The Individual as an Object of Love: The Property View of Love Meets the Hegelian View of Properties

  • Joe Saunders orcid logo (University of Durham)
  • Robert Stern (University of Sheffield)


In this paper, we do two things: first, we offer a metaphysical account of what it is to be an individual person through Hegel’s understanding of the concrete universal; and second, we show how this account of an individual can help in thinking about love. The aim is to show that Hegel’s distinctive account of individuality and universality can do justice to two intuitions about love which appear to be in tension: on the one hand, that love can involve a response to properties that an individual possesses; but on the other hand, what it is to love someone is not just to love their properties, but to love them as the distinct individual they are. We claim that Hegel’s conception of the relation between individuals and their properties, which relies on his account of the concrete universal, can resolve this tension and make sense of this aspect of love.

How to Cite:

Saunders, J. & Stern, R., (2023) “The Individual as an Object of Love: The Property View of Love Meets the Hegelian View of Properties”, Ergo an Open Access Journal of Philosophy 10: 12. doi:



Published on
28 Nov 2023
Peer Reviewed

In this paper, we do two things: first, we offer a metaphysical account of what it is to be an individual person through Hegel’s understanding of the concrete universal; and second, we show how this account of an individual can help in thinking about love. The aim is to show that Hegel’s distinctive account of individuality and universality can do justice to two intuitions about love which appear to be in tension: on the one hand, that love can involve a response to properties that an individual possesses; but on the other hand, what it is to love someone is not just to love their properties, but to love them as the distinct individual they are. We claim that Hegel’s conception of the relation between individuals and their properties, which relies on his underappreciated account of the concrete universal, can resolve this tension and make sense of this aspect of love. Before spelling this out, we begin by saying more about the tension we have in mind.

1. Loving an Individual vs. Loving Their Properties

Why do we love Corrina? One natural answer to this question is to point to her various properties—for example, her sense of humour. This property, we might think, explains and justifies our love for Corrina, at least in part.1

However, this property view of love gives rise to a number of problems, which seem to originate from the nature of properties and their relation to the individuals that possess them. For properties seem to be generic, in the sense that they can be shared with other individuals, whereas individuals are unique.2 This gives rise to two central issues: (A) If properties are generic, then other individuals can also exemplify them, perhaps to a higher degree; (B) If properties are generic, then to be an individual would seem to involve something more than their properties, as otherwise they would be something general, not individual.

These issues generate problems for the property view of love that fall into two camps, three relating to the first issue, and three relating to the second. We can see this clearly in Jollimore’s (2011) helpful presentation of five problems, adding a sixth from Vlastos (1981) at the end.3


Universality: “If Alighieri loves Beatrice for her valuable properties (if, that is, his love for her is grounded in an appraisal of her value), then anyone who accepts that Alighieri is justified in doing so is obligated to love Beatrice also.” (Jollimore 2011: 15)

Promiscuity: “If Alighieri loves Beatrice for her valuable properties (if, that is, his love for her is grounded in an appraisal of her value), then rationality will require him to love anyone and indeed everyone who possesses those properties.” (Jollimore 2011: 16)

Trading-Up: “If Alighieri loves Beatrice for her valuable properties and along comes Carmen, who has all of Beatrice’s lovable properties plus a few more, then reason will require Alighieri to abandon Beatrice in favor of Carmen (on the assumption, at any rate that he cannot love them both).” (Jollimore 2011: 17)

In all these cases, the issue that causes the problems is that properties are shareable between individuals, so that by loving one individual for some property or properties, others may be required to love them too (universality), or one may be required to love other individuals with the same properties or better ones (promiscuity, trading-up).


Incompleteness: “Any list of properties identified as putative justifiers for loving some particular individual B will necessarily be incomplete, in the sense that no matter which or how many justifying considerations are cited, their totality will not rationally obligate a person to love B.” (Jollimore 2011: 14)

Inconstancy: “If Alighieri loves Beatrice for her valuable properties, then rationally he ought to stop loving Beatrice when she loses those properties.” (Jollimore 2011: 17)

Inadequacy: This problem is not in Jollimore’s list, but is identified as an issue by Vlastos in his seminal critique of Plato’s view of love in the Symposium. The problem, for Plato, is that if love is a response to beauty, then what we ideally ought to love is beauty itself, because the form of beauty is itself beautiful.4 However, this problem can be posed in a more general way, and motivated independently of Plato’s theory of forms.5 The difficulty is as follows: if we take love to be a response to the properties of the beloved that make that love fitting, this seems to fall short of loving the individual as such, as what it is to be them is not just to possess those love-worthy properties. Thus, a love grounded on those properties does not seem to be a response to the individual themselves, but instead just to certain properties belonging to them.6 The difficulty is therefore that on the property view of love, we love people for their properties; but then the love that this seems to make rational appears inadequate in not encompassing the individual who possesses those properties.

In all these cases in group B, the issue that causes the problem is that specific individuals appear to be more than their general properties, so that, as Jollimore says, no list of properties can rationally obligate loving. Indeed, even more challengingly, no list of properties can capture their distinct individuality, and so arguably justify loving them (incompleteness); changes in their properties does not require a corresponding change in love for them as the individual they are (inconstancy); and to love an individual’s properties is to fall short of loving them as such (inadequacy).

Faced with these problems raised by the property view of love, four broad approaches have been adopted—but all face difficulties:


Some have rejected the properties view altogether, arguing instead that while properties might cause us to love individuals, they do not operate as reasons for our love, which is essentially arational.7 But this view seems too extreme and revisionary. For even if there are some arational elements to love, it also appears to have some rational elements. And conceiving of love as entirely arational fails to accommodate the intuition with which we began, that Corrina’s humour gives us some reason to love her.


A more moderate view holds that while properties may give us some reason to love other individuals, the force of these reasons is not obligating, so that (for example) while shared properties might give a person some grounds on which to be promiscuous or trade-up, they are rationally entitled not to do so.8 It is not clear that this really solves the problem, however: for one still seems stuck with the thought that we have reasons to love everyone else who is funny, and indeed more reasons to love a comedian who is funnier than Corinna, so that something remains of both the promiscuity and trading-up objections. But even if this approach does provide an answer to the problems in group A, it is not clear how this answers the puzzles in group B, particularly the problem of inadequacy, as it still makes the properties of the individual into the focus of love, and not the individual themselves.


One response that could be made on behalf of the property view is to distinguish between the focus or object of love and the grounds or reasons for love. With this distinction in mind, one could claim that the individual is the focus or object of love, and their properties are not; instead, they provide the reasons or grounds for love.9 However, without an account of the relationship between properties and individuals, how a property can rationally ground love for an individual object still remains mysterious; and until this is spelled out, the danger remains that the property will end up being the focus or object of love too. Our aim in what follows is to offer such an account that avoids this danger.


Perhaps the most promising response is to allow that properties may give us some reason to love other individuals, but argue that it is our unique relationship to the individual that provides us with a reason to love them in particular, which therefore solves the problems in group A; and it also arguably helps with the first two problems in group B, as a rich relationship with someone might be sufficient to explain one’s love for them, and also be unchangeable in key respects.10

Now, we accept that relationships are an important part of love, and may provide a resource for responding to the problems in group A and B. However, we think that the move to a relational view still does not fully escape the concerns that are our focus here, and thus does not render redundant the resolution we go on to offer to those concerns. To see this, we will briefly consider different forms that the relational view can take.

Some relational views treat relationships as important either because of their epistemic role, as it is through the relationship one comes to appreciate the individual and their lovable qualities, as well as to grasp the goodness of such relationships; or loving relationships are important because these are a place where certain qualities (such as care and intimacy) develop.11 These claims seem plausible to us, but this position still faces our puzzle of what it means to love an individual for those properties that are discovered or developed in a relationship.

Other relational views treat relational properties themselves as grounds for love, where such properties can in some cases hold between a person and only one other person (such as “being my wife for 30 years”), where as noted above, such uniqueness then arguably provides reason to love them in particular, which therefore solves the problems in group A, and the first two problems in group B. However, it is not clear this answers the problem of inadequacy, as a relational property is still just another property after all, and thus this view faces the challenge that to love someone for their relationship to you is arguably not to love them.12 If what grounds my love for my wife is that she has the relational property of “being my wife for 30 years”, it is not yet clear that I love her for the individual she is; the appeal to a relational or dyadic property still seems to face the problem of inadequacy, just as the appeal to monadic properties (such as her humour) did previously.

