Some Thoughts on Love and the Will

Plumb blossom outside a Confucius memorial school near Yunlong Shan, Xuzhou.

Is Love the function of the heart, or is it rather an end to our willing? In other words, is Love the going after part of when we want, or is it the what we are going after?

These are the types of questions tumbling through my head as I start my meditation one morning in Spring. I lay down on my bed and begin observing my surroundings. I can see the morning sun peeking through my blinds. I can feel its presence where it warms my clothing. I take a deep breath. As I exhale, I pick up on the sound of this morning’s bird song just outside my window…

At first I think it is obviously the case that Love is what I am after — that love is what we are all after. It is an object of our pursuits. At almost 29 years old, with no prospects, this is what I am actively looking for. I want to fall in love and sooner, rather than later, start a family. But as my thoughts deepen I remember some peculiar wisdom.

If my memory hasn’t failed me, Plato suggested in his Symposium that Love, or Eros, far from being a god her self, was a mere messenger of the gods — a go-between between the Divine and men. Perhaps then if the question was put before him, Plato would side with the former of my options — that being love is the function of the heart and not an end. But, for the sake of consideration, if Love were to be an end — the what it is we are after — I suppose it must then be a means to another end (that is I want love because if I get love I’ll be happy). Or could it possibly be the highest end?

Aristotle taught us in his Nicomachean Ethics that happiness, not love, was the highest practical end for human life — the thing we all strive for, whether we are conscious of it or not. But when people ask why it is I do certain things, like pursue philosophy, the response “because I love it” seems to stand in no further need of justification. After all, shouldn’t we do what we love? — need there be a further reason?

But then hang on a minute. Do I want to will love or will happiness? Won’t love make me happy? Or is love the willing towards happiness? Can’t the will want two things simultaneously? What am I even after? Why do I do anything at all?

Finding myself lost between two great thinkers, and quickly spinning out of control, I suppose for the time being that the heart only ever wants one thing, whatever it may be (Love, Happiness, or something else entirely), and it is our desires that cloud this, by presenting us with a multiplicity of objects to desire. Further, I suppose it is the intellect, and not our desire, that supplies the heart with this one true object, but it remains for the will to execute this demand, not the intellect — which always remains inert. Finding this somewhat reasonable, if not only comforting, it appears I would favor the voluntarist (someone who believes that reason or intellect is only ever in service to the will and cannot necessitate it). But, then again, what if the intellect were supplied with Divine Knowledge?

Ah, now I think we’re on to something.

Here, when knowledge turns absolute, perhaps it carries with it the power to compel behavior. This, if such a thing could take place, would still not necessitate behavior, as one could still presumably turn their back on their fate, and be “dragged along by the cart”, as the stoics use to say. I’ve always said there’s a choice, but not a choice in what the consequences of our choices will be.

I stop meditating, pick up a pen, and begin to write.

I know three articles of Divine Knowledge: That I am an alcoholic, that I am a philosopher, and that I am bisexual (perhaps after all these amount to only two). These three articles effect my behavior. My will is in service to them. I cannot deny them. If I will against them, it is as if part of me is dying.

While no doubt my will has become accustomed to these three facts, and is inline with them as I sit here today, they are not objects of the will proper. Nor are they objects of desire, even though at times I lust after them, like they were. I know I cannot convince the reader that I know these three things absolutely, as they are personal truths, and so I will simply say that I have exercised my will in vain so immensely in my past that no one could deny, having lived what I have, where these articles now lie. For when they were objects of desire, of both positive and negative mode (meaning when I wanted them to be the case, and when I did not want them to be case), and I willed them, I failed utterly in obtaining them and/or what they entailed. I have been defeated by them.

Now it could be argued that this is because of my own incontinence. And had I the power of will requisite, I could have manifested these three objects (I could have been or not have been these three things). Thus, proving the intellectualist (a person who thinks the will is determined by what the intellect deems the best) wrong, as I could not carry out what I thought best. To this, I would not refute, but simply add that this needed power was bestowed upon my self when these objects became articles of Divine Knowledge.

It wasn’t until I knew, in the most profound sense possible, my alcoholism that sobriety was accomplished. It wasn’t until I knew my sexuality on this plane that it became something I could will without it destroying me. And it wasn’t until I knew my constitution in this way that I could make real use of my talents and not squander them.

Now these three articles, when brought to mind, change my specific course of action throughout my life, if not throughout my day. I have recourse to them. I can feel the effect that they have on my choices. They cannot be objects of desire, even though I desire them, because they are permanent and objects of desire are always fleeting. They aren’t objects of the will proper, or the object of the will, because the will, presumably, only ever wants one thing.

When I remember these three articles, my will falls in line, so to speak, and executes them as if they were decrees from God himself. To deny them, would be to deny the will of what it truly wants.

While I find these truths certainly compelling, it is still not a matter of necessity. For if I can turn my back on God, which I have so proved for most of my life, I can certainly deny myself of what I want.

I know these things, and although I could act against them, I see no reason to. I want them, and because of them I have the power to get what I want. In this way, maybe Socrates was right to say, “one will do what is right or best just as soon as one truly understands what is right or best.”

But then are these three articles merely a means to another end? More than likely I suppose, but a means supplied by the intellect all the same.

These three articles have been supplied by experience, worked upon by both reason and faith, and brought to illumination by something Divine. Now they stand alone, as autonomous squires poking and prodding the prince along towards my highest aim.

But now we are back to where began. What is my highest aim?

Woe to me! Oh Plato, why can’t I love Love? Why can’t she be an end? Call me lustful, or greedy, but I see no reason why my highest aim cannot be of both Love and Happiness. For when I am Happy, I am loving. And when I am loved, I am Happy. And is there really anything more than this? Is there anything more than simply falling in love with the act of loving — the act of living? These three great truths of mine have given me new life. And where would my squires be leading me, if not to True Love? If she must be immaterial, why must she then be unchanging and otherworldly? I care nothing for your world of Forms, if I cannot live them!

And what of him? What of him?! Isn’t this more than desire?

As I fall back from the heavens, I am reminded of the happiness of others, and I ask my self if there need be a counterpart to these three truths of mine in this world? Why must I find someone who truly “gets me”? Why do I need a soul mate? If I can’t lie with the gods in the here and now, can’t I still rest satisfied with the happiness of loving a beautiful wife, family, and country? Is this not an end in its self? Can’t I love the loving, for no other reason than to keep on this thing called living? And after all, isn’t Love, being a messenger of the gods, how it is I share in communion with the Divine in the here and now? Looked at that way, what other end to our lives could there possibly be higher than this?

Squires! Onward and Outward! It’s time to go to work. I’m late for class.