Afternoon Inquisition

AI: (Un)Conditional Love

I had an interesting conversation with a friend while hiking the other day regarding love. This person told me that there is no such thing as unconditional love. All love is conditional. Amy Painting My friend claims only to love people and things based upon conditions. If the conditions change then the feelings change as well. The main argument being, that you love your husband, wife, partner, lovers, friends etc based upon how they act and what they do. If they were to suddenly stop behaving in ways that you approve of, you would no longer feel the same way about them.

I argued at first and said things like, “…but what about children? You still love them when they  misbehave….and you can love people for all the wrong reasons and what about ROMANCE! What about TRUE LOVE, DAMMIT!”  I shook my fist in the air and stomped my feet in the dirt to emphasize my point.

My friend calmly countered by saying that those are still conditions that affect how we perceive the people that we feel love for.

So what do you think? Can you actually love someone unconditionally? Or is all love based on conditions and perceived situations? Is there something that your true love could do that would make you stop loving them or something someone you dislike could do that would then cause you to feel love?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. I also agree with you friend but I have my sons name tattooed on me. I’ll always love my son no matter what he does but its because he’s my son.

    The only way to love unconditionally would be to literally love everyone no matter who they are what they do or who you know them. I don’t know anyone that truly does that though some may claim to.

  2. I think we all want to believe in unconditional love but, I think everyone has their price. For instance in my case I stopped loving my ex the minute she left me. I can put up with a lot but there’s just some things you just can’t get past. Maybe it’s just me.

  3. All love is conditional. Everything is conditional, in fact. What we call unconditional love is just being able to handle a large number of those conditions. Calling it conditional only sounds bad because it connotes capriciousness.

  4. I also agree that love is conditional. Unconditional love is probably a sign of naivete and best and mental illness at worst.

    Is there something that your true love could do that would make you stop loving them or something someone you dislike could do that would then cause you to feel love?

    Sure. They could become abusive. I would cherish the memory of what we had, but I would stop loving them and I would run quickly away.

  5. I think if I had a child and he or she attempted patricide, I may rethink the tenor of our relationship.

  6. Feelings change in unexpected ways.

    Even when you think you love someone ‘unconditionally,’ things can happen
    that make you realize you don’t.

    I think it’s unlikely that any love is truly unconditional. The people who think it is
    just don’t want to consider the conditions
    that would make them stop loving–or consider
    those conditions impossible.

    No condition is impossible. People lie, cheat, steal, and murder. Any of those has the potential
    to stop love.

  7. An interesting inquisition. I would have to agree that there is only conditional love. The “because he is my son/daughter” which is commonly considered unconditional love is actually a condition.

  8. Unconditional love, I think, is an invention of man (as is “true love”). I could be incorrect, but I think it stems from the troubadours from the High Middle Ages who traveled singing poetry about fantasies like knights practicing chivalrous acts for women (well, the rich daughters of kings, anyway — the rest they raped and murdered during their conquests).

    Love is the emotion one experiences when all the right chemicals are produced in the brain (like dopamine and norepinephrine, which can be easily mimicked or induced by drugs). This is a huge part of the exciting stage of romantic love, which eventually fades with time as one is exposed to the person of your affection for a longer period of time. It may come back every now and again, but generally, this is not what keeps people together for years and years. Love is about respect for another person (in my belief, one cannot love another without respecting them — if you think you do, your definition of “love” can more readily be replaced with “taking advantage of another person to meet your personal gains, none of which have anything to do with the partner”). Respect can be altered depending upon what the other person does.

    No one stays the same for years and years. Experiences shape us constantly. As a result, sometimes the partner in the relationship is not being shaped in the same ways, and they may not like where the other person is going with his or her life. Respect for the other can fall through. What are you then left with? A shell of love that impersonates the real thing, but is devoid of all that makes this bond/connection truly special.

    Love is conditional, for sure.