To escape this difficulty, the relational view could hold that the relationship should not be treated as a property of the other person when it comes to love, as what one loves and values is the relationship itself (for example, the 30 years one has spent with one’s wife). But then we still seem to face a version of the problem at hand, in that it’s not clear how this view can account for loving the individual as such, precisely because love is no longer grounded in the properties of that individual.13 And this leads to some counterintuitive results. It would be odd to not like any of your partner’s qualities, but nevertheless maintain this was a good case of love, because one values the 30 years you have spent together.14 Of course, these 30 years might have been valuable, and we think it can be appropriate to value a relationship of this sort. But in doing so, one should be careful not to jettison the individual, what makes them who they are, and how a relationship with them is also an important part of love. While relationship views are sometimes contrasted with property views of love, it would be odd to think of relationships as entirely separate from the properties of the individuals involved in the relationship. After all, relationship occur between individuals.15

In some relationships, it might be said that perhaps this does not matter—for example, we might see reasons to love our relatives just because they are our relatives. Even here, though, it seems problematic to treat these cases as entirely relational, as if you only love your son because he is your son, then it is not clear you love him. More significantly, these forms of family and friendship love seem different from romantic love precisely in this respect, as what it is to love Corinna is to see something of value in her, not just in the relation in which she stands to you. This is not to deny that our romantic relationships might open us up to an appreciation of the love-worthy qualities of the beloved—but that is just to return to the epistemic version of the relational view outlined above, where we still need an account of what it means to love an individual for their properties.

* * *

Of course, the discussion surrounding relationship and property views of love is complicated, and we do not pretend to have settled everything in this debate. But insofar as a relational view needs some account of individuals and properties in love, then what we say here is still relevant. Thus, while there may well be fruitful ways of further developing one or more of the above options, we do seem to be at an impasse when it comes to thinking about what it means to love an individual, in part for their properties. And this challenge seems significant enough to motivate a search elsewhere for a solution. In our view, to find a different way forward, we think we need to take a fresh look at what it is to love an individual for their properties, to show how this in itself can give one reasons to love the person in particular.

The aporia we are concerned with can therefore be summarized as follows: On the one hand, it is hard to renounce the thought that we love people for their properties, on pain of making love completely arational and mysterious, and reducing the object of that love to an indeterminate propertyless “this”. On the other hand, given that properties are generic and that individuals are specific, it is also hard to see how loving generic properties can ultimately have much to do with loving an individual, and so it seems that we need to go beyond the properties of an individual if we are to get at what it is to love them in particular. But then it looks like the object of our love can only be a propertyless “this”, and we are back at the beginning. If it’s not her properties, what is it about Corrina that we love? If we ignore her way of being funny, her way of being intelligent, and so on, what’s left?16

To try to resolve this impasse, we turn to a prominent debate in metaphysics to help shed light on this puzzle about love that is directed at individuals.17 While we will not attempt to work through this debate exhaustively, we think that looking at the basic metaphysical question of what makes something an individual can help us understand how it is that individuals are the proper object of love, through providing an account of what an individual is in the first place. Curiously perhaps, these two issues have not generally been put together explicitly,18 so in thinking about love, on the one hand theorists have underexplored the options in considering the metaphysics of the objects of this love, while on the other hand making metaphysical assumptions about the nature of persons (for instance that they are mysterious property-less substrates,19 or essentially Kantian rational wills20), which can be questioned.21 We will suggest that openly considering what an individual is can help us address the issues we have been discussing, through explaining what it is we are responding to when we love another person, whether it is their properties or them as an individual, or both.

2. The Metaphysics of Individuality

So what does make some thing an individual? One simple answer in this debate is that an individual is a particular bundle of properties. So Corrina is: funny, intelligent, and strong-headed. That’s it. However, one pressing question with this account is “what holds the bundle together?”, while another is the problem of individuation: could there not be other identical bundles, so Corrina might no longer be unique? One answer to this is to think of the properties not as universals (which can be shared with other individuals), but as tropes—so the brown of my hair and the brown of your hair are distinct entities. But how are these tropes individuated? For if what individuates one trope in relation to another is belonging to a different individual, it seems we can’t explain these individuals in terms of these tropes; while if tropes are distinct entities in their own right, it seems harder to explain what makes them properties at all, which are usually said to belong to individuals, rather than beings individuals themselves. Moreover, in cases where tropes are still qualitatively identical, it is not clear how appealing to this view can solve the problem of why we love Corrina in particular.

A different approach to this problem is that what makes an individual distinct from another one is not their properties, but instead the substratum in which those properties inhere, or some uniquely individuating property they possess, namely an haecceity, a Corrina-ness.22 This avoids the worry with uniqueness, as Corrina has her own distinctive substratum or haecceity, which cannot resemble that of anyone else’s. However, this also comes with a cost. If the substratum is something over and above the properties, that makes it propertyless in itself, and we then face the question of what distinguishes one bare substratum from another. How is Corrina different from Jeremy, if they are both property-less substrata? To say that each has their own haecceity, about which nothing more can be said, seems equally mysterious. But if a substratum is nothing over and above its properties, how can it be distinguished from them, in which case we seem to come back to a bundle view.

This dialectic about what makes some thing an individual suggests that none of these standard views can solve the issue of what love is a response to. And while of course much more can be said about each of these views, neither a straightforward bundle view, bare substratum view, haecceity view, nor trope view seems to offer an adequate account of the relationship between an individual and their properties when it comes to the case of love.

We therefore now want to introduce a different account of the metaphysics of an individual, one which we think could help overcome these issues. For this, we turn to a once prominent, but now overlooked position in metaphysics, Hegel’s concrete universal.23 This is appropriate, as Hegel developed his view on the concrete universal and the metaphysics of individuals precisely in order to avoid the unsatisfactory choice between bundle, substratum and haecceity views outlined above. In exploring this metaphysical issue, we hope to be able to resolve the puzzles in the philosophy of love that we identified above.

In doing this, we do not discuss Hegel’s own views of love as such. This is partly because in his mature writings, his account of love is very brief, though suggestive.24 But also, when he does discuss love, his interest is mostly focused on the “immense contradiction” it seems to involve between identity and difference:25 that is, between seeking the identity involved in union with the beloved on the one hand, and on the other hand, the desire to achieve recognition from the beloved as a distinct individual, which therefore requires there to be a difference between us and them.26 Hegel thus does not directly focus on the problem that is our concern here. Nonetheless, in his view, love involves a relationship of recognition between two individuals, and for that an appropriate account of this individuality is required—as Hegel puts it in his lectures on aesthetics, “But in romantic love everything turns on the fact that this man loves precisely this woman, and she him” (Hegel 1975: 567). To understand the nature of this individuality, we now turn to Hegel’s conception of the concrete universal.

3. The Concrete Universal

Hegel thinks that in order to escape the bundle, substratum and haecceity views of the individual,27 we must see that universality, particularity and individuality28 are importantly interdependent, such that to properly understand the concept of any of these will involve grasping its connection to the other two.29 This might sound puzzling, but Hegel thinks it hits upon an important truth. And the mere idea of concepts being interrelated should not scare us. For instance, to be a cause is to be importantly interrelated to having an effect, and a proper understanding of either the concept of cause or of effect involves the other.30

To see how Hegel thought this interdependence might work for universality, particularity and individuality, we must first say something briefly about Hegel’s understanding of these terms.31 Hegel begins by drawing an important distinction between universals which characterize the kind to which an individual belongs, and the universals which belong to individuals as their properties. Hegel typically refers to the former as the genus of the individual, but which now might be called substance universals, substance kinds, or sortals, such as cat or human being; and the latter might be called property universals.32 He also draws an important distinction between types of property universals which can be illustrated using the following examples:

  1. This cat is affectionate or This cat is intelligent or This cat is aggressive

  2. This cat weighs 4kg or This cat is 30cm long or This cat was born in America or This cat is mortal

The examples in group (ii) attribute a property to a cat, but that property is not itself a way of being a cat, and so does not further specify or particularize the kind; but the properties in group (i) do, as they say that the individual exemplifies cathood in a particular way—by being affectionate rather than aloof, or aggressive rather than tame—and so locate the individual within further sub-divisions of the type.33 Hegel thus makes full use of the etymological connections of “die Besonderheit” [particularity] with “making special” and “dividing off” or “sundering”,34 as through particularizing properties, individuals of the same kind are marked off from one another, which is not a feature of other properties—the property of being 30cm long might belong to Tibbles, but it does not mark off Tibbles qua cat from other cats, as it does not belong to Tibbles as a further particularization of the type.

