The problem of love: The relationship between the love of self and the love of others, self-fulfillment and self-denial

Alan Roy Vincelette, Marquette University


In loving other humans and God do I love them for my own advantage or purely for themselves? This dissertation looks at the various answers that have been provided to this question in the Ancient Greek and Roman Period, the Patristic Period, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance. Four main solutions to this question (pure egoism, enlightened egoism, disinterested theories, and harmonism) are profiled with respect to seven topics (injustice, virtue, self-love, friendship, sacrifice, the love of God, and spiritual consolations). Pure egoism, represented in Thrasymachus, Aristippus, and Carneades, holds that self-love takes priority over all other forms of love and that self-love and the love of others are incompatible. Thus it holds that virtue and friendship with other people can be dispensed with if this leads to one's own advancement. Enlightened egoists, such as Epicurus, Tertullian, Valerian, and Valla, still hold that one's own good takes priority, however, they think that the best way to assure one's own happiness is to practice virtue, form close friendships with other humans, and perhaps love God. The disinterested proponents of love, such as Seneca, Clement of Alexandria, Chrysostom, Abelard, and Eckhart, argue that love should only consider the good of others even if this means the loss of one's own happiness. Indeed it was often held that a love of other humans and God which is and unpleasant is best. The harmonists, represented by Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas, held with the egoists that it was justifiable to find happiness in the love of other humans and God. Yet the harmonists also held with the disinterested theorists that one should love others for themselves and not exclusively for one's own sake. Lastly I take up a defense of harmonism and show how love can be both other-directed and self-fulfilling (the problem of love). Hence I construct a metaphysics of love based on the work of von Hildebrand and argue that by apprehending others as full of value we recognize our own fulfillment comes through acts of love which affirm their intrinsic worth.

Recommended Citation

Vincelette, Alan Roy, "The problem of love: The relationship between the love of self and the love of others, self-fulfillment and self-denial" (1999). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9945511.