February 14, 2007

This Post is Old!

The post you are reading is years old and may not represent my current views. I started blogging around the time I first began to study philosophy, age 17. In my view, the point of philosophy is to expose our beliefs to rational scrutiny so we can revise them and get better beliefs that are more likely to be true. That's what I've been up to all these years, and this blog has been part of that process. For my latest thoughts, please see the front page.

What Is Love? Part 2: Types of Love

In part 1 of this series, I outlined a theory of love according to which love is defined as "a deeply internalized belief in the intrinsic value of the beloved." I indicated in that post that it was possible to differentiate between types of love along two dimensions: the reason for the belief, and the sorts of actions the lover takes or desires to take as a result. This post will discuss the traditional divisions of love and how the theory accounts for them along these two dimensions.

The philosophical literature on love (believe it or not, there is such a thing) has traditionally divided love into three classifications: philia, eros, and agape. (See the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on the subject.)

Philia is the love of friendship. In the case of philia, the lover develops a belief in the intrinsic value of the beloved through personal experience, making his or her own judgment. As a result of this value judgment, in addition to the desire for the beloved's general well-being which is characteristic of all love, the lover wants actually to be involved in the life of the beloved, to share time and experiences. The lover, in addition to valuing the beloved's existence and well-being as intrinsic goods, values the beloved's presence and the beloved's effect on him/her.

Eros is romantic love. (Contrary to popular belief, the word eros does not mean 'lust' and does not appear in the New Testament in that or any other meaning.) One sometimes hears it described as "love characterized by a desire for productive union." Interestingly, Plato, in the Symposium, characterizes the philosopher's love of wisdom not as philia (as the name 'philosopher' suggests) but as eros, presumably because the philosopher is not merely abstractly concerned with the well-being of wisdom (whatever that would mean), but actually wants to be united with wisdom in a meaningful way. (I'm not sure what the word 'productive' is supposed to be doing in this case, but that's how I have heard the definition given.) The Stanford Encyclopedia also gives a definition from Soble who considers eros to be a "'selfish' ... response to the merits of the beloved´┐Żespecially the beloved's goodness or beauty." I am of the opinion, and I think this is clear from my definition, that anything rightly described as 'selfish' is not a type of love, if by 'selfish' one means something like "concerned with the self above all others." This is because, in order for it to actually be love, one must place an intrinsic value on the beloved and not consider the beloved as, for instance, only a means to one's own happiness and/or pleasure. However, what the use of the word term selfish is getting at is that one of the characteristics of eros is a desire for exclusivity. That is, in this case, the lover rightly experiences a certain degree of jealousy. A fully 'open' relationship is not actually an eros relationship. We usually think of jealousy negatively, because we usually think of it in excess but, in fact, a certain degree of jealousy is a necessary and positive component of an eros relationship. Eros, then, like philia, is motivated by the lover's personal recognition of the beloved's value, through experience, and results in the desire for an exclusive union with the beloved.

Agape is a curious form of love. It is sometimes described in the literature as something like "the peculiarly Christian form of love," whatever that is supposed to mean. People will also give definitions like "the way God loves human beings," but that isn't very helpful either, and it's not clear whether human beings are capable of loving one another in precisely the way God loves us. Let us say instead, then, that in the case of agape, the lover recognizes intrinsic value as conferred upon the beloved by divine decree. As a result, the lover desires the well-being, happiness, etc., of the beloved.

For Christians, agape is, of course, the broadest level, since Christians believe that divine decree bestows intrinsic value on all human beings. In one sense, agape is the highest form of love, since it is not conditioned on anything about the beloved or the lover's perception of the beloved. Agape is, in fact, dependent on the goodness of the lover, not that of the beloved. However, agape is also very broad. Only a fraction of those people one loves in the agape sense are loved in the sense of philia and typically (ideally - perhaps always?) at most one person is loved in the sense of eros. Philia and eros are based on the lover's perception of goodness in the beloved. This does not necessarily mean that these loves are fragile. As was discussed in the previous post, beliefs that are very deeply internalized are quite resilient. In fact, one's belief in the intrinsic value of a friend, spouse, etc., may not be any less deeply internalized than one's belief in a divine decree conferring intrinsic value on all human beings - it may even be more deeply internalized. This means that a love with a high degree of internalization will be very resilient to any challenges, and therefore will tend to be stable. The lover will not cease to love when the beloved is irritable, for instance, or when some third party makes an accusation of, for instance, unfaithfulness, against the beloved. If a man's love of his wife is very deeply internalized, and part of his reason for belief in her intrinsic value is due to his belief that she has certain virtues, including faithfulness, he will not be inclined to take any accusation of adultery against her very seriously. His trust of his wife will simply outweigh his trust of her accuser.