With these differences in mind, one key way that Hegel distinguishes between universals which are abstract and universals which are concrete is that abstract universals are all exemplified by their instances in the same way (e.g., all instances of being 30cm long are the same), while concrete universals can be exemplified by their instances in different ways (e.g., Tibbles and Felix are both cats, but Tibbles is affectionate while Felix is aloof). Thus, one can adequately conceive of an abstract universal by abstracting away from the differences in the individuals in which the universal is exemplified—because there is only one way of being 30cm long, these differences are irrelevant to a full grasp of this concept. Your cat and your old school ruler are both 30cm long, and the differences between the two objects tells you little about what it means to be 30cm long—they’re irrelevant, as there is only one way to be 30cm long. By contrast, one can only adequately conceive of a concrete universal when the differences are taken into account—because there are many different ways of being a cat, and a full grasp of the concept must have some way to include these. Otherwise expressed, the differences between cats are not irrelevant to an understanding of what it is to be a cat; through learning about different cats, different breeds, genders, temperaments, and so on, we get a better understanding of what cats are.35

One complication here, however, is that there are other features that Hegel associates with concrete universals, which leads him to typically refer to only substance universals as concrete, whereas our characterization of the distinction will allow it to be extended to property universals, as we shall see. For example, it could be argued, Hegel holds that concrete universals must also be essential to their instances, which is why he treats substance universals as concrete, because he takes them to be essential in this way. Now, it is indeed true that Hegel wants to be an essentialist about substance universals, which he thinks will be missed if we tread them abstractly, and so is more inclined to talk about concreteness in this context. Nonetheless, there are also some places in which he uses the language of abstract vs. concrete in connection with property universals too, where the key idea is that it can be a mistake to think of both types of universals in abstraction from their ways of being different. We can see this in the following passage:

When there is talk of concepts, one usually has in view an abstract universality and the concept would then also be customarily defined as a universal representation. One accordingly speaks of colour, plant, animal, and so forth, and these concepts are supposed to arise by way of the fact that, in the process of leaving aside the particular factor through which the diverse colours, plants, animals, and so forth are distinguished from one another, we hold fast to what is common to them. This is the manner in which the understanding construes the concept, and it is highly right for sentiment [Gefühl] to declare such concepts to be hollow and empty, mere schemata and shadows. But the universal factor of the concept is not merely something common, opposite which the particular has its standing for itself. Instead the universal factor is the process of particularizing (specifying) itself and remaining in unclouded clarity with itself in its other. (Hegel 2010a: 237, §163 Addition)

Here, Hegel gives the example of the property universal colour, alongside the substance universals plant and animal, for although colour is not a substance kind, it is still exemplified in a variety of different ways (as red, blue, and so on), and thus counts as concrete rather than abstract. We will follow Hegel in adopting this usage, and so will discuss property universals as concrete, even though other aspects of Hegel’s position explain why this use is relatively rare in his work (see Stern 2009 for further discussion). Indeed, Hegel’s primary use of the term “concrete” is to refer to the Concept, where his claim is that the moments of universality, particularity and individuality are interdependent, which then in turn requires each of these elements to be understood in non-abstract ways (see, e.g., Hegel 2010a: 238–39, §164).

With this in mind, let us run through the various interdependencies Hegel develops between substance universals (U), particularizing property universals (P), and individuality (I), which following the structure of a syllogism, Hegel often presents as a middle term (the second premise) linking two extremes (the first premise and the conclusion).36 We are not looking to fully defend the various claims Hegel makes about these interdependencies here. Instead, we just want to lay out his views, before turning to show how these can help with thinking about love.

(1)  U-P-I

Here, the claim is that a substance universal must be instantiated in an individual. Cats in general, as some sort of Platonic form, do not exist. But to be instantiated in an individual, the substance universal must be characterized by particular properties, which are sufficiently particularizing to make it the case that the universal is instantiated by an individual. So, for instance, the substance universal cat is particularized into affectionate and aloof cats, tame and aggressive cats, and when further particularized, the result is individual cats which instantiate the substance universal in their own distinctive ways, making this a concrete universal.37

(2)  I-P-U

Individuals must be instances of a kind, that is to say, there are no bare individuals. There are cats, and tigers, and poodles, but no bare individual animals. But to be an individual instance of a kind, this individual instance must have particular properties which distinguish it from other individuals of the same kind. Individual cats must either have different properties (e.g., one is tame and the other aggressive), or exemplify the same properties in different ways (e.g., one is tame in a cowed way, whereas the other is tame in a good-natured way), making these properties concrete universals.38

(3)  P-U-I

Particular properties must be characteristics of an individual, and do not belong to them merely as a result of our attributions, but inhere in the individuals themselves. At the same, time, the world contains no floating “bigness” or “tameness”, there are only big or tame individuals. But to be an individual, the individual must be an instance of a kind, so that particular properties are not sufficient to constitute an individual on their own without the substance universal; but nor is a substance universal sufficient on its own, as it must be further particularized.39

(4)  P-I-U

Particular properties can only belong to members of a kind, as all individuals are members of a kind, and particular properties only belong to individuals. So there are no “big” or “tame” bare individuals, just big or tame cats, and big or tame gophers, and so on. But kinds must be instantiated in individuals.40

And this takes us back to where we started, namely (1) U-P-I

This might seem puzzling. If we are looking for one fundamental category, in which we then ground the other two, the interdependence that Hegel finds between universality, particularity and individuality may have an air of paradox, illustrated well in the following diagram:41

What this illustrates is that there is no one grounding category, but rather that they are interdependent, and each can be used to explain the other, which we must accept if we are to make sense of the phenomena involved. Thus, we have found, if there is to be any one element in this triad, there must be the other two. And again, perhaps this is not as mysterious as it may appear: for example, parts and wholes also seem to require one another, such that there cannot be a whole unless there are parts and vice versa, and it would seem to be a mistake to try to treat either as more fundamental than the other.42

Our aim in this section has not been to defend Hegel’s position as an account of the metaphysics of individuals as such, but instead to introduce it as a way of thinking about individuals and their properties in the context of the problems concerning love presented previously.

4. Love and the Concrete Universal

How does this apply to love? Our suggestion is that in thinking about why we love a person, we move around these three categories in an analogous way.

In loving Corrina, we do not just love a bundle of properties or a bare thisness, but a person. Personhood is a substance universal, as there are many people. But personhood in general, as some sort of Platonic form, does not exist. Rather, there are only individual people like Corrina, in whom personhood is instantiated. But to be instantiated in an individual such as Corrina, personhood must be particularized in a distinctive way. How does this occur? By exemplifying different properties—Corrina is a woman, she’s funny, and so on. But how does this get us to an individual if properties are generic? On Hegel’s view, some properties themselves are concrete universals, which means that the same properties can be instantiated in individuals but in different ways. “Being funny” is thus a universal property which others can share; however, the reason we love Corrina for being funny is not for the way in which her humour resembles that of other funny people, but for her particular way of being funny. But what’s so distinctive about Corrina’s particular way of being funny? Well, it’s hers, as the individual person she is. Okay, but then what’s so distinctive about her? What makes her the individual person she is? Well, the answer is the distinctive way that she has of instantiating personhood—which takes us back to the beginning. And so in thinking about the object of love, we continually move through the interdependent categories of universality, particularity, and individuality.