    As for children, I think some parents say that they love their children out of social obligation. It’s difficult to be a parent (though I wouldn’t know from experience, this is just what I’ve observed), to be for sure. Sometimes I think, though they won’t admit it, some parents fall out of love with their children. There are probably a lot more conditions involved with parents and their kids, but the conditions still exist. I think this also has a lot to do with respect.

    There is a little hope, however! For instance, there was this couple that had been married for 60+ years. When interviewed, they were asked what helped them stay together for so long. Their answer? “We never fall out of love at the same time.”

  9. Things that are overdetermined by so many factors that we can’t imagine them being any other way often seem to us as if they just have to be, and the overdetermining factors disappear not because they’re unimportant but because they’re so powerful they become background assumptions. Perhaps love is supposed to be like that.

  10. If I’m dead (a condition), it’s going to be rather difficult for me to love (anything). Perhaps the problem is not in the expectations, but the unreasonable breadth of the word “unconditional”.

  11. I do think that love is conditional, but the biggest factor is the person emoting. Some people people may certainly be quite capable of unconditional love, at least toward some people, while others may not really know how to love, or they love “in their own way.” (Stereotypical Hollywood mother, anyone?)

    There are also different kinds of love, which again are conditional, like love of a fine wine, a good book or “I love that TV show!” You can love your friend, but what if your friend has sex with your spouse? Or your child? People swear undying love “until death”, but grow apart and divorce. Does a father who murders his son for the insurance money really love him? (I’m thinking of Ronald Clark O’Bryan at the moment.)

    There are degrees of love. The passion of intense attraction and the adoration of a newborn, and there’s the comfort of familiarity and the disapproval of life choices. Parents and children become estranged, disappointed; some may actively hate each other, while others still “love” the other but won’t even speak to them.

    Absolutely love is conditional, even if one don’t see it when caught up in the height of the emotion. Emotionally, I can’t ever see a day I won’t absolutely adore my godson; intellectually, I know that people can change over time, and if he were to somehow become a sadistic thug rather than continue as the happy, considerate and loving child he is now… well, that will certainly have an affect on my emotions. (It would hurt like hell!)

  12. Love is a feeling, so it is not necessarily contingent on logic or cognition or reciprocity.

    Ideally a parent’s love for their child is unconditional. An infant doesn’t have the ability to meet any conditions an adult might place on it, but the infant needs to be loved anyway. Adults who would put conditions on an infant for that infant to receive love from that adult should never be in a parental or caretaker role with that infant. If you can’t love your child unconditionally (or be willing to fake it 24/7/365 really well), then you should not have children.

    The reason that children need unconditional love is because it is a necessary step in development. First an infant needs to be loved by someone, so that the infant can learn to love itself. Once the child can love itself, then it can learn to love another. If a child is never loved, it is much more difficult to learn how to love.

    Just because you love someone unconditionally doesn’t mean that you let them do anything they want to you. In some cases you don’t let them do things because you love them. When Wolverine killed Phoenix, he didn’t do it because he hated her. Parents don’t discipline their children because they hate them.

    Love between adults is different than between parents and children. Maternal bonding is the archetypal social bonding in mammals. The physiology is all tied in and recapitulates parturition (giving birth and nursing). Stimulation of those various body areas triggers the release of oxytocin and it is that oxytocin that triggers bonding.

  13. Attachment is forbidden. Possession is forbidden.
    Compassion, which I would define as unconditional love, is central to a Jedi’s life, so you might say we’re encouraged to love.

  14. Have you ever broken up with a partner? If so, why? The answer: love is conditional. Conditions can range from just the setting to emotional bonding and various conditions. We see some people capable of very little love (witness the ways some parents treat their children) to incredible levels of love that I’m not sure I could sustain, such as Dana Reeve, wife of Christopher Reeve. I have to agree with your friend: there is no such thing as unconditional love.

  15. I firmly believe in unconditional love. When you fall in love, you are falling in love with the kind of person you see. If it turns out you’re wrong about what you see, then you still love what you saw… You just don’t see it anymore. If someone lies to you about who they were… same thing, but they’re a bigger asshole.

