Philosophy of Love
April 13, 2005

While looking at the recent list of new philosophical papers, I noticed that the SEP has up a new entry. It is on the philosophy of Love. I figured that was interesting enough so as to be worth a short post. Sadly the article didn't get at what I find most interesting in the philosophy of love. It is a paradox that I think goes back to Pascal. Unfortunately in my brief search on google I couldn't find the origin of the problem. I did mention it in my discussion of the Derrida Movie a few months back.

Eventually though [Derrida] does go off on the discussion of the history of love in philosophy. It's actually a very interesting little discussion on how there is this conflict over the object of love. Specifically do we love a person or do we love things. He places it in rather practical terms. For instance when we break up with someone, it is typically because there is something about them we don't like. Something they do to hurt us or so forth. Yet our ideal of love often isn't that we love things about a person but we love the person themselves. It's very interesting.

That paradox about the "what" of love is always interesting to me. The one quote by Pascal I was able to find seems to suggest or at least allude to a paradox as well.

The heart has its reasons which reason knows not of.

I think there is quite a bit of truth to that. Love intrinsically is not something we can capture in reason or by reasons.

By the way, anyone know the source of that paradox Derrida brings up?


Posted By: Eric Russell | April 14, 2005 12:03 AM

I'm not sure of the origin of the paradox, but I'm not convinced it really is a paradox. I think the construction of the paradox is equivocation on a couple different levels.

First, when we talk about loving a person of the opposite sex, I think we really speak of a combination of eros and agape. The agape is indeed love for the person themselves, while eros is love for the person as constituted by a large set of "things". "Things" include characteristics, attributes, qualities, habits, etc. Thus, it is possible to love the person themselves while also not loving them because of a combination of attributes. Eros, however, can also become agape over time, I believe, which further complicates the way we speak of it.

Nice link, though. That's another entry into my long queue of internet articles to read.

Posted By: RoastedTomatoes | April 14, 2005 07:57 AM

It seems to me that a more precise way to specify this is that, with respect to any individual, we love some aspects of them and not others. When we feel romantic, I think we irrationally deny that there are aspects of the person that we don't love. By contrast, when we become emotionally disillusioned, those aspects can take over--that's when we break up with someone.

But I don't think we ever actually love all aspects of anyone, other than possibly God and Christ. I can certainly say that I don't love all aspects of myself!

Posted By: Blake | April 14, 2005 11:07 AM

My problem with the SEP aricle and the ensuing discussion is the same reason that Levinas didn't use the word "love" often at all. The conversation is shallow and trivializes love. After having read Kierkegaard's Works of Love I concluded that I knew how to love and be loved, but articulating it was far beyond me. I recommend Kierkegaard's work as the sixth gospel (I would canonize if I could). I also highly recommend Vincent Brummer's, The Model of Love: A Study in Philosophical Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

Posted By: Blake | April 14, 2005 11:11 AM

BTW both Kiekegaard and Brummer discuss the paradox of loving a person as a thing -- I believe that Levinas got it from Buber whose I-Thou distinction seems to be at bottom what the discussion addresses. I also strongly recommend Buber.

Posted By: Clark | April 14, 2005 11:54 AM

Blake, I didn't like the focus the article had either. Like the majority of the SEP, it is solidly in the analytic tradition. It would be nice if the SEP had, for some of its entries, further articles from different perspectives. I think with something like Love, the Continental perspective offers a very different way of thinking about the issue.

The issue of articulation (which I think is taken for granted in the Analytic tradition and article) is what I was getting at with the Pascal quote. So I completely agree there. This is tied to the problem of the very word love. Since it is so used and used so frequently in a trivializing fashion, it almost seems inappropriate to use to express love. As you say, that leads philosophers to often avoid the term to make the notion "fresh" or at least less contaminated. (I think that explains Heidegger's difficult language as well)

Posted By: Michael Dorfman | April 15, 2005 08:20 AM

I haven't seen the Derrida film, so I can't comment on what Derrida said there. Structurally, however, his comments are closely related to his work on impossible mourning, and the "tout autre".

Where this comes from, naturally, is a cross between Levinas's ethical radicalization of Husserl, and Karl Abraham's radicalization of Freud.

Put briefly: since Descartes at least, self-consciousness represents a sort of zero-degree of transparency. The contents of the consciousness of the Other, on the other hand, are radically opaque-- there is no way to know if your experience of a toothache is similar to mine, to the degree where it doesn't even make sense to ask the question. As Derrida says, Each Other is Completely Other (tout autre est tout autre). So, although it is the commonplace ideal to love the (essential) person independent of their (contigent) actions and attributes (e.g., love the sinner but not the sin), the Other qua Other is unknown to us except through the very actions and attributes we are attempting to overlook.

I'm afraid I don't have time right now to draw out the relationship between these notions and mourning and the unconscious, but I can do so later, if anyone is interested.

As an aside: Derrida's love life was a bit more complicated than some people suppose, which may (or may not) add to any perceived reticence on his part in the film.

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