>What is love?

>Near to the top of any list of philosophical questions is something about love. It can often seem to be a highly personal topic. Yet there is also much to analyse. Is every loving relationship the same? Of course not right? So what is love? What is the commonality? And is there such a thing as ‘true love’, as opposed to the type shared with family and friends?


  • >You know men fairly well and probably don't expect me to give either simple answers or quote the Bible as a source of authority. In this case, however, I will do both:'Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.'-1 Corinthians 13: 4-7By this definition, love is both selfless (patient, kind, protecting, persevering and so on) and pure happiness (there is a fine equilibrium hinted at between being 'boastful' or 'envious'). In this latter sense it is complete contentedness of being. It reminds me of one of Bob Dylan's better love songs:"My love, she speaks like silenceWithout ideals or violenceShe doesn't have to say she's faithfulYet she's true; like ice, like fire….Statues made of matchsticks crumble into one anotherMy love winks, she doesn't botherShe knows too much to argue or to judge…Some speak of the futureMy love, she speaks softlyShe knows there's no success like failureAnd failure's no success at all"In this case, Dylan's love is certainly 'true' (the more commonplace part of the Corinthian verses), but the main effect of Dylan's words (and indeed the more interesting part of Corinthians) is of almost transcendental oneness with the world and aloof disregard of the slings and arrows of the external world, be they crumbling civilizations or political speculation: 'she knows too much to argue or to judge' in Dylan, 'it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud' in St Paul. Both convey an almost spritual oneness with the world, of people letting all that is external wash over them with a kind of stoic, though hardly resigned, wisdom. So, love is both selflessness and perfect abandonment of external (even internal) concern, just belonging. In both senses, I'm afraid to say, I am very rarely a very loving person; I am unfathomably jealous and the idea that I can detach myself from the world around me and the twisted emotions within me is pathetically laughable. Though, on occasions, I can manage it, and I always strive towards it. That, in its own way, is loving I suppose and, in any case, perhaps love ought to be near-unattainable; if it is not to be perfection, then what is?

  • >You know 'me' fairly well, obviously. I apologise, to say you know 'men' is either a wonderful compliment to your skills of philosophy, or a slur on your sexuality.

  • >Lol! Yeah I was wondering about that comment.Anyway to the question… I have to say I'm quite surprised by your very romantic answer. However I completely disagree. Love is selflessness? Does this mean that 'nice' people fall in love more than 'nasty' people? And what about love or logic? Do you choose to save your partner, or 10 children you don't know? The selfless thing would probably be to save the children, but your love would lead you to want to save your partner.I therefore suggest that love is effectively a deep, emotional addiction to someone or something. Just like becoming addicted to sweets and becoming addicted to nicotene are different, so is the love shared with a partner and a friend. In fact one could even use the word love to describe an addiction to a non-life form. To dispute your idea of love being non-violence, can a person not love boxing or wrestling?

  • >You can say you love boxing or wrestling, but even you have to admit that isn't remotely the same thing that might lead someone, you suggest, to save another one over ten children. I quite like some things (neither boxing nor wrestling, but cricket, say), but to say I love it is nothing more than rhetoric, nothing more than to say I could murder a pizza. I might like cigarettes or pizza, maybe be addicted to them, but I couldn't love either.I disagree that love is an addiction; I could go several says without seeing my partner – weeks and months and years – it wouldn't have nearly the same physical or emotional effect as if I were a twenty-a-day smoker forced to go without fags for a fortnight (or two hours; I've seen it). In fact, I'd still argue that the very essence of being in love (as opposed to being obsessed with someone or thing), as St. Paul and Dylan suggest, actually frees you up from jealousies, pride and so on that create instabilities. I'm quite sure I'd miss my other half, but providing I knew the parting was not permament I'd deal with it; even if I didn't, it wouldn't destroy me like a junkie forced to go cold turkey. In fact, I'd imagine love would actually provide a person with the will to overcome chemical dependencies like nicotine or alcohol, genuine biological and psychological addictions. Maybe I am romantic, but I refuse to acknowledge this idea of love as nothing more than a sequence of synaptic flashes and chemical reactions. Deciding to save 10 children over your wife isn't a question of logic but morality, but either way it's an interesting question and I don't know how to answer that. I genuinely don't know what I think I'd do without imagining more context, but either way I didn't mean selflessness as becoming a perfectly altrusitic being, but selflessness within the bounds of the relationship which rarely exists at all, and is extremely rare I think in purely platonic friendships. 'Nasty' people (your words) might fall in love, but to be in love they aren't nasty in the relationship; as I said, love overcomes the jealousies and selfishness and whatever that cause that. I fear for this debate, to be honest, because we're in essence trying to define an abstract noun; I can say what I want, you don't have to agree and vice versa. I don't see love as a biological or psychological addiction at all though.

