Wojtyla’s Love and Responsibility, Phenomenology, and Self Gift in the Public Order

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By Sam Agra, St. Louis University

The phrase, “It’s not personal, it’s just business,” may be a common trope among corporate movie villains, but its underlying logic conveys a truth about the ethic of modern liberalism. The public order, that of business, transactions, and careers, is a complete and separate entity from the personal, that realm in which friends, family, and other loved ones operate. The human in the modern, liberal order must live in two worlds with two sets of rules, one governing him at work and the other at home and happy hours. The very philosophy upon which rights-based governments operate reinforces this mentality. Eugene Garver, in his book on rationality in the modern world, lays out the divide between the personal and the public. He notes that, “the Constitution provides a system of accountability founded on mistrust rather than trust… Kant tells us that we can have a just constitution for a nation of devils. Liberalism dispense with friendship and virtue to found communities on rights and thus on a form of justice that can do without friendship.”[1] What makes one a good friend or mother is not what makes one a good businesswoman. The current public order is one of in which rights and laws are meant to overcome the devil within each. A system of checked evil and rule-enforced transactions results, where self-centered individualism is de facto promoted.

In contrast to this conception of the social order in which the public and private are starkly separated, the recent popes put forth their own vision of public ethics. In a section called “Civic and Political Love” of his encyclical on the environment, Pope Francis writes that, “Love, overflowing with small gestures of mutual care, is also civic and political…Love for society and commitment to the common good are outstanding expressions of a [love] which affects not only relationships between individuals but also ‘macro-relationships, social, economic and political ones.’”[2] Love, is not something limited to the personal, rather there exists a love proper to the civic and political as well, both on a small and large scale. Francis was not the first pope to distance himself from a liberal economic ethic. John Paul II, in his 1981 encyclical on the fall of Communism writes, “A business cannot be considered only as a ‘society of capital goods’; it is also a ‘society of persons’ in which people participate in different ways and with specific responsibilities…”[3] The world of markets cannot be a purely impersonal one governed by laws where things are “just business.” It must be a world of persons, there must recognition of the persons involved in business and their inherent value.

It is from the concept of person that we proceed to John Paul II’s earlier work Love and Responsibility, written under his previous name, through which we come to a deeper understanding of what he means by a society of persons in contrast to the liberalistic economic ethic. In it, he posits his guiding personalistic norm, which in its positive form declares, “the person is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love.”[4] Clearly, Wojtyla, or John Paul II, also thinks that the public order necessitates some form of love, insofar as businesses and other societies of the public ought to be seen as groups of persons rather than numbers and capital. Within the Catholic vision, then, we must also love in the workplace.

This decree raises an obvious question: how am I to love publicly? While one likely understands how to love a friend, sibling or spouse, that is, in the personal order, the social background of the liberalistic west makes loving people as persons in the public a difficult concept to even fathom. One place we may look for an answer of how to love persons as persons is the aforementioned book Love and Responsibility[5] in which Wojtyla gives his phenomenological analysis of the love between husband and wife, also known as betrothed love, culminating in his description of it as self-gift. The question this paper will attempt to answer is: to what extent, if any, is Wojtyla’s conception of the love between spouses as presented in Love and Responsibility  helpful for understanding love in the public order; is this personal love similar or the same as societal love? I will argue that it is possible to use LR’s conception of love to understand love in the public order, insofar as we distinguish between what of love in LR is specific to marital love and what can be applied to love in general.

To show this, I must first give a brief account of the phenomenological method from which Wojtyla works. Then I will present his phenomenological analysis of love between a husband and wife, which contains five aspects, before looking at his final definition of love as self-gift. Next the argument will turn to a brief and thought-provoking passage in LR in which Wojtyla calls five public professions a type of self-gift akin to married love while also differentiating them from said love, without providing a basis. These five professions will stand in for the public order as they are examined that one may see to what extent the betrothed love analyzed earlier applies to them. Finally, I will again examine Wojtyla’s account of love and argue that the areas which cannot be applied to the public sphere are specific aspects of marital love and not love per se. Thus, we can still consider the public sphere a place for love, though it does not align completely with love as put forth in LR.

