chapter  8
13 Pages

On Loving Our Enemies


Christ’s message is that, despite its diffi culty, loving one’s enemy is valuable, indeed, that the value is evidenced by the diffi culty. One might well wonder why diffi culty should be thought valuable-is there something morally defective about living in undemanding temperate climes, such as California’s, where one does not need to shovel winter snow? But aside from the question of the nature and evidences of moral value, there is an issue of psychological possibility. Freud, in Civilization and Its Discontents (Freud 1930: 109-112, 142-143), famously ridicules Christ’s commandment of universal love. His complaint is that loving one’s enemy is not merely diffi cult, but psychologically impossible, and perhaps even morally dubious. After all, what has one’s enemy done to deserve one’s love, and, assuming that love affects what one actually does, does it not have costs in terms of the favour or preferential treatment that one owes and will have to deny to those who have loved one and treated one well? He suggests impartiality in love may be a kind of injustice. Crucially, for Freud, the special psychological diffi culty in loving one’s enemies is connected with natural human aggression. Its objects, like the objects of love, would seem fi xed in human nature. You can’t overcome hatred simply because society or religion tells you that you ought, you can’t make yourself love someone because you think you should. Freud quotes Heine’s humorous take on the matter:

Mine is a most peaceable disposition. My wishes are: a humble cottage with a thatched roof, but a good bed, good food, the freshest milk and butter, fl owers before my window, and a few fi ne trees before my door; and if God wants to make my happiness complete, he will grant me

the joy of seeing some six or seven of my enemies hanging from those trees. Before their death I shall, moved in my heart, forgive them all the wrong they did me in their lifetime. One must, it is true, forgive one’s enemies-but not before they have been hanged. (Freud 1930: 110n.1; Heine, Gedanken und Einfälle, Section I)

What kind of a moral imperative is it that ignores the facts of human psychology? What is the point of telling people they ought to do something that they, psychologically, cannot? Kant would doubtless respond to Freud that he is misunderstanding the nature of moral imperatives. They are addressed to the pure, not the empirical, will. He writes in the Grundlegung:

Undoubtedly in this way also are to be understood those passages of Scripture which command us to love our neighbor and even our enemy. For love as an inclination cannot be commanded; but benefi cence from duty, when no inclination impels us and even when a natural and unconquerable aversion opposes such benefi cence, is practical, and not pathological, love. Such love resides in the will and not in the propensities of feeling, in principles of action and not in tender sympathy; and only this practical love can be commanded. (Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals AA IV: 399, 1785, Ellington trans.)

Emotions, Kant would apparently agree with Freud, are not in our control. Moral commands are restricted to what is in one’s control. The moral will, which for Kant is the only unconditionally good thing in the world or out of it, is what matters. Moral worth depends on acting from duty, from respect for law in accordance with the Categorical Imperative. Our ‘principles of action’—what we try to do-are supposed to be for us to determine, even when ‘tender sympathy’ is beyond our powers. But can we really make sense of respect for the moral law apart from our understanding of the empirical world of so-called ‘pathological’ emotions? What, in the end, is ‘respect’? Is it too an emotion? Certainly like emotions in general it is here an attitude and a motive. Kant himself acknowledges it is a feeling, but insists it must be distinguished from the ordinary run of feelings that can be reduced to inclination or fear, are linked to self-love, and are not purely rational (AA IV: 401n.14). It is supposed to be the effect on us of recognition of the majesty of the law. We are to act from duty. The dutiful ‘principles of action’ or maxims of our conduct are what Kant equates with the ‘practical love’ that he thinks can be commanded. But can we choose our motives? Do we determine the reasons that move us?