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Romantic Love vs. Selfless Love

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Romantic Love vs Selfless Love
[In tribute to Ayn Rand and her 4R's: Reality, Reason, Rights, Romance]


To say ‘I love you’, one must know first how to say the ‘I.’” -Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead.
Romantic love is self-worthy love. Selfless love is (self)worth-less love.
To love with romance is to regard someone as a value and a pleasure, worthy of having in and for one’s life. Romantic love is worthy love.
In contrast, to love someone without regard to the value or worth to oneself, is to love without cause or reason. Selfless love is worthless love.
In reality and by the nature of human life, to love is to value, to treat and respect an existent – a person, an idea, a condition, a place, an activity, an event – as a value and a source of pleasure to oneself. Love is self-based, self-sourced, and self-motivated. Love is selfish. Selfish love is real, true love – love by reason, by rights, and for romance.
Selfless love is self-contradictory and invalidated by real facts. Selfless love is self-denial, self-abnegation, self-abasement, self-sacrifice – not good for self and against human life. Selfless love is unreal, false, and painful love (by intention and as consequence). Selfless love is love without reason or rights and not for romance.
Selfless love, to the extent it’s believed and practiced, leads not to a successful, happy life, but to suffering and death (or a living death), and, along the way, is ridden by guilt, shame, hatred, and fear. Yet, selfless love is extolled by altruists as the highest moral imperative, as love for the alter, as other-ly love.
Knowing that selfless love is irrational and cannot be practiced consistently (without dying), altruists blame, not their ethics, but humanity for being morally flawed, imperfect, selfish and evil; and so needs to be ruled by faith and force.
Altruism, under cover of being an ethics of benevolence and compassion, actually induces fear, doubt, and guilt. Guilt and shame, from not being able to practice an irrational and impractical ethics, weakens the will and makes the will more malleable and submissive to collectivist/statist tyranny.
The dominant moralities of altruism (other-ism) – Christian, Judaic, Hindu, Islamic, Buddhist, Confucian, Taoist, Environmentalist – praise selfless love as the moral, categorical imperative (a la Kant): that one should love another, not because of the value to oneself, but because it’s not of any value - because it is of other than value for oneself.
So altruistic parents should love their children, not for reason of their chosen, desired value, but merely as a duty, without inclination, derived pleasure, or any self-interest. Moreover, parents, for ideal selfless love, should love other children above and instead of, their own children.
Selfless love is called agape – based on unconditional, indiscriminate, promiscuous, dutiful, altruistic love.
Selfish love is called eros – based on conditions of one’s evaluation and discrimination of worth, pleasure, and desire.
Altruist love, agape, is actually love for those of little or no value to you, to love them over those of higher, personal value. The higher the value you sacrifice to those you don’t value, the higher the moral worth. Of even greater moral worth is to love those who are dis-values to you, those you despise, loathe, and are repulsed by – precisely because of that contempt you have for them.
In contrast, romantic love, eros, is founded on mutual admiration and self-esteem. It is love made by the choice and desire of oneself, for real reasons, to achieve one’s purpose: happiness and joy. Romantic love is rational, rightful love for the value and pleasure, the exaltation and ecstasy of oneself – for no other reason.
It's the only true, romantic love: there's, really, no “other” true love.
Romantic love in harmony with self has beauty. Selfless love without harmony with self is ugly.
Image of "Tenderly" by Bill Mack

Bill Mack - Tenderly.jpg

Edited by monart
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I take issue with some of the points in your stimulating reflection “Romantic Love vs Selfless Love.” 

In response to Rand’s “To say ‘I love you’, one must first know how to say ’I’” one should add “Also, one must first know how to say ‘you’”. That is, one must first be a definite self, and know what that is, and one must first also be able see another and care about seeing that other and want to boost the other and tune to the other and want to share seeing the world together and making a life together.