The Hegelian account which treats universals as concrete rather than abstract thus gives us an account of the metaphysics of an individual, without needing to bring in a haecceity or bare substratum. This allows us to explain why we love Corrina, and not a comedian who shares some of her properties, because what we love is her—but to be “her” is not to be some mysterious haecceity, but the way she is a person that differentiates her from others, such as her way of being funny.43 So what we love is the whole person, not their individual properties, but what it is to be a person is not to be something over and above those properties, so we can quite rightly appeal to such properties to give reasons for our love.44 But those properties are not simply a group of properties bundled together, where one of those properties might belong in the same way to something else: Corrina’s humour is her humour. And this is not only because her humour is intimately connected with other properties she possesses and the comedian does not (which a sophisticated bundle theorist can allow). It is because when we hear her make a joke, she does so in such a way that we find Corinna in it, making the joke hers in a way that no comedian can replicate45—while at the same time “being Corinna” is not some mysterious thisness which we cannot articulate, as we would have plenty to say about what makes Corinna distinctive if we were asked, including how her humour differs from that of other people, which might involve its relation to other properties of hers such as her warmth and perceptiveness, or features of the humour itself, such as its unique timing. So while a comedian can be funnier than Corrina, they can’t be funny in the way Corrina is funny, in the way that humour is expressive of and particular to her. For, when we answer the question of why we love Corrina by saying she is funny, what we mean is not just that she is humorous, but that the humour is distinctively hers: in responding to Corinna’s sense of humour we are responding to a sense of humour of a particular sort that only Corinna could have, because part of what makes that sense of humour the sense of humour that it is, is precisely that it is Corinna’s; while at the same time we are responding to Corinna because that particular sense of humour is part of what makes her the person that she is.

What makes this Hegelian account illuminating, we think, is the way in which Hegel’s account treats some property universals as particularizing, but treats other properties differently. Consider again Hegel’s distinction between an abstract universal like weighing 63kg, and a concrete universal like being funny. It is possible to give being funny as a reason to love Corinna, but it would be odd to give weighing 63kg or being born in Idaho as a reason to love her. Why? On the Hegelian account, this is because weighing 63kg or being born in that place has little to do with her particular way of being a human being, and cannot do so as it is exemplified in the same way in all human beings of that weight and place of birth. By contrast, humour can be a reason to love Corinna, as it can be one of ways that she is the distinctive human being she is, as her humour can be uniquely hers—and this is possible because humour is a concrete universal, which can be exemplified in different ways in different instances. As a particularizing universal, humour can thus mediate between the substance universal and the individual, constituting what it is about the individual which makes them a distinctive member of the kind to which they belong, and thus bridging the gap between the universality of the substance universal and the singularity of the individual.

Hegel’s position can therefore be contrasted with other options in the following way: On the other views, “A is F” says that F belongs to A, as something attached to the individual as a property, either to the individual substratum or to the individual haecceity, or as part of the bundle that constitutes A—so “being aggressive” belongs to Tibbles in just the same way as it belongs to Felix. But on the Concrete Universal view, if F is a particularizing property, then F is A’s way of being a G, so that A’s individuality is expressed through its Fness—so “being aggressive” is Tibbles’s way of being a cat, which as such will be distinct from Felix’s way of being a cat, as “being aggressive” is a concrete universal and so can be instantiated in different ways.

So likewise, when we talk about loving Corinna for her humour, humour is not just attached to Corinna (as on the non-Concrete Universal views), which could then also be said of the comedian—but rather her humour is her way of being the person that she is, so her individuality is expressed through this humour, making it hers, even though others can also be funny. Thus, on our view, humour is a generic property that can be instantiated in lots of different people. But when it is instantiated, it becomes an individual’s way of being funny, and so is not generic anymore. Moreover, it has to be instantiated; contrary to the Platonic view, there is no “humour as such” for you to love. Nonetheless there is something that is the same between Corinna and the comedian but also different: they are both funny, but Corinna is funny in her way, the comedian in his. Therefore when you love Corinna for her humour, it is still her that you love.

Having shown how the Concrete Universal view plays out when we think of loving Corrina, we can now see how that view solves the two groups of problems presented in §1:

The problems in group A all arise because it was assumed that properties are shareable, so that if I love Corinna for her humour, I would have reason to love a comedian likewise (promiscuity), or more if they are funnier (trading-up), or we all have reason to love her just as I do (universality). This might be right in cases where humour is operating as an abstract universal—for example, all Seinfeld-style observational comedy is funny in the same way; so if you love someone for this, then you would have reason to love anyone who has it as well, as would everyone else, and would have reasons to trade up to Seinfeld himself if you can. However, what the Concrete Universal view brings out is that humour can also be conceived as a concrete universal, where these problems do not arise. For, when working as a concrete universal, it makes sense to attribute humour to two individuals, but not in the same way, as they are both funny, but in different ways. Thus, in explaining our love for Corrina, humour is not operating as an abstract universal that is identical in all its instances, but rather as a concrete universal that can be instantiated in different individuals in different ways, that are expressive of the nature of the individual to which they belong. As a result, Corrina’s humour is hers, which gives us no reason to love a comedian who is also funny or even funnier, but in their own distinctive way.

The problems in group B all arise because specific individuals appear to be more than their general properties, so that no list of such properties can exhaust their individuality and so rationally justify loving them (incompleteness); changes in their properties do not require a corresponding change in love for them qua individuals (inconstancy); and to love an individual’s properties is to fall short of loving them as such (inadequacy). The way that the Concrete Universal view deals with this group of problems is to challenge the clear distinction between an individual and their properties on which they arise when it comes to reasons for love. If an individual and some of their properties are interdependent in the way the view suggests, then to love Corinna for her humour is equally to love Corinna, not something separable from her, as it is this property (amongst others) that constitutes her individuality in the first place. By contrast, if the reasons to love were related to abstract universals, such as weighing 63kg, then all these problems in group B would apply, as such properties are not fundamentally related to what makes the individual into the individual they are—but of course, in a way that the Hegelian view explains, such abstract universals are not our reasons to love, precisely because they do not sufficiently relate to the individuality of the beloved.

This approach thus enables us to give the following response to the problems of incompleteness, inconstancy and inadequacy. The problem of incompleteness is that no list of properties can capture someone’s distinct individuality, and so justify loving them. In a sense, the Concrete Universal view agrees with this; a mere list of properties does not capture someone’s distinct individuality. To capture someone’s individuality, we instead think of properties as particularized in distinctive ways. Corrina is funny, in her own particular warm and perceptive way. And this understanding of who she is, in terms of her individuality, that is, the way she particularizes a range of universal properties, can justify loving her. The problem of inconstancy is that if we love someone for their valuable properties, then we should stop loving them when they lose these properties. As we will explain more fully in the next section, the Concrete Universal view treats properties as inter-connected within individuals, and therefore makes love based on these properties more tenacious. Finally, the Concrete Universal view overcomes the problem of inadequacy, as to love Corinna for her humour is not to fall short of actually loving her, for on the Concrete Universal view, being funny is her way of being the person she is, and hence an individual in the first place.

Thus, our view is: the objections that have been raised against the property view of love have arisen because the Hegelian idea that individuality, particularity, and universality are interdependent has been overlooked, and with it the idea that universals must be treated as concrete rather than abstract, which Hegel thinks is required to make sense of this interdependence. How exactly does this Hegelian machinery help, and which parts of Hegel’s idea solve which issues? The issues in group A are caused by the thought that properties are abstract and hence instantiated in the same way in every instance; and these issues are then solved by Hegel’s non-abstract view of the relevant properties. And the issues in group B are caused by the potential tension between either loving an individual or their properties, which are then solved by seeing that individuality, particularity, and universality are interdependent. In laying out this interdependence, Hegel relies upon universals being concrete in two respects, both at the level of properties and substance universals. If the properties that provide reasons for love were not concrete, we would run into the problems in group A. And to solve the problems in group B, we need to treat those properties and individuals as interdependent. The way Hegel does this is by treating properties as expressing the nature of the individual as the kind of thing it is. And at the most general level, if we don’t accept Hegel’s account of substance universals, then we end up with an inadequate conception of the individual, such as the bundle, substratum or haecceity views, which we discussed above.

There might be other views that could solve one or other set of problems. For instance, some trope view might be able to claim that properties are not shareable, and thereby avoid the problems in group A. But this still leaves unresolved the problems in group B, which concern how an individual is related to their properties, or tropes. As we see it, the advantage of Hegel’s position is that it solves both sets of problems through providing a metaphysical account of what an individual is that views individuality, particularity, and universality as interdependent, using the distinctive conception of both property and substance universals as concrete that we have outlined above.

