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Frankfurt's Insights on Self-Reflection and Love

December 27, 2023

Key Ideas Presented by Frankfurt

In this insightful PDF by Harry Frankfurt on “Taking Ourselves Seriously and Getting It Right,” several key ideas are explored. One main concept is the importance of taking oneself seriously and striving to understand personal desires and motivations. Frankfurt argues that self-reflection, a unique human trait, enables us to comprehend our own inner workings. Concrete decision-making based on understanding ourselves is emphasized over relying on general judgments of value or moral principles.

Addressing the Idea of Objective Value

Frankfurt challenges the notion that our understanding of value must be based on an objective reality outside of ourselves. He contends that our understanding of what is valuable is rooted in our individual desires and motivations. For instance, the value attributed to helping others may be derived from personal satisfaction or a sense of moral duty rather than an objective standard.

Love as a Source of Understanding and Action

Frankfurt delves into the concept of love, describing it as a deep investment in the well-being of the beloved. Love, according to Frankfurt, involves accepting the interests of the beloved as one’s own. He contends that love provides compelling reasons for action, as individuals are naturally inclined to benefit their beloved.

Volitional Necessities of Love

Frankfurt introduces the idea that individuals cannot help but love what they love, and this love generates a preemptive reason for actions benefiting the beloved. Love, in this context, establishes final ends that individuals are bound to, providing compelling reasons for action.

Changing Targets of Love and Its Implications

Frankfurt acknowledges that targets of love can change over time due to evolving experiences and circumstances. Changes in our targets of love can significantly influence our behavior and decision-making. If love for someone diminishes, the motivation to act in their best interest may decrease, leading to altered priorities and choices.

Distinction Between Grounded Love and Obsessive Love

Frankfurt distinguishes between love grounded in personal identities and values and obsessive or pathological love. Love grounded in personal identity is seen as a natural and healthy part of being human, providing a clear sense of values and goals. In contrast, obsessive love is characterized by unwelcome pathological conditions, such as compulsions and obsessions.

Keeping Love Grounded

Frankfurt suggests that keeping love grounded involves mindfulness of personal identities and values. Reflecting on what one values and wants to achieve helps prevent love from becoming obsessive or pathological. Frankfurt encourages an appreciation of the difference between the necessities of love and other pathological constraints on the will.

Individualized Nature of Loves

Frankfurt emphasizes that our loves are not solely determined by generic human nature but are shaped by individual experiences and personalities. While the feeling of love is considered a universal aspect of human nature, the specific things we love are influenced by our unique backgrounds and histories.

In summary, Frankfurt’s insights encourage self-reflection, understanding the nature of love, and making decisions based on individual values and motivations. Love, as a volitional necessity, can guide actions and priorities, but it is crucial to keep it grounded and mindful of its impact on oneself and others.

Written by Ilteris Kaplan who still lives and works in New York. Twitter