The Idea of a Duty to Love

Can there be a duty to love someone? Many people do not think so. One common objection, what I call the commandability objection, says that duty requires that the action required by the duty to be commandable, but love is an emotion and emotions are not commandable. Another objection, what I call the motivation objection, says that really to love a person, one must be motivated to love the person for the person’s sake. However, to have a duty to love means that one would not be motivated to love the person for the person’s sake, but for the sake of the duty. In this paper, I examine both objections and I argue that neither undermines the idea of a duty to love. [Journal of Value Inquiry 40(1) 2006: 1-22] [pdf | html]

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May 2nd, 2008 | By | Category: Moral Psychology

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  1. Think of love without a sense of duty in it. What would that look like? A loving daughter tells her mother she loves her very much but she will not take care of her dog when she is away, that her mother should take the dog to a kennel which causes the mother to secretly cry. A sister says she loves her sister but feels no sense of duty to help care for her sister’s children when the brother-in-law is sick. “Not my problem. Find another solution. Let someone else do it.”

    Love is easy when there is no sense of duty to go along with it. What is love without duty? Empty love.

    One shows love by joyously taking up the duty required. Duty and love combined feeds the love and self-respect.

  2. This is why I believe that love is so much more vital to human flourishing than, for example, compassion or kindness. These latter values, while vital, still allow the individual to stay detached from the other. Kindness and compassion are too vague, to general to reliably motivate action. On the other hand, love is specific, and it requires me not just to hope for the best for someone, but to act on their behalf. Love is an investment, and indeed, a duty.