Christopher Kaczor, a professor of philosophy at Loyola Marymount University, is — along with his wife, Jennifer — the author of The Seven Big Myths about Marriage: Wisdom from Faith, Philosophy, and Science about Happiness and Love. At this time of some upheaval on the marriage front, he talks to National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about some marriage fundamentals.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Does anyone really believe “love is simple” — your first myth?
CHRISTOPHER KACZOR: Unfortunately, I believed this first myth until fairly recently! I suppose there are at least some other people who believe something like I did. I used to think that love was just a matter of good will. If I choose to do what helps another person, then I love that person. Once I learned more about the nature of love, I learned that love includes not only good will for the one you love but also appreciation for and seeking unity with the beloved. All forms of love (agape) involve all three aspects, and the forms of love are distinguished primarily in terms of the third characteristic, the diverse ways in which unity is sought.
LOPEZ: British prime minister David Cameron recently said that “love is love,” in welcoming same-sex marriage this month. How might you respond to such an assertion?
KACZOR: I’d say that marriage and love are related but that more than love alone is needed for a marriage. You could certainly have one man who loves four different women, but presumably this does not mean that a man should have a legal right to polygamy. Love can and does exist without legal recognition as marriage.
: “What we choose determines what kind of person we become.” Why is that a significant and not an obvious statement?
KACZOR: The approach taken in The Seven Big Myths about Marriage is to base our decisions on the standard of human flourishing and happiness. Rather than base decisions simply on following rules or on maximizing consequences (as a Kantian or utilitarian would do), Aristotle and Aquinas believe that a fully human life requires a particular kind of character. What we choose shapes who we become. Our characters are determined at least partially by the actions that we choose. Even though all people are alike in seeking happiness, different kinds of people seek happiness in different kinds of ways.
LOPEZ: You write, “Like any word, ‘marriage’ must be defined because, if marriage means anything and everything, then marriage means nothing.” What does marriage mean in America today?
KACZOR: We are in a great societal conversation today in the United States about the question, “What Is Marriage?” Some people hold that marriage is the comprehensive union of a man and a woman who have vowed unconditional love to each other for as long as they both shall live. Other people think of marriage as a partial union between two people (of whatever sex) that can be dissolved whenever either party wishes. Still other people — advocates for polygamy — think that marriage can be a union of more than two persons. Nevertheless, I think people of all three of these views can agree that there must be some kinds of relationships that are recognized as marriages and other kinds of relationships that should not be recognized as marriages. Everyone “draws the line” somewhere between what is marriage and what is not marriage.
LOPEZ: What is the most widespread myth about marriage?
KACZOR: The most widespread myth about marriage is probably that “cohabitation is just like marriage.” I cannot tell you how many of my students think this, and how many of them believe that living together prior to marriage will lower their likelihood of divorce. In the book, I point out that many studies indicate that cohabitation actually increases the likelihood of divorce, and that the longer a couple cohabits the more likely it is that they will divorce.
It also turns out that cohabitation is particularly detrimental to women. If a man and a woman decide to live together when they are both 25 years old, what is likely to happen? If they are like most cohabiting couples, several years later they will not be married. So now the man and the woman are both unmarried at 32. Characteristically, the man now has more of what most women want in a spouse. He has more earning power, and he has advanced his career. He is more mature, stable, and capable of supporting a family. By contrast, the woman is in a different situation. Characteristically, the woman now has less of what most men want in a spouse — namely, youth and beauty. So relative to when they began to live together, the man has gained value in the marriage market and the woman has lost value in the marriage market.
LOPEZ: How did you come to focus on the seven myths you do in your book?
KACZOR: There are many, many myths about marriage, but I wanted to focus on seven in particular just for purposes of organization. I suppose if I counted up all the myths that the book debunks it might be something like The 141 Big Myths about Marriage, but that title doesn’t have a ring to it.
LOPEZ: Is it just ridiculous at this point in history to be trying to curb premarital sex and cohabitation?
KACZOR: It is just as ridiculous at this point in history to be trying to curb theft, which, after all, has been with the human race for countless years. If something contributes to human flourishing, it should be done regardless of what time it is. If something undermines human flourishing, it should not be done regardless of what time it is. I do not believe in ethics by means of the wristwatch.
LOPEZ: About the children: People get married and don’t have children all the time. Is it really a child-centric institution?
KACZOR: It is also the case that people get married and then hate each other later, but it does not follow from this that marriage is not about love. People get married and then cheat on each other all the time, but it doesn’t follow from this that marriage is indifferent to fidelity. As Augustine pointed out, the three goods fides, proles, and sacramentum — faithfulness, children, and love — are the goods of marriage. Not all marriages enjoy all these goods, but these are the goods of marriage nevertheless.