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Lecture 6

PHL 606 Lecture 6: Irving Singer's "Appraisal and Bestowal" & Alan Soble's "Reconciling Eros and Agape"

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PHL 606
Christopher Thomson

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Introduction In a modern, scientific society, we have a tendency to reduce things to their component parts without thinking of the relation of one part to another or of each part to the whole. For his part, Irving Singer begins in just this way: love is a means of placing value on something, and he finds two clear ways in which we do this. Unlike our abovementioned tendency, though, he seeks a third, more holistic way of understanding love. Alan Soble, in comparison, tries to dissect Singer’s conflation of appraisal and bestowal, claiming that they are two distinct things. Appraising and Bestowing Irving Singer's "Appraisal and Bestowal" Singer starts his essay with the assumption that love is a means of valuing something. There are, however, two different ways that we can come to value something, according to Singer: 1. It is possible to have a positive estimation of something or someone based on our perception or "discovery" of certain qualities that we assume are possessed by something. 2. It is possible to have a positive estimation of something based entirely on the fact that you value it. The very act of valuing in this case serves to confer value on something. Singer refers to the first process as appraisal and the second process as bestowal. This distinction had led some to wonder, What is love? When someone loves another, what exactly is going o— appraisal or bestowal? There are three options open to us: 1. Love might be appraisal. 2. Love might be bestowal. 3. Love might be an admixture of appraisal and bestowal. In fact, Singer seems to imply that the third option is necessary to avoid problems that are raised by attempting to define love exclusively as one or the other. We commonly assume that love is a matter of appraisal; however, if love is a matter of appraisal (for example, if it is a matter of valuing some quality that we think someone possesses), it would seem that love would run into difficulties whenever: a) We were to find someone else with identical qualities or if we were to find someone who possessed a superior set of qualities. b) If this individual was to lose these qualities or have them diminish in some fashion. On the other hand, defining love as complete bestowal, not appraisal, leaves us room to treat and value the other person as someone who is unique. The drawback is that, because bestowal is grounded in an act of almost pure volition, this approach leaves love as some type of "groundless" and inexplicable bond that one person has with another. Singer suggests that a more holistic view of love is to see love as containing both elements so that the shortcomings of both processes (especially those of equating love with appraisal) can be avoided. Appraisal, he explains, may account for what attracts us to someone— or it may play a part in the causal explanation of why any two people may be in love— but it cannot explain love entirely. Appraisal alone cannot account for those inexplicable cases where love persists in spite of changes in circumstances that would serve to change a disinterested person's appraisal of the situation. Singer also admits that the "groundlessness" of bestowal will always leave a certain aspect of love mysterious and inexplicable to everyone but the person who has chosen to bestow value on something or someone. In this sense, love will always be beyond reason and objective evaluation (it is interesting that Singer puts it outside moral consideration). Love, he argues, must involve both aspects in order to be complete. It is also important to note that even though the bestowal component of love is not an objective process in the sense that appraisal is, bestowal (and the bond it is capable of creating) is not considered by Singer to be false or illusory. It may also be a necessary component of love in order to overcome and resolve the difficulty mentioned above in point a). We can bestow uniqueness on someone by valuing them uniquely. In the sense that bestowal literally creates a circumstance where love can occur, Singer compares the urge the lover has to bestow love with the urge the artist has to create a work of art. Although they may begin as conceptions in the artist's mind alone, once they are realized, "objets d'art" take on a reality of their own. Singer ends his article by suggesting that, like art, love (holistically considered) is capable of lifting the banal considerations of love (appraisal of the qualities someone may possess) to a higher level; it is this kind of uplifting process that makes relationships and, perhaps, life itself ultimately worthwhile. Lust and Love Alan Soble's "Reconciling Eros and Agape" Soble suggests that Singer's distinction between appraisal and bestowal is parallel to the historical distinction between Eros and Agape. Soble takes issue with what he sees as Singer's confused claim that love needs to involve both appraisal and bestowal. If bestowal needs to include the element of appraisal, then what happens to genuine bestowal? Doesn't the inclusion of appraisal defeat the idea of bestowal? Soble concentrates on the idea that appraisal and bestowal may be mutually exclusive terms. As a result, Soble returns us to the original difficulties we encountered with Singer's analysis. In fact, if appraisal and bestowal are seen as mutually exclusive terms, a rather sharp problem arises. Consider the following excerpt from Soble's "The Coherence of Love": The fact that in bestowing value on Y, X may be treating Y as unique or non-replaceable, does not solve the problem of how non-replaceability is possible if love is property based. The view is confronted with a dilemma: Either X bestows value on Y because Y has valuable properties in virtue of which X loves Y (the bestowal of value is property based), or X bestows value on Y independently of Y's properties. This leads to some difficulties: 1. If X bestows value on Y in virtue of Y's valuable properties or because X's love for Y is
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