Wednesday, February 23, 2005

On the philosophical usefullness of love.

It is an age old idea in Philosophy that man is a synthesis. And the division created by this synthesis has been the focal point of vast amounts of - particularly more modern - philosophy. Kierkegaard unites this synthesis through a leap (signifying defeated reason (Camus)), Sartre by a greater devision over the gulf of nothingness, Nietzsche accentuates the multiplicity and Foucault follows, resulting in a - at least partially, though I'm sure Cooly will quibble) - deterministic sytem, and so on; all insufficient for a satisfying union. Emotions seem to be what desires this division to be made redundant, but logic is difficult to bend to the will.

The general modern tendancy in Philosophy seem to be directed towards the creation of a dynamical system of more extensive conotations than that of Foucault, but there remains the problem of determinism. Love throughout the ages has featured in literature as that link that joins two in into one - whether that two be people (to take a Joycean reading of the commandment; love your neighbour as if he were yourself), man and the world (A little like Hess' Goldmund), the two halves of the self (good old fashion Narciscism), or any other union. Given this it is surprising that the concept of Love has not been taken up more strongly as a point of philosophical discussion.

In response to Dirda's article, The Stendhal image of the bare branch that through the eyes of one that loves it will appear to be covered with "shimmering, glittering diamonds, so that the original bough is no longer recognizable" is a love of inaction - the love does everything required. The love of the wives of Gide's "The Partoral Symphony" and "the Immoralist" are also of this nature. I take this example to show it up as contrary to sexual, or desirouse love, which spurs one to action, implying that the loved is the other. The aesthetic loves seems to be the more complete love. to contrast, Zola's Nana feels love breifly, but would seem to be feeling love more out of boredom than anything else. Camus' love is sensual, and (for example in "The Outsider") it is not just for Marie, but also for the cigarette, and the tablet of chocolate, and the sun on his body and so on. Eros is one form of love, a form of love that requires action; this is not the sum total, nor indeed the most affecting love. What I am interested in that love that makes one person see a vermin rabbit while another sees a rich duck (to augment Wittgenstein's toy) - I think it is in that love that there is the most useful philosophical concept.

It would seem a usefull conection and consideration as it allows for value in descrimination, differences between agents, a definition of what the term good refers to without having to give any examples (as Aristotle needed), and as love is never a stable nor predictable thing it would seem to fit into a dynamical system.

These are some of the traditional literary (non-philosophical) conceptions of love. And as has often been stated, philosophy follows literature. So my question for anybody who cares to put an idea forward is no longer "what is 'the good', but this: what is love?


Samuel Douglas said...

Nice work. But is it true that Love is not predictable nor stable? It may be more correct to say that Love is not predictable or stable at this point in time. As you well know there are plausible materialist accounts making use of current medical science. If the unpredictability of Love is due to our inability to track the path of oxytocin (or something like that)molecules in the brain, then in time even Love could be subsumed into the deterministic worldview. This is not something I would like to see happen. Philosophy might well follow literature, but literature is lagging behind science, and we all pretend that we need not catch up at our peril.

Anonymous said...


Cooly McCool said...

I am assuming that the 'synthetic' nature of man that you are talking about is that we consist of a biological or animal component and a 'rational' or in same way special component which is unique to us and whatever divine existence there might be. It's not just modern philosophy. I do wonder what exactly you are saying here: that most philosophy has a dualist notion of man and that love is a 'satisfied union' between the two? Or is the union you are talking about between the emotional and not rational man and an exterior supplement? In most conceptions of your 'synthetic' man, emotion is posited as being part of the biological element of man which must be kept in check by the 'soul' or that they are part of the same 'soul' as reason and are not subservient to it. Either way, emotion is not in this framework for the philosophers that you have mentioned outside the synthetic components to be in such a privaleged position as to desire the union between the two, or if it were, it becomes a third synthetic component, such as in Plato.

If you are discribing love as a union between each of the components of man, then you must admit the biological element - you must consider the biology of love which the emotions and/or reason must augment to create what we call love. If not, then are you talking solely of an intellectual love akin to 'divine contemplation' which is then not a union of man's synthetic parts, but the privileging of one part over the others?

