Advanced Search

Is it possible for one to be in love with the feeling of being in love, instead

Is it possible for one to be in love with the feeling of being in love, instead of loving the person you believe you're in love with?

Both Jyl and Alex have covered the territory, and I have little to add. It seems to be true that loving a person (or even an animal) and loving an object or thing (chocolate, or a feeling) are different. In the philosophy of love the question arises: if both these two phenomena are in fact types of love, what do they have in common in virtue of which they are love? A tough one. Alternatively, we could say that "love" for a thing is not love at all, but something else; it has some things but not much of anything else in common with love for a person. Still again, we could resort to a "family resemblance" account of love, in which case there may not be any interesting common feature that links all loves together, and we can meaningfully speak both of loving a person and loving a thing or a feeling. We do so all the time in English, at least ("I just love your shoes!"), so Ordinary Language is on the side of both these phenomena being genuine cases of love. Or, because other languages are more linguistically sophisticated, what OL-English implies is that Americans (and the British? who else?) have a screw loose about love.

Wasn't it Aristotle who claimed that we could not love (philia) wine, or be its real friend, both because the wine cannot reciprocate and because we cannot wish the wine well for its own sake (but only for ours). I once made this point in an essay on the geneticist Barbara McClintock. Others had said about her that she was friends with her maize plants and that was a big reason for her success in studying and learning from them. In that essay I worried that such claims made a Nobel laureate look like an idiot. Nowadays I would make the point a more subtle way.

Something else we might want to look into is what is called "the elenchus of Agathon," in Plato's Symposium, in which Socrates grills Agathon and in the process proves to him that his claim that love is beautiful must be false. Socrates also shows, en passant, that one cannot love love. I reconstructed the argument in an essay in Apeiron (years ago) and Martha Nussbaum offered her own reconstruction in an essay she wrote on the role of Alcibiades in the Symposium.

Why is the love I feel for my two daughters far stronger than any love I've felt

Why is the love I feel for my two daughters far stronger than any love I've felt for anybody else?

Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt thinks that "the loving concern of parents for their infants or small children is the mode of caring that comes closest . . . to providing pure instances of what I have in mind in speaking of love" (from his essay "On Caring," p. 166)---as opposed, in particular, to romantic and sexual loves. In his book The Reasons of Love, he similarly writes: "Among relationships between humans, the love of parents for their infants or small children is the species of caring that comes closest to offering recognizably pure instances of love" (p. 43; see p. 82). So, what is love for Frankfurt?

In Frankfurt's account of love, there are four "conceptually necessary features" (Reasons, pp. 79-80). First, love is "disinterested concern for the well-being or flourishing of the person who is loved." "Disinterested" means "unmotivated by any instrumental concern." Second, love is "ineluctably personal," that is, "[t]he person who is loved is loved for himself or for himself as such, and not as an instance of a type" (Reasons, pp. 79-80; see p. 44). Third, the lover "identifies with his beloved." And fourth, love "is not a matter of choice but is determined by conditions that are outside our immediate voluntary control" (Reasons, p. 80; see p. 44).

Note that Frankfurt leaves out "affection." It seems to me that if I loved my children more than anyone else (indeed, that IS true for me), that would mean in large part that my affection for them was immense. I suspect that this is also what the question-poser means.

Frankfurt claims that love in his sense is exhibited most clearly in a parent's love for his or her child. I will leave to you the exercise of determining, for each of the necessary features, whether your love for your child satisfies it better than your love for your spouse (or for your romantic/sexual partner). It is not obvious to me that on Frankfurt's account of love, it is a parent's love for a child that will be the best example. So much the worse for his account?

It may well be true that I have a powerful love for my children (say, a strong desire to benefit them, to actualize their flourishing) "because" they carry my genes. But, as some (not all) evolutionists say (and even Aquinas, in his own way), if that is a reason for caring for my child, it is equally a reason to care just as much for my spouse---for without him or her, my children will have less of a chance of flourishing, and my genes go down the drain.

But maybe I should invest more in my children (love them more, care for them more) because they will eventually mind the farm and take care of me in my old age---while my spouse will be an invalid like me and not be of much use. That seems more a social point, not evolutionary. In any event, how my love for my children or my spouse could be robustly "disinterested" if the evolutionary story is true is a minor mystery. Again so much the worse for Frankfurt? Like Lipton, I am not very worried about the fact that my immense affection for my children, my strong desire to help them flourish, is ultimately not (totally) disinterested because they carry my genes.

Pages