Philosophy of Love (Fall 2009) - Final Paper

Write a paper on one of the topics below. I divided the topics into three distinct categories. You only have to write on one topic. You do not have to choose one from each category.

Alternatively, you can write on any topic of your choosing as long as it is related to the content of the course. If you have any doubt about the relevance of your topic, you should run it by me first. In general, it's a good idea to let me know what you plan to write on.

You have 1,800 words (5-6 pages).

Suggested Topics

Category I. Theories of Love

Defend a theory of love. Present a theory and then raise and reply to the most powerful objections that you can think of. Here are a few specific paper topics:

1. Defend the Union Theory. Nozick's version runs smack into the Problem of Self-Sacrifice. The Union Theory seems to imply that it is impossible to help the other member of the "we" at your own expense, since they would suffer your loss. It's also the case that you can't really sacrifice your own good for your beloved, since you would reap any benefit the other member of the "we" incurs. But clearly we can sacrifice ourselves for those we love. Hence, the Union Theory implies an absurdity. If you choose to the defend the Union Theory, you must solve the Problem of Self-Sacrifice.

2. Defend Frankfurt's view that love is a mode of caring. His theory appears to have two serious problems. First care isn't sufficient for love. It seems that we can care about something in the way he describes without loving it. Second, his notion of care does not track clear paradigms of love. We love things, such as cats, without having anything like a commitment to desire their betterment. If you choose to defend Frankfurt, you will have to defend his position against these problems.

3. Defend the Emotion Complex Theory of love. The central problem with emotion complex theories, such as those offered by Baier and Roberts, is that they appear to be nearly vacuous. What is an emotion complex? Can't all the emotions that one experiences as part of the complex be explained by concern for the beloved? For example, we feel fear when someone we care about is in danger. If so, why should we think that love is a complex of emotions and not simply a mode of caring?

4. Defend a Desire Theory of love. Thomas, for instance, argues that "love is a feeling anchored in an intense desire to engage in mutual caring, sharing, and physical expression." But what could this possibly be? What does it mean to have a "feeling anchored in a desire"? I know what it feels like to have a strong occurent desire. It's usually unpleasant. But love isn't. Further, it seems that we can have a desire to care, or share, or to get physical without loving. What distinguishes mere urges to share from those motivated by love? It seems that we often explain our desires to share, for instance, by reference to our love: We desire to share with X because we love X. But the desire theorist can't say anything of the sort. Love just is having the desires to, say, care, share, and get physical. Hence, desire theorists can't say that we desire to share because we love, since they think love is, at least partly, the desire to share. This is very odd. Defend a similar view against some or all of these problems. It would be best to confine your discussion to romantic love. (You do not have to discuss Thomas's theory of love. You simply need to defend a plausible desire theory.)

Category II. Reasons for Love

Defend a position on the reasons for love debate. Are there normative reasons for love? Does it make sense to evaluate love as appropriate or inappropriate? Here are a few specific paper topics:

5. Defend the No-Reasons View against the Problem of Requests for Justification. It seems that we expect people to be able to justify their love. We ask: "What do you see in him?" "Why do you love him?" Thomas argues that these are not requests for justification, but for mere explanation. Is this plausible? Consider Butch's watch in "Pulp Fiction": Do we expect Butch to be able to justify his attachment to his father's watch? Alternatively, can Butch justify his attachment? If so, this suggests that the No-Reasons View is wrong. To defend the No-Reasons View, you need a good reply to this problem. (There might be an important difference between what we want and what we can provide.)

6. Evaluate Keller's claim that love can be justified by appealing to the properties of the beloved. Does he have an adequate reply to the problem of trading up or The Swap? You might also want to consider his positive argument. Perhaps, ideally we could justify our love based on the kinds of properties that Keller appeals to, but does this give us any reason to think that we can? Is this an argument from wishful thinking? Alternatively, you might accuse Keller of committing the Fallacy of the Knight of Mirrors. How might he respond?

7. Defend the No-Reasons View against the Problem of Inappropriate Love. Develop a compelling case against the view. You should discuss Kolodny's example of Fred Simmons--the mother who finds herself loving one of her child's classmates. Also, you should develop the abused housewife counter-example. It seems that love for Fred or for the abusive husband is inappropriate. If so, the No-Reasons view is wrong. Defend the view from this objection.

8. Defend the Reasons View against the Problem of Projection. Love seems to involve projection. As Helen argues in A Midsummer Night's Dream, "Things base and vile, holding no quantity, Love can transpose to form and dignity." Further, any version of the reasons view that appeals to the intrinsic properties of the individual as justifying love seems to commit the Fallacy of the Knight of the Mirrors. Defend the Reasons View against this charge. What kinds of reasons might escape these difficulties?

Category III. Persons or Properties

Defend a position on the love for persons debate. Is the object of our love the person or the properties? What does it mean to love a person? Here is a specific paper topic:

9. Defend Kraut against the Problem of Property Change. If love is directed at the person, then how could the properties of the person make it come or go? Kraut argues that love de re is historical in a way analogous to proper names. But proper names do not cease to refer if the properties of the referent change. Why, then, does love?

Note: In order to evaluate a theory, you must first explain the theory. When explaining a counter-example to a definition, you need to specify whether the example shows that a proposed condition is not necessary, not sufficient, or neither. If you are evaluating an argument, you need to build up the argument and then show where it might go wrong. To build up an argument, you must do more than merely offer a formalization. You must explain the argument. Typically, showing where an argument goes wrong will require arguing that one of the premises is false. Be sure to consider obvious, compelling replies to your objections. If you think an argument is good, then you will need to defend it against the strongest objections that you can think of.

Note: Keep quotations to an absolute minimum. For the most part, I'm interested in positions and arguments not a particular person's formulation. Only use quotations to provide evidence of what someone thinks. Since I don't want interpretive papers, you won't need to do much of this. Most importantly, never use quotes to speak for you. All quotes must be glossed.

Due Date

12/9/2009 (Wednesday)


The exam should be in total no more than 1,800 words. This is approximately 6 pages double-spaced with Arial 12 point font.


The paper must be typed. It should be double spaced. It should have one inch margins. You should use a 12 point font. I prefer Arial, since it is easy to read. Please follow the general paper and exam instructions under the "course documents / writing" section on Blackboard.


I do not need a hard copy. You must submit the paper through Safe Assign via Blackboard by 11:59 pm on the due date. Safe Assign is a plagiarism detection tool. It will compare your paper against others available online, in journals, submitted in this class, Temple, and from all other universities that use the software.

Note: Plagiarism will result in a failing grade in the class, not just on this assignment.


Your paper should be clearly written, well-structured, and free of grammatical and spelling errors. It is practically impossible to get higher than a C if you start writing the night before the paper is due. The grading scale is as follows:

A = excellent

B = good

C = meets minimal expectations

D = bad

F = awful