First published Fri 8 Apr, 2005
This essay focuses on personal love, or the love of particular persons as such. Part of the philosophical task in understanding personal love is to distinguish the various kinds of personal love. For example, the way in which I love my wife is seemingly very different from the way I love my mother, my child, and my friend. This task has typically proceeded hand-in-hand with philosophical analyses of these kinds of personal love, analyses that in part respond to various puzzles about love. Can love be justified? If so, how? What is the value of personal love? What impact does love have on the autonomy of both the lover and the beloved?
- 1. Preliminary Distinctions
- 2. Love as Union
- 3. Love as Robust Concern
- 4. Love as Valuing
- 5. Emotion Views
- 6. Problems Concerning Love
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- Related Entries
In ordinary conversations, we often say things like the following:
- I love chocolate (or skiing).
- I love doing philosophy (or being a father).
- I love my dog (or cat).
- I love my wife (or mother or child or friend).
However, what is meant by ‘love’ differs from case to case. (1) may be understood as meaning merely that I like this thing or activity very much. In (2) the implication is typically that I find engaging in a certain activity or being a certain kind of person to be a part of my identity and so what makes my life worth living; I might just as well say that I value these. By contrast, (3) and (4) seem to indicate a mode of concern that cannot be neatly assimilated to anything else. Thus, we might understand the sort of love at issue in (4) to be, roughly, a matter of caring about another person as the person she is, for her own sake. (Accordingly, (3) may be understood as a kind of deficient mode of the sort of love we typically reserve for persons.) Philosophical accounts of love have focused primarily on the sort of personal love at issue in (4); such personal love will be the focus here.
Even within personal love, philosophers from the ancient Greeks on have traditionally distinguished three notions that can properly be called “love”: eros, agape, and philia. It will be useful to distinguish these three and say something about how contemporary discussions typically blur these distinctions (sometimes intentionally so) or use them for other purposes.
‘Eros’ originally meant love in the sense of a kind of passionate desire for an object, typically sexual passion (Liddell et al., 1940). Nygren (1953a,b) describes eros as the “‘love of desire,’ or acquisitive love” and therefore as egocentric (1953b, p. 89). Soble (1989b, 1990) similarly describes eros as “selfish” and as a response to the merits of the beloved—especially the beloved’s goodness or beauty. What is evident in Soble’s description of eros is a shift away from the sexual: to love something in the “erosic” sense (to use the term Soble coins) is to love it in a way that, by being responsive to its merits, is dependent on reasons. Such an understanding of eros is encouraged by Plato’s discussion in the Symposium, in which Socrates understands sexual desire to be a deficient response to physical beauty in particular, a response which ought to be developed into a response to the beauty of a person’s soul and, ultimately, into a response to the form, Beauty.