Kagandahang loob: Love in Philippine bioethics

- Leonardo D. de Castro, Ph.D.
Department of Philosophy, University of the Philippines
Diliman, Quezon City 1101, The Philippines
Email: decastro@skyinet.net
Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 9 (1999), 39-40.

Kagandahang loob is a central concept in Philippine ethical discourse. It is generally regarded as a basic component of morally worthy behavior. One can try to understand kagandahang loob by looking at the literal meanings of the words that comprise the term. The word 'kagandahan' has its root in 'ganda' which means 'beauty.' On the other hand, 'loob' means 'inside'. Hence, 'kagandahang loob' may be translated as 'beauty within.' The opposite of kagandahang loob is kasamaang loob, which characterizes immoral action. It may be translated as 'evil within.'

Transcending the Physical

Even although the words 'inside' and 'within' both suggest spatial relations, the use of 'kagandahang loob' in ordinary discourse transcends physical dimensions. There is even a sense in which it transcends traditional physical-mental or corporeal-spiritual dichotomies. The reason for the latter is that, within the context of pertinent ethical discourse, it is important that the beauty within be manifested externally.

Kagandahang loob is meant to be "shown" to others. In this discourse, it is part of the meaning of "loob" - of what lies within - that it must be ventilated. Hence, loob lies inside but it can only be manifested and perceived externally. In a way, it is "what-lies-within-that-lives-without."

To show kagandahang loob is to open up one's inside to another. It is to show the other that one means well. And one proves that one means well by performing beneficial actions. Hence, to exhibit kagandahang loob is not just to allow others to notice it, but to convey it to them. There must be transference. There must be an effort to have somebody else become a recipient. To convey kagandahang loob is to give part of oneself for the benefit of others. Through this conveyance, one expresses genuine concern and, by the same token, love.

Kagandahang Loob and Good Will

A parallel rendering of the meanings of the two critical words "ganda" and "loob" supports this understanding of kagandahang loob. While "ganda" is mainly used in Filipino in the expression of aesthetic judgment, it is also used as an expression of positive ethical judgments. The adjective "maganda" is used to qualify not only works of art but also human actions. (Sometimes, this has the effect of leaving a doubt as to whether particular judgments are ethical or aesthetic.)

Additionally, "loob" may be taken to mean "will." Hence, kagandahang loob means "good will." In a sense, it is the willing of something good, and thus, the expression of love, for others.

Since kagandahang loob is externally manifested in actions beneficial to others, what usually catch people's attention are such manifestations. However, the use of the word "loob" - instead of other Filipino words such as "kilos" or "gawa," which stand for physical actions - indicates the significance given to the intentional component of human behavior. What needs to be highlighted is the integration of intention or will with the physical component of actions. Making ethical judgments of physical acts independently of the motives and intentions of the person acting would be inappropriate.

In the context of kagandahang loob, what is most important about beneficial actions is that they be characterized by positive feelings towards the intended beneficiaries. It is not sufficient that they bear benefits, whether actually or potentially. In the reckoning of moral worth, the actual benefits may not even be necessary at all. It is the kagandahang loob characterizing the deed that carries the greatest weight.

Kusang Loob

A very important requirement for the conveyance of kagandahang loob is that it be done out of kusang loob (roughly, free will). This means that the agent (1) must not be acting under external compulsion, (2) must be motivated by positive feelings (e.g. charity, love or sympathy) towards the beneficiary, and (3) must not be motivated by the anticipation of payment or reward.

It is essential that the agent act without external compulsion because the desire to benefit others must arise as an unsolicited initiative. The loob must express itself freely. Genuine kusang loob flows spontaneously and without the agent having to be coached or intimidated. One may be able to bring benefits to others by complying with public expectations but that would not amount to kusang loob. For this, beneficial acts need to be initiated by the agent without having to be solicited by others.

As an expression of concern for others, kagandahang loob is driven by positive feelings for the beneficiaries of the agent's actions. There needs to be an expression of love. The agent needs to be motivated by such emotions as pity, sympathy, and charity. It is these emotions that link the moral agent with the beneficiary of the kagandahang loob.

The performance of a duty is not attended by kagandahang loob if there is no positive emotional involvement on the part of the agent. For, an agent who is motivated purely by a sense of duty does not act out of kusang loob. Instead, such an agent responds to what is perceived (though not in Kant's view, perhaps) as an external call, i.e., an obligation imposed from without.

Actions done in anticipation of reward or personal gain are not done out of kusang loob. There can be no kagandahang loob if actions are tainted with selfish desire: "A deed lacks nobility if it is motivated by self-interest and not by a sincere desire to help." (1). Hence, actions calculated to derive public recognition or material reward do not have the purity that is essential to kagandahang loob even if they are truly beneficial to others.

