Frankfurt correctly describes Kant’s moral rigorism as a replacement of inclination by moral law, only to go on to reject the Kantian approach. As an alternative he offers a distinction between self-indulgence and disciplined self-love (p. 78). We must adopt the same kind of discipline toward our dear selves, Frankfurt explains, that we adopt toward our children. This includes (1) ascertaining what is “genuinely important” to our children, and (2) taking inclination into account only insofar as it accords with the “true interests” we have thus ascertained (p. 79).
Frankfurt insists a lover will have “concern for the true interests” of the beloved (p. 88). From this it clearly follows that the lover will want to know what the interests of the beloved are. But beyond this, “concern” might have at least two different meanings. On the one hand, the lover might be concerned whether or not the beloved’s interests are salutary interests that lead to spiritual growth. On the other hand, concern for the interests of the beloved might also mean a desire to “protect” and “advance” (p. 89) these interests, no matter what they are.
But how do we ascertain the true interests of our children? Suppose my daughter manifests a powerful, persistent interest in the lives of Hollywood celebrities. According to Frankfurt’s logic I must nurture and cultivate this genuine interest. If a fleeting interest in virtue or wisdom subsequently arises, I must discourage this fleeting interest as merely a distraction from her “true interests.”
Frankfurt hasn’t eliminated inclination. He has enthroned it. The way in which the mind’s direction is established is exempt from investigation and criticism. Once a direction is established, deviations are discouraged. The direction of movement is a matter of indifference. Momentum alone is sacred.
Frankfurt’s premise is that we develop the capacity to love by “finding things to love” (p. 89). By finding things to love, we become more loving human beings. And by helping those we love find things to love, we care for them and help them develop their capacity to love (p. 89).
But is this premise correct? When our love lands on certain things, can’t this in fact impair our capacity to love? John the Evangelist warns that loving the world and the things in the world impairs our capacity to love God (1 John 2:15).
The idea that love for mundane objects can raise the lover by degrees toward love of God and the neighbor is nicely refuted by Anders Nygren in his study of agape and eros. Nygren describes a misguided “eros-ethic,” in which love for material objects is transformed and refined into love for transcendent and spiritual objects. The objects become higher. The form of the love remains the same. Nygren contrasts this misguided eros-ethic with the well-guided agape ethic, in which genuine love for God and the neighbor arises, not from a change of direction or object, but rather from a change in the character and motivation of the love itself. The “conversion” from misguided, self-centered worship of inclination to well-guided love of God and the neighbor occurs when the individual sets aside love produced by inclination and has a “complete change of heart.” After this change, love is motivated by obedience rather than inclination. Its source and motivation is no longer self, but God.
“It is a necessary feature of love that it is not under our direct and immediate voluntary control,” Frankfurt insists. “What we love and what we fail to love is not up to us” (pp. 44, 46). Since no evidence is offered to support these statements, we might interpret them as autobiographical. Because our author is incontinent in regard to his desires, he makes this autobiographical feature a feature of his philosophy, and generalizes his own moral incontinence as a prescription for others.
“Common sense” and “ordinary language” in a culture of greed and narcissism will be a manifestation of greed and narcissism. An autobiographical philosophical approach based on “common sense” and “ordinary language” will do no more than give articulation to the barbarity of the age.
“Avoiding boredom,” claims Frankfurt, is a healthy manifestation of “vitality of the self” (pp. 54-55). Vitality of the bourgeois self is maintained by cultivating a wide array of hobbies and distractions. This ensures silent times, when the mindlessness of the narcissistic bourgeois life might unwittingly be revealed, are scrupulously avoided. Unlike Heidegger, for whom boredom reveals aspects of time and existence that might lead us to better understand the human condition, Frankfurt sees boredom as merely a threat. Frankfurt would maintain the inertia of the bourgeois self and its loves, rudimentary, narcissistic and inconsequential as they are. He scrupulously avoids a state of mental silence, where the futility of his bourgeois conception of life might come into consciousness.
Socrates, with reference to the sophists, warns his interlocutors to be wary of hucksters who offer wares in the realm of the spirit, praising what they sell so they can sell more, without offering any real evidence their wares are beneficial to the spirit. Has any evidence ever been offered that the games and shows hawked by Hollywood and Madison Avenue are salutary for spiritual growth and development? Children need “pure spiritual milk” (1 Peter 2:2) for healthy growth and development of the spirit for the same reason they need wholesome water not contaminated with lead and arsenic for healthy growth and development of the flesh. Frankfurt’s notion of child rearing, which encourages children to choose hobbies and interests from the surrounding culture in accordance with their inclination, I would argue is form of spiritual child abuse, analogous to feeding children whatever street vendors are selling without first ascertaining whether it is poisonous.
Finite creatures, Frankfurt insists, can’t afford to be heedless in our loving. We need to maintain “defensive selectivity and restraint” (p. 63). In one sense the terms selectivity and restraint are misleading. We are commanded to love the neighbor, and must not be selective about which neighbor we love, nor restrained in the magnitude of our love. In another sense, however, Frankfurt is correct that love must be restrained. We must restrain our inclination to seek out attractive neighbors and avoid unattractive ones. We must restrain our inclination to love the world and the things of the world. In seeing this restraint as a matter of defensiveness, however, Professor Frankfurt couldn’t be more wrong. True love for God and the neighbor isn’t defensiveness. It is complete surrender. We allow God to conquer our minds and hearts with no remainder. We join the parade of God’s captives (2 Cor 2:14), loving not of our own will and inclination, but entirely subject to the will and command of God.
 Anders Nygren, Agape and Eros (1930), as translated by P. S. Watson (1932), p. 223.
 “Fundamental Attunement” (1930), as translated by Jerome Veith, The Heidegger Reader (2007), p. 101.
 Protagoras 313c.
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