A Philosophical Analysis of Love
Philosophy aims to answer various questions about life in a rational and disciplined way, and one, if not the most important, is the understanding of personal love. Love, life’s greatest gift and mystery, appears in various kinds and is difficult to distinguish. The love a person feels for his/her partner (romantic love) is very different from their love for their family and friends. It has no boundaries and is very essential for humanity.
Love is very difficult to understand for it involves various emotions and the human brain reacts differently based on different situations. The task of understanding love comes hand in hand with various philosophical analyses of its kind. Sometimes, questions are followed by other questions. Can love be justified? If the answer is yes, then how? What could be its impact on the autonomy of both parties (lover and beloved)? Why do teenagers misinterpret a simple gesture from someone to be a sign of love? How could they defer from it and most importantly, how could they differentiate it from real love? This paper aims to answer these questions and will try to give an idea of what real love is.
The word love in its simplest form is often used in our everyday conversations, for example, “I love chocolates” or “I love being alone today”. However, the word “love” as used in these phrases could mean different things, from the one who says it and the one you heard it. The word “love” could just mean the person like the thing or the activity. It could also mean that the person finds it engaging or possibly the person could have used the word to say that they just want to be in the company of a specific person.
The Three Concept of Love
During ancient times, philosophers have traditionally distinguished “love” into three concepts: Eros, Agape, and Philia.
Eros, as defined by Liddell et al. (1940), is “love” in the form of a passionate desire for an object. Typically, this refers to the sexual desires of humans. The same definition was supported by Nygren (1953), as he described it as the “love of desire” or an “acquisitive love”. Eros is also often described as “selfish” for it is a response to the merits or quality of the beloved (e.i. beauty or personality). In this, the description of Eros shifted from “sexual” to the love of something in an “ersoic” sense, wherein the response to the beloved’s merit depends on the reason. One of the greatest Greek philosophers, Plato, shares the said views. His teacher, the great Socrates, views sexual desires as a lacking response to physical appearance. This response is meant to be developed as a response to the beautiful soul of a person.
In addition, Sobles (year) defines eros as a reason that is dependent kind of love that is a sharp contrast to “agape”. Agape is a kind of love that does not value an object. A perfect example could be observed in religious beliefs, such as Christianity. The love of God for his creation, our love for God, and our love for humanity fall in the category of agape.
The concept of God’s love for us, his creation, is perceived to be “unmotivated and spontaneous”, which means that it is God’s nature to love us, and not because of our merits (Nygren, 1953). Instead of an effect of an object’s value, agape is the creation of value for a specific object, thus signifying a fellowship with God. This is also supported by the definition of Badhwar (year), as he characterized agape as a kind of love that is independent of a person’s characteristics or the particular individual he/she is. In addition, Sobre (year) said that, unlike eros which is dependent on reason, agape is more reasonably incomprehensible.
Philia, on the other hand, is an affection or a feeling of friendliness towards a friend, family members, or people around a person. Similar to eros, Phila is responsive to the beautiful qualities or characteristics of an individual. Since such similarities are observed between eros and philia, it is often wondered if what distinguishes romantic love from friendship is only that the former has sexual involvements – and whether it is enough to define the difference in real-life experiences. However, in Soble’s (year) study, it was observed that the distinction between the two becomes very hard to see when the importance of sex in eros is diminished.
The defining line between eros, agape, and philia becomes even more blurry when subjected to contemporary theories of love and friendship. In certain circumstances, it could be said that romantic love shows the quality of agape, wherein a value was created in the beloved. Furthermore, there are situations wherein romantic love sees sexual activities as just an expression of friendship.
With these taken into consideration, the concept of God’s love for his creation and vice versa is omitted, as well as the difference between eros and philia is blurred out. What will be taken into focus is the contemporary view on love, such as romantic love, understood as the feeling we have toward another person/s.
Like vs. Love
Philosophical analysis requires a careful approach to determining the difference between love and other positive attitudes we have towards other people (liking). It is a widely accepted fact that what distinguishes love from liking is its “depth”, thus, there is a need to determine the level of “depth” that could be considered to be love. There is various literature that addresses this dilemma by going the other way, determining what liking amounts to. In the study of Singer and Brown (year), they stated that liking is a matter of desiring. It is a feeling or attitude that sees only the object’s instrumental value. However, this is still not enough justification, for there are still circumstances where care is given to a person for their own sake not just instrumentally but at the same time, caring does not necessarily mean loving the person. The exact same care could be similar to one’s feelings towards his/her pet, which isn’t really sufficiently personal to be called love.
To distinguish like from love, the most common approach is through the belief that love’s “depth” should be explained in terms of identification. It is said that if you love someone, you identify yourself with them. As Nussbaum (year) puts it, “The choice between one potential love and another can feel, and be, as a choice of a way of life, a decision to dedicate oneself to these values rather than these”. This is a notion not seen in liking. It is a central bone of connection among different analyses of love to whether the concept of love involves identification and how could such identification be understood. For example, it was argued that the concept of identification somehow distorts the understanding of what kind of motivation love has. Coz if taken literally, it could be interpreted that love is motivated by self-interest and not the beloved’s interests. According to Whiting (year), there’s a possibility that love would take the lover outside themselves, resulting in them losing themselves and being moved directly by the beloved’s interest. It is said that in identifying with one’s beloved, the person should have a concern for the beloved that is equivalent to their concerns towards themselves.
