Love is considered the most engaging positive emotional and mental state which ranges from the simple affection between two parties to pleasure. However, while the definition of love is easy to decipher, many people do not know its meaning or the various ways in which it is manifested in daily life. In philosophy, the prompt, “What is love?” creates a myriad of questions, with the first concern being its status as a noun and a concept that affects everyone who is “touched” by it. The nature of love has intrigued philosophers across the ages and this essay explores how various thinkers approach its “irrationality” and create platforms for understanding it.
Love as an English word is derived from the Germanic term lubh (desire), which draws its origins from Greek terms eros, philia, and agape. Eros is probably the most overused form of love, at least in popular media, as it refers to the passionate desire for something. According to Plato, eros is a desire that stems from the particular beauty of an individual, which the “lover” consumes. For Plato, however, love that is initiated by the adoration of beauty in this world is never satisfied while we are alive since it is interchangeable from one person to the next. A consensus of the Platonic view, however, is that love has a high value compared to appetite or pure physical desire since “love,” in sense, is a reflection of the object, idea, or person.
Philia, on the other hand, is a fondness and appreciation for the other, which applies across friendships, families, political affiliations, or jobs. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle said that philia is motivated for the sake of the initiator or the other’s own sake. According to Aristotle, eros arises from our ability to share different dispositions with others on an objective platform that is mutually beneficial. The rational man, thus, is that who is happiest and able to form friendships with others who are alike in virtue. However, Aristotle also noted that when people are not too close, their friendships might also be based on utility or pleasure that is created by the company. Ultimately, for a person to be able to love, they must first love themselves, and when they do so, the sympathy and affection extends to others. Love in its nature, thus, can be said to be egotistic.
Agape is the love for God and the meaning extends to a love for humanity. Unlike eros and philia, agape is perfect love that has no need for reciprocity as advocated for by Christianity among other religious affiliations. According to Aquinas, God is the most rational being and just as Aristotle felt then He deserves one’s love and respect. In declarations such as “love thy neighbor as thyself” agape draws support from Aristotelian principles that love is egotistic, a concept that is opposed by another religious thinker, St. Augustine. Augustine claimed that there is no support for man to love themselves, and introduces the notion that it is better to give than receive. Despite the discord, a major consensus is that when it comes to agape love, having impartial respect to others and God is the ideal form of love.
Thus, the nature of love is diverse, as it can be physical, emotional, and spiritual. To some, love is ignited from something one can see, especially when they are attracted to something. This form of love encompasses things we do on a daily basis, such as caring and listening to others, as well as the rational implications of sexual gratification. However, the physical conceptualization of love is a weak precedent since if love is physical, how could one explain philia and agape? To radical behaviorists, love is observable and unobservable at the same time as it is caused by a mental state which everyone expresses differently. When one person falls in love, they can show it through positive conditions in the presence of another while in some cases, it may be hidden. According to expressionists, love is what can be expressed through language and behavior. In popular media, love is communicated through music, poetry, gifts, and sacrifices. These views reveal that while we may know of love, it is a broad topic that deserves more attention.
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