Love is one of the most profound emotions known to human beings. There are many kinds of love, but many people seek its expression in a romantic relationship with a compatible partner (or partners). For these individuals, romantic relationships comprise one of the most meaningful aspects of life, and are a source of deep fulfillment.
Determining whether a particular person is suitable as a potential mate, and whether a connection reflects temporary infatuation or true love, can challenging, but research suggests that there are revealing clues in behavior.
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This essay focuses on personal love, or the love of particular personsas such. Part of the philosophical task in understanding personal loveis to distinguish the various kinds of personal love. For example, theway in which I love my wife is seemingly very different from the way Ilove my mother, my child, and my friend. This task has typicallyproceeded hand-in-hand with philosophical analyses of these kinds ofpersonal love, analyses that in part respond to various puzzles aboutlove. Can love be justified? If so, how? What is the value of personallove? What impact does love have on the autonomy of both the lover andthe beloved?
Maintaining the distinctions among eros, agape, andphilia becomes even more difficult when faced withcontemporary theories of love (including romantic love) andfriendship. For, as discussed below, some theories of romantic loveunderstand it along the lines of the agape tradition ascreating value in the beloved (cf. Section 4.2), and other accounts of romantic love treat sexual activity as merelythe expression of what otherwise looks very much like friendship.
The second criticism involves a substantive view concerning love. Partof what it is to love someone, these opponents say, is to have concernfor him for his sake. However, union views make such concernunintelligible and eliminate the possibility of both selfishness andself-sacrifice, for by doing away with the distinction between myinterests and your interests they have in effect turned your interestsinto mine and vice versa (Soble 1997; see also Blum 1980,1993). Some advocates of union views see this as a point in theirfavor: we need to explain how it is I can have concern for peopleother than myself, and the union view apparently does this byunderstanding your interests to be part of my own. And Delaney,responding to an apparent tension between our desire to be lovedunselfishly (for fear of otherwise being exploited) and our desire tobe loved for reasons (which presumably are attractive to our lover andhence have a kind of selfish basis), says (1996, p. 346):
As this criticism of the union view indicates, many find caring aboutyour beloved for her sake to be a part of what it is to love her. Therobust concern view of love takes this to be the central and definingfeature of love (cf. Taylor 1976; Newton-Smith 1989; Soble 1990, 1997;LaFollette 1996; Frankfurt 1999; White 2001). As Taylor puts it:
One might also question whether Velleman and Badhwar make proper useof their examples of loving your meddlesome relation or someone whohas died. For although we can understand these as genuine cases oflove, they are nonetheless deficient cases and oughttherefore be understood as parasitic on the standard cases. Readily toaccommodate such deficient cases of love into a philosophical analysisas being on a par with paradigm cases, and to do so without somespecial justification, is dubious.
A third kind of view of love understands love to be a distinctive modeof valuing a person. As the distinction between eros andagape in Section 1 indicates, there are at least two ways to construe this in terms ofwhether the lover values the beloved because she is valuable, orwhether the beloved comes to be valuable to the lover as a result ofher loving him. The former view, which understands the lover asappraising the value of the beloved in loving him, is thetopic of Section 4.1, whereas the latter view, which understands her as bestowingvalue on him, will be discussed in Section 4.2.
Velleman (1999, 2008) offers an appraisal view of love, understandinglove to be fundamentally a matter of acknowledging and responding in adistinctive way to the value of the beloved. (For a very differentappraisal view of love, see Kolodny 2003.) Understanding this morefully requires understanding both the kind of value of the beloved towhich one responds and the distinctive kind of response to such valuethat love is. Nonetheless, it should be clear that what makes anaccount be an appraisal view of love is not the mere fact that love isunderstood to involve appraisal; many other accounts do so, and it istypical of robust concern accounts, for example (cf. the quote fromTaylor above, Section 3). Rather, appraisal views are distinctive inunderstanding love to consist in that appraisal.