Phenomenology is a philosophical system founded in the early 20th century by Edmund Husserl.[6] It was a reaction to the popular and widespread Neo-Kantian thought in the universities of the time. It involved a “return to the thing-in-itself,” that is, a return to the primacy of the direct experiences and appearances. One examines a thing, say a red house, to understand both the particular house from a particular viewpoint but also to understand the essence of house. The essence of house and of red can be given to the viewer through her sense perceptions of the red house, a large departure of the Kantian noumenal world. The phenomenological system thus offered to young philosophers a alternative to the dominant transcendental idealism of Kant and his many interpreters, and proved itself to be attractive.

The phenomenological method may be thought of in four steps, bracketing, observing, describing, and dialoguing. To better explain, they will be presented in the case of a red barn. The observer, as phenomenology is conducted from a first-person perspective, first brackets off all preconceptions from the phenomena at hand. The phenomena must be allowed to disclose itself through the exterior or interior senses. Anything which may distract me from what I am experiencing or impose upon it must be discarded. Thus, the red barn I am looking at is not Old McDonald’s red barn, that place where the loud cows are kept, or even technically, a red barn. All these cloud the perception of the phenomena as such. Next, I must cultivate an attitude of attentive openness to the phenomena at hand. I focus my attention upon the object at hand and ask, “What is the phenomenon revealing of itself to me?” I attempt to notice every detail about this red barn through my senses. In this case, I see color, shape, and perhaps some sort of texture. Maybe I smell several strong scents and hear an occasional creaking noise. Then I will describe the object with language. I notice the places where the color, which I call red, is less intense and where the structure, called a barn is missing a few boards. The scents I smelled were the wetness of rotting wood and that of cows. Perhaps the creaking I heard was the rusty weathervane on top spinning in the wind. Finally, I must dialogue with another observer. This step is an attempt to validate my descriptions. What did she see, smell, and hear? In what ways was it different or the same as mine? Did either of us err in our observations or allow preconceived ideas to disrupt our thinking? After this refining, one again attempts to describe the object of perception.

In the example, the object was a barn, however; the objects studied by phenomenology are not limited to the external. Thus, one can study internal experiences like phobias, prayer, or, in our case, love. What is presented in Wojtyla’s LR is the result of this process used on love, after it has been bracketed, observed, described, and discussed many times. Before detailing the five aspects or types of love which are needed for a complete love, Wojtyla takes as his starting point the “fact that love is always a mutual relationship between persons. This relationship in turn is based on particular attitudes to the good, adopted by each of them individually and by both jointly.”[7] Love is the act of persons and it is related to personal concepts of the good.

From this basis, the text proceeds to examine love as attraction, a necessary but not sufficient aspect of marital love. The man who is attracted to a certain woman sees her as a good and begins to like her. Joseph sees that Mary is a good and is thus attracted to her. While attraction is connected to the intellect, it is not purely cognitive, it also involves factors of the emotions and will. The will makes itself felt insofar as the attraction Joseph to Mary is not merely an intellectual apprehension of Mary as a good, but a willed commitment to think of Mary as a certain good. She is not a good among others but a specific good to which Joseph is drawn. This inclusion of the will makes a sense of wanting implicit in the sense of liking. This type of love has for its object the other person and its source is the entirety of said person, both physical and spiritual. The attraction of one to another to specifically toward the other and exists because of the other’s attractiveness.[8]

The emotions play a large role in love-as-attraction. Though they are sub-cognitive, they can easily guide or color the cognitive. This can easily create a difficulty. For while the intellect functions in the world of reason and truth, the emotions need no such grounding. They emerge spontaneously and can easily be blind to reality. Feelings do not deal with truth values and therefore may make true goods appear bad or good. The emotions may make present a good in another which is not there. Attraction is from a good, while emotions are from a perceived good Thus, when emotions arise which entice one to a cognitive and willed attraction, the question must be asked, “Are my emotions in accord with reality?” Is the good to which I am attracted to truly the other person or a fiction of my imagination placed upon her? Since the emotions do not necessarily lie in accordance with truth, it would be false to equate feelings with love or attraction itself. While true sentiments, that is, genuine, are needed, they must exist alongside the truth of the person who is the sentiment’s object.[9]

Finally, a true attraction, and thus a true love, cannot be limited to only partial values and goods, that is, it must be an attraction to the person itself as well as other goods. A man cannot truly be attracted to another in this schema based on only her hair, her laugh, or perhaps her witty comments. He must be attracted to her very person as a whole in both her physical and spiritual aspects. Authentic love-as-attraction fastens first and foremost upon the good which is the person herself. This good, when apprehended, can also be described as beauty. So, the one to whom I am attracted I also regard as beautiful. In sum, then, love-as-attraction is the willed commitment to the good which is the other person which has been apprehended by the intellect and may be assisted or hindered by the emotions.