Interstingly, despite the fact that agape is often described as "the way God loves human beings (according to Christianity)," there is good reason to believe that the Bible portrays God as loving humanity in all three ways. God is portrayed throughout Scripture as a friend and helper, and is also portrayed as desiring very greatly to bring us back into fellowship with himself. He is also characterized as being jealous for us. Idolatry is consistently compared to adultery throughout Scripture. Furthermore, God invites us to a very real union with him (see, e.g., 2 Peter 1:4).

This brings out the interesting point that, for Christians, philia is to be built upon agape. In philia we have learned by experience what we previously believed by faith in God's command: that it is right to regard this person as having intrinsic value. For everyone, eros is to be built upon philia, since all of the characteristics of philia are necessarily included in eros.

There is, of course, a lot more conceptual space for describing different types of love than these, and it is also true that I have not discussed the love of family. It is also true that not all love may fit neatly into categories like this: the causes and effects may be more complicated than this. However, I think it is fairly easy to see how this theory can be expanded to account for the additional cases, and so I am going to leave it here. Happy Valentine's Day!

Posted by Kenny at February 14, 2007 12:57 PM
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What's the defense for jealousy supposed to be, exactly? You assert that "one of the [defining] characteristics of eros is a desire for exclusivity", but why should we accept that? When you say "A fully 'open' relationship is not actually an eros relationship", is this mere semantics, or is it supposed to reflect something deeper about the nature of love?

Aside, I would've thought "conferred intrinsic value" was a self-contradiction. Agape does sound weird, though. You say, "it is not conditioned on anything about the beloved or the lover's perception of the beloved." So you might as well love pizza after all, if God whimsically decided to "confer intrinsic value" (cough) on pizzas instead of people. Quirky.

I did like your previous post, though.

Posted by: Richard at February 15, 2007 3:32 AM

Richard - thanks for your comments. These are very brief posts (I haven't had much time) and I recognize that I haven't given much in the way of an argument for the views I'm describing. I do, however, want to offer some considerations in response to your criticisms.

On jealousy - I don't mean to be just defining this in. Rather, I am trying to write a good, rigorous definition that captures the thing we are trying to refer to when we talk about romantic love. I say 'trying' because I think that people sometimes use the term erroneously, but I don't want to beg the question and say they are erroneous because they use it other than according to my definition. In many cases, the individuals themselves seem to recognize later that they weren't really "in love," but, rather, had mistaken something else (lust, infatuation, etc.) for love. So why do I include jealousy here? Simply because I think that, as a matter of observed fact, a certain degree of exclusivity is a very common, almost universal, feature of a romantic relationship. What I want to further submit is that a certain degree of jealousy is not a bad thing. It is only a bad thing in excess. For instance, it is a good thing that my girlfriend doesn't want me to kiss another woman; it would be a bad thing if she didn't want me to speak to another woman. But it is important here that I want her to desire some kind of exclusivity. I would be upset if she was perfectly ok with me running around with someone else. I think this exclusivity is part of what makes the "meaningful union" we're talking about possible.

On conferring intrinsic value - the Stanford Encyclopedia article I linked to talks about two families of "value theories" of love, one of which is based on appraisal of value, and the other on bestowal of value. The article, citing Velleman and Singer, says "To bestow value on another is to project a kind of intrinsic value onto him." I recommend you read that section of the article for a brief discussion of the coherence of the idea of bestowing intrinsic value. But remember that by "intrinsic value" I simply mean value as an end rather than a means. If God decrees that something is worthy of such treatment, it seems to me unproblematic that that decree should be binding on us, even in the absence of a divine command theory of ethics.

I think there are similar cases to be found elsewhere. For instance, consider the classic sitcom case of the man who hates his mother-in-law. The wife loves her mother, and if her husband doesn't love her mother, it drives a sort of wedge between them. The husband would therefore be well-advised to "take it on faith," based on his wife's judgment, that his mother-in-law has the kind of intrinsic value we are talking about.