    You can also continue to love someone you can’t stand to be with. I’m living proof of that.

    You can also love someone even when you disapprove of their actions. You can love your enemy, you can love people who hate you. There is even evidence that you can love someone you feel you have to kill.

    So yes…. Unconditional love does exist, but it’s rather rare, and it’s usually not the romantic kind of love.

  16. I think you and your friend were talking about different things. Maybe it will help if we call what she’s referring to circumstances rather than conditions. And I’d argue that while circumstances certainly play a big role in creating the feeling, once the feeling exists it can take pretty extreme circumstances to kill it.
    I can’t speak for romantic love. I don’t think I’ve ever really loved anybody that way. And I guess I’m not even qualified to address a mother’s love for her child, as I don’t have any. But I’ll ask you this: she says you love your child only because your child is in fact your child, and therefore this is a condition. What if tomorrow you had incontrovertible proof that that is not the case? Would the love stop? Would it lessen? Would you, even for a moment, wonder where one turns in misplaced children and how soon you could turn the nursery into a disco? The circumstance that you believed this to be your child played a very big part in creating the feelings. But for this love to be conditional, it would have to stop existing once the condition ceases to exist.

  17. I’m inclined to agree with your friend as well… sort of.

    Loving someone is contingent upon knowing who they really are. If you truly know someone well enough to know that they will not exceed your conditions for loving them, maybe even are not capable of exceeding those conditions, then I guess you are de facto loving them unconditionally. But there’s a risk there – if you don’t know the person as well as you thought, they can surprise and disappoint you.

    I also tend to think of love as a choice. When you commit to loving someone, you choose to give selflessly for that person’s sake. Those actions can be driven by feelings, which is wonderful but not always possible or sustainable. You may still feel for someone, but choose to stop acting out love for them because they disappointed you. Or you may not feel all warm and fuzzy, but you still perform loving actions to preserve a relationship through a hard time. One could, I suppose, choose to act out love for a person on an unconditional basis, but that seems to me to be an unwise choice, life being an unpredictable thing.

  18. Of course love is conditional. Not only can the people you love change so much that you wouldn’t love them anymore but you can change in ways that would stop you from loving them. Beyond just growth, you can also suffer brain imjuries. Car wreck, baseball bat, etc. Drug use, alcohol, these could change your brain in ways that would change who you are and how you felt about the loved one. But you could grow. Someone that you thought you would love forever when you were in high school might not be someonee you even want to spend time with by the time you finish college.

    I love my children more than I have loved anyone ever. But if they were to become child molesters, genocidal monsters, young earth creationists. It would be much more difficult to love them. I would want to but I don’t if I could.

  19. I do think that the concept of unconditional love is a powerful and useful one. And I don’t think it’s just pie-in-the-sky unrealistic. For a couple of reasons.

    1) I think of unconditional love as a goal to actively pursue in practice, rather than something that just descends upon us as human beings in the right context (i.e. with “true love” or when we give birth to children). Love is a feeling, but there are no unacceptable feelings — only unacceptable actions. So when it comes to feelings, we’re going to struggle with the desire to make love conditional. We get frustrated with people when they fail our desires. But in practice, in action, we can love unconditionally even when we feel the desire to place conditions on that love. If that makes sense.

    Which brings me to 2) which is that another framework for looking at the concept of unconditional love is the framework of the Buddhist practice of lovingkindness. Lovingkindness is a more abstract love toward the world and toward all beings that one practices, irrespective of personal relationships to particular beings. That is, we can have particular (perhaps conditional) affection for our lovers, our children, our friends. But the practice of lovingkindness is about caring for all beings — even our “enemies” — simply because they are beings that share our desire for wellbeing. In the most abstract sense, we can be unconditionally loving to everyone, even those folks whom we dislike intensely.

    That’s my two cents on the reality and realistic nature of unconditional love.