In addition to attraction, there also exists the aspect of full marital love called love-as-desire. This love arises primarily from desire itself, though it is not identical with it. Desire, and thus the love which is likened to it, arise from the fact that human persons are limited beings. We need things outside ourselves to survive and flourish. I desire water to quench my thirst, but I also desire a fulfilling career or a glass of good whiskey. Wojtyla writes, “Desire presupposes awareness of some lack, an unpleasant sensation which can be eliminated by means of a particular good.”[10] These desires exist because I do not have the ability to internally meet all my needs, the satisfactory things come in some way from outside me. Similarly, the human person as a sexed being, either male or female. The male lacks the good which is inherent in the female. This lack leading into desire most often makes itself known through the sexual urge. Each desires in the other what he or she is lacking in his or her personal sex. It is seen how desire leads to love-as-desire.[11]

However, this love cannot be confused with desire itself, though this conflation is quite easily made in the case of sensual desire. As desire comes from a perceived lack, sensual desire comes from a perceived lack of sensuality which another can fulfill. This is what is commonly known as lust. The other becomes merely a mean to placate a desire rather than a human person; in mere sensual desire a utilitarian attitude which is altogether foreign to love and Wojtyla’s thought is assumed. In a crude manner, as Wojtyla puts it, this desire can be analogized to the desire for food to satiate hunger.[12] Rather, love-as-desire longs for the person his or herself for its own sake, not whatever goods he or she may provide. This love is a longing for the person foremost. In a manner of speaking, this longing for the person “overshadows” the desire for the goods he or she may provide or the lack in me she may fill. The love is a longing for the other because she herself is a good, not because she can fulfill some lack in me. One must be careful around desire, for it is here that a utilitarian attitude most easily prevails and may deform authentic love.[13] In sum, love-as-desire is the longing for the good which is the other person, born from the lack of the opposite sex’s good in the self.

Love-as-desire is not the end all of love, it alone or even with attraction would be radically incomplete and potentially even evil. Full love cannot merely long for another as a true good, it must also want the good for the other. This is the aspect of love which Wojtyla calls amor benevolentia, a term which mostly corresponds to the English concept of goodwill.[14] This goodwill is not opposed to love-as-desire but closely connected to it. If I am to desire another as a good, I must also want that other to truly be a good, and a great good at that. Thus, I must will her to be good and the good for her. Otherwise, I am complicit in mere egoism. I must will goodness for the other. This goodwill is not merely for the other, but for the other independent of myself. I do not desire Mary to be a good solely that she may be a better good for me. This would only be a more benevolent form of desire. Rather, to truly will her good, I must want her good independently of what gain I may receive from it. While desire says, “I long for you as a good,” goodwill says, “I long for your good.”[15]This type of love is more unconditional than love-desire and is closest to the pure distilled essence of love as it is possible to be. While love almost always begins in a desire, if it is to continue and be authentic, it must slowly be transitioned into beneveolentia. This manner of love, due to its unconditional nature and focus on the subject, is the one which gives the greatest fulfillment to both subject and object. It can, and often quite fruitfully does, exist alongside love-desire or even mere sensual desire. However, if authentic love is to triumph over mere utilitarian natures toward the other, goodwill must remain in control, without either desires becoming the whole content of the love. By way of summary, then, benevolentia is that type of love in which the lovers will the good of each other without specific reference to themselves.