Perhaps we should adjust our account of agape to be more like this. Perhaps it is not a divine decree, but simply a divine proclamation. Perhaps people have intrinsic value for some other reason, but, in the case of agape, rather than seeing that value for ourselves we trust God's judgment on the matter. The reason I didn't use this kind of definition is that it then doesn't seem coherent to say that God's love for us is agape.

Other types of love where you believe that all human beings have intrinsic value because of, for instance, some philosophical theory that doesn't involve God, may actually come out quite similar to agape in both theory and practice.

Posted by: Kenny at February 15, 2007 11:24 AM

Oh, if the role of the proclamation is merely epistemic, rather than metaphysical, then that's fine. I take it then that "agape" would be an evaluative belief held for theoretical or other indirect reasons, rather than direct perception of the other's intrinsic value?

"So why do I include jealousy here? Simply because I think that, as a matter of observed fact, a certain degree of exclusivity is a very common, almost universal, feature of a romantic relationship."

So is the having of twenty toes in sum, but a near-universal property is not thereby an essential one. (Especially when there do seem some clear cases of exceptions to the generalization.)

"I would be upset if she was perfectly ok with me running around with someone else. I think this exclusivity is part of what makes the "meaningful union" we're talking about possible."

But why?

Posted by: Richard at February 16, 2007 4:55 PM

I think that placing the role of the proclamation as merely epistemic is one way you could go but, as I said, that would have problems with accounting for how it is possible for God to love in the agape sense, since he clearly doesn't believe only on the basis of his own proclamation, if his proclamation is not efficacious.

It is true that the fact that this degree of exclusivity is a near-universal property does not in itself prove that it is an essential one. I think it is a property of great theoretical interest, since this is certainly not a property of either of the other traditional varieties of love. Any general moral (as opposed to practical) defense of monogamy will, I think, entail that this is a positive characteristic of eros and, at the very least, that it ought to be present. This is not sufficient to make it an essential characteristic either: politicians, by the very nature of what it is to be a politician, ought to support good policy and oppose bad policy, but it does not therefore follow that whoever fails in this regard is not a politician. In short, I do think that there are a number of moral arguments in favor of monogamy - not least of which, since I am a Christian, is that it is what Jesus taught - and insofar as these moral arguments succeed they will show that an eros love which is characterized by a certain degree of exclusivity is superior to one which is not, but I don't know that I have an argument for my belief that this is an essential feature of eros. However, it should, I hope, be uncontroversial to claim that non-exclusivity is an essential property of philia and agape, whereas the desire for exclusivity is at least a possible attribute of eros.

Posted by: Kenny at February 16, 2007 6:06 PM

While I find it interesting that you define love as belief of intrinsic value, which then leads necessarily to the desire of the lover to have the beloved in the best state in which it is possible for the beloved to be, I would probably start from the other end. What if love is the desire for the best? Love of self is then a desire for the best for oneself. Love of another is the desire that the other be as good as possible.

This is in no way mutually exclusive from your view, I think, but it does lead to a couple of interesting, subtle differences. Love can take many shapes with regard to the same object - which we might name philos, agape, and eros - or we might name them physical, non-physical, and the combination of the two. If we were so inclined, we might name physical love lust, and we might even rightly condemn it, if it were the selfish sort of love (wherein we love someone else's body and have no regard for how that person feels). Agape might line up with non-physical love - for it seems to me that the commandment to love one's neighbor is not some sort of call to free love and polyamory. And eros, sweet, childlike Eros, is the best combination of these. That is, it combines not only the physical and non-physical love, but also includes the reflection or Aristotle's friendship love (we love our friends because they make us better people).

This might even give us some insight into Plato's claim on eros being the love of the philosopher. The philosopher does not contemplate only to improve his opinions, but to improve opinions in general, and he does so with the intent to both make himself and the opinions as good as they can be.

To the question of exclusivity in erotic relationships, I imagine that the energy require to genuinely devote yourself to one person is as much as any person can muster. It need not be the case that you cannot love (erotically) more than one person in your life - it can still be the case that you cannot have the time and energy to do so at the same time.

As for God's love, it seems to me that God cannot love us with anything but some sort of non-physical love. Surely we would not claim that God lusts after us, nor would we imagine that we could have the exclusivity or mutual benefit of an erotic relationship. For, God cannot be benefitted, since God is already perfect. And, if this indeed the best of all possible worlds, God has decided that the good of the whole outweighs the good of any individual - a decision which can be reversed in an erotic relationship - and that any suffering we endure is allowed because to prevent it would be worse.

