SKC Project Seminar: Cassandre Caballero

Cassandre Caballero

"Are the Ethics of Love Dehumanizing and Idealistic? A Rehabilitation of Kierkegaard’s Interpretation of the 'Love of the Neighbor' after Adorno’s Critique"

Søren Kierkegaard, in his book Works of Love (1847), gives an interpretation of the commandment “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” The command, even though it is well-known in our western civilization, brings about questions when it comes to its proper realization in the empirical world. Who is the “neighbor”? Can we be ordered to love? What does it mean to “love oneself”? Kierkegaard answers those questions by putting the concept of faith in the God-human, that is to say Christ, as the cornerstone of his argumentation. He explains that loving one’s neighbor has to be a consequence of loving God, because loving God is the only way to have an unconditional and independent love for one’s neighbor.

Theodor W. Adorno harshly criticizes Kierkegaard’s analysis, especially in his article “On Kierkegaard’s Doctrine of Love” (1940). He considers that loving one’s neighbor cannot be at the basis of any kind of ethics because it does not allow any cohesiveness in a society. Indeed, this Christian love puts emphasis on the notions of “grace” and “forgiveness”, and those two notions strip justice of its meaning, even though justice is necessary to the social order. For Adorno, trying to follow the ethics of love leads to disastrous consequences. Furthermore, Adorno explains that the concept of “neighbor” is empty, because the neighbor is every single individual who is part of humanity. For him, if all humans are neighbors, none of them are.

I will try to show that Adorno’s critique does not take into account the specificity of Christian faith, or the existential aspect of the ethics of love, even though they are central to Kierkegaard’s interpretation of the love commandment. Having in mind these two aspects, I will intend to rehabilitate Kierkegaard’s take on the ethics of love.