Moral principles mean little unless people are able to use love in applying ethical codes to other human beings, internationally acclaimed author Robert Solomon told Utah Valley Community College students Monday.
Solomon, speaking at a National Endowment for the Humanities seminar, said love is the starting point of ethics and that ethics cannot exist without love."Something's gone very wrong in our thinking about ethics," he said. People have grown to associate ethics with obligations and duties and think ethics has little to do with love, despite the attention they give to love in their private lives.
"It's not as if we don't think about that particular emotion, but the connection with ethics has been dropped," Solomon said.
The subject of ethics is often thought of in general terms, in which principles are applied to all on a general basis. But while ethics may not deal with particular people, love does deal with individuals, Solomon said. He said it makes little sense for people to claim love for humanity if they can't apply that love individually.
Solomon disagrees with those who claim that love is irrational and emotional, and therefore plays no part in ethics. Emotions, rather, "are our own doing" and "are more indicative of what we are than our facade of rationality. It's not something that hits you. It's something that you cultivate."
The intractability of emotions can be their greatest virtue, Solomon continued. While principles and codes of ethics often are amended, emotions can be more durable, making people valuable and essential to others.
The emergence of roles in a relationship characterizes love, he said. Love is a shared identity, a way of identifying and casting oneself with and through another person again.
Because loved ones define each other in terms of virtues, an understanding of the distinction between one's private and public self is essential.
For example, Solomon said, people want to know about the private lives of presidential contenders George Bush and Michael Dukakis. Why? Because human beings' identities are privately defined by their own love relationships, he said.
Love, therefore, is basic to ethics because moral principles and ethical codes are meaningless in the absence of human interaction. Love relationships, Solomon said, constitute the starting point of ethics.
Solomon, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, received his master's degree and doctorate in philosophy/psychology at the University of Michigan in 1965 and 1967, respectively. He has published 180 articles and written more than 20 books, his latest is titled "About Love."