Perversions of Love
The dictionary definition of perversion, aside from its stigmatic one, is the changing of something good, true, or correct into something bad or wrong or a situation in which the change has occurred. The definition of love is an intense feeling of tender affection and compassion, as well as a passionate feeling of romantic desire and sexual attraction. Love is something “good,” “true,” and “correct,” and it itself can be perverted into something bad. While it may not seem as wrong as sexual perversion, love perversion exists and creates slight problems in society. In the following we will discuss various types of perversions of love, what exactly makes them perverted, and whether these perversions are morally wrong or not.
Thomas Nagel, in his article entitled “Sexual Perversion” gives the criteria for perversions. Sexual perversion is unnatural, follows certain practices that can be considered perversions, and it has an inclination toward pleasure rather than practicality. Though Nagel speaks only of sexual perversion, his conditions for it can be universally applied to any deviation from normal function.
In order for us to look at love perversion, we need to deconstruct Nagel’s theory and mold it to our own. He claims that desire is an appetite, using “gastronomical perversion.” In order for someone to fulfill a desire, they must fulfill their appetite. For illustration’s sake, we will resurrect Nagel’s example. He gives us two circumstances, that of a person desiring to eat cotton or paper and that of another person desiring to fondle a recipe book. Nagel argues that the person who is desiring to eat the cotton or paper is not exactly fulfilling an appetite but rather only putting something in his body, still leaving the desire and the hunger behind. However, in the case of the person fondling the recipe book, they fulfill their appetite and desire. This is because psychologically they associate fondling the book with eating the food described within. Though they do not fulfill a gastronomical appetite, still remaining hungry, they fulfill a higher one, that of psychological content.
How can this work for perversion of love? Well, love itself is an appetite, is it not? In the Symposium, Socrates puts worth the following conditions for love as told him by Diotima:
1. Love is always of something
2. Love is always a desire to possess something one lacks
If love is always a desire to possess something one lacks, does it not logically follow that love itself is a perversion? Yes and no. Before we make a decision as to either we must go back to Nagel and his definition of desire.
1. relate to an object of desire
What this is means is that in order for one to desire something, there has to exist a thing or person to be desired.
2. involve mutual acknowledgment
Mutual acknowledgement alludes to having a subject/object agreement. Simply put, one must desire and be desired in return.
3. have an immersion in the body, which in our case of love will be an immersion in the soul of the person
Immersion in the body means that the body means everything. The attraction is not only of superficiality but of every single thing possessed by the object of affection. In our case, immersion in the soul encompasses all of that plus the idea of deeper perfection.
4. be able to be possessed by the other
Now, all of these above mentioned factors exist in any good love relationship. The problem however, as in sexual perversion, is when love deviates from any one of these.
To illustrate our point, we will look at several different cases of love perversion. It is important to keep in mind that the following are meant to be seen as exclusive as possible, aside of course from the first example.
1. A person in love with more than one person
a. Yes, there is love of something
b. Yes, there is the desire to possess something one lacks. The question remains though, how much does one exactly need to possess in order to attain happiness?
c. Furthermore, desire requires for one to be completely possesible by the other (exclusivity), and this becomes virtually impossible in a case where there are two or more people are vying for one’s attention. None of the “objects” can fully possess the “subject” of the desire. The existence of the others takes away a part of the subject’s self. He may love all parties equally but is never ready to allow only one to possess his whole.
d. Multiple loves is a perversion of selfishness. The subject grabs all the attention for himself but never allows himself to be exclusive with one.
2. A person in love with an inanimate object.
a. In this case, there is obviously no chance of mutual attraction, which is only a minor problem with perversion that may change in time. However, because inanimate objects are completely incapable of loving anything, there never even exists a chance of mutuality in any sense.
b. Another problem comes with the fact that a chair or car does not desire to possess the other. This is similar to what happens with mutuality. The object is physically prevented from doing so.
c. These same ideas follow with love for animals or dead bodies for they also cannot love as living humans can.
The above all deviated from the norms of love, but what happens when these deviations are so minor that they might not even qualify as perversions? Here are some problem cases that illustrate that idea:
1. Unrequited love
a. Yes, it follows Diotima’s definition of love.
b. There is no mutuality.
The reason this is a problem case is because the mutuality does not necessarily have to be there right away nor does it have to last forever. Unlike the case of the person loving inanimate objects, here mutuality has a chance of occurring, however slight it may be.
a. Does not really follow Diotima’s definition of love. Can one lack oneself?
b. No subject/object relationship
Despite these two setbacks, narcissism still fails to be a total perversion. One can view narcissism as reciprocable because if a person loves himself then himself loves the person back. This also leads to the subject being possessible by the object.
Whether or not any of the cases of love perversion are morally wrong still remains in debate. Everything goes on case by case basis and also by which philosophical stance one takes to look at each problem. An Aristotilian may find all of the examples given morally wrong simply because they do not follow what is expected of a virtuous person who commits virtuous deeds.
A Kantian will dig deeper to search into hidden motives. Does the subject love truly? For example, a Kantian would look at the case of the more than two people. If the motive is only for self-improvement and praise, then the Kantian would find fault in it. If the subject loved for the sake of everyone else and without a selfish thought then it might be morally right.
A utilitarian on the other hand will view each example as more or less morally neutral because none really affect the greater community and anyone’s general happiness. The exception of course lies in the first case, where the multiplicity of objects of desire might affect the happiness of one or all. This is because if each one in the object group wanted exclusivity, he/she could not get it and therefore be unhappy.
Ultimately, no one can really say that perversions of love are morally wrong. They are only sociological abnormalities that tend to anger some people or make them uncomfortable. It is only when the love escalates into something more and leads to sexuality when these perversions make the transition into morally unsafe grounds.