In defence of a faith-like model of love: a reply to John Lippitt’s “Kierkegaard and the problem of special relationships: Ferreira, Krishek, and the ‘God filter”’


In his major work on love, Works of Love, Kierkegaard clearly and robustly affirms the moral superiority of neighbourly love, and approves preferential love on one condition: that it serve as an instance of neighbourly love. But can an essentially preferential love be an instance of the essentially non-preferential neighbourly love? John Lippitt seems to think it can. In his paper “Kierkegaard and the problem of special relationships: Ferreira, Krishek, and the ‘God filter”’ he defends Kierkegaard’s position in Works of Love against my criticism (as presented in my book Kierkegaard on Faith and Love); specifically, against my claim that in using Kierkegaard’s view of neighbourly love as a framework for understanding preferential love, one fails to account for the latter’s distinctive character. Lippitt claims that I misinterpret Kierkegaard’s position and, using what he calls ‘the God filter’, he attempts to show how adhering to Kierkegaard’s view of neighbourly love allows one to sustain the distinctiveness (and value) of preferential love. In what follows I will defend my interpretation of Kierkegaard’s position and explain why I take the view he presents in Works of Love to be problematic. Furthermore, in my aforementioned book I offer a Kierkegaardian model of love that does precisely what Lippitt seeks his ‘God filter’ model to do: namely, preserve the distinctiveness of preferential love while allowing its possible coexistence with neighbourly love. Thus, against the background of Lippitt’s criticism I will demonstrate this model again, in hope of clarifying the advantages this view offers.

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  1. 1.

    Kierkegaard takes neighbourly love to be the “fundamental, universal love” of which other loves (such as romantic love and friendship) are manifestations. See Kierkegaard (1995) (hereafter WL), p. 143.

  2. 2.

    Hereafter I will use the general term ‘preferential love’ to denote ‘natural’, ‘spontaneous’, or ‘special’ love; relationships such as romantic love, friendship, parenthood, and so on.

  3. 3.

    As presented in Krishek (2009).

  4. 4.

    Hence, I ascribe ambivalence to Kierkegaard’s position. Lippitt comments that I seem to equivocate and quotes Ferreira, who argues that it is unclear whether I claim that Kierkegaard’s position is inconsistent or inadequate. The charge of inconsistency, she says, means that I assign “irresolvable tension” to his position and offer a corrective to it; the charge of inadequacy means that I assign “a lop-sided emphasis on self-denial” and offer a complement to it (see Lippitt 2012, footnote 6). Let me clarify, then, “the status of my criticism” as Ferreira puts it. I indeed claim for both inconsistency and inadequacy. Kierkegaard’s understanding of neighbourly love in Works of Love is inadequate (for reasons that will be specified below) and this results in an inconsistent view with regard to preferential love: his inadequate understanding of neighbourly love is inconsistent with his affirmation of preferential love, because his account of the former does not allow for a satisfying account of the latter (as I aim to show in this paper). I thus offer a completion to his understanding of neighbourly love that serves as an amendment to his understanding of the relationship between the two kinds of love.

  5. 5.

    See Section “Love in the image of faith” below.

  6. 6.

    See also footnote 31 below.

  7. 7.

    Lippitt points to my use of the term ‘embodiment’ and assumes that I either use it as a reference to bodily existence such as the one exemplified in the parable of the Good Samaritan, or as “a coy reference to our sexual desires” (Lippitt 2012, p. 188). However, a third option exists. By using the term ‘embodiment’ I refer to the way in which one’s selfhood—consisting (among other things) of inclinations, talents, aspirations, etc.—is dependant on the body (and on other physical aspects of the world more generally). This includes, indeed, attention to bodily needs as well as to sexual desires, but cannot be reduced to them.

  8. 8.

    In other words, he warns us not to use our preferences as a criterion for loving. See Ferreira (2001), p. 46.

  9. 9.

