Before opening up this topic by a review of some relevant areas of moral philosophy, I want to touch briefly on a very different approach to the matters I am discussing. I have in mind the injunction in the New Testament to love our neighbor as we do ourselves. In this passage the word for “love” — in the Authorized Version it is translated as “charity” from the Latin caritas — is the Greek word agape, not eros.1 I mention this because there is a question about what word would best convey the character of the mode of feeling toward other people that is at issue here. I have proposed “caring-about” as a rendering of Heidegger’s Fürsorge; it has definite advantages over “love,” with its connotations of romantic and sexual passion. Even so, it is a bit on the anemic side; and the Greek agape has much richer nuances of meaning, some of which seem to me to be applicable to this situation. Unlike eros, which suggests a passionate and possessive attachment, agape is a love divorced from desire and undeterred by the great, often unattractive commonalities of our human nature.2 It acknowledges our shared condition of life and our profound similarities across all the lines that normally divide us; and it is able to respond to this often quite grim perception of our lives with a measure of hope. It is the kind of perception that has what I can only call our “creatureliness” as its object. This word, of course, suggests the drawback of agape as a word for this feeling – the fact, namely, that it is closely tied to the notion of a creator and his presumptive feelings toward his “creatures.” Here I can only appeal to the queer sort of Feuerbachian logic by which we reappropriate a notion of which we must, after all, already have had some understanding before attributing it to the creator we postulate. In any case, I want to be able to equate the “caring-for” I have in mind with the kind of perception and feeling for one another that the word agape expresses. I do so because it seems to me to be much more appropriate to a moral condition as equivocal as our own than are the bursts of life-affirming enthusiasm that have been characteristic of some of the more familiar traditions of melioristic thought. [OLAFSON, Frederick A.. Heidegger and the Ground of Ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, p. 83-84]

  1. “Charity” comes from caritas via the Old French cherte. This word for the dearness to us of someone or something also served to denote the affection or love we have for that someone or something. By invoking the notion of love in this context, I clearly cannot claim to be elaborating any theme that Heidegger develops, but at the same time there is nothing in his thought that rules out the introduction of this concept. The only discussion of the place of love in Heidegger’s thought that I am familiar with is in the unpublished doctoral dissertation of Holger Helting at the University of Vienna, “Studien und Quellenforschung zum undurchdachten Verhältnis zwischen Sokrates, Platon, und Heidegger,” ch. 1D, “Liebe zum Mitmenschen als Vollendung des ‘Daseins’ bzw. des Selbst bei Heidegger und Kierkegaard.” Helting takes a very positive view of the role of love in Heidegger’s account of the emergence of an authentic self and he backs up his view with some very significant quotations i from Heidegger’s writings. 

  2. Anders Nygren, Eros and Agape, translated by Philip Watson (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1953), has been helpful to me in my attempt to understand the concept of agape, although Nygren argues that only God is capable of this kind of love. One important difference between a divine and a human agape would surely have to do with forgiveness. An acceptance of human frailty cannot require that we forgive those who not only do grave harm to others but repudiate the whole spirit of mutuality on which the very idea of morality rests.