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How Much Can I Love My Hat?

Sometimes I think that a saint is someone who is capable of loving a hat more than I currently love anything.

You get to a strange thought like this by following lines like these: some things deserve to be more loved than other things, because some things are better than others. But even low-level good things, like hats, deserve to be loved a little bit, precisely because they're a little bit good. So if we imagine someone who is perfected in love, who loves all things well, then we can see that that person would love the infinite good the most, great goods like angels and human beings a lot, animals and great works of art somewhat less, and so on, down to things like hats, which would be loved lesser still.

Notice, though, that what we are talking about here is how much something should be loved relative to other things. We haven't yet said anything about how much the perfect lover would love good things, absolutely speaking. In a crude quantification, maybe we could say that a hat should be loved one tenth as much as a dog. In a cruder quantification, we could quantify degrees of love, as some utilitarians quantify pleasure: for every one "philion" of love for my hat, I should extend ten philions to the dog. Again, that's a relative answer to the question about how much I can love my hat. But how many philions should I extend to my hat, absolutely speaking?

Plausibly, there is no limit to the human capacity for loving. We grow in love, and can keep growing, ad infinitum. Even if our intellectual capacity for knowing potential objects of love maxes out, so we reach a limit on how many things we love, still, it seems plausible that we can just go on growing in love for these.

If so, then, so long as the proportion of loves stays correct, the degree of love with which we love anything--God, other people, dogs, oak trees, and hats--can always increase. And so I imagine a saint in heaven--make it a very old, very great saint--loving my hat more than I currently love anything.

That's a challenging thought; it makes me want to grow in love! It is also a comforting thought: growth in love need not, and probably should not, mean letting go of love for small goods, but giving them the right share of love.

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