For Valentine’s Day, Barbara Andrew and I were going to hold a debate at William Paterson University on the existence of unconditional love. I was going to argue against its existence, but weather forced a campus closure.
So here is my argument. If you have plans for Valentine’s Day, you better read my argument before you execute them.
My argument will be scientific. I will not consider so-called divine love. Nor will I make the claim that it is logically impossible for there to be unconditional love. I will argue that on a straightforward analysis of love and and a scientific understanding of conditions, human beings are incapable of it.
What is love? We need to make remarks general enough to cover romantic love, familial love, etc.
In the most general sense of love as it applies to contexts in which x loves y, where x and y are both persons, x loves y insofar as x desires benefits for y and does not desire harms for y. For simplicity I will define benefits to include harm-avoidance.
What does it mean for love to be conditional?
X loves y unconditionally iff x desires benefits for y regardless of x perceiving any benefits for x.
x loves y conditionally iff x’s desire of benefits for y depends on x perceiving benefits for x.
An example of conditional love would be if Sally let Jim live in her home, but kicked him out when she discovered that Jim had been stealing from her. An example of unconditional love would be if Sally let Jim live with her even after Jim was caught stealing from her, was later discovered to have killed Sally’s puppy, and even later was discovered to have raped and tortured Sally’s mother.
Now that the crucial terms have been clarified, here is the crux of my argument:
There is no human being that desires benefits for another human regardless of benefits to themselves. Keep in mind that the avoidance of harm is a benefit. For each person who loves another person, there is a finite threshold of harm beyond which they cannot tolerate to continue their love. The threshold may be higher for some than for others. For some it may be cheating while for others it will be torture. But being finite creatures, humans have only a finite capacity to put up with crap.
In summary: Send flowers.