I don’t recall any writer advocating selfless love when it comes to romantic love. If they say such love requires self-sacrifice to the other, I’ve not seen them ever mean anything but what I added in the preceding paragraph. And that is hardly self-sacrificial, neither in autonomy nor in selfish inclination (considering, for the latter, the selfish mutual enjoyment that is won).

The place that selflessness and self-sacrifice and genuine altruism come up is in connection with brotherly love, including love for all human kind (leaving aside the great evil ones – NOKD).

Those mistaken or misconceived virtues are not regularly a feature of the conception of agape as they are in conception of brotherly love. I love human kind, the individual mind, working alone or with others, and its creativity, in my lifetime and before I entered the scene. I love those things insofar as they may come after me. That seems a sort of agape love, and it does not require selflessness or self-sacrifice to have that, rather, it suggests, particularly in taking care for the "after me," a strong and overflowing self.

On Kant I just want to mention (briefly, because I need to get back outside and work on a flagstone sidewalk I’m building) that love as an inclination could not be a source of any moral aspect of an activity (in his view). The inclinations-self gets trumped by the autonomy-of-will-self (one’s own will) as to any moral valence one might impute to an activity. To love your neighbor as yourself fails as a moral rule for Kant. He does seem to approve of a sort of intellectual love, which  motivates behavior according with moral law which resides in one’s reason. He treats that reason and autonomy as ends in themselves, requiring no further ends to justify them. He never gets the realization that only life is an end in itself. And he looks for the wrong kind of necessity in moral norms, not realizing that life is the source of all value, meaning, or significance. 

Je suis Belle – Rodin


Edited by Boydstun
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Hi Stephen,

Thanks for your good comments.

You wrote, “…one must first be a definite self, and know what that is, and one must first also be able see another and care about seeing that other…” It’s true that, like the saying goes, “It takes two to tango”, and “I love you” inextricably joins “I” with “you”. Ayn Rand, in the prefacing quotation, does not deny that, but gives moral-psychological priority to the “I”.

You wrote, “I don’t recall any writer advocating selfless love when it comes to romantic love.” To do so, to equate or to bind selfless love with romantic love, would be mutually contradictory (which is why I opposed the two in my precis).

You seem to hold a favorable view of agape: as being a generalized, abstract love for humanity. Yet agape (in contrast to eros) is extolled by altruist ethics, such as the prevalent Judeo-Christian morality, as an unconditional, unearned, and unselfish love, a including "brotherly love". But "brotherly love”, if not based on some true chosen value to oneself, is really an “other-ly love” behind the cover of “br-”.

Yes, Kant is an advocate of abject selflessness, of pure duty-bound, "commanded" love, love without any inclination or desire, indeed, love in spite of and because of disgust and aversion: “…love as an inclination cannot be commanded But beneficence from duty, when no inclination impels it and even when it is opposed by a natural and unconquerable aversion, is practical love, not pathological love; it resides In the will and not in the propensities of feeling, in principles of action and not in tender sympathy; and it alone can be commanded.” (Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, middle of First Section, ~p16)

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One reason I think Rand in The Fountainhead wanted to emphasize the need for "I" in "I love you" is that at least in popular culture, it was ignored and should not be.

In the arena of brotherly love, people will tell you they love you, even when they know nothing about you and don't have any interest in finding out anything about you or what you regard as important about you. I used to run into young evangelicals like that. Moreover, all they cared about you was that you were a sinner and needed to be saved. They often have erased in their conception of you that you are a definite self or that that is of any significance. In other words, they neither knew you nor respected you or your mind on matters of concern to them. It's a sort of desecration of the word and concept love.