In articulating the kind of value love involves, Velleman, followingKant, distinguishes dignity from price. To have a price, asthe economic metaphor suggests, is to have a value that can becompared to the value of other things with prices, such that it isintelligible to exchange without loss items of the same value. Bycontrast, to have dignity is to have a value such thatcomparisons of relative value become meaningless. Material goods arenormally understood to have prices, but we persons have dignity: nosubstitution of one person for another can preserve exactly the samevalue, for something of incomparable worth would be lost (and gained)in such a substitution.
Given this, Velleman claims that love is similarly a response to thedignity of persons, and as such it is the dignity of the object of ourlove that justifies that love. However, love and respect are differentkinds of responses to the same value. For love arrests not ourself-love but rather
This understanding of the selectivity of love as something that can beexplained but not justified is potentially troubling. For weordinarily think we can justify not only my loving you rather thansomeone else but also and more importantly the constancy of my love:my continuing to love you even as you change in certain fundamentalways (but not others). As Delaney (1996, p. 347) puts the worry aboutconstancy:
The issue here is not merely that we can offer explanations of theselectivity of my love, of why I do not love schmucks; rather, atissue is the discernment of love, of loving and continuing tolove for good reasons as well as of ceasing to love for good reasons.To have these good reasons seems to involve attributing differentvalues to you now rather than formerly or rather than to someone else,yet this is precisely what Velleman denies is the case in making thedistinction between love and respect the way he does.
More generally, a proponent of the bestowal view needs to be muchclearer than Singer is in articulating precisely what a bestowal is.What is the value that I create in a bestowal, and how can my bestowalcreate it? On a crude Humean view, the answer might be that the valueis something projected onto the world through my pro-attitudes, likedesire. Yet such a view would be inadequate, since the projectedvalue, being relative to a particular individual, would do notheoretical work, and the account would essentially be a variant ofthe robust concern view. Moreover, in providing a bestowal account oflove, care is needed to distinguish love from other personal attitudessuch as admiration and respect: do these other attitudes involvebestowal? If so, how does the bestowal in these cases differ from thebestowal of love? If not, why not, and what is so special about lovethat requires a fundamentally different evaluative attitude thanadmiration and respect?
Nonetheless, there is a kernel of truth in the bestowal view: there issurely something right about the idea that love is creative and notmerely a response to antecedent value, and accounts of love thatunderstand the kind of evaluation implicit in love merely in terms ofappraisal seem to be missing something. Precisely what may be missedwill be discussed below in Section 6.
Given these problems with the accounts of love as valuing, perhaps weshould turn to the emotions. For emotions just are responses toobjects that combine evaluation, motivation, and a kind ofphenomenology, all central features of the attitude of love.
By focusing on such emotionally complex histories, emotion complexviews differ from most alternative accounts of love. For alternativeaccounts tend to view love as a kind of attitude we take toward ourbeloveds, something we can analyze simply in terms of our mental stateat the moment. By ignoring this historical dimension of love in providing an accountof what love is, alternative accounts have a hard time providingeither satisfying accounts of the sense in which our identities asperson are at stake in loving another or satisfactory solutions toproblems concerning how love is to be justified (cf. Section 6, especially the discussion of fungibility).
One way to understand the question of why we love is as asking forwhat the value of love is: what do we get out of it? One kind ofanswer, which has its roots in Aristotle, is that having lovingrelationships promotes self-knowledge insofar as your beloved acts asa kind of mirror, reflecting your character back to you (Badhwar,2003, p. 58). Of course, this answer presupposes that we cannotaccurately know ourselves in other ways: that left alone, our sense ofourselves will be too imperfect, too biased, to help us grow andmature as persons. The metaphor of a mirror also suggests that ourbeloveds will be in the relevant respects similar to us, so thatmerely by observing them, we can come to know ourselves better in away that is, if not free from bias, at least more objective thanotherwise. 2b1af7f3a8