  20. The kind of love that makes marriages work IMO is about a contract and a commitment to process and relationship that starts as an essentially emotional event that becomes much more over time. If my wife were to take a fall off her horse and suffer a closed head injury and have a change in personality as a result wold I be willing to stay with her? If I were to have a minor stroke that made me irritable and disinterested in physical affection would my wife stay with me? Tough questions and my wife and I have talked about these issues during our nearly 25 years of marriage. We’re both committed to trying as best we can and know that part of the insurance policy of marriage is that the other person has your back if the shit hits the fan. I’m no saint but I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t make every effort I could to care for and help my wife were she in need. Then again if she were to start cooking meth in the horse trailer and having cougar sex with her college students it would be a different matter altogether.

  21. So to answer the question, I don’t think unconditional love exists as anything more than a philosophical or theological construct. I’m of the opinion that anyone can do something to change the conditions of a relationship sufficient to preclude describing the relationship as one of love.

  22. @James Fox: I’m no saint but I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t make every effort I could to care for and help my wife were she in need. Then again if she were to start cooking meth in the horse trailer and having cougar sex with her college students it would be a different matter altogether.

    You paint some interesting gray areas. Personality changes can be brought on my age, injury, disease, drugs, or even lack of drugs. If my partner is being difficult and I believe it is out of their control I cut a lot of slack. If I think it is within their control then less slack. It is a judgment call, however.

  23. @davew: Yea, lots of gray areas and decisions to be made only if you’re faced with them. I read an article recently that reported most of the recent increases in life expectancy was directly related to more people spending more years with significant mobility and functioning issues. Not the picture of the thoughtful, involved, and active senior years most hope for; and we’ll all be there eventually!

  24. I completely agree with Mark Hall. I believe all love is conditional in some way EXCEPT with your dogs.

  25. ” Broken hearts are for assholes !!” fz

    I got vaccinated against ” unconditional love “.. I married my therapist, then she had an affair with my son.

    All better now !

  26. I know a lot of people that play it safe “I love YOU as long as you love ME”
    I have a child that has pushed her father and myself to the limit. We have never for a moment stopped loving her. Even in the darkest moment, we always remembered that when we held her as a baby….our love for her was so overwhelming that we knew we would never ever use anything she did as an excuse to stop loving her and caring for her. We have seen other parents with children in the same condition say they have to “let go” of their child, or they “can’t take it anymore”. The whole “this is about ME” syndrome that so many poeple have. No, it’s about how we behave as humans to each other, and our own definition of family and what love demands of us. If love is easy, is it really love? If it’s all about you, is that really love? No, love is not a happy good feeling all the time. It is painful and hard much of the time. It is the glue that keeps you going when all else falls away. And yes, it is worth it. Our child is now much better though being disabled will always need our help (the diagnosis helped us, but we loved her even when her behavior was thought to be just being “bad”). Love is an outward emotion for our family. I remember when my friend got a divorce. She helped her husband set up his new apartment, and even helped the women he left her for learn to cook his favorite meals. She still loves him, and they have a good loving relationship now. Even the new wife loves them both. I asked her HOW she is civil to them and so forgiving, and she said “well I love him ofcourse. If I stopped loving him because he stopped loving me, that wouldn’t be much of a love huh?” She has also moved on, and in a serious relationship. But she has love enough for more than ONE person…and I think people forget they have an unlimited supply of love if they so choose.

  27. @DanielZKlein: Ah! I was just discussing that with my main squeeze. Belief in unconditional love seems very much like faith-based belief in a god! This idea of pure love, perfect love, never-ending eternal love, love n0-matter-what-happens, blind love etc. These thoughts all sound very similar to the unrealistic ideals expressed in most religions.