To bring out the distinctive nature of our position here, it is helpful to contrast our account of what it means to love an individual with Velleman’s. Velleman (1999) develops a Kantian account of love, looking to juxtapose love and respect. He views respect as a response to the “intelligible essence of a person” (Velleman 1999: 344). He thinks that respect, for Kant, is “a reverence as the awareness of a value that arrests our self-love” (Velleman 1999: 360), and that love does something similar: “love is likewise the awareness of a value inhering in its object; and I am also inclined to describe love as an arresting awareness of that value” (1999: 360). He claims that:

All that is essential to love, in my view, is that it disarms our emotional defenses toward an object in response to its incomparable value as a self-existent end. But when the object of our love is a person, and when we love him as a person—rather than as a work of nature, say, or an aesthetic object—then indeed, I want to say, we are responding to the value that he possesses by virtue of being a person or, as Kant would say, an instance of rational nature. (Velleman 1999: 365)

However, Velleman recognizes that this account doesn’t seem able to account for selectivity of love:

Why, then, do we love only some people? And why do we say that we love them for their distinctive qualities, such as their senses of humor or their yellow hair? (Velleman 1999: 370)

Here is his answer:

The immediate object of love, I would say, is the manifest person, embodied in flesh and blood and accessible to the senses. The manifest person is the one against whom we have emotional defenses, and he must disarm them, if he can, with his manifest qualities. Grasping some-one’s personhood intellectually may be enough to make us respect him, but unless we actually see a person in the human being confronting us, we won’t be moved to love; and we can see the person only by seeing him in or through his empirical persona.

Hence there remains a sense in which we love a person for his observable features—the way he wears his hat and sips his tea (in the lyrics of the jazz era), or the way he walks and the way he talks (in the lyrics of rock and roll). But loving a person for the way he walks is not a response to the value of his gait; it’s rather a response to his gait as an expression or symbol or reminder of his value as a person. (Velleman 1999: 371)

On this account, then, there is a way in which we do love Corrina for her sense of humour. But for Velleman, we’re not really responding to the value of her sense of humour, as ultimately, our love is love for her value as a person, something that is shared by all people.

However, in response it can be argued that while this is an admirable account of respect,46 it seems lacking as an account of love. After all, we love individual people, and their particular properties, not their intelligible essences. And on our account, what a person really is, is not some abstract universal essence, but instead the exemplification of a concrete universal, and thus an individual person with particular properties that between them make her the distinctive person that she is on the one hand, and thus make those properties hers on the other. We thus value Corrina’s sense of humour not because it is a “reminder” to us of her value as a person in general, but because it is a reminder to us of her, and her value is what we witness in the eyes of love. By ultimately abstracting away from those properties and the way they relate to Corrina herself, and thereby trying to make the intelligible essence of the person into an object of love, Velleman therefore seems to fail to make sense of that love, and to merely capture a relation of respect instead.

Moreover, our view makes clear that while rejecting a view like Velleman’s, we should take care not to be drawn to the other extreme. For example, Zangwill writes in response to Velleman:

We do not respond to the particularities of others as absences that allow their universal valuable nature to get through to us, in the way that we value high desert ground for receiving radio waves from outer space, because there are fewer distortions from the atmosphere than elsewhere. (Zangwill 2013: 301)

And he goes on to make the following point:

But that positive value [that Velleman thinks love is a response to] is something fundamentally generic, the same in all persons. The particularity of other people, that which makes them distinctive, plays only a facilitating role for Velleman. This seems wrong. Love is a celebration of particularity, not of what is universal and generic. (Zangwill 2013: 302)

Now, we agree that love does concern particulars, but worry that in saying that “love is a celebration of particularity, not of what is universal and generic”, Zangwill moves away from Velleman’s extreme to an extreme of his own.47 Why? Because there is also a place for the universal and generic in love. So while in a way Zangwill is right that love is a celebration of particularity, this doesn’t altogether exclude the universal and generic, as properties of the loved one can in some sense be shared with others, but not in a way that robs the loved one of their individuality. This is why there is also something right in Velleman’s view, and our Hegelian approach can do justice to both Velleman’s and Zangwill’s insights. In loving Corrina, I do celebrate her personhood as something that I and others share with her (I see that as something we have in common, and I wouldn’t love her if she wasn’t a person), but I also see it as something distinctive to her which I also celebrate (as she is a person in ways that I and others are not)—and both aspects seem important.

Hegel’s account can thus give us a way to do justice to the sameness between us (we are all persons) while also doing justice to our differences (Corrina exemplifies personhood in ways I and others do not), and to keep such apparently contradictory ideas in play at the same time. For, while Hegel holds that abstract universals have to be the same in all their instances, concrete universals do not,48 which leaves space for Corrina to be a person like me, but also a person who is different from me—and from all other persons. And this then explains why in loving her I do not thereby equally have a reason to love all those individuals who share personhood with Corrina—because at the same time they lack the particular form of personhood which is exemplified by her alone, which must be the case if Corrina is to be an individual at all.49

We therefore think that this Hegelian approach provides a way of making sense of loving an individual, which despite its paradoxical air is not at odds with the everyday ways in which we talk about love.

5. Responses to Objections

In this final section, we want to consider several possible objections to our account.

An initial worry is that perhaps we have tied our love of Corrina, and her personal identity, too tightly to a particular property, namely her humour. There are two issues here. The first concerns whether humour is an appropriate ground for love, and how this relates to its particularity. In considering this, it is important to distinguish the following questions:

  1. Does Property P distinguish an individual from others, sufficient to make loving the individual for that property amount to loving them?

  2. Is P a proper ground for love?

In thinking about whether some property can provide a good reason to love someone, we contend that this property needs to be concrete (1 above), but also the right kind of property (2 above). Otherwise expressed, we think that being a concrete property universal is necessary for being an appropriate ground of love, but that doesn’t make it a sufficient condition, so that that not all concrete property universals are appropriate grounds. For instance, a person could be a murderer in a distinctive way, like Hannibal Lecter, but that does not provide a good reason to love them. Our concern in this paper is primarily with the first of these issues (1), and so we leave aside which concrete properties are the appropriate grounds of love. As noted at the outset, humour serves in our discussion as a placeholder for any property which is a proper ground for love.

The second issue is that while properties can change, personal identity and romantic love can be tenacious, and persist through changes in one’s properties (the inconstancy problem). Imagine, for instance, that Corrina underwent some personal tragedy, and lost her sense of humour, becoming more serious. It would be odd if our account implied that she would no longer be the same person, or that we should stop loving her. In response to this worry, we should emphasize that, in saying that her sense of humour is part of what makes Corinna the person she is, we do not mean that it has to be the only thing—so Corinna could lose her sense of humour and remain distinctive from others, and so still be recognizably herself. Put another way—her sense of humour is one of the properties that distinguishes her from other individuals, but she could lose that property and still be sufficiently distinguished from other individuals to be Corinna rather than someone else.

In addition, on our account, loving people for their properties can be tenacious, as people’s properties are often inter-connected. You love Corrina for her humour, and that means that you love Corrina’s distinctive way of being funny, which is warm, creative, and intelligent. Now perhaps her humour fades, but on this view, part of the reason why you loved her humour was that it is warm, creative, intelligent (and so on); and these qualities could still remain, and perhaps find a different outlet or expression (with Corrina now writing or painting in a warm, creative and intelligent way).50

At this point, however, one might worry that our account has overshot its target. After all, while we want an account of love that doesn’t readily recommend trading-up, inconstancy, and promiscuity (in the relevant sense), we also want an account that can accommodate love justifiably ending in certain cases. But we can say something about this. For if Corrina’s properties changed substantially for the worse, and she became cold and cruel, rather than warm, creative and intelligent, this then could provide reasons for your love of her to pass or fade.51

We think that our account can also make sense of some cases in which trading-up seems more intelligible (and less objectionable), namely, when what we relate to is not an individual as such, but just to certain properties—for example, I go running with Dominic, but only because he runs at the same pace as me, and is available at 5p.m., where it is just these properties that form the basis of our running relationship, not his individual way of exemplifying them. In this case, it does make rational sense to switch to Charlie if I find such properties in more abundance there (perhaps Dominic starts to run faster, and is only now available at 8a.m.)—but then, on the Hegelian account, I am not really abandoning Dominic for Charlie, but just swapping one set of properties for another. However, this is not a case of love, as to love an individual is to love more than any such bundle, because this bundle consists purely of abstract universals which invite the problems discussed above, including the worry that this is not to love a person but to love properties instead.