With the final two aspects of love, we shift from what Wojtyla calls the metaphysical aspects to the psychological aspects. While the former dealt with love between a man and wife as is and through the abstract and more basic principles, though through a phenomenological treatment, the psychological analysis by its nature is more experiential. These are the aspects of love as one experiences them mentally. The first of these is sensuality. The psychological analysis of sensuality begins with the understanding that any meeting between a man and woman involves sensory information of the other, by virtue of his or her embodied nature, to which is often attached emotional impression. The sensual impression communicates the perceived value of the sensed embodied person. This sensory experiencing of a value in another is called sensuality. It must be noted that this experiencing is of the body of the other, as only the body is directly and immediately available to my senses. I react to the body and sex of the other and note the good and potential enjoyment of the other. Sensuality of its own, without any other aspect of love, is thus directed primarily toward the body of the other rather than the person herself. Here we see both the similarity and difference from love-as-desire; sensuality perceives the body and sex of the other as something desired for the good it brings, while love-as-desire longs for the other as that peculiar good which is a person. Both involve a longing for the other, but on differing bases. As with love-as-desire, sensuality has a strong pull toward a utilitarian using of the other if it is not integrated with other aspects of love.[16]

However, since sensuality is partially sub-rational, as it deals with the senses and the mental reaction to them, and tied into the animal desire for reproduction, it does not have a full attitude of using. In its sub-rational form, it is merely a natural orientation, very similar to desire, toward a being of the opposite sex, independent of the enjoyment of the opposite sex. Humans, however, are persons; they are neither mere bodies and objects for use nor do they lack reason above the senses. Sensuality, though the natural and proper level for animal interaction, is a less than proper for humans, if it alone exists. It is not love but exists in loving relationships. It is, so to speak, part of the “raw material” for intimate love, though not love proper since it is attracted to the body foremost, independent of the person. However, sensuality opens the person toward the other and draws him to her through the sexual value of her body. In this manner, it is not a bad outlook or disposition, as it starts the process toward love, but it must be sublimated to the higher values of love.[17]

Part of the integration of sensuality requires is co-existence with the second aspect of psychological love, sentimentality. It was mentioned above that an encounter between a man and woman involves a sensory apprehension of the other often accompanied by an emotional impression. While sensuality, as directed primarily toward the body of the other, focuses upon this sensory apprehension itself, sentimentality hinges on the emotional response. Sentiment sees the other not as a body of the opposite sex, but a whole person of the opposite sex; the man is drawn by emotion to the femininity of this rather than to this feminine body. An emotion which is characteristic of sentiment is affection. Thus, in sentimentality we see the strong desire for closeness, intimacy, and exclusivity. This is the aspect of love which keeps two people feeling closely united despite great distances, the type that causes one to gaze upon a picture of the beloved or write long letters with little practical value. It is often seen in first-time and young couples who wish to be always in some form of contact and share all aspects of their lives. This is the incorporeal-seeming sense which makes a man feel as if he has always known and longed for the woman which he may have only dated for a few weeks.[18]

At first glance, sentiment appears as far more love than sensuality, but it also has its specific dangers. We see this when we remind ourselves from where sentiment springs. While both have at their basis the original sensory apprehension of the other, sentiment focuses on the emotional response and thus sees the entire person rather than the body alone as is the case in sensuality. Therefore, the danger of objectifying the other as something to be enjoyed is lessened in the case of sentimentality. However, though sentiment focuses upon the person, its emotional apprehension of her is not necessarily accurate. Those deep in sentimental affection often see no faults with the other, so caught up are they in the other’s good qualities and fantasies of true love. There is a great danger that what is liked in the other is not the other, or even a quality that the other truly possesses. One may easily be caught up in emotion which is soon revealed to be either groundless or based upon an exaggerated quality. Even if the quality which evokes sentiment is truly there, the attraction is to the quality and not the person herself. Love must be based upon the good of the person rather than any good which the person has. Sentiment, which is an affection based upon the emotional apprehension of the person of the opposite sex, like sensuality, is only a raw material of love rather than love itself.[19]

Like attraction and love-as-desire, sentiment and sensuality need something which integrates them into that higher thing known as love. This process Wojtyla calls the integration of love; the task by which the two psychological aspects are joined into something greater, into a love which exists not only in the mind of the subject but between the two people who love each other. This occurs through a free commitment of the will. One experiencing sensuality and sentimentality toward another freely commits himself toward the other, willing that what is expressed in his inner psyche become a lasting reality in the external relationship between him and his beloved. This is not to say that he does or can will the perpetual existence of positive emotions and feelings, but rather that he wills the truths upon which those feelings are founded to be truths to which he will continually commit himself. It is true that he experiences sensuality and sentimentality at the true good which is this woman, and thus he freely wills that he will continue to act in accordance with this good, even if the subjective, psychological mindset may fade. Thus, the final and dual aspect of psychological love is truth and freedom. It is these two working in tandem which turn the raw material of sensuality and sentimentality into real love.[20]

