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Besieged by beneficence: Love, justice and the autonomous self

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  • Introduction: Socrates' admonition about excessive and inaccurate praise of love is more instructive today than ever. Unlike Kant's notion of good will, for example, love itself cannot be seen as an unqualified good, as something that shines purely and perfectly irrespective of the interests it serves. Yet, as the pace of our lives becomes ever more hectic, and as we have increasingly embraced the task of creating or choosing our lives with originality and autonomy rather than simply participating in well defined traditional roles, we have also increasingly invested in love as the way to meaning and fulfilment. Love has come to be perceived as the way out of exhaustion and disillusionment back to enthusiasm and enchantment. Love relationships are the context in which many of us struggle most passionately toward authenticity and connection in our lives. Carrying the weight of so many of our expectations, love comes to claim for itself a powerful justificatory force. Indeed, in attributing \"every species of greatness and glory\" to love, we sometimes go so far as to assume that all that is loving is, for that reason, good and that all action motivated by love is, for the same reason, defensible or at least excusable. Further, in giving love \"every imaginable form of praise\", we are sometimes even compelled to invest it with the qualities of other valued ideals, such as justice, and to conclude that all that is loving is, for that reason, also just. This essay looks at the strong connections drawn between love and justice in the film Besieged directed by Bernardo Bertolucci and written by Bertolucci and Clare Peploe. It argues that while the story in Besieged puts forward a compelling version of love as humble beneficence, we should be slow to presume this conception of love has either self-evident ethical legitimacy or a strong structural relationship to the ideal or the idea of justice.

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    Article (Published)
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    © 2000 Annalise Acorn et al. This version of this article is open access and can be downloaded and shared. The original author(s) and source must be cited.
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    • Acorn, A. (2000). Besieged by beneficence: Love, justice and the autonomous self. Saskatchewan Law Review, 63(1), 69-86. Retrieved from
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