Finally, one might wonder whether we need to invoke Hegel in order to make sense of what it means to love an individual. Clausen (2019: 358–66), for instance, has put forward a holistic account, where loving an individual is not just loving their independent properties, but loving them as a whole, or organic unity. We are sympathetic to this account, and think that Clausen helpfully captures some of the phenomenology of the proper object of love. However, she does not say anything about the metaphysical issue of how a single individual can be a combination of many properties, or what makes this possible if properties can also be shared, or why some properties are typically part of the unity we love (such as humour) whereas others are not (such as weighing 63kg).52 We therefore see our account as complementing Clausen’s approach, by offering a metaphysics of the individual, and of the relationship between individuals and properties, which can do justice to the holistic account that she puts forward.

So then, what is it that we love? In part, individuals and their properties—where, as Hegel shows us, in the case of loving an individual for the properties that form the reason for our love, neither should be thought of as separable from the other.


We are very grateful to the following people for helpful comments on previous drafts of this paper: Luke Brunning, Ginger Clausen, James Lewis, James Miller, Clare Mac Cumhaill, Natasha McKeever, Alison Toop, and Leonard Weiss. We are also grateful to Chris Bennett and Paul Faulkner for helpful conversations on this topic, and to the audience of the Concrete Universal Workshop at Durham University. Finally, we are grateful to two anonymous referees and an editor at Ergo for their valuable feedback and suggestions.


