Although the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” is often considered impractical, Meghan Sullivan, a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, sought to defend universal love, or the “love imperative,” at a forum last Friday evening.
At the event, titled “Why you should love absolutely everyone,” Sullivan presented a philosophical justification for the theological concept of universal love, and Professor of Philosophy Nomy Arpaly rebutted Sullivan’s assertions. The Veritas Forum, the Program for Ethical Inquiry, the Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life and various Christian communities on campus co-sponsored the event.
Sullivan argued that there is a “moral and rational obligation to love absolutely anyone … with dignity, indiscriminately, but in a way that’s appropriate to how their dignity is manifest.” According to Sullivan, there are four criteria for love: sensitivity to another’s emotional growth, desire for the other’s life to go well, connection between the welfare of another and oneself and motivation to actively improve the life of the loved one.
Later during the event, Sullivan described a thought experiment she had conducted with her students wherein she had asked them, “If you could take a pill that made you love absolutely everyone, would you?” She said she was surprised to find that none of her students would choose to take the pill, and went on to address their objections — including notions like “Love requires partiality!” and “The pill ignores merit!” Sullivan ended her talk with practical advice on how to love people more but was careful to acknowledge that no one is obligated to help everyone.
After Sullivan’s presentation, Arpaly responded by arguing that the idea of loving everyone renders love meaningless. “If you love someone for their humanity, it’s humanity you love,” said Arpaly. The event ended with a question-and-answer with the audience.
Over 140 people attended the forum, said Emily Ma ’21, one of the organizers of the event. The event was almost entirely student-organized, according to Justin Doyle, a ministry fellow with Christian Union and a participant in a fellowship program with the Veritas Forum this year. The Veritas Forum is an organization that aids students in planning forums “to help facilitate conversation on campus around larger issues” from a Christian perspective, Doyle said.
The Veritas Forum at Brown partnered with the Program for Ethical Inquiry in the philosophy department to plan the event. “Doing this partnership with the philosophy department at Brown for us — no matter how tonight’s event turns out — is just a big win,” Doyle said the morning before the forum. He went on to express his appreciation “that we could come alongside them and build a relationship with them and seek after truth together, even from different worldviews.”
Indigo Funk ’22, who worked on advertising for the forum, explained that he got involved through his interest in the group’s mission of engaging the campus. “I’m hoping that it can be a chance for the whole campus community to come together and find some new points of view and gain some perspectives that maybe we haven’t considered before in some things that are really important to our lives,” Funk said.