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—especially 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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