  1. There is a question of whether love is an appraisal of the beloved’s properties, or not. We think that there are some elements of appraisal to love; again, we love Corrina, in part, because of her funniness. But we say “in part” here, to leave open whether there are also other aspects of love that do not involve appraisal; these could include the importance of the relationship (discussed below), or other brute arational elements (see note 7). We are also assuming in this paper that humour is an appropriate ground for a response like love, and are using it as a placeholder for other such grounds.
  2. Cf. Protasi (2014: 221): “[. . .] beauty, intelligence, sense of humour, sweetness, kindness, and taste. These are all lovable traits on paper, but they are also quite generic. It is from this understanding of properties in generic terms that most objections [to the property view] arise”.
  3. Other theorists offer their own lists, but they are broadly similar to Jollimore’s, which is also more comprehensive in some respects: see, e.g., Kolodny (2003: 140–42) and Protasi (2014: 215). See also Grau (2004: 113–14) for a general statement of the puzzle at hand, focusing on the irreplaceability of the beloved, and Kreft (in press) for an attempt to provide a desire-based solution to this problem.
  4. Vlastos (1981) famously draws attention to this aspect of Socrates’ speech in the Symposium, which seems to suggest that we don’t really love individuals, but only love individuals as a way of getting at the property of beauty: “‘But how would it be, in our view,’ she [Diotima] said, ‘if someone got to see the Beautiful itself, absolute, pure, unmixed, not polluted by human flesh or colours or any other great nonsense of mortality, but if he could see divine Beauty itself in its one form?’” (Plato 1997: 494, 211e–212a). We take it that this is a pressing worry for a Platonic position, whether or not Vlastos is right to think that Plato’s own view of love succumbs to it, which is a matter of much scholarly debate that we cannot enter into here. Grau (2004: 121) considers a possible defence for the Platonist through drawing a distinction between types and tokens, such that we don’t love the abstract type of beauty, but a particular instance or token of beauty. But he also notes that this merely replaces a metaphysical puzzle with a normative one, as it does not address why from the Platonist perspective, we should love the imperfect token of beauty rather than the ideal type itself. The Hegelian view we present below is not vulnerable to this challenge, as it does not have a Platonist view of universals as ideal types.
  5. See also Clausen (2019), who uses the label “the problem of love’s object”, which she characterizes as a more general problem, in the following way: “[I]f I love someone on the basis of properties of theirs that I find valuable, and if my love for that person stands or falls with their possession of those properties, then plausibly I do not actually value my beloved for himself, but merely as someone who possesses those properties” (Clausen 2019: 350).
  6. One response that could be made on behalf of the property view is to distinguish between the focus or object of love and the grounds or reasons for love. We will discuss the suggestion shortly, when considering various possible responses below.
  7. See, for instance, Frankfurt (2004: 38), and Zangwill (2013: 12–15). McTaggart (1927: 151–52) also distinguishes between reasons and causes for love, but as he believes that we should all love everyone, he does not think that love is thereby arational. For a recent overview of rational, arational and irrational accounts of love, see McKeever and Saunders (2022).
  8. See Abramson and Leite (2011: 687), Brogaard (in press: §4) and Jollimore (2011: 137–38).
  9. See Delaney (1996) and Keller (2000: 165), and for a critical response see Clausen (2019: 350). We therefore agree with Clausen (2019: 350) when she says that “the ground/object distinction on its own is no more than a narrow, technical fix, and it needs supplementation in order to address the problem adequately”.
  10. See Kolodny (2003) for a comprehensive defense of a relationship view of love. On the point at hand, Kolodny (2003: 147) notes “that [. . .] love, insofar as it is responsive to its reasons, does not alter as alteration (in qualities) it finds. The relationship remains, even as qualities change”.
  11. For one example of a view that gives relationships an epistemic role as part of their account, see Abramson and Leite (2011), who conceive of love as a fitting response to someone’s qualities, which are made evident in a loving relationship. For the suggestion that intimate love relationships constitute what he calls “dialectical activities”, which require engagement in those relationships for their good to be made apparent, see Brewer (2009: 39).
  12. Protasi (2014: 214) makes a similar point: “the relationship view claims that there is just one property of Juliet that grounds Romeo’s love: the property of being in a relationship with him”.
  13. In response to these sorts of concerns, Kolodny (2003: 154–57) appeals to the distinction between the grounds of love and the focus of love discussed above, and claims that the relationship provides the grounds, but the other individual is the focus. However, once again it is not clear it resolves the issue. For we still need an account of what it is to be individual, and what it is about them that is the object of this focus—is it the individual themselves or their properties, or some combination of the two?
  14. One could respond on behalf of the relationship view that this is implausible. After all, presumably part of what it means to be in a loving relationship is to be appreciative of one’s partner. That seems right to us. But it does seem to move us away from the thought that all that matters is the relationship. It now looks like a plausible account of a loving relationship involves some appreciation of the properties of the beloved.
  15. Protasi (2014: 222) argues against Kolodny’s relationship view as follows: “[. . .] properties that ground my love are [. . .] affected by how those properties have been experienced in, and changed by, our relationship. Nevertheless, it is necessary to appeal to those properties to show that my love for that specific individual is justified. The relationship itself is not the ground of my justification: the person and her properties are. A loving relationship just happens to be the context in which most lovers experience the beloved’s properties”.
  16. Robert Solomon (2002: 7) argues that the qualities of the beloved must have some role in explaining why we love them, asking: “[. . .] what is ‘the person,’ apart from all of his or her properties? A naked soul? Can one in any erotic (as opposed to agapic) sense love an ontologically naked, property-less soul? Such a soul is difficult to imagine, and probably even harder to love. If the love is not based on any properties of the beloved, then it seems that the lover could love the beloved without knowing anything about them, or indeed whilst knowing false information about them”. Jollimore (2011: 142) makes a similar claim, noting that loving someone without any reference to their properties is “as impersonal and alienating as saying: ‘I would love anyone who had your name and social security number’”.
  17. In this paper, we focus on loving an individual person. As Frankfurt (2004: 41) notes: “The object of love is often a concrete individual”. This is an important case, and it is our focus here. However, we should note that this is not the only case of love. For there are other types of love, and as Frankfurt immediately goes on to say, love for things other than persons: “The object of love is often a concrete individual, for instance, a person or a country. It may also be something more abstract: for instance, a tradition, or some moral or nonmoral ideal.” While romantic love and love of friends are obviously directed at individuals as such, it is less clear that agapic love and familial love fall into this category, but we set aside this issue for now.
  18. One recent exception is Clausen (2019) who offers a holistic account of individuals. We return to say more about her account, and how ours differs from and complements it, later on in the paper.
  19. See, for instance, Frankfurt’s (1999: 170) claim (to be discussed further below) that: “The focus of a person’s love is [. . .] the specific particularity that makes his beloved nameable—something that is more mysterious than describability, and that is in any case manifestly impossible to define”.
  20. See Velleman (1999: 365), which is also discussed further below: “But when the object of our love is a person, [. . .] we are responding to the value that he possesses by virtue of being a person or, as Kant would say, an instance of rational nature”.
  21. Jenkins (2015: 349) remarks that: “As things currently stand in analytic philosophy, metaphysicians aren’t studying romantic love, and philosophers of love aren’t identifying as metaphysicians.” Of course, she is one prominent exception to this. In Jenkins (2015), she offers a map of various different metaphysical accounts of what love is. Our focus in this paper is slightly different, in that we put forward one promising account of what it means to be an individual, in order to shed light on what it means to love a person.
  22. Cf. Frankfurt (1999: 170): “The reason is that he loves it in its essentially irreproducible concreteness. The focus of a person’s love is not those general and hence repeatable characteristics that make his beloved describable. Rather, it is the specific particularity that makes his beloved nameable—something that is more mysterious than describability, and that is in any case manifestly impossible to define”.
  23. While we will be focusing on the Hegelian approach, there are other related views that might be used in a similar way, particularly the “four category ontology” proposed by Lowe (2006). Lowe resembles Hegel in stressing the interdependence of these categories, but differs from Hegel in distinguishing between properties as non-substantial universals and modes as instances of properties, and hence ends up with a four category ontology rather than Hegel’s three. As far as things stand with respect to many of the issues that concern us here, this difference is less important than their agreement that each of the categories they identify only make sense in terms of the rest. And while Lowe shows no awareness of Hegel’s position, this agreement is less surprising given their shared Aristotelian heritage. Another philosopher who works in related territory is Iris Murdoch, who also employs the terminology of the concrete universal (cf. Murdoch 1997: 322, and Merritt 2017 and Mac Cumhaill 2020 for further discussion), and of course talks centrally about love. However, as Mark Hopwood has explained (Hopwood 2017), for Murdoch the relation between the universal and the individual that is central to her view of love is between the Good and particular individuals who exemplify that good, which is not the relation that we are focusing on here.
  24. As is well known, Hegel discusses romantic love quite extensively in his early writings, such as the “The Spirit of Christianity” and “Fragment on Love” (see Hegel 1971: 182–301 and 302–8). There is also some discussion of love in Hegel’s lectures, but it plays little explicit role in the Phenomenology and published subsequent writings, where in the Philosophy of Right it just appears in §158 and the associated student note. This is not to deny that from thinking about love, Hegel came to dwell on and develop themes (such as the relation between identity and difference) that reverberate throughout his work (including the relation of identity and difference that Hegel sees in the moments of the Concept which we will go on to discuss).
  25. Cf. Hegel (1991: 199, §158 Addition): “The first moment in love is that I do not wish to be an independent person in my own right [für mich] and that, if I were, I would feel deficient and incomplete. The second moment is that I find myself in another person, that I gain recognition in this person [daß ich in ihr gelte: literally, I count for something to him], who in turn gains recognition in me. Love is therefore the most immense contradiction; the understanding cannot resolve it . . . Love is both the production and resolution of this contradiction”.
  26. This has led others (e.g., Bjerke 2011; McGowan 2019: 98–115) to use Hegel’s Logic in a different way from how we do here: namely to understand the kind of “identity and difference” that Hegel thinks is involved in a love relationship which might resolve the “immense contradiction” he identifies above; for, Hegel thinks a similar identity and difference can be found in the relation between universality and individuality, as we shall see. However, as we are not focused here on this issue raised by the love relationship, we are using Hegel’s account of this relation in a different way, though we would see both approaches as compatible.
  27. Hegel’s criticisms of these views come most clearly in his discussion of “the Also” and “the One” in the “Perception” section of the Phenomenology: see Hegel (2018: 68–79, §§111–31).
  28. The German for these categories is “Allgemeinheit”, “Besonderheit” and “Einzelheit”; the latter is sometimes translated as “singularity”, though “individuality” is more common, and we will follow that translation in what follows, making alterations where necessary. Hegel calls each of them the “moments” of the Concept [Begriff].
  29. Cf. Hegel (2010a: 238–39, §164): “[T]he universal is what is identical with itself explicitly in the sense that at the same time the particular and individual are contained in it. Furthermore, the particular is what has been differentiated or the determinacy, but in the sense that it is universal in itself and as an individual. Similarly, the individual has the meaning of being the subject, the foundation which contains the genus and species in itself and is itself substantial. This is the posited inseparability [Ungetrenntheit] of the moments in their difference (§160),—the clarity of the concept in which no difference interrupts or obscures the concept, but in which each difference is instead equally transparent”; Hegel (2010a: 236, §160): “The concept as such contains the moment of universality (as the free sameness with itself in its determinacy), particularity (the determinacy in which the universal remains the same as itself, unalloyed), and individuality (as the reflection-in-itself of the determinacies of universality and particularity, the negative unity with itself that is the determinate in and for itself, and at the same time is identical with itself or universal)”; Hegel (2010b: 540–41): “Universality, particularity, and individuality are, according to the foregoing, the three determinate concepts, that is, if one wants to count them. We have already shown that number is a form unsuited to conceptual determinations, but for the determinations of the concept it is unsuited the most; number, since the unit is its principle, turns the counted into totally separated units indifferent to each other. We have seen from the foregoing that the diverse determinate concepts, rather than falling apart as they do when counted, are only one and the same concept”.