    @daedalus2u: Dude, The Velveteen Rabbit gets me every-time. I cried like a baby when I watched that as a child. I think I am still traumatized by it. I was SO convinced all my stuffed animals had feelings and that I could never throw them away. :)

  28. @CandiceTu:

    I think romantic love is newer than that in Western culture, dating back to Victorian England. Most depictions of the Middle Ages have been passed though the filter of Victorian prejudices, in fact, that’s probably only changes in the past decade or so.

  29. Well if we’re getting really technical, the conditions of being alive, conscious, and in sufficient mental capacity to love must be met. But obviously that’s not really what you’re asking.

    In actual answer to the question, I still say yes. I don’t think I could continue to love someone that went on a murderous rampage, for example. Or even did something less drastic than that…hmm good examples are difficult to think of because it’s hard to know how I’d react in a given situation without being there, but I would hope any kind of abuse would make me ultimately stop loving that person.

  30. @gwenwifar:

    well lets change the scenario slightly, and say that a mother gets her newborn baby handed to her 30 min after delivery because of some complications, and she has the baby with her for the next 2 days, the hospital then realizes a horrible mistake and two mothers had their babies switched by accident.

    the baby each mother cared for, and indeed loved was based on the condition that it was their baby, and yes if they found out it wasn’t theirs, they’d stop loving that other baby once they had their real child in their arms.

    not to say they’d feel anything but nice things about the other baby, but it might also get linked to anger/discomfort because of the reminder of an uncomfortable situation the mother went through.

    so time is also a factor when it comes to love, change those 2 days to 2 years and the cutting of love-“strings” would become harder and take longer, if it was possible at all, let alone if it’s 20 years.

    so why is that, oxytocin perhaps?

  31. @swordsbane:

    wondering then, if what you’re saying is that when we love someone, we love our current ideas about that someone and not the person in question?

    and if that isn’t just a kind of semantics type of deal, since all we can feel and think is what we ourselves perceive to the truth around us, be it the taste of chocolate cake, the feel of water on our skin or love for that cute girl/guy next door.

    it always boils down to our perceived ideas or brain-connections, about that thing/someone.

    wonder then if you express your love by saying to your partner “i love the idea of you”

    and then try and explain to them that’s all you can honestly do.

    if so, good luck :D

  32. The concept of unconditional love is very common in Al-Anon 12 step recovery culture. Obviously, it is an idealization that is not realizable in practice. I think the idea of U/L is to create a safe loving atmosphere where reasonably sane people can come in from the cold, share about the problems in their lives, and get support from fellow group members. This is what I would characterize as a “good enough” approximation to U/L.

    I think daedalus2u’s example of the love a parent has for an infant child may be about as close to U/L that humans can get.

    BTW, sometimes I think it is helpful when trying to understand an idealized concept like U/L to look at the limiting case in the other direction. That would be a very manipulative “love” whereby the perpetrator would withhold or express love depending on some sick agenda. There was a thread here on Skepchik recently on domestic violence towards women. I believe abusive spouse’s express or withold love as a method of controlling the object of their abuse. This is on the spectrum closer to the polar opposite of U/L.


  33. No, I don’t believe in unconditional love at all. It’s all well and good to say that you’d stick by someone no matter what, but I learned at an early age that it does you no good, especially when that person (who’s your parent) is abusive, and doesn’t have your best interests at heart.

    I tried to “work it out” but that person remains emotionally abusive and unempathetic to this day, and I had to call it quits, for my own sanity and well-being. If that’s selfish, well, then I’m selfish. I have to take care of myself first.

  34. I think there is no one answer. Though we are all similar in that we are human, we are wired differently because we have different experiences producing different needs and wants at different times of our lives.

    That said, I feel is there is such a thing as unconditional love depending upon where one is on the above continuum. Furthermore, unconditional love is not always a good thing for sometimes the most desperate need the most love; any love.

    A disclosure: I am a hopeless romantic and have remained in love with many a past significant person , whose significance has changed only because of situation and circumstance, thus this biases my opinion. The love evolves over time and how I act upon that love also changes.