Having covered all the aspects of Wojtyla’s phenomenological analysis of love, both from the metaphysical and psychological viewpoint, we are now able to give and understand his full definition of betrothed love. After this, the paper will turn to a potential application of this definition in its psychological or metaphysical forms to the public sphere. As Wojtyla writes, “The essence of betrothed love is self-giving, the surrender of one’s ‘I’… something more than friendship results, two people give themselves each to the other.”[21] Love, in a marital sense, is the complete giving of two people to each other. This mutual giving is beyond the intimacy of even Aristotelian friendship in which two people unite their wills and actions in search of the good. Wojtyla is quick to truncate what he means by self-gift, for it is not merely used in a “sexual, or sexual and psychological sense,” as when one thinks of giving his body to another.[22] While this is often an aspect of betrothed love, it is not it in its entirety.

Betrothed love is a giving of the entire person in freedom, body and soul. This self-gift, though at one point described as becoming “someone else’s property,”[23] is not akin to making one a slave for the other. Rather, we must keep in mind two important aspects of betrothed love: reciprocity and specificity. Wojtyla notes that “If marriage is to satisfy the demands of the personalistic norm [that the human person must be treated with love] it must embody reciprocal self-giving, a mutual betrothed love.”[24] If I am to give myself to another who does not in turn giver herself to me, there is no betrothed love, only my unreciprocated gift to the other. This type of love exists only when it is, in a manner of speech, fed from both sides. Just as, in the Western Christian view, the Spirit, to be the Spirit, must proceed from both Father and Son, so betrothed love must come from both persons involved. Further, betrothed love is specified. Wojtyla writes, “The concept of betrothed love implies the giving of the individual person to another chosen person.”[25] I cannot love an unknown person, say the impoverished child in India whom my charitable donations are feeding, unless I in some way know her. I recognize the good that she is only in the abstract. To use an adage, one does not love humanity but individual persons. In addition, the person I love must be chosen by me. Love is an act of freedom and cannot be coerced. A man loves his spouse because he chooses to do so; he will not love her if another places undue pressure upon him to do so, if he does not fully assent to the act of loving by his free will.

Having examined the nature of betrothed love in full, now we are truly ready to attempt to answer the question: Does self-gift, as presented in this analysis of betrothed love, exist in the public sphere? To ponder this question, Wojtyla writes in an extended section,

As for the particular manifestations of this love, they can, I think, vary greatly…. do we not find self-giving in, for instance, the relationship of a doctor with his patient, or in a teacher, who devotes himself with utter dedication to the education of his pupil, or a pastor who devotes himself with equal dedication to a soul entrusted to his care? In the same way, great public figures or apostles can devote themselves to many people at once, people for the most part personally unknown to them, whom they serve by serving society as a whole.[26]

In each of these five cases we see a certain gift of self to the other or others which one may think of as love. Just as Wojtyla notes that in some cases there may be a mere friendship rather than full love, he also mentions that even if there existed  a love, “it would still be difficult to apply the name ‘betrothed love’ to it.”[27] Here Wojtyla expresses major doubts that the public order contains betrothed love for two reasons: first, it is quite different to separate authentic love from mere friendship when one is not dealing with romantic spouses; second, if love does exist in the public order, can it even be of the same species as betrothed love? There seems to be no way then, from Wojtyla’s mind, that betrothed love describe in LR can be compared to public love.  All hope is not lost for this project, however. Through an examination of public love and important distinctions regarding self-gift and psychological love, we can still see public love as a form of love. That is, though public love is not identical with what LR has put forward as betrothed love, the framework therein remains helpful for formulating a theory of public love.

Let us examine the different public relationships put forward. In the example of a teacher and student, doctor and patient, or preacher and parishioner, we have a relationship of one person to one person. The persons are in some way known to each other. However, the pupil, patient, or parishioner is often not someone chosen. It is a relationship of one specific person, say, the doctor, to any potential singular patient, not a specific person as in marital love. Here exists a lover and a beloved, though the beloved need not be a specific person. Regarding public figures, like politicians, and apostles, say a bishop, we have a relation of one to many, where the members of the many may be completely anonymous. Here we have a relationship of a specific, say, bishop to any number of potential different people, rather than a specific singular person or specific, say, two hundred people. Here we see a lover and any number of beloved. The account I give of public love, though using Wojtyla’s framework, then must be able to account for these differences from marital love. Marital love is a singular chosen person to another singular chosen. Public love exists between a singular person and a singular “anyone” or multiple “anyones.” Now this dissimilarity certainly creates obstacles, and these will be addressed in time, but first I will lay out the similarities between public and marital love, similarities enough to see the former as a type of love.

