Typically, the literature indicates three types of love, such as Eros (erotic, sexual, since Romantic age, “romantic”) Philia (Friendship and family relations) and Agape (Caritas, asexual, unselfish and altruistic), but the most exciting type is Eros. It has been hypercognized, meaning it has been excessively talked about, whether one is in love, looking for love, hurt in love, lost love, or just gossiping about scandals. Oddly, love isn’t a popular topic in the philosophy corpus, after Plato, notwithstanding some half-hearted attempts and concessions.
The distinctions between the types of love offer a deep lesson. Eros has often included sexual desire, although Plato originally distinguished erotic love (something intrinsically rational and morally pure) from sexual desire (animal nature). Despite Plato’s best efforts of etherealizing Eros, a thousand years of Christianity has degraded and abused it until it degenerated into lust and selfishness. In contrast, Agape became increasingly altruistic, giving, until theologians claimed only God had this emotion.
In the oldest treatise on love in western philosophy, Plato’s Symposium (something that has determined our ideas on desire) the courtesan Diotima tells Socrates the parents of Eros was Contrivance (cunning) and Poverty (need). Eros takes after his parents – for he is needy and always contriving to fill it. Eros knows as the god of love that love cannot be induced in another person if they don’t feel the need. So, his arrows pierce people’s flesh by making them feel a lack an ache or hunger. However, this amounts to little more than myth, and actually refers to the love of a Greek youth.
Love is often considered a positive emotion, although whoever has been in love can relate with some of its nastier, negative and anxiety provoking aspects. Since love does reveal the world as wonderful and beautiful it is easy to call love beautiful and wonderful. But it also can inspire irrational and foolish behavior. Tina Turner is right when she called love a second-hand emotion. One’s love isn’t original, for everyone travels the same road. Love indicates a physiological substratum, on top of an evolutionary past. The physiological reality of love is sexual.
However, sexual desire shouldn’t be confused with lust, which is a loaded term that presupposes condemnation, championed by sanctimonious moralists who are quick to condemn sexual activity. One of the greatest obstacles to inquiry are the fears and prejudices of morality, for they provide a certain reluctance, an inertia that avoids deep studies of the psyche. If prejudices of the heart – love and hatred – limit the mind, then they must be sacrificed for the sake of inquiry. And if Pascal is right, the heart holds reasons the mind is ignorant of, then the mind will give up the heart.
Sexual Desire is perfectly normal. It isn’t gratuitous reductionism to trace the origin of the emotion of love to the natural desire for sex, because love does, in fact, encompasses much more. However, there is an undeniable physiological basis. Sexual desire in love may or may not be explicit, and it may be frequent or sporadic. Yet the energy of love, libido, originates in the primitive and clearly biological features of human psychology. Romantic love is built and shaped and molded on the natural desires for intimate contact and the reproduction of the species.
The reasons why philosophers and theoreticians of human nature often ignore this “desire of desires,” even though its reality is so pervasive and influential, is that their attitude is merely another example of the innumerable ways people delude themselves through idealization and mystification. We have grown so intellectually sophisticated that we can no longer recognize what is obvious, because when we learn of the “great secret” we never fail to be startled by its sheer enormity. Only once when we abstain from romanticizing love do we observe the sexual drive as the “most distinct expression” of biology and then admit that the perpetual unremitting business of the biological imperative, as far as human existence is concerned, isn’t with the welfare of the individual per se, but solely with the preservation and propagation of the species. This maintenance of the species is achieved through appealing the individual’s egoism, which lies at the heart of all sexual passion, and capable of deceptively presenting the possession and enjoyment of the beloved as a supreme good to the lover.
Schopenhauer was among the earliest thinkers to define the content of human motivation as sexuality, the “invisible central point of all action and conduct,” “the cause of war and object of peace, the basis of the serious and the aim of the joke,” “the key to all hints and allusions, and the meaning of all secret signs and suggestions.” Even though the individual does not apprehend his own essence as such, the will of the species is carried forward by sexuality, and subjects the individual with two imperatives: advance his/her own interests and the interest of the human race. Sexual love, for Schopenhauer, singles out another person as the object of desire and is idealized. But this is an illusion, for the individual is being used by the biological doctrine of the species.