    In conclusion, in my opinion, yes, there is unconditional love. But all like is conditional. Dislike can effect how one loves. Disliking one’s behavior can make love quite dysfunctional or painful, yet it remains. Perhaps altered, but it remains.

  35. The above also applies to parenthood. There have been times when I felt the urge to kill my kids ( ok, a tad overdramatic there , but all parents understand the sentiment implied ), but I didn’t. Why? The biological imperative to protect and preserve the next generation? Perhaps. And we call that feeling love. That is unconditional. We wanna kill ’em cause they did something we DISLIKE, but we don’t. Because we love … and because it’s illegal.

    Unfortunately, there are exceptions to everything, especially when drugs, alcohol, or insanity is involved.

  36. I think that you can love someone unconditionally, but you have to make the conscience decision to do that. You have to decide that you will love this person no matter what, and then stick to it. Is this possible? I think so. Is it easy, no way!

    I’m a father and I love my kids unconditionally. I can’t imagine anything that they could do that would make me ever stop loving them. Does that mean that I can accept everything that they may ever do, no, but stop loving them? Possible? Sure, probably, not even close.

  37. Your friend has obviously never been a mother.

    Hormones put the brain through a severe restructuring throughout pregnancy and birth, according to Louann Brizendine, M.D., author of The Female Brain. A [typical] mother cannot help but love her child, and her entire worldview often shifts to make that child the center of it.

    It seems to me (and this is purely speculative) that those who can only believe in cost-reward relationships are lacking a sense of security or trust in other people. Relationships do start out as cost-reward as we get a feel for each other and determine whether we want to carry a relationship long term, but if I can dare say the F word, then yes, we do have faith that the ones we love are worth our love (and forgiveness when they hurt us).

    However, to say that you can only have either a cost-reward relationship or unconditional love is a false dichotomy. I think most relationships fall on a spectrum between the two, with more emphasis on one or the other, depending on the depth and type of relationship, and the stability and perception of each partner.

  38. I know way too many people who’s parents very clearly do not love them to say that parents have unconditional love for their children. Since I’m queer I know a lot of other LGBT people, and it’s shocking how many parents will completely put their children out of their lives when they come out. It’s certainly not the only condition parents can put on their kids, but it’s a common one. I also know people who’s parents no longer love them because they aren’t Christians anymore.

    These parents are wrong – but I don’t buy that hormones can overcome bigotry. At least not in the long run.

    I think an interesting question comes up here. These parents did seem to love their kids before these revelations, as far as I know. But who/what did they love? Did they love their own personal image of who their child would grow up to be? What happens when it turns out that a child’s values are massively different than their parents?

  39. There is such a thing as unconditional love, but it is inside the person who is doing it, it is a property of the loving individual, not of anything else. Some people may not be capable of it.

    Maternal bonding is the archetypal bonding behavior. All bonding behaviors recapitulate parturition, between a female and her mate it it the stimulation of tissue compartments related to parturition, where the baby comes out, and where the baby is fed. That is why those are erogenous zones, stimulating them causes the release of oxytocin, which triggers bonding and attachment.

    Bonding in males is mediated more through vasopressin and the invoking of territoriality.

    I think (but this is somewhat speculative), that just as maternal bonding is the archetypal positive social bonding behavior, I think that the opposite of maternal bonding (maternal rejection) is the archetypal antisocial behavior. When a mammalian female has given birth, but doesn’t have the resources to sustain her offspring through lactation, virtually all non-human mammals will abandon their offspring. If a non-human female doesn’t bond to her offspring within a few hours after giving birth, she won’t bond to it at all (mostly), and will actively reject it if it tries to nurse.

    I have written about xenophobia on my blog, and I suspect that xenophobia and anti-bonding have similar physiological roots. Mothers can switch from maternal love to maternal anti-love depending on circumstances. I think that is what happened to Andrea Yates. She was under so much stress, and in such a delusional state, that the maternal anti-love paradigm got triggered and she killed her children. She was from a wacko church and so didn’t have a good grip on reality in the first place. She didn’t have a conceptualization of reality to fall back on when her physiology started giving her all of these maternal anti-love feelings about her children. She rationalized the feelings the only way she knew how, that Satan was doing something to her children and she had to kill them to protect them. She wasn’t able to observe “oh, I am having delusions, I should check myself into a psychiatric hospital”.

