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Kant's Views on Love

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Kant’s Doctrine of Duty explores the relationship between moral duty and law: “Love between persons may only come into existence when the binding force of moral duty exerts itself.” According to Kant, we must never consider duty to be imposing and imprisoning. We must never think of it as something that only seeks to destroy freedom and love. Instead, we must realize that love can only truly come to fruition through a relationship bound by a sense of duty. There are two kinds of duty: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic duty may be defined as a duty that has been imposed upon the object by external situations or elements; for example, religious institutions, society or the familial unit. Intrinsic duty is a sense of duty that takes root within the self. It is the latter of the two which Kant, in his Critique of Practical Reason, expounds. He explains that we must willingly submit to a universal principle of morality. Without a transcendental, universal moral foundation, there would be no such thing as objective morality. This would, in turn, result in the advent of moral relativism and subjectivity. This would encourage the pursuit of love for selfish motives. We can circumvent this eventuality by committing ourselves to a “categorical imperative”; i.e., a law that applies to all. One becomes moral only by entering into a contractual relationship bound by duty. Outside this contractual relationship, morals are only based on opinions, and there is no such thing as a universal moral law. Any notion of objective morality and absolute good is, therefore, promptly destroyed.

In order to better understand his views on love, another fundamental statement must be analyzed: “In the absence of duty, love is hopelessly selfish, fickle, and lacking in objective morality.” Kant sketches out a framework of this categorical imperative to which we must submit: “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or the person of another, always as an end in itself and never as a means only.” This universal principle must be followed in order to pursue love morally and virtuously. According to Kant, all beings have intrinsic value. They are all ends-in-themselves. They must be loved for their own internal worth, and should not be used as a means to achieve something else, only to be disposed of after the ultimate goal has been realized. Their value, therefore, should not be undermined and cheapened. When a man claims to love a woman, but only wants to manipulate her and use her for wealth or social status, she becomes “a mere means to an end of self-gratification.” If, however, a man loves a woman for her own intrinsic value, and enters into a consensual, honest relationship with her, he may be said to pursue love truthfully and morally. The purest form of such a contractual relationship can only be realized in matrimony, says Kant. He even says that sex out of wedlock amounts to selfishness. Throughout his argument, Kant stresses on the obligatory nature of love. As humans, we are obligated to willingly capitulate to a higher moral order. However, there are a couple of counterarguments that one may level at this approach: Kant does not touch upon the possibility of an altruistic dimension to love. He only speaks of love as a moral obligation. Second of all, Kant believes in absolutes. Love is either founded on duty, or immoral. Why must different forms of love be criticized by the perception of a higher universal order? Kant does not take into consideration the changing views on what may be considered objectively right or wrong. His theory is not, in this sense, very flexible, as it only employs a teleological view on love, as moral love involves the submission of the will to universal principles.

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As seen from the essay, Kant’s theory prescribes a very respectful, elevated form of love – one that not only protects both participants from probable manipulation and hurt, but also urges people to allow themselves to be governed by universal, absolute principles. By accepting a higher form of morality, we learn to treat people as ends-in-themselves.

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