You state: 'Love ... [is] that link that joins two into one.' Is love what creates the synthesis that is man? Is it what either makes more complex or makes more simple the state of being human? I am thinking this is what you are trying to establish.

Also, your comment 'philosophy follows literature' does seem a little unusual - there must be something of the philosophical in the literature if philosophy was to follow it? I grant happily that philosophy is the conservative descriptions of the historical moment, but I wonder how literature is any different. That the two often occupy the same space might hint at the fact that it doesn't occupy some superior position. I think you have to follow Althusser's lead and grant that all fields have a relative autonomy, but are in synchronic dialogue with one another, or else you will need to reduce literature as following the economy.

michael said...

To Sam; If love were to be reduced to nothing more than results of oxytocin then riddle me this: why are we conscious? Indeed it would seem possible the way science is going that one day it will be able to explain emotions like this, but this method seems to be against common sense. This I am aware is not in itself an argument against the position, but it is a reason to argue against the position if I can. At the moment I like to think that it is possible to do so. Your point is the central reason why I have brought up this subject – my position has become reactionary.

To “Anonymous”; I don’t trust a chef who doesn’t eat his own cooking.

To Cooly; my emphasis was not on the dualistic picture which you took so heartily, but on the multiplicity picture – though for a description of the usefulness of love it is not too different the multiplicity model does give a larger amount of room for illustration and discussion. It is from the idea of Man as a multiplicity rather than a dualism that I am working from because this seems the predominant idea. Further, it is a picture of Man in the World as a multiplicity. I put this in because if the world can be seen as part of the individual then there is no longer a division of the mind that can perceive and act upon the ideas it has of the world – this is combining the existentialist problem of the duality of man with the otherness of the world, and trying to make it nothing more than just another of those multiplicities already found in Man.

The idea that philosophy follows literature was not of my own making – I thought it was a generally held view. To argue that for philosophy to be able to follow literature there must be some philosophy in it is not entirely logical. There was no life and now there is - does this mean that we were mistaken and that actually there has always been life? I really am not trying to make claims about literature and its relation to philosophy, but merely using an example from literature I thought useful for philosophy.

You pervert my words in your quotation. “Love throughout the ages has featured … as that link that joins two in into one” is what I said. This is not to say that the literary usage of the term love is the correct one - I am mearly citing an example as to how it has been used and saying that to something used in this manner by literature seems to be worth looking into philosophical, as it would seem to be an idea relevant to much philosophy over the ages. The multiplicity rather than the duality picture solves a number of your queries, but I agree not all.

The interesting point you brought up is whether love is the binder of the multiplicity or the single creator of the multiplicity that is man, and the side point (which I myself asked, but as yet have not got an answer) what is love; is it a part of Man, or is it inate within man but not a part, or is it external to man? I was putting forward the concept of love as a philosophical tool and asking what that tool was, like using something heavy to break something, and then enquireing as to the nature of that something heavy. Love has worked in literature - I thought it might work in philosophy. I pointed particularly to the aesthetic form of love over the erotic form because it is a love that does not accentuate the divide as erotic love does, but accentualtes the unity (as is used in literature). This accentualtion of the unity is from the literature and tradition of our culture, hence these references.

From above if love is external to man any gains made by my system are simultaneously lost as “love” takes the place of the eariler “World”. This same hold in connection with the idea of love being innate but separate. So what I must argue for is a love that is either one of these multiplicities of something that is present in all. If it is present in all I come dangerously close to having a Forms argument, which leads to an absolute conception of love, that is, a conception unrelated – external – to the individual. Obviousely this is not a conclusion I want. This leaves me with the idea of love being a fraction of those multiplicities involved in the making of me. This ends up looking very much like Nietzsche’s system of souls in their struggle towards power, with the specification that love is the soul that goes at the top, ending in a nirvana-esque picture at the end; an ethic of quietism.

This may seem like what I argued for before when I chose aesthetic love over erotic, but there is a difference that I want to draw. This difference may not exist in the terms I have used, but this is a failing of the terms I have chosen and not me creating something from a misunderstanding of the terms I have used. The difference is that Nietzsche’s ordering of souls leads eventually to an internal quietism. The all inclusive love that I described earlier does not need to become internally quiet, indeed if it did could it still be said to love? This should answer your question concerning divine contemplation.