Imagine yourself at an airport, on a business trip, waiting for your next flight. But your thoughts on your upcoming meeting are dashed the moment a beautiful woman enters the lounger and sits across from you. She reminds you of some Botticelli painting wrapped up in 21st century garb, possibly moving you, even sadden you. Unlike the Botticelli, she’s wearing a necklace. You begin to imagine your hands are massaging her slender neck, slipping in… Then you start to wonder if she is an violinist, or a research scientist… You deliberate on whether to ask her innocent questions (the time, directions to the bathroom), then you yearn for a terrorist attack where you would help her outside to safety, to coffee and more… Because terrorist attacks are seldom, you can’t help but lean over and ask the beauty for a pen…
Later, you’re seated at a table in a small restaurant. A bowl of breadsticks sits between you, but neither of you can think of a way to grab the food with dignity so it lies unmolested. She didn’t have a pen, but she offered you a pencil. Not a violinist or a research scientist, but a recall coordinator for a major firm. By the time your plane was ready to board, you acquired a phone number and approval for dinner plans.
A waiter takes your order. You ask for the lobster and she asks for the antipasto. She’s wearing a warm gray suit, and the same necklace. Your conversation centers around hobbies, hers is rock-climbing, tho she feels dizzy on the 2nd floor of apartment buildings. Another passion of hers is dancing, and she often stays up all night. You prefer bedtime by 11:30 pm. She explains a recall situation, and although you’re unable to follow her account, you’re convinced of her intellect and compatibility.
After you pay for the dinner, you ask, with deliberate spontaneity, if it would be a good idea to return to your pad for a drink. She smiles and stares at the door. “That would be lovely, it really wold,” she claims, “but i have to get up early to catch a flight to Chicago. Maybe another time, though.” She smiles.
Your despair is held in check with a promise that she will call from Chicago, maybe on the day she is back in town. But there’s no call on the appointed day. She claims the flight was delayed, that you shouldn’t wait. There’s a pause before you confirm the worst. Things are “complicated” in her life, and she’ll call you when the coast is clear.
Your pain is normal – the force that’s strong enough to push you to reproduction cannot vanish without some collateral damage. Moreover, nobody is unlovable, your character is not repellent, nor is your face abhorrent. The potential union failed because you were unfit to produce a balanced child with that woman. One day you will meet someone who will find you wonderful (because your chin and theirs make a good combination). Forgive your rejector – she might’ve appreciated your finer qualities, but her will-to-live didn’t. Therefore we ought to respect nature’s edict against procreation that is the message in every rejection. You may be beset with melancholy, and take walks by the river and sit on the bench overlooking it.
Is Schopenhauer right, that love but a clever way of tricking people into multiplying and contributing to the survival of the species? Is the attraction between two people merely the expression of the will, that always attempts to endure through the procreation and reproduction of the species? Does not the result, the progeny, confirm the endless hunger for existence? Are we doomed to interpret our existence in rational purposes, in order to invent purposes and continue under such false pretenses that conveniently upholds rationality?
There are hardwired origins for sexual desire, and some psychologists point at certain proportions and traits that serve as innate triggers for sexual desire. Men and women judge one another subconsciously, whether the woman’s hips are wide enough to bear children, or whether the male has the features that is worth passing down to children. During ovulation, women experience sexual fantasies with other men, and are more prone to cheating on their partners. Hence, there exists a chemistry beyond actual compatibility, backgrounds, beliefs, values, etc. Although there is a distinction between infatuation and love, between finding someone attractive and falling in love, it is grounded in biological realities – not some cloud-cuckoo-land of simplistic romanticism or obscurantist cock and bull that it is a “mystery.”
Love isn’t ineffable or indescribable, for it is an emotion, which means it also has an intentional structure, a way that puts the world one experiences in order. The Intentional Structure has to do with putting one’s beloved in a special position. The intentional structure of love allows the lover to see and appreciate all sorts of charms and virtues in the beloved. This is the process Stendhal called “crystallization” in his book on Love. Therefore, love can be described, and its description refers to the beloved. However, this description ends in an irresolvable paradox, and that is a topic for another blog.