved’s previous or incorrect views of the lover that cloud the lover’s true nature. When the beloved reciprocates the love, the lover is happy that reciprocation occurred. Yet the lover’s continued happiness depends on the fact that a) the beloved continue to love the lover of his/her own volition, and b) that the beloved love the lover unclouded by lies or previous biases--freedom. Part A is different from Part B because Part A refers to the expression and existence of the love, and Part B refers to the legitimacy of that love.
III a
The lover’s happiness in the relationship depends on the beloved loving the lover of his/her own volition, because the lover wants the beloved to do so since that would confirm the existence of the love. If this statement is true, it must be true that if the beloved did not love the lover of his/her own volition, the lover would be unhappy because the love would no longer be genuine. For example, if a tyrant wanted to be loved by the populace but knew the people did not actually love her/him, (s)he might have invented a campaign to attempt to convince the people to love her/him. When the campaign supposedly worked and the people declared their love for the tyrant, the love is only genuine if the people were actually convinced of the tyrant’s goodness (e.g. through propaganda). Otherwise, if the people were not actually convinced of the tyrant’s goodness (say they were blackmailed or tortured), the love is not genuine since the beloved cannot freely express love. In other words, the tyrant does not know if the beloved’s love actually exists at all (in a genuine format). Thus the tyrant would not be happy with the possibility of the beloved not loving her/him (of their own volition and hence genuinely), and therefore the tyrant’s happiness depends upon the beloved’s ability to exercise free will.
III b
Recall that freedom is the ability to freely judge someone without being clouded by biases or previous judgements; in other words, freedom allows the beloved to see the lover for whom the lover truly is. Such honesty determines the lover’s happiness in a love relationship, since the value of love involves being appreciated for whom one truly is. So if the beloved’s freedom is restricted, the lover is unhappy. For example, say Person X is (romantically) in love with Person Y. Person X changes her/his personality and appearance to better appeal to Person Y, but her/his genuine personality is hidden inside. Person Y appreciates Fake Person X and reciprocates the love. Person X is unhappy because Person Y’s love is clouded by lies about Person X’s true personality, and thus Person Y does not love Person X for who (s)he is. Thus Person X’s love depends on Person Y exercising freedom, which would mean eliminating the lies Person X told Person Y.
It may be argued that Person Y is feeling love towards Person X and that Person X should be happy with that love, but with the definition of love involving the lover’s true personality, Person Y’s love is not legitimate. Person X’s love would not be legitimate either under her/his guise of Fake Person X, because (s)he is not presenting her/his true self.
IV Freedom Causing Alienation
Above I established that a lover’s happiness depends on the beloved exercising freedom. In this part, it follows that since the beloved’s freedom is ultimately beyond the lover’s control, the lover experiences alienation. Recall that alienation occurs when one is dependent on someone else’s “freedom” (the ability of others to judge one without bias) for something that one wants; since someone else’s freedom is beyond one’s control, one is dependent on something beyond her/his control, creating a sense of uneasiness. In the case of love, the lover is dependent on the beloved’s ability to judge the lover without bias for the beloved’s happiness. Since the beloved’s love for the lover is ultimately beyond the lover’s control, the lover experiences alienation.
How is the beloved’s freedom beyond the lover’s control? Freedom is the unclouded opinion of a person, and since honest opinions cannot be controlled by the lover, the beloved’s freedom is beyond the lover’s control. The lover can exercise influence over the beloved’s opinion, but (s)he cannot directly control it through deception without destroying the beloved’s freedom (and thus the legitimacy of the love itself), as described in Part II. Only if the lover can “win people over” so to speak by exaggerating her/his natural personality can the lover control opinions; but even this strategy is not true control because a) perhaps exaggeration destroys the beloved’s freedom and b) exaggeration is still a form of influence, not direct control.
V Conclusion

Love is a source of alienation because the lover wants happiness via depending on the beloved’s freedom. This is true because (i) happiness in love requires reciprocation, (ii) reciprocation involves a dependency on the beloved’s opinions, and (iii) opinions cannot be controlled by the lover, hence alienation. In the first link, I outlined how a lack of reciprocation causes unhappiness, e.g. unrequited love, in various ways. I divided the second part into two pieces, one calling for the existence of the beloved’s opinions and the other for those opinions to be legitimate. In the last part, I showed how it is impossible for someone to control another person’s views of her/him. Through this method, I prove that love always involves a certain amount of vulnerability, a fact that anyone who has ever loved understands.

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