  • >Loving an object/activity is absolutely not the same as loving a person no. But love is one of the widest concepts in the English language. Look in the dictionary and you'll most likely see tons of different explanations, all of which imply completely different things. To say "I love cricket" is not the same as saying "I could murder a pizza", for the second is solely an idiom whereas the first is as acceptable in a written text as it is in conversation. Nowhere under the explanation for murder in the dictionary does it explain that idiom. But it does explain the phrase 'i love cricket' under love.As for whether love is an addiction I did say "effectively". Perhaps I should have said close to or practically. Love is much deeper and more complicated than a normal addiction, such as one to nicotene. When someone consumes a drug it has an immediate effect. But after a long period of usage the brain starts to compensate for this useage. For instance let's say you take 10 mls of drug A, and normally the brain only produces 5mls. After a long period of useage the brain will begin to think that it no longer needs to produce 5mls because it's already getting it. So if the user then goes cold turkey they suddenly find themselves going from above natural levels of the drug to below natural levels. That is a drug addiction. Love is so much more complicated, for it's not about a single drug. It's about all of them. Every drug that your brain produces throughout life can be effected by a loving/non-loving relationship. Dopamines and endorphines are obvious examples of natural 'pleasure' producing drugs. A loving relationship can trigger a release of these drugs. But taken in the wider scheme of things love's effect on dopamine and endorphine levels may not even be worthy of discussing because there are so many more factors involved. This is (and I must point out this is speculation and guess work; I know very little about the subject) why spending time apart from your partner is nothing like quitting a drug.Your talk about jealousies, selfishness etc seems to me to be based on personal experience. I'm sure you can't honestly believe that when a person loves another they automatically become less selfish and jealous? Many people would become more jealous because they have more to use. Now this phrase is very interesting: "Maybe I am romantic, but I refuse to acknowledge this idea of love as nothing more than a sequence of synaptic flashes and chemical reactions." You imply that love cannot be biological. Do you believe that every life has a soul, and that it is infinite and unchanging? Do you believe that it is from this soul that love comes forth? If this were so then death would not do anything to stop love. Yet how would you know you were in love without a memory? How would you know love makes you happy without a brain? How would you think without a brain? How would you be without a body?Love has to be biological, physical and chemical because we are biological, physical and chemical beings. Love cannot be reduced to a drug or two, or even synaptic flashes and chemical reactions. There you're absolutely right. But there is nothing supernatural about it. This is one of the biggest errors I feel is made by theologians and those searching for religion. Just because we know what something is; that it has a cause and can be effected in a very real and natural way; does not make that something any less meaningful.

  • >Fourth paragraph down last word was supposed to be 'lose' not use.

  • >Well I wasn't going to comment on this topic because it seemed 'shmaltzy' to use the american term. However it cropped up in a discussion with a colleague today so that gave me some ideas.First off, I quite liked Ross' arguments and to contend with Rob, I don't think love should be debated as something consisting of dopamine and serotonin, synapses and circuitry, etc, because this basic physiological outlook could be applied to all emotions and thought.What is anger ? over production of chemical B. what is thought ? electrical activity in synapse C. This base position neither explains nor illucidates the primary idea.The idea of modern love, a few people would agree, is a fairly trite idea, sprung from the romanticism of the 18th century and watered down by hollywood to something based on a cheesy line over a cup of coffee.Although I essentially agree with Ross I would like to explore a slightly different angle.Is it possible to love anybody ? E.g. arranged marriages. If so, does this rule out the idea of a soul-mate, or one-true-love ?The frst idea sounds reasonable as we know that people we have spent time with, we usually develop a sympathetic feeling for, e.g people we went to school with, folks from the community, etc,.The other angle is what I discussed with the colleague today. Is "love" a bourgeoise concept ?We were basically talking about people in poorer countries choosing partners based on needs, i.e. a man who can provide and a woman who can raise. Further to this is the idea that people (usually woman from poorer countries) who have married foreigners, or have married a successful man, are castigated by society as only having married for practical purposes.If we accept that love is a bourgeois idea, then it is unfair to criticise these ladies, and if we also accept that love can develop between anybody, then the relationship should not be judged at the outset.

  • >Although I can see your point that all emotions can be explained with reference to chemical and biological realities, this was in a way my point. Yes we can go further, and if we're to do justice to the debate then perhaps we should. But my point was that there is nothing supernatural about love. It is not something which is unexplainable and beyond the physical.I definitely can't see love being a concept restricted to a certain socio-economic class, precisely because of the fact that it is a natural emotion, or at least that it has a distinct emotional element. Our present perception of love is partially a social construction, and in this sense then yes I guess love could be described as heavily influenced by the western bourgeoisie, because this is the group that has had the biggest cultural impact (through books, films, poetry etc) throughout the last couple of centuries. However the word love is not a new one. And indeed there are many references to it from literature throughout history. Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is an obvious one. But you can go right back to the days of writing on pieces of papyrus. The ancient Egyptians excelled in writing love poetry, and it shaped modern perceptions at least as much as bourgeiosie ideas.Arranged marriages and marriage for necessity rather than love, does not contradict the existence of love. Just because I buy an apple rather than a chocolate bar does not mean I don't have an insatiable desire to eat chocolate. It simply means that I believe it's necessary to eat more fruit. It's a very fair point to say that we should not criticise those who marry for necessity. Yet I don't think many people actually do this. People criticise those who marry for money when they didn't have to. You only have to see how Hollywood films portray people to see this is the case.

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