I wonder, then, what sort of love man owes to God. Surely, man cannot love God physically. And we have already established that an erotic relationship is not possible with God, so that leaves a non-physical sort of God. But love presupposes (in my construct at least) a desire for the object of love to be as good as possible. In the case of God, the object is already perfect, so the love can not be active, but merely a passive appreciation. Is the love of God only some sort of aesthetic appreciation, the way we might admire a painting which we know we could never produce ourselves? What is a non-active love? Stagnant, it creates nothing, motivates nothing, and while not necessarily unhealthy, not as glorious as we would like for something related to the All-Mighty. Perhaps this is why there is no commandment to love God. We are commanded not to make idols, not to place other gods before God, and not to take the name of God in vain, but in the top ten (as it where), there is no command to love God.

Posted by: Jesse at February 22, 2007 9:02 AM

"And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all yoour strength." - Deuteronomy 6:4-5, quoted at Mark 12:30, etc.

Posted by: Kenny at February 22, 2007 10:58 AM

I didn't say it wasn't in there. I just said I thought it was interesting that it didn't make the top ten.

Posted by: Jesse at February 23, 2007 9:27 AM

Umm... It makes the top 1, according to Jesus (and also, I understand, according to the Talmud). Here is the immediate context of the occurence in Mark: "One of the scribes approached. When he heard them debating and saw that Jesus answered them well, he asked Him, 'Which commandment is the most important of all?' 'This is the most important Jesus answered: "Listen, Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." The second is: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.'"

Also, the command to love your neighbor as yourself is not part of the "Ten Commandments" either.

Posted by: Kenny at February 23, 2007 11:04 AM

Dear Kenny,
Is it possible to have a deeply internalized belief in the intrinsic value of X:- one's wife, or children, or humanity in general, and yet fail from time to time to love them? It seems to happen to me quite often, but perhaps what I take to be my belief is merely a wish to see myself as having such a belief. But if the proof of belief is in the act of loving, then your definition doesn't help me much. I prefer to see love as a mystery that cannot be defined or constrained by thought, and that has nothing to do with 'me' or 'my belief' - a gift of grace, if you like.
Love does seem hard to talk about, and hardly talked about, so thanks for doing that...
love? bob.

Posted by: bob Macintosh at March 1, 2007 6:47 AM

Bob - thanks for your remarks. If you look at the definition of "deeply internalized" in the previous post, part of the definition is that deeply internalized beliefs "naturally display themselves in our actions." That doesn't necessarily mean all your actions; that is part of how deeply internalized the belief is. So, for instance, I have a very deeply internalized belief that objects, including myself, will continue to be attracted to the earth (fall when dropped) and this displays itself in my actions constantly. A belief which shows up in action less often, or does not naturally (i.e. without a long, drawn out thought process) appear is less deeply internalized.

I think in this context that this is a pretty intuitive claim: if you act lovingly more of the time, it is safe to say that you love more.

Posted by: Kenny at March 1, 2007 10:38 AM

Ok. The other day I dropped something on my foot. It wasn't because my belief in gravity wasn't deep enough. Only philosophers even talk about such beliefs. The other day I shouted at my daughter. It wasn't (I maintain) because my belief in her intrinsic worth failed me. But the two cases are not the same; when the brick hit my foot, it reconfirmed the reality of gravitational attraction, whereas when my daughter shouted back at me, it did not reconfirm her intrinsic worth.
Your intuition (is that something different to a belief?) is that to act lovingly is what love is... what need then of belief? There seems to be a circularity; belief is evidenced by loving action and love is defined as belief. I do not wish to deny that 'by their fruits shall ye know them', but there is also a long tradition that faith and love are different things that endure, and that love is greater than faith. It seems to me that a dog can love its master; do you want to talk about a dog's deeply internalized beliefs? That would be an even more strange way of talking than '...a deeply internalized belief that objects, including myself, will continue to be attracted to the earth'.
Best wishes, bob.

Posted by: bob Macintosh at March 2, 2007 7:59 AM

Well, failing to act according to your belief is different than (rationally) doubting the truth of your belief. That is certainly true.

As far as the dog loving his master, I absolutely deny that that is the case. I do not think dogs are in any way capable of love.

Posted by: Kenny at March 2, 2007 11:05 AM

I am shocked. Clearly I have completely misunderstood what you have been saying about philia and almost everything else. We are not talking about the same thing. I do apologise, and won't trouble you further.

Posted by: bob Macintosh at March 2, 2007 5:03 PM

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