    Recall that Lippitt disagrees with the way I understand this claim. He interprets it as saying that “Christianity is interested above all else in this key common denominator [namely, neighbourly love] in all commendable manifestations of love” (Lippitt 2012, p. 192). Indeed, I agree with Lippitt that neighbourly love is an essential part of any love (see the alternative model I sketch in Sect. 3). However, I think that Kierkegaard is saying more than that: he ranks (morally speaking) neighbourly love above all other kinds of love. If, as Lippitt suggests, “Christianity is interested above all else” in this love, does this not make neighbourly love morally superior (since this is the kind of love that a religious-moral point of view takes interest in)? Thus, notwithstanding our disagreement regarding the implications of this claim, it seems that Lippitt sees no problem with considering neighbourly love as the model for proper love (as his ‘God filter’ model also indicates, see Section “Love in the image of faith” below).

  10. 10.

    Quoting Ferreira, it seems that Lippitt agrees with the following: “genuine human love, emulating divine love, should love the differences and build up differently, responding to different needs” [Lippitt 2012, p. 194. The quote is from Ferreira (2001), pp. 112–113].

  11. 11.

    See again the quote at the beginning of this section.

  12. 12.

    Lippitt does not explain what he means by “equality of treatment” but since this is how he interprets my claim regarding the implied sameness of different kinds of love, let me clarify this point. When I speak of loving ‘in the same way’ I mean being emotionally involved in an equal way (in terms of quality and intensity) in all instances of love. (See also the next footnote).

  13. 13.

    Lippitt disagrees with this reading [see Lippitt (2012), pp. 194–195]. However, I think that this is precisely what this passage demonstrates: in loving the rose and the lily (for example), one basically feels the same love (which amounts to delight, wonder, admiration, joy, care, etc.), while acknowledging and appreciating the differences between these two flowers.

  14. 14.

    See also Krishek (2009, pp. 159–160).

  15. 15.

    And this, indeed, is the conclusion that Sylvia Walsh derives. For a discussion of her position see Krishek (2009, p. 119).

  16. 16.

    See Krishek (2009, pp. 130–132). I elaborate this idea in the next section.

  17. 17.

    I discuss the model of faith (as well as its connection to love) at great length in Krishek (2009). Here I will present it only in a nutshell.

  18. 18.

    The temporal nature of everything in our life entails that ‘the present’ (the present moment, period of life, or state of things) is essentially doomed to change or terminate. There is no way to preserve it or leave it untouched in its persistence. In this way, it (and everything ‘in’ it) is profoundly lost to us.

  19. 19.

    Resignation, as a way of sharply seeing the potential (and in a way already actual) absence of all that is present, is also a position that exposes our deep attachment to the world, our deep love for people and things in the world. Daily routine often blurs our vision of the value of things, making us take them for granted. Resignation, on the other hand, serves as particularly sharp glasses, inasmuch as it helps us see, beyond daily distractions, how valuable people and things are to our life.

  20. 20.

    A thin line separates naive optimism and profound faith, but the difference between the two is infinite: it stands on resignation. Resignation reassures that the joy and hope that one (as a believer) feels is based on real trust and not on self-deception. The challenge is to find life meaningful while at the same time acknowledging the real difficulties and pain it entails. A sincere trust in God, then, does not mean turning one’s look away from harsh adversity by saying that “everything will be okay”. Rather, it means that while unflinchingly facing such adversity one succeeds to maintain hope.

  21. 21.

    I elaborate on this idea elsewhere.

  22. 22.

    Self-affirmation includes an affirmation of concerns that are focused on the well-being and flourishing of the self. Thus, in response to Lippitt’s complaint that “Krishek has not told us enough about which self-focused concerns are in, which are out, and why” (Lippitt 2012, pp. 187–188 emphasis in the text), let me clarify that the criterion for proper affirmation of these concerns is resignation. Relating to oneself, just like relating to another, is judged as purified if it is shaped in the structure of the double movement of faith.

  23. 23.

    See also Krishek (2009, p. 157): arguably, the desire for mutuality (for receiving love back) is a necessary part of love. Thus, even if neighbourly love (unlike romantic love and friendship) is not conditioned by a successful satisfaction of this desire, it still exists in the form of hope for future satisfaction of it. Understanding love in terms of self-denial alone does not leave room for such a desire, even in its weaker form.

