Top-Rated Free EssayPhilosophy Final Paper
Philosophy of Love
December 18, 2012
What Is Love?
Throughout the years, many philosophers have studied the nature of love, and have come up with many different definitions and theories. Although love is something that plays a huge role in the lives of almost everyone, some philosophers have simply given up on their studies, or felt it just wasn’t very meaningful to study at all, and decided to leave it in “the realm of the ineffable.”
Although the question, “What Is love?” has still never been exactly defined by philosophers, Robert Solomon has taken a different approach to addressing this question, rather than giving a simple, shallow definition. In fact, in his introduction to his article, “What Love Is,” he describes love as something that is much more than just a “feeling.” He explains himself by this: “When a novelist wants us to appreciate his character’s emotions, he does not just describe sweaty palms and a moment of panic; he instead describes a world as it is experienced in anger, in envy, or in love.” (Solomon 381). Solomon describes love as a novel or a storybook in which we live a complete plot with a setting and list of characters- heroes, villains and all.
By analyzing love in this way, by the world it defines, we allow ourselves to completely get rid of the somewhat frustrating idea that emotions, particularly love, are too overwhelming for us to even describe. When looking at love in this way, you realize that every other emotion is equally as hard to describe. For example, when you Google the definition of anger, it simply gives you a list of other feelings. Webster’s dictionary defines it as, “a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.” (Merriam-Webster). Annoyance, displeasure, and hostility are just other bad feelings that we also do not know how to describe. Annoyance is defined as, “the feeling or state of being annoyed,” which also doesn’t help us to describe the feeling of anger any better. (Merriam-Webster). This is the point that Solomon is making by describing love, anger, and any other emotion as a world or a story that we create around the emotion, rather than trying to define it. What Solomon calls the “loveworld,” is a world “woven around a single relationship with all else pushed to the periphery.” (Solomon 382) Similarly to world of anger, the loveworld involves two main characters: the lover and the beloved. But unlike the anger world where there are two antagonists, the lover and beloved share a unity, in which together they create one protagonist. The rest of the world is who serves as the antagonist. (Solomon 382).
The English word “love” comes from Germanic forms of the Sanskirt lubh, which means desire and is broadly and vaguely defined, which brings us to the problems of finding its true meaning. Other philosophers have found somewhat of a resolution to these problems by studying the nature of love in reference to three Greek terms: eros, philia, and agape. (Moseley).
The Greek term “eros,” the base of the modern English term “erotic,” is often referred to as a sexual desire and is the part of love that constitutes an intense, passionate desire for something. However, in Plato’s writings, eros is depicted as a desire that seeks transcendental beauty “-the particular beauty of an individual reminds us of true beauty that exists in the world of Forms or Ideas.” (Phaedrus 249). (Moseley). The Platonic theory of eros implies that to love is not to love a particular individual, but to love the element they possess of “ideal beauty.” This theory holds that the physical form of love for a person, idea, or object is not a “proper” form of love. (Moseley).
On the other hand, “philia” is a completely different kind of love. Rather than a physical, sexually charged desire for another, philia is an appreciation or fondness for another individual. Philia refers more-so to loyalties to family, friendships, and job or political affiliations. Aristotle explained that for some, this type of love can be for selfish purposes and actually is sometimes derived from aspects of the relationship that are pleasing to oneself, such as business contacts or similar values. If these pleasing characteristics of the other individual were to change, so would the friendship. Although Aristotle sees that some can be selfish in this way, I think what he’s trying to say is that friendships based on these selfish reasons are not really friendships at all and are certainly not based on love. He stated, “things that cause friendship are: doing kindnesses; doing them unasked; and not proclaiming the fact when they are done.” (Rhetoric, II. 4, trans. Rhys Roberts). (Moseley). He elaborates on this theory more by discussing things we seek in true friendships, such as individuals who share the same dispositions or ideas, don’t hold grudges against us, are temperate and just, and share the same admiration as we do for them. Aristotle also believed that to achieve the highest form of this love, the first condition we must hold is to love ourselves, or to have a sense of egotism. He believed that without this basis, we aren’t able to share sympathy and affection with anyone else. (NE, IX.8). (Moseley).
Agape is the Greek term used to describe our love for God and God’s love for us, but is also used to describe a general love for all humanity. Moseley describes this as “the perfect type of love” because it holds fondness and passion like eros and agape, but has no necessity for reciprocation of these feelings. This theory is based on a lot of traditional Christian beliefs taken from the bible, such as “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” (Leviticus 19:18), and “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). It suggests that God is “the most rational being,” making him the most deserving of our love and admiration. (Moseley).
Moseley goes on to discuss the nature of love in terms of physical, spiritual, and emotional terms. Some believe that love is based purely on physical attraction and sexual instinct, relying solely on the belief that our DNA is the only form of determining criteria for which we choose as a sexual preference. The problem with this theory is that it only explains our love for those whom we wish to reproduce, or the eros theory, and fails to give explanation for our love for family members and friends, or philia and agape. (Moseley).
Others believe in the behaviorist theory of love, or that love is observable. This theory is based on the belief that we act differently toward people that we have more love for or are in love with. The only criticism with this theory is that our actions aren’t always based on how we really feel inside, and we can easily change our actions to skew another’s perception of how we really feel. (Moseley). Radical behaviorists believe that one may fall in love based on a strong reaction to “a set of highly positive conditions in the behavior or presence of another.” What I took from Moseley’s explanation of this theory is that it’s possible for us to fall in love with the positive circumstances we are made to believe about a relationship with another, but our perception of these circumstances may be skewed by false actions of the other person.
Expressionist’s theory of love is similar to the behaviorists’ theory in that it’s communicated through actions such as language and behaviors and is reflection of an internal, emotional state. People who follow this theory often also see love through a spiritual approach, and believe in what we call “soul-mates,” or that it’s possible for one’s soul to complete that of another. (Moseley). This is probably the theory of love that’s most appealing to us because it gives us more of an explanation to love than just a simple physical or behavioral attraction. It gives a more romantic and deeper meaning to love.
Philosophers have studied the phenomenon of love for many years, and although it is not an emotion that anyone can come up with a clear definition for, they have come up with many fascinating theories to describe it. This is something that will most likely continue to be studied even more in depth in the future because it’s an emotion that a lot of people struggle with, and more importantly, want to learn how to conquer.
"Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy." Philosophy of Love. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2012.
Solomon, Robert. "What Love Is." Twenty Questions. Seventh ed. Boston: Clark Baxter, 2011. 381-83.
Cited: "Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy." Philosophy of Love. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2012. Solomon, Robert. "What Love Is." Twenty Questions. Seventh ed. Boston: Clark Baxter, 2011. 381-83.