Some of us are distressed with so much talk of God’s love in religious and theological discussions. Perhaps, I should speak only for myself when I write of being distressed with so much talk of God’s love. So, I speak only for myself. But I speak for everyone when I argue that “love” does not mean “willing the good of the other.”
Note added later 5/29/23: I started to write on love because of my unease of so much talk of God’s love. However, I actually write only of personal love between human beings. I should also add that I strongly approve of stipulating that love is willing the good of the other when talking of what “love” means when talking of the love we are obliged to have.
How can I speak for everyone? I began with a statement of a strong methodological assumption. Semantic knowledge is to use a Kantian label, synthetic apriori knowledge. Mature users of a language know the meaning of terms in their own language and thereby what the terms mean in any language into which their language is translated. Humans have insight into universal semantics. This knowledge is synthetic because in fact terms need not have the meaning they actually have. The terms could in fact have no meaning whatsoever. The knowledge is apriori because people know, at least implicitly, what their terms mean prior to using them in any particular situation. Perhaps, it would be more accurate to claim that people’s knowledge of the meaning of their terms is mostly expressed as negative knowledge. People know how to reject proposed definition of terms when those definitions fail to express what they mean. Socrates’ accusation that people do not know what they mean with crucial terms when they discover, with Socrates’ aid, that proposed definitions are either too broad or too narrow is inaccurate. People’s knowledge of the meaning of terms is a presupposition for recognizing definitions as too broad or too narrow for expressing what they mean.
As noted above, I would be happy to have most talk of love be reduced to talking of willing the good of others. I am glad that many Catholic preachers say that what they mean by love in their talk is willing the good of others.
My semantic point about the meaning of “love” is quite simple.
If “love” meant “willing the good of the other,” then “love” does not designate something fundamental. It is the terms “will” and “good” which designate some fundamental realities. In principle, all uses of “love” could be replaced by talking of willing and what is good. Even my semantic intuitions conflict with such an reductive elimination of “love.” To be sure , in many contexts I can express almost, but not quite, what I mean by “love” using “will” and “good.” For instance, see my Love of God is Essentially Love of Neighbor wherein I argue that helping the distressed because of a sense of duty is almost the same as helping the distressed from a sense of love. I think that willing the good of the other is a necessary condition for calling any relationship “love.”
The linguistic uneliminability of “love” does not imply that “love” designates some unique basic highly valuable reality. The triviality on many yard signs “Love is love” is intended to tell the lie that the affection of a man for his wife is the same as the affection of one man for another because “love” is primarily a noun designating a basic feature. The semantical fact that “love” is a relative term is brought out by the need for modifying it with various adjectives as “maternal,” “paternal,” “fraternal,” “romantic,” “erotic,” “homoerotic,” “platonic,” illicit, etc.,. To speak more precisely, we should use terms such as “the love of a mother for . . ,” “the love of sexual desire for. . ,” etc.,.
See Bonding Necessary for Love for my proposal that willing the good of the other plus the proper bonding to another provide necessary and sufficient conditions for personal love.