Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Love Matters

Here's something a little different from the normal blog entry. Tibor R. Machan has given me permission to publish one of his recent essays in its entirety here on the Outright Libertarians blog and website. Professor Machan writes prolifically about philosophy and ethics. I thought this piece to be especially apropos for this audience. So with no further ado...

Love Matters
Tibor R. Machan

Ethics is the primary human concern because it addresses how one ought to live one's life. But difficulties attend this concern big time.
more . . .
First, while nearly everyone confidently makes ethical judgments-even those who are skeptics do, when they decry that others make them-just how to support or defend them is a problem. Most of us turn to our religious upbringing for that but some find it in natural law (which means deriving ethics from human nature) or even social convention. Since, however, there are innumerable religions, multiple conceptions of human nature, and certainly widely differing social conventions, grounding ethics-showing that one's ethical judgments are sound-is a challenge.

Second, even if one is confident that one's foundation for making ethical judgments is solid, what exactly do those foundations support? Sure, probably there are some very basic principles of human conduct-the moral virtues, the commandments, or the like-that could gain support. But more particular judgments-"You should work hard at your job," "You should play fair in sports," "You should help the poor abroad"-are more difficult because one size does not fit all. A parent with five kids perhaps should not focus on providing some aid to the foreign poor, while a well to do single person could well have that as a proper moral objective, among many others.

Now I'll stop there because my main topic is just this one size fits all issue. The recently inaugurated HBO show, Big Love, dealing with polygamy-which is a misnomer, since somehow women aren't deemed to be candidates for having several husbands, even in orthodox Mormonism-brings this to mind. Should all lasting, legally certified romantic relationships be monogamous? Is that what all persons should seek and if not, what else might there be?

As we live longer and longer, the idea of two people declaring their love for each other "'til death do us part" seems more and more dubious. That idea was much more plausible when it meant, as it must have originally, three or five years. Now it can mean fifty or seventy and over such a haul human beings are very likely to change significantly enough not to suit those they married at 20. So divorce appears not to be what Roman Catholics and some other groups think it is, namely, a sin.

Yet even apart from this, perhaps some folks can love many others, deeply, loyally, intimately, just as polygamists contend. I don't know how and I once had an argument that seemed to rule this out. I thought that since we are all unique individuals, when we become fully intimate with another unique individual, that love is itself unique and to try some other at the same time would simply be impossible-it would have to destroy the first one. But I don't know any longer if this holds true-there might be unique individuals who can love several other unique individuals, all equally deeply, intimately. Surely the very fact that we are all unique human individuals suggests that there can be different ways of loving other individuals, deeply and intimately.

When gay marriages were being debated, opponents chimed in with dire warnings about a slippery slope: Soon this will mean polygamy and who knows what else! But why would that be so awful? We have people with very different careers, hobbies, homes, cars, personalities, and so forth and all that seems perfectly OK. Why not people with very different marriages? (And no, bestiality isn't on this slope since a relationship with some member of another species cannot really be a loving-deep, intimate-union; folks, other than perverts, don't really mean it when they say, "I love my car or even cat." Not in that way.)

In most areas of human life it is taken as natural that novelty will emerge. Not only are we ourselves often quite inventive and creative-just consider all the arts, with all the new kinds and types of styles coming from them, or science, technology, fashion, etc.-but even the non-human world around us goes through changes, some of them Draconian, some piecemeal.

I hope you found Tibor's column interesting and thought provoking. If so, you may also want to read Lori Heini's recent post on polygamy.