Monday, December 2, 2013


122. Commitment and choice

In the preceding item in this blog, concerning love relationships, I argued for a certain channeling or re-direction of passion (eros) to allow for the build-up of loving friendship (philia). I did not mean to imply that emotion should be replaced by rational evaluation.

Eva Illouz, in her book ‘Why love hurts’ (2012), analyzed modern conditions of love and commitment. She found that rational evaluation of multiple alternatives, which have increasing arisen in modern times, after the suspension of constraints of class, education, standing, income, procedures and ritual, and multiple dimensions of choice, of appearance, spirit, life style, interests and abilities, can have an adverse effect.

Rational evaluation is typically analytic, decomposing objects of choice into different characteristics and weighting them to arrive at some composite measure for comparison of alternative options. Illouz employed a variety of outcomes from research that show that this procedure can have adverse effects.

It has long been known that often choice is best left up to intuition. While rational choice is analytic, intuition is more integrative, employing tacit knowledge built up from experience, which by definition escapes rational grasp. Tapping from various research, Illouz further analyses this as follows. ‘Decomposing an object into components diminishes the emotional force of a decision’ (p. 93), and causes people to ‘moderate their evaluations’ and to lower emotional quality’.

In a rational analysis of alternatives, there is a consideration of opportunity costs (as the economist calls it): of the value of options not chosen, in an anticipation of regret, which lowers the value of whatever one does choose. It produces ambivalence in choice.

Illouz reports research that shows that cohabitation before marriage, as a ‘try-out’, increases the risk of divorce and lowers the quality of marital satisfaction. Ongoing analysis and comparison of value drives out commitment. She concludes that ‘.. the affective dimension of commitment ultimately is the strongest because commitment cannot be a rational choice’ (p. 96).

It is not a matter of dotting all the I’s and crossing all the t’s of rational choice and solving all problems before a commitment is made. At some point an emotional commitment needs to be made, to close issues of choice and as a basis for solving problems.

In sum, the emotional sweep of eros is still needed to leap into commitment, as a start, for next developing philia. So what does this do to my analysis in the preceding item in this blog? On the one hand the furor of eros should be tempered, in eliminating its possessiveness and its fear and suspicion of loss or dependence, and on the other hand it is needed to clinch the issue of commitment, in preserving the emotional craving to be with the loved one and to keep him/her, and no-one else, as a basis for philia to develop.

What is wrong with modernity is that eros has been reduced to sex and rational choice has replaced commitment.