About Love

WORDS: JELENA MARTENS

What is this divine force that moves us all?

Think of all the beautiful poems written about it, all the lovely verses we read to nurture our love hungry hearts. Think of all the songs we listened to (and sang along!) – at times to glorify the feelings of love we found, at other times to soothe the pain of our broken hearts and lost love. Think of all the books written about it by the greatest writers and minds of human­kind; love quotes offering the essence of love in just a few wisely chosen words.

‘Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bod­ies.’ (Aristotle)

‘Better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all.’ (St. Augustine)

‘There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.’ (Nietzsche)

Think of science claiming to be able to tell us precisely where love lives – well, according to them, not in the heart! Scientists of the Concordia University re­port that they have been able to form a ‘map of love and desire’ – in the brain! According to them, there are two parts of the brain (the insula and the striatum) that are responsible for tracking the transformation from sexual desire to love, each activating a different area of striatum. Once this transformation from sexu­al desire to love takes place, we end up in the part of the brain that is also associated with drug addiction. They thought that there were good reasons for this because love can be seen as a habit we develop when our sexual desires get rewarded.

(Still, hard for me to imagine cutting out my Valentine’s cards shaped like a brain!)

A lot has been said on the top­ic of love: by anthropologists, philosophers, psychologists, theologians, therapists, spir­itual teachers, poets, writers, scientists, relationship and sex counselors, artists, musicians, teachers, politicians, etc. How we understand love depends on our epistemological positioning (our understanding of the world, how knowledge is acquired and truth defined, etc.) Still, accu­mulated knowledge, definitions, descriptions, presentations, creations, and illustrations of love (made from love, and with love), and all the testimonials of the personal experiences of up close encounters with love do not sum up to a complete and clear understanding of what love is.

All of us have experienced love, and surely have noticed that we love our partners in differ­ent way than we love our chil­dren, or God, or parents. Ancient Greeks used different words for love in order to describe and dis­tinguish different types of love.

Eros – Named after the Greek god of fertility, this type of love is erotic, and it refers to passion and desire. Eros is a response to the person’s values or worthi­ness (e.g. beauty or/and kind­ness). In Plato’s Symposium, Socrates speaks about this type of love as being incomplete, and that it needs further develop­ment: from appreciation of the external (physical) beauty to the acknowledgement of the beauty of a person’s soul. The ultimate goal is recognition of the form itself –Beauty. Stimulating and desirable beautiful images in front of us remind us of the form and the idea of beauty. Platon­ic idea is to invite us to deepen our understanding of love as of higher value than (only) physical desire.

Agape – Unlike eros, agape does not respond to the properties (qualities, values) of the sub­ject. It is the most described in connection to God’s love for us, as well as our love for God, and all people (brotherly love). This type of love is not responding to the values of the subject, but rather creates value in the sub­ject. Agape is not justified by reason, it is unmotivated, and can be understood as universal love. God’s nature is this love. In Latin, agape can be understood as ‘caritas’ – charity, or our feel­ings of empathy towards other humans.

Philia – This type of love is represented in friendships, family, community, activity (Philosophy: philia – Sophia). It is characterized by the feelings of affection and loyalty. It is sim­ilar to eros in a sense that it is responsive to the qualities (vir­tue, worthiness) of the subject, but unlike eros, it is dispassion­ate kind of love. In Nicomachean Ethics Aristoteles describes his views on philia, and sees it noble in itself, but also as necessary means to achieve happiness in life. In philia, we want what is best for the other, we act out of concern for the other, and not just for our own sake. Develop­ing a good character full of vir­tue makes us worthy of philia. Acts of philia contribute to nur­turing of virtues, and leading of a meaningful life. Aristotelian understanding of love incorpo­rates an idea that a man loves himself. This kind of love is not a simple pursuit of immediate pleasures, but leading of a re­flective life in which we strive to develop virtues, thus to become worthy of love.

Storge – This word for love is used for describing relationships within the family. It is a feeling of affection of parents and children. Natural kind of love is the love that a parent feels for its child (offspring), and vice versa, and is the least concerned with the love worthy characteristics of a subject.

The word love is used not only to express a certain feeling of af­fection, as well as human virtue, but we also often use it to de­scribe a feeling of pleasure that we get from certain activities, like in: ‘I love swimming!’ Here it means that we enjoy engag­ing in this activity (swimming), perhaps because this activity is part of our identity which rep­resents some values and beliefs (swimming contributes to my good health; health is important to me). In this context, it would be more appropriate to use the word ‘like’: I like swimming. In­tuitively we know that love is much deeper, and usually means caring for another person as he/ she is.

The depth of personal love is sometimes explained using the notion of identification – to love someone means to identify with him/her. Aristotle believed that our beloved acts like a mir­ror, reflecting back information about us. The beloved is in rel­evant ways similar to us, and the mirror metaphor provides ground for the self-knowledge. Of course, this kind of feedback, information, and knowledge about ourselves is important if we want to grow, mature and better ourselves.

Most of us have experienced this force of transformation in love, when we strive to be the absolute best version of our­selves and love-worthy. Love encourages our development of the character; it betters us in numerous ways, and promotes feelings of self-worthiness. Love adds to fulfillment in life and promotes moral value of loving relationships. But, when we try to answer questions like: how do we choose our subjects of love? or how do we justify our love for a particular person?, we stumble upon different theories and per­spectives to consider in order to answer.

While some believe that no jus­tification of love can be done, others argue that the reason is not some external power which regulates and dictates our be­havior, but it is integral to who we are. And while the reason may not command that we fall in love, it does determine who and why we love.

But if we love a person with cer­tain character and properties, why do we love that particular person, and not another with similar set of properties? Do we love a person, or the qualities in them? And if we justify our love by the qualities person has, can we not find someone with more of those qualities, and thus make a replacement/trade? Is this love, and can we justify it in such way?

Love is a commitment to a per­son, and not to a sum of charac­teristic (as wonderful and as nu­merous they may be!) In a loving relationship, we create a union, we create –WE! For this reason too, love cannot be justified only as a sum of characteristics of the beloved (those are substi­tutable) ‘We’ holds a part of our own identity. Also, love relation­ships are historical (they last in time, and at certain place), and the properties of the relation­ship add to the justification (and continuum/or not) of love too.

If the intellectual invasion to capture the divine nature of love does not appeal to you, and you would much rather simply feel it: give love and gratefully re­ceive, please do not forget: start with yourself!