In my last post, I wrote about children’s charities as indicators of the abstract love of children, which although very broad, was nonetheless a reality as solid as the ground we stand on. Let us break down this abstract love in its distinct components and its concrete manifestations.
In broadest terms, what do we mean when we say we love children? I am specifically leaving aside our own personal attachments to our own children or nephews, nieces, or other young acquaintances to look at the principle as such. Abstractly, what is there about children to love?
The first component of this love for children that we examine is what we experience in thinking about children as members of our species; it is in some measure inspiring or esthetic to think about these small human beings living successfully. In fact, we could call this component esthetic love, the sort of love we have for the things that lifts our spirits by contemplation, such as beautiful landscapes, music, other fine arts, and so forth. To perpetuate this esthetic phenomenon by some sort of support is for many a very meaningful act, akin to an artist creating beauty.
The second component of this love of children would be that we find it esthetic morally because,for the most part, children have done no real wrong, or less so than most adults. In a chaotic world, we prize such purity and want that to continue. I might call this moral love, because it has to do with the moral status of people in general and, more specifically here, in children.
The third component here is the love of potential. We love any young child in part because we know that the future is wide open and potentially leads to wonderful and new things. We love that and, in addition, respect that.
What is respect? Respect is a term with two important meanings. The first meaning means a rational concern and allowance for a fact or set of facts about reality, but which has no value judgment attached to the reality itself. We see such a meaning when we say that a wise mariner respects sea and weather and so studies them constantly when navigating. A general in combat may respect the opposing general in that he knows that the skills of the enemy must be accounted for. I think that this term must also refer to mankind in general in that the abilities and values of people cannot be rationally ignored because they are extraordinarily potent in changing our environment. I believe, in fact, that children do not get enough of such respect in most circumstances. Respect in this sense is a very important idea, but I do not believe it is central to my meaning about the abstract love of children. No, the second meaning of respect is what my main point is about.
The second meaning of respect is actually admiration. What do we mean when we say we admire someone? It means we love what that person, as a human being, has done or will do. We consider their achievements or potential achievements as aspects of their character, as essentials of who they are, that we find meaningful as such. Great scientists, artists, businessmen, or government leaders do things that ring true in us as uplifting and meaningful and so, we have an affection for them that we call admiration. This is, of course, love. When that love is attached to a conceptual class of human beings, it is very definitely abstract love. In children, our abstract admiration exists because we know that many will go on to do meaningful things, and we love them for it.
Concretely, if we see a particular child demonstrate the beginnings of bravery, rationality, and affection for people, we know that they are likely to do well in all senses of the word and then we begin to experience this love of their future morality that we call admiration. This observation applies both to the concrete and the conceptual, obviously, since for me to hypothesize context is to make it the conceptual, while also referencing the concrete.
Children is a good place to start in discussion of values and morality, but while we no doubt will have reason to return to their contexts, it is to the adults we must now direct most of our attention. Let us now consider the philosophic reality of pediatric surgeons.
Love between husband and wife is fairly well understood as a concrete reality. Abstract love of adults is another matter. By addressing children before in my posting, I began to show that there is a thing called abstract love. I maintain that we have this abstract love for adults as well. The aspects of abstract love that apply to children in large measure apply to adults as well. We can have esthetic love of them as living human beings; we can have moral love of them for their character or purity, and we can admire them for past or future meaningful achievements. However, since adults engage in a greater range of activities over greater intervals of time with many more aspects of social interaction, the values and character issues are much more complex and require a vastly longer treatment than children as such.
My segue way here is to look at a pediatric surgeon. As a surgeon, he has studied intently over many aspects of science, including biology, chemistry, physics, and perhaps even engineering. He combines this with anatomy, psychology, internal human metabolism, and a host of other studies. He also practices the skill necessary to intervene within the human body to effect beneficial change by cutting, implanting, sewing up, and other activities within the human body. Most surgeons specialize in areas of the body. Pediatric surgeons work on small children, in general, most of the time.
A pediatric surgeon, like most surgeons, knows that he will not always be successful in his treatment of patients and that in fact some patients will die. Some may even die because he made a mistake, because no one can always be right in all judgments all of the time. Whatever the outcome, the surgeon must take literally life-and-death responsibility for patients. We can admit that such surgeons may vary in their love of children from virtual indifference to passionately caring. How does this varying level of love for children relate to the actual quality of care for pediatric patients? A case can be made that it may not be all that relevant, because the job of the surgeon is not to care, but rather, to perform.
The most important thing I can think to say, is that if the surgeon acts as he does, we might also include this action to qualify as the sort of thing that we can love abstractly. By this I mean that this is an abstract valuing of that which benefits children. Furthermore, such a person who benefits children becomes a member of a conceptual class that embodies a sort of character that we feel positively about. We can see if this applies to one aspect of character, it can also apply to a number of aspects of character. Thus, we may love an abstract character or personality, and when we encounter specific concrete individuals, we would know why we value them, and perhaps even very decidedly love them in the flesh. I think that I need to expand on this to show how we can admire and respect most people before we actually meet them or even know who they are.