By Victoria Seed
It was interesting reading the mid-term report from the family synod today. I especially liked this paragraph:
“…Today’s world appears to promote limitless affectivity, seeking to explore all its aspects, including the most complex. Indeed, the question of emotional fragility is very current: a narcissistic, unstable or changeable affectivity do not always help greater maturity to be reached. In this context, couples are often uncertain and hesitant, struggling to find ways to grow. Many tend to remain in the early stages of emotional and sexual life….”
Affectivity has to do with sentiment or emotion. The modern idea that we are pulled and pushed around by our feelings, that we are somehow powerless against them, or that they are the source of our “authentic” self is deeply pernicious. We are led to believe that how we feel about a person, situation or achievement is more important than the substance of the matter. (How often do we see a TV presenter more eager to ask how someone feels about an accomplishment or a disappointment than to find out what actually went on?) Secular culture encourages us to substitute strength of conviction (feeling something really strongly) for mature moral deliberation. In a world where being morally right is thought to be less important than “being true to yourself” or “believing in yourself” we tend to think of love as a collection of positive emotions towards another person.
I think the passage I quoted is rooted in a very solid Aristotelian or Thomistic (i.e. Catholic) moral framework where this practical syllogism is the basis for correct moral action: right desire (affectivity) + right deliberation = right action. Limitless affectivity is emotion or desire unbounded by:
1. The need for proper orientation towards what is good
2. Proper deliberation as to how this can be achieved.
Our desires are important and have moral implications and value. A virtuous person desires what is good, which is to say he LOVES the good. But this presupposes that he knows what is good. So desire derives its moral worth from its object. This is its limit. Limitless affectivity lacks a proper orientation and is by nature adolescent, self-indulgent, unexamined and uncontrolled.
St Thomas Aquinas defined love of persons in terms of our desires, but ascribed to these desires a clear object and limits. To love another person is to:
1. To desire union with him
2. To desire what is good for him.
People today often (almost always) define love as a feeling, something passive. Christianity says that love is a choice, something active. In its critique of “limitless affectivity” this truth has been expressed by the Synod, which is promising…