24 January 2014

Some More Analytic Thoughts About Justice and Love

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Long, long ago in a faraway land (India, to be precise) I posted extensively on my blog about Nicholas Wolterstorff's extraordinary book, Justice: Rights and Wrongs (Princeton 2008). (Go here to read a post linking to a video of Wolterstorff and with instruction on how to access those earlier posts.)

In 2011 Wolterstorff published a follow-up volume, Justice in Love (Eerdmans 2011). I've read Justice in Love in fits and starts but recently came back to it as I was writing a review of Law and the Bible. (The review should come out late in the spring of 2014 in the Journal of Law and Religion.)

In my review I wanted to assert that love and justice are different categories. Many Christians, especially those influenced by the Anabaptist tradition, believe that love, at least as they understood it to have been taught by Jesus, trumps justice. Such a view at best is confused and at worst can lead to untoward results. But why believe me when one of America's leading philosophers makes the argument?
All along we have taken for granted that to seek to promote the good in someone's life as an end in itself is to love that person. ... Love for another seeks to secure that she be treated justly by oneself and others--that her rights be honored, that she be treated in a way that befits her worth. ... To treat her as one does because justice requires it is to love her. (p. 93)
But what about agape love? How does that Greek term for love used frequently in the New Testament relate to justice?
New Testament agape [seeks] to promote a person's good [along] with seeking to secure due respect for her worth; it seeks both as ends in themselves. Love thus understood incorporates eros, or something closely akin thereto. Eros is attraction love, the love of being drawn to something on account of its worth, attracted to it, sometimes even mesmerized by it. (p. 93)
In other words, eros is not a second-class version of love. It is an anachronism to read the connotations of the contemporary English word "erotic" into first-century Greek. Indeed, Wolterstorff argues as much when he concludes that
Treating someone as one does because justice requires it is a way of acknowledging her worth. Thereby it is eros or a near kin of eros. ... Agape incorporates eros.  (p. 93)
There is, of course, more to love (or, more precisely, more kinds of love) than attraction on account of the worth of its object. And there are certainly more virtues than love that Christians should seek to inculcate, mercy and forgiveness chief among them. Yet, attraction on account of worth is a form of love and love of any sort should seek the good of its object. Thus recognizing the rights of another--justice--is an example of love. 

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