Varieties of Love
Is love a single thing, or just a word we use to express any number of unrelated emotions? Is love intrinsically irrational? What have philosophers said about love? Did they know what they were talking about? Christopher Phillips, author of Socrates in Love, joins John and Ken for a program recorded live at Powell's City of Books in Portland, Oregon.
We can all think of many kinds of "love". There's romantic love, family love, self love, love of friends, love of country, love of humanity, and even divine love. What distinguishes these from one another? And despite their differences, do they share a common essence that grounds our categorization of them as "love"? Do all kinds of love have their place in a well lived life? If different loves can make different demands on us, what should we do when those demands conflict? Is it really possible to love abstracta like one's country and humanity, or can one love only concrete individuals like family members and friends?
Christopher Phillips, author of Socrates in Love and inventor of the Socrates Cafe, joins John and Ken to discuss these and other questions. According to him, love has unifying ends rather than a unifying essence: Each kind of love is a form of inquiry, in which the lover lets the beauty seen in the beloved teach him to see the world differently and to engage with it in ways he otherwise wouldn't.
Ken and John take a skeptical (but friendly) attitude toward some of Phillips's claims, suggesting for example that the lover's perception of beauty and perfection in the beloved might merely be the result of belief-revision in reaction to cognitive dissonance. Moreover, they wonder, if Phillips is right, it would seem that the lover should leave his beloved in favor of every more "beautiful" or "lovable" person he meets, a consequence that many find objectionable.
Members of the live audience pose several intriguing questions. What is the relationship between love and conflict, which seem to accompany each other in many great works of literature? Is love more meaningful when achieving it requires overcoming obstacles? Does love have to benefit the lover, or can it be totally selfless? Are actions done out of love "beyond good and evil", as Nietzsche claimed? Does love of family and friends trump love of humanity? What is "divine" love, anyway?
John asks whether one can love a child even before one knows it well (or at all). If so, does that mean love is a vapid or thin attitude? Ken muses on whether loving someone is tantamount to taking them as another self. Loving, he thinks, amounts to treating another person as just as important as oneself. In fact, it is suggested, one's identity might even emerge from or be defined by one's loves---such that if one, say, left one's spouse, one's identity would necessarily change.
- Roving Philosophical Reporter (seek to 5:25): Zoe Corneli ventures to Portland's Rose City Romance Writers' Group to attend a workshop on how to add depth to romance-novel manuscripts. She interviews the group's president, Maggie Lynch, who says that the romance novel, rather than being "porn for women", is a great way to explore the most meaningful aspects of life. Their predictable plots (nearly always involving attraction between two people that ends happily) strongly suggest that many people today fantasize about having a soulmate. Lynch does, though notably her life does not reflect that ideal!
- Sixty-second Philosopher (seek to 50:05): Ian Shoales issues some historical humor on Socrates's wife Xantippe, often portrayed as the ultimate harpy. According to writings about Socrates, the father of Western philosophy tolerated the mother of all shrews for at least three reasons: She bore his children, tried his patience, and frequently put him in situations that resulted in his getting beat up (which, apparently, he enjoyed). Go figure!
- A. Buddharakkhita. "Metta: The Philosophy and Practice of Universal Love."
- Google video, "Schopenhauer on Love."
- B. Helm (2005). "Love." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- MIT OpenCourseWare, "Philosophy of Love in the Western World."
- A. Moseley (2006). "Philosophy of Love." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- Philosopher's Zone episode, "Philosophical Love Stories."
- P. B. Shelley (1875). "Love's Philosophy"
- W. Steiner (Nov. 18, 2001). "The Philosophy of Love." The New York Times.
- Plato (1989). Symposium.
- S. Post et al. (eds.) (2002). Altruism and Altruistic Love.
- I. Singer (2009). Philosophy of Love.
- R. Solomon (1991). The Philosophy of (Erotic) Love.
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