Let us first examine the public love of a one-to-one ratio, that of doctors, teachers, preachers, etc. to their beloveds. First, there is certainly the possibility for an attraction to exist from the doctor to the patient. Be reminded that a true attraction which is the basis of love is not merely a “I find that she has pretty eyes,” “His laugh is quite endearing,” or even necessarily based upon the sexual orientations of the agents. Rather, love-as-attraction, as defined above, is the willed commitment to the good which is the other person which has been apprehended by the intellect and may be assisted or hindered by the emotions. A doctor looks at his patient and sees him, suffering from this ailment or that, perhaps coping well or not, and is attracted to him. The doctor recognizes the good that is inherent in the patient as a person, the good that that patient is, and is drawn to it. To use Christian language, the doctor sees the imago Dei in his patient and appreciates its goodness. Now, it is not the case that all doctors act in this manner for public love to exist, anymore than it is the case that all wives must truly love their husband for true marital love to exist. Remember that love is a normative yet possible ideal rather than a descriptive reality. If we are to examine teachers or preachers, we would also see the possibility for recognizing the inherent good of the other.

Moving on to love-as-desire, we see a similar possibility. Note that above, this love was defined as the longing for the good which is the other person, born from the lack of the opposite sex’s good in the self. Now this definition comes to existence within the context of marital love which is necessarily sexed. When one considers love between friends, which certainly exists, we know that desire for the good of the other need not be sexed. Who could not point to goods which were present in a friend but not himself? Going further, as each person is unique, each with a unique interior existence, there is a way in which every other person possesses something which I lack, insofar as their interior existence differs from mine. Then, in this sense, we can truly say that the lack of a good which precedes love-as-desire exists in this case. We see this lack in practice. As the experience of teaching or ministering relates, those who engage in these roles often remark that they learn and gain more from those whom they help than they themselves give. If the other had not a good which I lacked, I would not be able to gain or learn from them. Thus, it follows that the teacher, doctor, or minister who recognizes in the man he serves the good of his personhood which he himself does not possess is able to love-as-desire him.

Perhaps most easily seen in these one-to-one relationships is love as goodwill or benevolentia. This is that love which wills the good for the other, and wills said good independently of the good of the lover. That is, a husband wishes his wife to be a good not for his own enjoyment, but because it would be good for her. In some ways, it is easier to see this type of love in the public sphere since there is less personal contact between lover and beloved. A teacher may only teach for a paycheck, but he may just as well teach because he wants to educate and better his students. Note that the desire to better his students in many ways is distinct from the desire of willing his own good. While the will to remove a bad habit from one’s spouse may be either a benevolentia or a will to remove an annoyance for self-gain, the will to teach a pupil, as more distanced from the self, is more easily directly interested in the good of the other. Similarly, we can easily see this personally disinterested love-as-goodwill in the roles of doctor and minister.

With a few minor adjustments, we also see the three-fold aspects of metaphysical love in the one-to-many relationships. The bishop who oversees the preaching of the Gospel or the politician who works to create well-run school programs certainly wills the good of his flock or constituents. As even further removed from direct contact than the one-to-one examples of public love, they have an easier task of loving without reference to self-gain. Regarding desire, does a bishop not see the good inherent in the members of his flock and wish to gain from it? Does a politician not want to hear and heed the wise ideas born from the interiority of his constituents for the governance of running a just state? While there are certainly officials who do not desire these goods, it is not the case that it is not possible for them to desire these goods, nor is it the case that there are not in existence those who do desire these goods. Love-as-desire can exist in bishops and politicians, provided that they recognize and long for the good inherent in those they serve. Further, there seems to be no reason why it would be impossible for there to exist love-as-attraction, since attraction was defined as a willed commitment to the good which is the other as apprehended through the intellect. The bishop certainly wills a commitment to the people of his diocese, though he may not always do it well, as the politician also wills him or herself to commit to the good which is the constituents. While bishops or politicians may work for the good of those outside their direct care, their primary actions are toward those in their care, in a word, they ought to be committed. They recognize the good in these people for whom they care and commit to recognizing it.

