If no one ever loves me during my lifetime - if I don't ever have a relationship - will I have not lived properly? Is love that important to life, or is it something you can choose to engage in if you like? Thank you.

Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics argued that philia (a type of friendship-love) is essential to the good life. But Aristotle was a pinhead. For another take from a contemporary philosopher, who rejects the claim that love is essential to the good life, see Raja Halwani, Virtuous Liaisons: Care, Love, Sex, and Virtue Ethics. Chicago, Ill.: Open Court, 2003. And which rock group (J. Geils Band?) more radically impressed upon us that "Love Stinks"? To counter, I suppose, the inanity of the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" (la la la la la....). The way the Rolling Stones torpedoed the Beatles' "Let It Be" with their own "Let It Bleed."

I assume Alan Soble's response is at least partly tongue-in-cheek: Anyone who calls Aristotle a "pinhead" is surely either joking or provides a decisive example of that disability.

I rather suspect that most of us who have actually managed (at least sometimes!) to have loved and been loved in return would prefer this condition to the alternatives. A good life may be possible without love, but anyone who says that it is not important is surely a pinhead!

On Aristotle’s view, in order to determine whether Bob is living a goodlife, we first need to determine what kind of creature Bob is– e.g., ishe a human being, a dog, or an oak tree. We then would judge thequality of his life against a species standard of flourishing. Forexample, our view of what it would mean for a dog to live a good lifeis informed by our views about the nature of dogs. We tend to think ofa dog who lives its life in a cage as not living a good life for a dog,even if we imagine that it is given sufficient drugs to feel nodiscontent or frustration. A good life for a dog, we think, would beone thatinvolved companionship, running around, barking at threatening noisesand strangers, and so forth. Because a dog in a cage on drugs is notgiven the opportunity to engage in doggy activities, it is notfunctioning as a dog at a high level, and so, is not living a good lifefor a dog. If Bob is a dog, Aristotle would say, then we would judgehis quality of life as good just in case he had a lot of opportunitiesto engage in doggy activities and was able to perform doggily at a highlevel. If Bob were a human being, however, we would not judge his lifeas going well if he spent his life running around with other dogs,barking at threatening noises and strangers, no matter how well heperformed at these activities. There’s something wrong with Bob, we’dthink; and even if he is content with his doggy life, since he’s ahuman being, he’s not living the life that is best for him.

Itwas on the basis of considerations of this sort that Aristotle wouldconclude that for human beings a good life would necessarily involverelationships characterized by mutual affection and good will. We mightadd that a lifethat involves such relationships has tended to be a successful lifestrategy for the human species, and as a species we have evolved tohave impulses that motivate us to live a life that involves suchrelationships and that help us to sustain these relationships. On anAristotelian view, any human life that did not involve theactualizationof our distinctively human capacity to have close loving relationshipswould not be a good life.

However, we might wonder whetherAristotle is right to judge the quality of an individual person’s lifeagainst a species standard. While I agree with Aristotle that, in orderto know what would be a good life for me, I would first need to figureout what sort of creature I am, and while I agree that it is likelythat as a human being my nature will be very similar to the nature ofother human beings, I don’t agree that the quality of my life should be judged in terms of its conformity to what would be a goodlife for most normal human beings. I might be quite unusualin that I feel absolutely no impulses toward loving relationships. I mightfeel no affection for other human beings, I might not be inclined to be intheir company, and I might have no interest in their attitudes toward me. Whetherthey love me or hate me might be a matter of complete indifference to me. Tobe sure, if I were of this abnormal sort, life in a human society would bedifficult, since others would have expectations of me that would be mistaken.And it is no doubt generally true that, for human beings, it would be easierto live a good life if one were normal in this respect. However, itdoesn’t follow from this fact about the practical difficulties of such abnormality that mylife would go better for me if itinvolved loving relationships. If my nature were idiosyncratic in the way that I described,loving relationships just would be no part of what would constitute a goodlife for me.

I wonder whether the deeper question isn't one to which Nicholas alludes: Can I have lived a good life—not if I've never been loved but—if I've never loved?

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