On the theological idea of agape, it is as you note, that that sort of love is routinely associated with the further idea of the Christ, come to be known as the Son of God, having to suffer and die, to somehow pay for moral failings of people undeserving of the sacrifice. (And perhaps, similarly, with Prometheus bringing fire because he loved man.) But I don't think that's the only way the idea is used within that tradition. God as creator is, I think, without addition, a creator from boundless overflowing love. On the human scale, in the secular arena, such a concept, without association of perverse sacrifice comes up in relation with human creators, as here

I'd say that Rand's neglect of the "you," such as I think true to romantic love, as in my second paragraph above, was an error, specifically, a not fully evicting yet the egocentric from the kingdom of self-esteem.  A psychiatrist friend of Ayn Rand's has what seems to me a balanced, realistic view of love in friendship and in romance, at about 33:00–44:00 here.


Edited by Boydstun
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Hi Stephen,

You wrote, “I'd say that Rand's neglect of the "you," such as I think true to romantic love, as in my second paragraph above, was an error, specifically, a not fully evicting yet the egocentric from the kingdom of self-esteem."

About “evicting…the egocentric”: One who doesn’t care about friends and beloved is not “egocentric” - just as one who disrespects or violates the rights of another isn’t “selfish”. In both cases, they disrespect and subvert the integrity of their own selves and fail to value and care for the friends and beloved they claim to cherish. When the “I” doesn’t care for the “you” in “I love you”, the “I” is primarily not caring about the “I”; only as consequence that the “I” doesn’t care about the “you” (or the "I" is being insincere about loving the "you"). Without first knowing and caring about the “I”, one couldn’t truly know which “you” complements the “I” and is deserving of love.

About Ayn Rand’s “neglect of the ‘you’”: it doesn’t exist – as vividly shown in her art, e.g., in the love between Dagny and Galt, Roark and Dominique, Roark and Wynand, Francisco for Rearden, Rearden for Wet Nurse, and Roark for Mallory. Ayn Rand, as a person, is extraordinarily benevolent and loving, as reported by a myriad of friends who knew her. (See books, 100 Voices, Facets of Ayn Rand, Letters of Ayn Rand; and in refutation of Brandens’ memoirs, see The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics.)

In Ayn Rand’s own words (from “The Ethics of Emergencies”, in Virtue of Selfishness😞


“Love and friendship are profoundly personal, selfish values: love is an expression and assertion of self-esteem, a response to one's own values in the person of another. One gains a profoundly personal, selfish joy from the mere existence of the person one loves. It is one's own personal, selfish happiness that one seeks, earns and derives from love.”

“Any action that a man undertakes for the benefit of those he loves is not a sacrifice if, in the hierarchy of his values, in the total context of the choices open to him, it achieves that which is of greatest personal (and rational) importance to him.”

“The proper method of judging when or whether one should help another person is by reference to one's own rational self-interest and one's own hierarchy of values: the time, money or effort one gives or the risk one takes should be proportionate to the value of the person in relation to one's own happiness.”

“The virtue involved in helping those one loves is not ‘selflessness' or ‘sacrifice’, but integrity. Integrity is loyalty to one's convictions and values; it is the policy of acting in accordance with one's values, of expressing, upholding and translating them into practical reality. If a man professes to love a woman, yet his actions are indifferent, inimical or damaging to her, it is his lack of integrity that makes him immoral.”

“The same principle applies to relationships among friends. If one's friend is in trouble, one should act to help him by whatever nonsacrificial means are appropriate. For instance, if one's friend is starving, it is not a sacrifice, but an act of integrity to give him money for food rather than buy some insignificant gadget for oneself, because his welfare is important in the scale of one's personal values. If the gadget means more than the friend's suffering, one had no business pretending to be his friend.”


As for her generalized love for humanity, Ayn Rand writes (in “The Goal of My Writing”, in Romantic Manifesto😞


“It is a significant commentary on the present state of our culture that I have become the object of hatred, smears, denunciations, because I am famous as virtually the only novelist who has declared that her soul is not a sewer and neither are the souls of her characters, and neither is the soul of man.

The motive and purpose of my writing can best be summed up by saying that if a dedication page were to precede the total of my work, it would read: To the glory of Man."

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