Furthermore, an alternative way in distinguishing love from other personal attitudes is through a distinctive kind of evaluation. This could aid in determining love’s depth. It is examined whether love has a distinctive kind of evaluation. However, it is largely doubted that this sense of evaluation could be easily interpreted. Hand in hand with the questions of evaluation are the questions of justification. Could loving or the continued loving of a person be justified? If yes, how? With the belief that love could be justified, it is important to view justification in terms of evaluation. The answer to this will influence the attempts of various accounts in making sense of the constancy or commitment involved in love, as well as the way it was directed at specific people.
The Four Theories of Love
Theories of love could be classified into four types, union, robust concern, valuing, and emotion. However, it should be noted that theories under a particular type could sometime include ideas from other types. The four types have a tendency to overlap with each other and sometimes in order to classify the theory, a great deal of categorization and analysis is needed. For example, many accounts of love are quasi-reductionistic. It is the way of understanding love in terms of affection, attachment, evaluation, and many others, which are rarely analyzed. And even in these rare cases, it is very often that an attempt is made to present how such an “aspect” of love is connected to others. In conclusion, there is no clear systematic way to classify the theories, thus, making it almost impossible to identify the relevant classes they should be in.
There’s another definition of love which is love as a union. the union view claims that love consists in the formation of or the desire to form some significant kind of union, a “we.” A central task for union theorists, therefore, is to spell out just what such a “we” comes to—whether it is literally a new entity in the world somehow composed of the lover and the beloved, or whether it is merely metaphorical.
Scruton, writing in particular about romantic love, claims that love exists “just so soon as reciprocity becomes community: that is, just so soon as all distinction between my interests and your interests is overcome”. The idea is that the union is a union of concern so that when I act out of that concern it is not for my sake alone or for your sake alone but for our sake. Fisher holds a similar, but somewhat more moderate view, claiming that love is a partial fusion of the lovers’ cares, concerns, emotional responses, and actions. What is striking about both the philosophers Scruton and Fisher is the claim that love requires the actual union of the lovers’ concerns, for it thus becomes clear that they conceive of love not so much as an attitude we take towards another but as a relationship: the distinction between your interests and mine genuinely disappears only when we together come to have shared cares, concerns, etc., and my merely having a certain attitude towards you is not enough for love. This provides the content to the notion of a “we” but I don’t know if this is metaphorical? But the subject of these shared cares and concerns, and as that for whose sake we act.
Solomon says that offers a union view as well, though one that tries “to make new sense out of ‘love’ through a literal rather than metaphoric sense of the ‘fusion’ of two souls” What Solomon has in mind is the way in which, through love, the lovers redefine their identities as persons in terms of the relationship: “Love is the concentration and the intensive focus of mutual definition on a single individual, subjecting virtually every personal aspect of one’s self to this process”. The result is that lovers come to share the interests, roles, virtues, and so on that constitute what formerly was two individual identities but now has become a shared identity, and they do so in part by each allowing the other to play an important role in defining his own identity.
Another philosopher named Nozick offers a union view that differs from those of Scruton, Fisher, and Solomon in that Nozick thinks that what is necessary for love is merely the desire to form a “we,” together with the desire that your beloved reciprocates. Nonetheless, he claims that this “we” is “a new entity in the world…created by a new web of relationships between the lovers which makes them no longer separate”. In spelling out this web of relationships, Nozick appeals to the lovers “pooling” not only their well-being, in the sense that the well-being of each is tied up with that of the other, but also their autonomy, in that “each transfers some previous rights to make certain decisions unilaterally into a joint pool”. In addition, Nozick claims, the lovers each acquire a new identity as a part of the “we,” a new identity constituted by their (a) wanting to be perceived publicly as a couple, (b) they’re attending to their pooled well-being, and (c) they’re accepting a “certain kind of division of labor”.
A person in we might find himself coming across something interesting to read yet leaving it for the other person, not because he himself would not be interested in it but because the other would be more interested, and one of them reading it is sufficient for it to be registered by the wider identity now shared.
Opponents of the union view have seized on claims like this as excessive: union theorists, they claim, take too literally the ontological commitments of this notion of a “we.” This leads to two specific criticisms of the union view. The first is that union views do away with individual autonomy. Autonomy, it seems, involves a kind of independence on the part of the autonomous agent, such that she is in control over not only what she does but also who she is, as this is constituted by her interests, values, concerns, etc. However, union views, by doing away with a clear distinction between your interests and mine, thereby undermine this sort of independence and so undermine the autonomy of the lovers. If autonomy is a part of the individual’s good, then, in the union view, love is to this extent bad; so much the worse for the union view Moreover, Singer argues that a necessary part of having your beloved be the object of your love is respect for your beloved as the particular person she is, and this requires respecting her autonomy.
Union theorists have responded to this objection in several ways. Nozick seems to think of a loss of autonomy in love as a desirable feature of the sort of union lovers can achieve. Fisher somewhat says that more reluctantly, claims that the loss of autonomy in love is an acceptable consequence of love. Yet without further argument, these claims seem like mere bullet biting. Solomon describes this “tension” between union and autonomy as “the paradox of love.” However, this is a view that Soble derides: merely to call it a paradox, as Solomon does, is not to face up to the problem. There’s still lots to discover about love but then again, the only question that seems to bother me now is, “why do we love” more or less the very closest possible answer that I have now in mind regarding the fact that I have discussed two definitions of love is that we experience love, because it makes us happy. Whatever the consequences, it still made us happy and more human.