While many may disagree, my own belief is that love is a primary and immutable moral imperative and is not subjective or relative to any particular age or society. We are only just beginning to discover its true nature.
But what is “love” and can it exist in a universe without sentience?
First of all, what love is not.
I do not care to define love in a washy washy sentimental fashion such as you might find in a Charles Schultz Snoopy cartoon or on the back of some ghastly greetings card.
Nor, despite my constant reference to Bishop Michael Curry, would I wish it defined in a conventional religious sense.
What is sentience and can love exist without it?
We do not know what consciousness is nor do we know its prevalence in the universe. Personally, I favor the pan-psychic flavor – that consciousness exists very broadly and in different degrees throughout the universe. That consciousness is a matter of sufficient complexity in matter. Perhaps rocks have it but almost certainly individual “strings” as in String Theory do not. Nor, presumably, atoms or sub atomic particles. You need more complexity than such basic arrangements of matter provide. See Tononi’s Integrated Information Theory.
Assuming my supposition is correct I would then define “love” as the abolition of suffering among sentient beings. And the active promotion of a high hedonic set point.
And yes, I do believe that this moral goal is imperative. And absolute. And existing with or without humanity. People speak of the difficulties involved and indeed these are great. How to you treat aggression? Should you abort a fetus which will lead, if seen to full term, to a being suffering agonies? Such questions go on, endlessly. But with science we will conquer and cure. Improve and amend.
Has the Christian interpretation of love always been a good one? What of the tough love meted out over centuries of abuse and bestiality?
Ignorance, self interest, a failure to appreciate the true meaning. No, the Christian interpretation has not always been a good one, in some hands at least. But that does not mean it is wrong. Merely wrongly applied.
Sentience comes with its burden as well as its benefits. Its burden is to grow up. Its burden is the responsibility to abandon narrow self interest and work towards the abolition of suffering. For all sentient beings, animal, mineral or vegetable.
Perhaps there is a universal consciousness. Perhaps Carl Jung was right and that his mysticism is a window on ultimate reality. If so, then that is perhaps where the absolute moral standard of “love ” originates.
My personal best in the realm of philosophy is Davis Pearce and The Abolitionist Project.
There is my moral imperative. And if it is not already yours, you should make it so.