From the metaphysical level, it should be clear that wee have in the public sphere the so-called raw elements of love. This comparison gets trickier and requires more nuance, however, when one incorporates either the psychological materials or attempts to make from these raw materials the love which is self-gift. These difficulties need not deter us from using Wojtyla’s framework of betrothed love; however, we must only adapt it to a new context. First, I contend that the psychological aspects of love which Wojtyla mentions are only aspects of betrothed love. Thus, although we do not see these aspects in public love, we ought not to conclude that public love is not love. An examination of Wojtyla’s language makes clear that he is only speaking in terms of romantic love when he discusses his psychological analysis. For example, in his section on sensuality, he notes that, “sensuality expresses itself mainly in an appetite form: a person of the other sex is seen as an ‘object of desire’…”[28] Sensuality, and the love which comes from it, requires a member of the opposite sex. There are many types of love, say of friends, between siblings and cousins, or that special love of parent and child, which is not essentially gendered. Unless we are willing to contend that marital love is the only real type of love, an almost indefensible statement, then we must conclude that sensuality is not a part of love per se, but only love in the marital sense. This means that, unlike the metaphysical aspects of attraction, desire, and benevolentia, we can disregard sensuality in public love without losing an essential part of love itself. We will come to a similar conclusion when we examine sentimentality, the other raw material of psychological love. Sentimentality is also gendered as it is “susceptibility… to the sexual value residing in ‘a whole person of the opposite sex,’ to ‘femininity’ or ‘masculinity’…”[29] As it is gendered, the arguments of sensuality also apply to it. I do not have sentimental affection for my male cousin and godson; I do not always remain “mentally always close to [him]…”[30] However, this does not mean that I do not love him, merely that sentiment is only a raw material of romantic love. Again, that we do not find these psychological aspects in public love is not an obstacle for defining public love as love.

The more apparently difficult obstacle is that of raising the aspects of desire, attraction, and goodwill to that of love, of self-gift. We already know that what occurs in the public sphere comes at times quite close to self-gift. Above I mentioned two essential aspects of self-gift according to Wojtyla in the realm of betrothed love: reciprocity and specificity. If these are essential aspects of love in itself, then it will be the case that public love has as much existence as a square circle or a married bachelor. For, as was seen above, public love is not specific, a doctor does not choose the patient she will see. In the case of bishops or politicians, there is even less specificity as their public love must extend to multiple people at the same time. Even if love need not be specified in a sense of choosing, there is still the problem of reciprocity. If a teacher loves his patient, but there is no returned love, is there a love at all? While it may be possible to posit a sort of reciprocity, our prospects look more promising if we assume otherwise, lest we limit reciprocity so greatly that public love exists only as an ideal.

 If then, we are to posit the existence of a public love, we must find a way for self-gift, the essential aspect of love, to exist without specificity or reciprocity, or at least nuance what is meant by these terms. In other words, can love as self-gift either exist without reciprocity and specificity or is there way of defining the terms that public love falls under them? There seems to be two solutions to the problem of specificity. First, one can argue that specificity and choosing are elements only of betrothed love. A man loves his spouse and friends, surely, and he has chosen them. But it does not follow that everyone he loves he has chosen, though he chooses to love them. There is a difference between choosing to love X and choosing X for your love. Specificity, as defined here, only applies to the second.[31] There are many people, I argue, that I choose to love but were not chosen by me for love. For example, no one has chosen his parents, and no one chooses which kid they will conceive, and yet there is an obligation to love both. I choose to love my parents, but I do not choose them out of all people to receive me love before choosing to love them. A spouse, on the other hand, is chosen from all people to receive marital love. Specificity, then, conceived as “a chosen person for my love” is not a universal quality of love. Therefore, the fact that it does not exist in the public sphere, does not render public love impossible.

Second, we may also think of specificity as a “choosing to love.” In this case, it is an essential element of self-gift and thus not restricted to the marital species of love. However, the anonymity of a patient, student, or constituency does not pose a necessary obstacle to this type of specificity. A doctor, teacher, etc. can choose to love any person he or she pleases. They can love, that is, give of themselves, to their patients, students, and the like. Specificity, in its essential rather than marital aspect, is present in the public order.