Kagandahang Loob and Beneficence

The three conditions identified as necessary for kusang loob are so important that if they could not be complied with in the performance of a beneficial act, it might be better for that act not to be done at all. As a Filipino saying goes: Kung nagbibigay ma't mahirap sa loob / Ang pinakakain ay di mabubusog. (Alms given grudgingly will not appease the hunger of the recipient.)

A corollary point is that the mere conveyance of kagandahang loob could be more valuable than the benefits derived as a consequence of the act. Another Filipino proverb declares: "Uray awan ti maypasango ti bisita, no laket nalawag ti rupa nga umawat caniada." (It is not what is served to the guests but the warm welcome that counts.)

Hence, the idea of pure beneficence provides a contrast that serves to bring out an important feature of kagandahang loob. To be sure, there is an aspect of beneficence that is presumed in the concept under consideration. It is the beneficial intent that distinguishes kagandahang loob from kasamaang loob. Nevertheless, it would be inaccurate to understand kagandahang loob purely in terms of this beneficial component. This point can be best illustrated by looking at the implications of kagandahang loob for practical decisions.

Organ Donation as Gift-giving

Organ donation is one subject that can profit from being understood from the perspective of kagandahang loob. From the viewpoint that kagandahang loob offers, organ donation can be naturally seen as gift-giving. As the literal giving of oneself, even if only in part, organ donation easily fits the kagandahang loob paradigm.

Organ donation involves the giving of part of oneself as a gift to an intended beneficiary. However, it is important not to get fixated on the physical component of the gift. For the significance of literally giving of oneself lies in the act's being a manifestation of the beauty within. The essence of the activity lies in what the physical gift manifests, rather than in the physical gift itself. The beneficence model cannot go all the way in describing what takes place in the donation. If we view organ donation purely as an act of beneficence, we will find it difficult to transcend the material exchange that takes place.

In relation to this, one senses the shortcomings of a Philippine Organ Transplant Law that allows hospital administrators to authorize the removal of organs from bodies of brain-dead patients whose relatives could not be located within 48 hours. For when the organ "donors" are brain-dead and not represented by family, they clearly are not in a position to express kagandahang loob. A donation made under such circumstances can not involve kusang loob.

In such situations, the spontaneity that characterizes unsolicited initiatives is missing. The "donor" does not do the giving even if he is the actual source of the "gift". Somebody else performs the function for him. The law undeniably invests the hospital administrator with the authority but, beyond the provisions of the law, he is not perceived generally as speaking for the brain-dead person. He does not have popular recognition as a moral surrogate. What effectively happens in such a situation is that the legally authorized person takes something from the "dead" person to give away, without the latter actually giving. Thus, there is no genuine donation or gift giving, and no genuine expression of love.

The emergence of recent legislation seeking to classify medical malpractice as a criminal act may be seen as a response to public disapproval of the implementation of the Organ Transplant Law. In a context of kagandahang loob, the public expects greater respect for the ideals of kusang loob. We can show that we have learned from this lesson only if we exercise vigilance in using the test of kagandahang loob to understand other issues of bioethics.

Kagandahang Loob and Immanuel Kant's Concept of a Good Will

In conclusion, it can be said: "Nothing can possibly be conceived in the world, or even out of it, which can be called good, without qualification, except [kagandahang loob]." (2) In case it has not been noticed, this is exactly what Immanuel Kant said about a good will.

To continue: "[Kagandahang loob] is good not because of what it performs or effects, not by its aptness for the attainment of some proposed end, but simply by virtue of the volition; that is, it is good in itself, and considered by itself is to be esteemed much higher than all that can be brought about by it in favour of any inclination, nay even of the sum total of all inclinations. Even if it should happen that, owing to special disfavour of fortune, or the niggardly provision of a step-motherly nature, this will should wholly lack power to accomplish its purpose, if with its greatest efforts it should yet achieve nothing, and there should remain only the [Kagandahang loob] (not, to be sure, a mere wish, but the summoning of all means in our power), then, like a jewel, it would still shine by its own light, as a thing which has its whole value in itself. Its usefulness or fruitfulness can neither add nor take away anything from this value. It would be, as it were, only the setting to enable us to handle it the more conveniently in common commerce, or to attract to it the attention of those who are not yet connoisseurs, but not to recommend it to true connoisseurs, or to determine its value."

What Immanuel Kant had said about a good will can also be said about kagandahang loob. The main difference lies in that whereas Kant wrote about the primacy of duty, here we write about the primacy of kusang loob.

1. Emilio Jacinto, Kartilya ng Katipunan. Trans. by Paula Carolina S. Malay.as quoted in Ed Aurelio C. Reyes, "Moral and Ethical Codes of the Katipunan" The Sunday Chronicle (November 3, 1996), Sec. 2. P. 16.
2. Immanuel Kant. Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals. Translated by Thomas Kingsmill Abbott.

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