    I think that unconditional love and unconditional anti-love can co-exist at the same time and in the same person, and toward the same object. Yes, I realize that seemingly violates the rules of logic. Feelings are not subject to the rules of logic. If you are able to sufficiently dissociate from your feelings that you can look at them logically and objectively, then you are able to act independent of your feelings but actions are not the same as feelings. If you can’t dissociate from your feelings, then your feelings may compel you to believe in impossibilities, such as “government out of Medicare”.

  40. @BlackCat and @devianttouch, I think both of you are committing a logical fallacy here. If the claim were “all love is unconditional”, then your counterexamples would clearly disprove that. However, the claim is “all love is conditional”, and examples of conditional love, or cases where there ought to be love but isn’t (such as parents loving their children, which is clearly evolutionarily advantageous), don’t disprove that some love might be unconditional. All it takes to prove the contention is wrong is finding a single example. To prove it is correct is much harder: someone needs to show that the vast preponderance of apparent cases of unconditional love are actually conditional, without finding any counterexamples. It’s like disproving the existence of Big Foot, and the disproof is always conditional ;-)

    Another approach is to ask exactly what does “unconditional” mean?
    Do the conditions that don’t affect unconditional love apply to subject or the object or both? Most of the comments seem to be assume that the state of the object might change in their examples, without examining the state of the subject (usually assumed to themselves.) I think this needs to be looked at in a broader context. I think @brdavis had it right when pointing out that if you are dead (a condition), you are no longer capable of love*. If you say, “well, I didn’t mean that”, and start limiting the definition of “unconditional” to exclude some conditions, it isn’t unconditional anymore.

    So while I think this question might be a good jumping off point for a skeptical discussion (the whole point of AI’s, as I understand it), it is fundamentally meaningless.

    P.S. Sometimes skeptics take it personally when someone points out logical errors they have made. BC and DT, there is nothing personal in this, and you both get your share of all the conditional love I can fire off at the Skepchick community. (Think of it as big fluffy nerf balls rocketing through cyberspace.)

    [*] For a counter example, see The Princess Bride.

  41. @Egillvs: Actually, that’s not necessarily so… the mothers might well “bond” with the baby they’d held immediately after giving birth, and vice versa. Switching the babies in such a case could be disastrous. And on the flip side, mothers occasionally fail to bond with their own babies (for various reasons), which is likewise problematic.

    The thing about the phrase “unconditional love” is that in isolation, it invites absolutism and problem boxes: “Would you still love me if I never touched you?” “How about if I was reduced to a head in a box?” (Shel Silverstein has a great cartoon to the effect of this one, in Different Dances.) “If I pimped you out to the homeless?” “What if I ate your baby in front of you?” But ultimately, that’s just abusing the language in order to play with arbitrary conditions. (And Buzz Parsec’s claim that being mortal prevents anyone from showing unconditional love, is exactly that sort of linguistic abuse!)

    In practice, “unconditional love” means that the love is not contingent on being “earned” by reciprocal demonstration, compliance, sexual favors, etc. And that version is, as noted above, not at all unusual. It doesn’t mean that nothing whatsoever could affect it, just that it’s not disrupted by petty stuff, and often not even by quite serious issues. And yes, it’s often backed by neurochemistry and/or instinct, and so what? That’s no different than most of the stronger human relationships (hostile or amicable), or emotions in general.

  42. As a parent and more importantly a skeptical theist, I believe in unconditional love. That said, I do wonder how any Atheist could believe in unconditioned love, how could love be anything more than an artifact of brain structure and chemicals, things subject to change by injury, disease and experience.

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