So, if you want me to make a claim as to the nature of love that I am trying to achieve through this argument it is this; an emotion that accepts, but is not the purpose of, life. So any self-examination is not purely of the traditional self but of everything known, and attempting to know everything knowable, and even to discover what is unknowable and strive to know that too. Kierkegaard states that self love is the grounds of all love; I want to expand this and say that self love is the only love because there is nothing truly external to the self.

Cooly McCool said...

Whether it be a duality, or a multiplicity, you are still making a statement about the nature of man as consisting of distinct parts which must be brought to work in unison. You now appear to be making the claim: that love is the value by which one judges all things, and as we can only experience the phenomenous world, the world consists entirely of the values we create. One who has self-love values elements of the world as the objects of his love. This is different from the soul-glue argument, and I wonder if you need the rather hard to dicipher arguments pertaining to man's 'multiplicity' to maintain it. It is a description of love that I am happier with. It needs not the erotic/aesthetic love distinction either.

It is not illogical to postulate there being a bit of the philosophical in literature if philosophy is to follow it. Infact it is probably more illogical not to. The issue is is that 'philosophy follows literature' is an ahistorical statement that is next to meaningless, as it asserts a chain of cause and effect that ignores the nature of its own subject matter. History isn't nicely linear and one things doesn't nicely follow another. Why does either exist? Its open ended. The only place where philosophy does follow literature in this way is if you are playing Sid Meier's Civalization.

Editor said...

Mr Pender - Would you please refrain from simply dismissing suggestions out of hand with a glib remark. It is an established tradition of our discipline that we afford other's thoughts a certain amount of respect, especially when the thoughts are those of established authorities (or suggestions that one should defer to authorities).
In future it is requested, of all contributors and commentators, that allegations of irrelevance display a rational as to why the comment is irrelevant.

michael said...

Dear Editor, By a reference to a book which is writen on the subject of erotic love (not by internal dvision but by the classification I have already set up) with no more specific refence than that for me to know what particular section of the book they are thinking of is next to impossible (remebering that as far as I could see it was already outside of the discussion). and secondly if someone does not lay claim to their "incitefull" comment then I have a tendancy to doubt both the seriousness of it and the value of it.

So as you can see the comment was both irrelevant and no-serious. Thus i see no harm in dismissing it with a glib remark. I will draw your attention to Heidegger's dismissal of Kant's refutation of Anselm's ontological argument, which he claimed was "neieve and barbarian" before you dress me down in the name of "your tradition".

Cooly; to dismiss the need for the erotic/aesthetic division as you do sugest to me that you have not understood it. Similarly with your value comment, and your multiplicity comment - essentially you have missed my conception of self that is implicit in what I have said. Can I suggest that you reread and get back to me.

I am quite happy with the thought that the statement philosophy follows literature is meaningless - as I said it really is not my concern.

Cooly McCool said...

Ok, if I have misunderstood, then it is because your argument is very elliptical - statements are made without any justifications, but I accept this is the nature of the format of blogs. You are not being asked to write a thesis on the topic simply for an informal discussion.

If I have misunderstood, then on a re-reading, you are actually still presenting what I am calling the 'soul-glue' argument for love. I would then ask if this is a more accurate statement of your argument: That love is a life-affirming emotion which unifies the self by a form of self-examination.

You seem to be very clear on the point that love is just a feeling, rather than a value, but I wonder if it can be the point of reference to understand the world under these conditions. Surely it must be a value if it is to create the 'understanding' of the self you hope to achieve.

Further, I am confused about how this differs from an Aristotelian or Thomistic argument for divine contemplation. You are positing a privaleged sphere of human existence that if turned to consider itself alone removed from the imperfect elements of the world (or the self), produces a more 'pure' or valuable state. You seem to be substituting 'love' for 'God' and including some kiekegaardian existentialism.

Also, if love is an emotion, why dismiss out of hand the biology of love, as there is obviously complex physical phenomena at play in 'love' construed as an emotion. If you are trying to escape scientific arguments by pursuing a form of romanticism which you appear to see as 'the cure' for the illness of rational philosophy, then my suggestion of love as a value does a better job of avoiding them. You would however then be drawn into the 'sickness' you are working against.