Reciprocity, as we will see, similarly does not pose an insurmountable obstacle. We know that it is essential for betrothed love, Wojtyla says that self-gift must be mutual for a true marital love to exist.[32] However, it does not seem that this reciprocity is an essential part of love in general. We know that love requires intellect and the freedom of will required to commit and give of oneself to another. Those without intellect (a functioning rational soul) or a free will would then be unable to give of themselves and therefore unable to love. Here, we could posit an aged father in a coma or an unborn child. While these two people are certainly persons and retain their dignity, it is not at all clear that either their rationality is functioning or that they can exercise free will. Now this means that they cannot enter marital love, as would also be deducible from common sense. But is it the case that they cannot be loved? Does their lack of ability to, at this point, reciprocate the love mean that they are not loved? First, this would run counter to common experience. It is by far the norm that infant children are greatly cared for by their parents and other family members. To deny that this is love would make love quite difficult to understand. Further, it does not seem possible that Wojtyla is asserting that all love, to be love, must be reciprocal. Firstly, he operates from Christian presuppositions, from which we glean that God loves all of those created in His image and likeness. In fact, Romans 5:8 states that, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”[33] That is, God loved those who loved Him not. Thus, Wojtyla could not mean that reciprocity is needed for all forms of love, lest he deny that God loves those who do not love Him. In short, reciprocity is not needed for love itself, only for betrothed love. That reciprocity does not necessarily make itself seen in public interaction, then, is not a hindrance to the existence of public love.

We are left with an account of public love that shares the essential characteristics of love with betrothed love. In sum, Wojtyla’s account of betrothed love requires that it include love’s metaphysical and psychological aspects which are then integrated into a self-gift which is both directed at a specified and chosen person and be reciprocated. The public sphere may have the metaphysical materials of love and participate in self-gift, but it usually or always lacks the psychological materials of love, the element of specificity, or reciprocity. However, as I have argued here, the psychological materials of love, as well as self-gift’s aspects of specificity and reciprocity, are only aspects of the species of love known as betrothed love. Love itself, of which public love is a species, does not require those aspects. Thus, the fact that public love has the metaphysical aspects of love and constitutes self-gift is sufficient to give it the name of love.

Works Cited

Garver, Eugene. For the Sake of Argument: Practical Reasoning, Character, and the Ethics of Belief. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).

Macintyre, Alasdair. Edith Stein: A Philosophical Prologue. (London: Continuum, 2006).

Pope Francis. Laudato Si. (Vatican City: Vatican Press, 2015).

Pope John Paul II. Centesimus Annus. (Vatican City: Vatican Press, 1981).

Smith, David Woodruff. “Phenomenology,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2018 Edition), edited by Edward N. Zalta.

Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993).


[1] Eugene Garver, For the Sake of Argument: Practical Reasoning, Character, and the Ethics of Belief (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 13.

[2] Pope Francis, Laudato Si, (Vatican City: Vatican Press, 2015), sec. 231.

[3] Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, (Vatican City: Vatican Press, 1981), sec. 43.

[4] Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), 41.

[5] Henceforth LR

[6] The information in these paragraphs about the history of phenomenology and its methodology are from either David Woodruff Smith, “Phenomenology,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2018 Edition), edited by Edward N. Zalta or Alasdair Macintyre, Edith Stein: A Philosophical Prologue, (FINISH CITATION)

[7]Wojtyla, Love, 73. Italics in the original.

[8] Ibid, 74-6.

[9] Ibid, 77-8.

[10] Ibid, 81.

[11] Ibid, 80-81.

[12] Ibid, 81.

[13] Ibid, 81-82.

[14] Ibid, 83.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid, 104-6.

[17] Ibid, 107-109.

[18] Ibid, 109-110.

[19] Ibid, 112-113.

[20] Ibid, 114-117.

[21] Ibid, 96.

[22] Ibid, 99.

[23] Ibid, 96.

[24] Ibid, 99. Emphasis is my own.

[25] Ibid, 98. Emphasis is my own.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid, 107.

[29] Ibid, 110.

[30] Ibid, 111.

[31] The former applies to all love insofar as love is a free act of the will.

[32] Ibid, 99.

[33] NABRE translation.

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