Page Summary

  •  Each loving act has two tendencies: 1) willing that someone else should have some good and 2) willing something for a further purpose so as to be good for someone.
  • Sometimes the primary tendency can be tricky. We might think we are willing good for someone else, but are actually willing good for ourselves.
  • When the good of both the giver and recipient are achieved in the same act, they grow closer together.

Does love mean to will the good of the other?


Ok, but what does that actually mean?

Christmas was coming up and Ed wanted to do something big for his daughter, Charlotte. The problem was that he had always been a terrible gift-giver. He knew that his wife, Donna, could come up with an idea, but he wanted to give her a break for once and take the initiative.


…so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.

Jesus of Nazareth, John 15:11

A father tossing his daughter up in the air at sunset

It’s easy to lump together the primary and secondary tendencies of love, no matter what kind of relationship it is. The primary tendency, love of friendship1, is love of the beloved simply and for itself, so that the beloved might have some good. The secondary tendency, love of concupiscence2, is love of something for a further purpose, so that it might be good for the beloved.

Take Ed’s desire to give his daughter a gift. This is the primary tendency, love of friendship, but it wouldn’t be a loving act yet, because he has to decide which good to give her. Separately, he also apprehends that bikes are good for kids her age. He might also enjoy riding bikes himself. This is the secondary tendency, love of concupiscence. It’s not for the sake of the bike that he apprehends it as good, but for Charlotte’s well-being (or his own). But again, that alone is not a loving act. The loving act is to give his daughter a bike as a Christmas present. That act involves both tendencies: the secondary love of concupiscence (bikes are good for Charlotte) and the primary love of friendship (Charlotte deserves a bike and much more).3

This may seem obvious, but it gets tricky if Ed’s personal motives are more complicated. Let’s say Ed was a cyclist in college, had hoped to pass the sport on to Charlotte, but she had an existing medical condition that made it riskier to ride a bike. In that case, if Ed still wanted to give her the same gift, he might not be considering what belongs to her well-being, but instead what he wants for himself, namely to relive his cycling career vicariously through his daughter. Then, the love of friendship wouldn’t be for Charlotte, it would be for Ed (who seemingly would not be improving on his gift-giving ways). She wouldn’t be rejecting his love if she didn’t take up cycling, because Ed wouldn’t really be directing the act of love to her, but rather to himself at her expense.

The decisive intention of a loving action can only be the objective good of the recipient. If it isn’t, the aim tends to be the apparent good of someone other than the recipient (as in the bad-gift-giving, vicarious-cyclist version of Ed). Then it certainly isn’t an act of love toward the recipient.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the case, and Ed really just wanted to give Charlotte something she would enjoy. It’s not wrong, however, for him to also receive some good (e.g. the feeling of satisfaction in being a good dad) from the act of generosity. In fact, doing good for others should feel good most of the time. It’s just that the feeling shouldn’t be the driving motive for the action. When Ed’s good and Charlotte’s good are both achieved in the same action, they grow closer together.

As a matter of fact, is closeness (or unity) the goal of all love? And what is “the good” anyway?

kids riding bikes
1) Latin: amor amicitiae (“ahm-itch-IT-see-yay”), not to be confused with the Greek philia, which is more specific to the love between friends (in contrast with family or spouse), rather than this general sense of goodwill for the beloved (which applies to friends, family, and spouse). See also, St. Thomas Aquinas, ST IaIIae, q. 26, a. 4.

2) Latin: amor concupiscentiae (“con-coop-ish-ENT-see-yay”), morally neutral, not to be confused with “concupiscence” as a standalone term, which often means a kind of inaccuracy in desiring the good. Ibid.

3) Alfred Freddoso, “The Passions of Love and Hate,” University of Notre Dame. https://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/courses/405/love.htm

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