  30. Cf. Hegel (2010a: 227, §153 Addition): “Yet [cause and effect] are not only distinct, but also just as much identical, something that can also be met with in our ordinary consciousness when we say of a cause that it is this only insofar as it has an effect and of an effect that it is this effect only insofar as it has a cause”.
  31. Hegel’s central discussion of these issues comes in the third part of his Science of Logic, on “The Doctrine of the Concept”. The Science of Logic comes in two versions, both as a self-standing text (Hegel 2010b) and as the first part of the three-volume Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences (Hegel 2010a).
  32. Cf. Hegel (2007: 191, §456 Addition): “This common element is either some particular aspect of the object raised to the form of universality, such as, for example, the red colour in the rose, or the concrete universal, the genus, for example, the plant in the rose [. . .]”; Hegel (2010a: 250, §175 Addition): “The universal is, nevertheless, in fact the ground and basis, the root and substance of the individual. If we consider, for example, Caius, Titus, Sempronius, and the other inhabitants of a city or a country, then the fact that they are collectively human beings is not merely something common to them, but their universal, their genus, and all these individuals would not be at all without this, their genus. In contrast to this, matters are different with that superficial, only so-called universality that is in fact something that merely accrues to all individuals and is common to them”; Hegel (2010a: 253, §179 Addition): “All things are a genus (their determination and purpose) in one individual actuality with a particular constitution; and their [i.e., all things’] finitude consists in the fact that their particular [character] may or may not be adequate to the universal”.
  33. Cf. Hegel’s own distinction between a judgement like “This rose is red” and “This plant has curative powers”: the former just attributes a property to a rose but does not in itself distinguish it from other types of roses, whereas the curative power of a plant does differentiate it from other plants, from which Hegel thinks other implications follow—for example, one can make claims about whether the plant exercises this power well or badly, but not whether the rose is red in a good or a bad way: see Hegel (2010a: 246–50, §§172–75). Of course, Hegel recognizes that we might choose to put roses into different colour groups for various purposes, but this would tell us nothing about the roses as such.
  34. Cf. Inwood (1992: 302): “Besonder is cognate with the English ‘(a)sunder’, and originally meant ‘separated, marked out, special’. It generates das Besondere (‘the particular’), (die) Besonderheit (‘particularity’), and (die) Besonderung (‘particularizing, particularization, specification’). The link with ‘sunder’ (sondern) is preserved in Hegel’s use of the word”.
  35. Hegel (2010a: 78, §37 Addition): “Thinking that merely conforms to the understanding is limited to the form of the abstract universal and lacks the capacity to proceed to the particularization of this universal. Thus, for instance, the old metaphysics undertook to find out through thinking what might be the essence or the basic determination of the soul, and it was then said that the soul is simple. The simplicity thus attributed to the soul has the meaning of an abstract simplicity that excludes difference. The latter was regarded as compositeness, i.e., as the basic determination of the body and, furthermore, of matter in general. Abstract simplicity is, however, a rather poor determination, through which the wealth of the soul and that of spirit cannot be comprehended at all”; Hegel (2010b: 549): “The lowest conception one can have of the universal as connected with the individual is this external relation that it has to the latter as a mere commonality [als eines bloß Gemeinschaftslichen]”; Hegel (2010b: 519): “any statement or definition of a concept expressly requires, besides the genus which in fact is already itself more than just abstract universality, also a specific determinateness. And it does not take much thoughtful reflection on the implication of this requirement to see that differentiation is an equally essential moment of the concept”.
  36. Hegel’s full discussion is more complex than we can go into here, as he first presents the “moments” of universality, particularity, and individuality as they figure in the Concept, and then how they relate in various forms of judgment and syllogism, where different judgments and syllogism form a hierarchy depending on how closely the moments of universality, particularity, and individuality are interrelated. For further discussion, and how all this relates to Hegel’s conception of the concrete universal, see Stern (2009).
  37. Cf. Hegel (2010a: 57–58, §24 Addition 1): “[W]hen we talk about some specific animal, we say that it is an animal. The animal as such cannot be shown, only a specific animal can. The animal does not exist concretely [existiert nicht] but is instead the universal nature of individual animals, and each concretely existing animal is much more concretely specific, something particularized. But to be an animal, i.e., the genus that is the universal, belongs to the specific animal and constitutes its specific essentiality. Take what it is to be an animal away from a dog, and we would be at a loss to say what it is. In general, things have an abiding inner nature as well as an external existence. They live and die, come to be and pass away. The genus is their essentiality, their universality, and it is not to be construed merely as some common feature”.
  38. Cf. Hegel (2010b: 16–17): “[T]here is present in each human being, although universally unique, a specific principle that makes him human (or in each animal a specific principle that makes it animal): if this is true, then there is no saying what such an individual could still be if this foundation were removed from him, no matter how many the predicates with which he would still be adorned—if, that is, such a foundation can be called a predicate like the rest”; and Hegel (2010b: 590–91): “Individuality connects with universality through particularity; the individual is not universal immediately but by means of particularity; and conversely, universality is likewise not individual immediately but lowers itself to it through particularity”.
  39. Cf. Hegel (2010a: 242, §166 Addition): “If we say ‘this rose is red’ or ‘this painting is beautiful’, what is thereby said is not that it is we who in some external fashion make the rose red or the paining beautiful, but instead that these are the objects’ own determinations”; and Hegel (2010a: 243, §167): “[A]ll things are a judgment,—i.e. they are individuals which are universality or inner nature in themselves, or a universal that is individuated. The universality and individuality distinguish themselves in them [the things] but are at the same time identical”; and Hegel (2010a: 251, §177 Addition): “All things are a categorical judgment, i.e. they have their substantial nature, which forms the fixed and unchangeable foundation of them. Only when we regard things from the viewpoint of their genus and as determined by it with necessity, does a judgment begin to be a true one . . . Furthermore, however, even the categorical judgment remains deficient insofar as the factor of particularity does not yet receive its due”.
  40. Cf. Hegel (2010a: 250, §175 Addition): “It would [. . .] make no sense to assume that Caius could somehow not be a human being but be brave, learned, and so forth. What the individual human being is in particular, this is only insofar as he is, above all, a human being as such in the universal sense [im Allgemeinen], and this universal is not only something external to and alongside other abstract qualities or mere determinations of reflection. Instead it is much more what pervades everything particular, encompassing it within itself”.
  41. Unattributed image, found online. The 3-pronged image is known as “The Impossible Trident”, and an anonymous person has added in the metaphysical captions.
  42. Cf. Hegel (2010a: 203, §136): “[S]ince the parts are supposed to subsist in [bestehen in] the whole and the whole to consist of [bestehen aus] the parts, one time the one, the other time the other is the subsisting element [Bestehende] and the other is each time the unessential”. Hegel’s resistance to the idea of assigning a priority to wholes over parts, and to grounding generally, suggests he would in fact be out of sympathy with the recent attempts by Jonathan Schaffer to try to motivate a Hegelian monism that precisely relies on these kinds of grounding claims: see, e.g., Schaffer (2010).
  43. With this account, we are providing two things: firstly, an account of what a person is, through Hegel’s understanding of the concrete universal; and secondly, a discussion of how this account of an individual can help in thinking about love. This raises a question about whether our analysis might apply to other emotions, or attitudes one could take towards persons. Insofar as we are offering an account of what it means to be an individual person, our account will also have things to say about what it means to adopt any attitude towards an individual person. But, of course, love is distinct from other emotions and attitudes, and there might be important differences with other attitudes or emotions, which mean that our account here does not apply; for instance, perhaps respect is respect for something fundamentally generic, as we discuss briefly below.
  44. One might wonder how this account differs from a standard analysis of the emotions which distinguishes between the object and the formal object of an emotion. For instance, I am afraid of this tiger running towards me (so the object of my fear is the tiger). Why? Because the tiger is dangerous (so the formal object of my fear is its dangerousness). How does our account differ from this? In the case of the tiger, what I am afraid of (the tiger) and why I fear it (its dangerousness) can be distinguished (into object and formal object respectively); but we are arguing that in the case of Corrina, this is not the case, as the reasons for my love are always properties particular to her, so she is also the reason for my love, whereas in the case of the tiger, there is nothing distinctive to its dangerousness which is my reason for fearing it.
  45. In noting that Corrina makes a joke her own, it is also worth mentioning that for Hegel, human beings are different from other natural kinds, in that we are self-conscious, rational and free. Corrina’s humour is thus not something that is merely given to her, in the same way that a boulder might be large, it is something that she herself can cultivate, develop, and make her own.
  46. Of course, this could also be contested. After all, respect might seem to require respect for you as the individual you are, and not just for rationality in general. Cf. Velleman (1999: 344–48), where he offers a discussion of Kant’s remark in the Groundwork (at 2019: 17n; IV: 402n) that: “All respect for a person is actually only respect for the [moral] law”. Velleman (1999: 348) embraces this: “The result is that reverence for the law, which has struck so many as making Kantian ethics impersonal, is in fact an attitude toward the person, since the law that commands respect is the ideal of a rational will, which lies at the heart of personhood”.
  47. Velleman is concerned about a similar extreme position, namely a sort of quirk-fetishism: “Someone who loved you for your quirks would have to be a quirk-lover, on the way to being a fetishist. In order for his love to fit you so snugly, it would need so many angles as to be downright kinky. Of course, you may hope that love would open a lover’s eyes to everything about you, including your quirks, and that he would see them in the reflected glow of your true, inner value. But if you learned that they were themselves the evaluative basis of his love, you would feel trivialized” (Velleman 1999: 370). What we now go on to say should show we can avoid this worry. For an alternative attempt to avoid this worry, see Clausen (2019: 362–63).
  48. Cf. again Hegel (2010b: 549): “The lowest conception one can have of the universal as connected with the individual is this external relation that it has to the latter as a mere commonality [als eines bloß Gemeinschaftslichen]”.
  49. In this respect, Hegel’s position is committed to some version of Leibniz’s principle of the identity of indiscernibles, though his handling of that principle is more complex than can be discussed fully here: see Ingram (1985), Southgate (2014).
  50. This also helps address a potential concern with our claim that we love Corrina because she is funny, namely that there is something artificial in our focusing on one particular property; after all, we typically don’t love someone just because they are funny. On our account, though, someone’s humour will typically be connected to their other properties. After all, what makes Corrina’s sense of humour distinctive is that it is hers, where this could depend on other properties that she has. We have focused just on the one property of humour to simplify the discussion, which can again serve as a placeholder for any property or suitable combination of properties.
  51. For an account of love passing, see Saunders (2022).
  52. Though we have used examples like this to illustrate the abstract/concrete distinction, we do not deny that perhaps even some properties of this sort could operate as concrete universals in some cases, as marking out the individuals concerned—e.g., perhaps Napoleon had a way of being the height he was that was distinctive of him. Our suggestion is just that in most situations involving such properties, this will not be the case, and the property will be abstract in the way we have suggested, and hence not a reason for loving the individual who possesses that property.


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