  24. 24.

    Lippitt quotes Ferreira’s assertions that “...God’s love should be the model for ‘true human love”’, and that “genuine human love emulate[s] divine love” (Lippitt 2012, p. 194). Since there is no evidence to the contrary, I assume that he agrees with her.

  25. 25.

    See Lippitt (2012, footnote 13).

  26. 26.

    Thus making sure that “my love for Sylvie [does not] merely serve my selfish desires”, that “my friendship with Joe [does not] require me to act in a way that I know to be inconsistent with the good”, and that “the specific demand this stranger makes on me [is not] inconsistent with what Christianity teaches” (Lippitt 2012, p. 191).

  27. 27.

    By acknowledging the integral role that neighbourly love plays in each human relationship and by accepting the crucial role that self-denial plays in loving properly.

  28. 28.

    Although discussing and delineating this possibility in Krishek (2009) (see in particular pp. 153–160), I might not have emphasized enough the integral role that neighbourly love plays in each and every love relationship. I therefore thank Lippitt for giving me the opportunity to clarify this point.

  29. 29.

    In other places I presented this idea by suggesting we understand the different kinds of love as works of love (“work” being the term to signify the formation of a purified love), and by delineating the possibility of performing different ‘works’ together [see Krishek (2009), p. 164, and Krishek (2010), in particular pp. 19–21].

  30. 30.

    More evidently but not exclusively: it should be emphasized again that this model is relevant to neighbourly love as well.

  31. 31.

    Note that Lippitt’s position here is not clear: on the one hand he acknowledges that Kierkegaard “overplays the concept of self-denial” (Lippitt 2012, p. 187), on the other hand he accepts Kierkegaard’s view that neighbourly love should serve as the model for proper love. I wonder then: if he thinks that Kierkegaard’s characterization of neighbourly love is problematic, how can he accept it as a model for proper love? And if he does not think that this characterization is problematic (or sees it as problematic only in a minor way), how does he explain the formation of preferential love on the basis of self-denial alone?

  32. 32.

    Loving preferentially, we said, does not mean that one values a preferred beloved over others, but it does mean that one loves the beloved in a specific way, unequal to the way one loves others. A further implication of this, as I claimed in Krishek (2009), is that the beloved’s well-being is of a more focused concern for the lover. Lippitt is troubled by this claim [see Lippitt (2012), p. 190], so let me explain what I mean. By virtue of preferential love some are closer to us than others and their lives are more intensely intertwined with ours. Accordingly, we have more responsibility towards them: if my friend and my upstairs neighbour are both sick this evening and in a need of someone to take care of them, I will choose to help my friend and will be justified in doing so due to the greater obligation that our relationship involves. However, since the question regarding this sense of preference (namely, moral preference) is part of a much larger and widely discussed topic in contemporary philosophy [see, for example, Williams (1981), pp. 1–19; Frankfurt (2004), pp. 33–68], further defending my position is a matter for a different paper.


  1. Ferreira, M. J. (2001). Love’s grateful striving: A commentary on Kierkegaard’s Works of Love. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  2. Frankfurt, H. G. (2004). The Reasons of Love. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  3. Kierkegaard, S. (1995). Works of Love (H. V. & E. H. Hong, Trans.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

  4. Krishek, S. (2009). Kierkegaard on Faith and Love. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  5. Krishek, S. (2010). The enactment of love by faith: On Kierkegaard’s distinction between love and its works. Faith and Philosophy, 27(1), 3–21.

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  6. Lippitt, J. (2012). Kierkegaard and the problem of special relationships: Ferreira, Krishek, and the ‘God filter’. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 72(3), 177–197.

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  7. Williams, B. (1981). Moral Luck. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Correspondence to Sharon Krishek.

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Krishek, S. In defence of a faith-like model of love: a reply to John Lippitt’s “Kierkegaard and the problem of special relationships: Ferreira, Krishek, and the ‘God filter”’. Int J Philos Relig 75, 155–166 (2014).

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  • Kierkegaard
  • Neighbourly love
  • Preferential love
  • Self-denial
  • Faith