Friday, August 31, 2012

The Book of Love: Introduction

The topic of love has not been addressed by philosophers nearly as much as it deserves. It is evidently one of the most important aspects, some would say the single most important aspect, of human existence, and yet one must search far and wide to find mention of it in the works of great philosophers. Plato is a notable exception (from his ideas we derive the term "platonic love"), but by and large philosophers seem not to have regarded love as being of great philosophical interest.

Love has always been of great philosophical interest to me, at least since around 1989, when, as I mentioned after my daughter was born, I came to the conclusion that the ultimate meaning of life could be found in the phenomenon of love, as an irreducible good for which no further explanation is possible or necessary.

In the late 90s, I briefly toyed with the idea of writing a philosophy book about love, particularly the variety known as eros (which does not, as I shall explain in a later post, mean the same thing as sexual love, though there is certainly overlap), and even more particularly the subcategory of eros that is the painful experience of unrequited love.

Since my separation this year, I have been thrust into a sort of existential relationship space which has given me cause to revisit and examine afresh my ideas about love in all its forms. The novel I wrote this summer, in fact, largely revolves around these themes (though it is also about much more than that). Even more recently I have begun to revive my old idea of writing a book on the philosophy of love, with special focus on the special problem of unrequited love. What I am doing right now in this blog is to attempt to start fleshing out my thoughts on the subject, in preparation for the writing of such a book.

You may well ask why unrequited love should be of such special significance from a philosophical point of view. One reason is precisely the fact that it is unhappy, and anything unhappy can lead one to become philosophical. I should also point out that when I say unrequited love, I mean something more than the transitory and superficial phenomena that we call crushes and infatuations. I have experienced plenty of those, but I have had two experiences in my life of a more lasting and profound type of unrequited love (feelings and experiences which I drew upon in the writing of my novel), and it is this more serious type of psychological suffering that might well cause one to wax philosophical (as well as wax poetical).

But it is not just unrequited love that I wish to examine and analyze for meaning. I am also recently much more interested in examining the nature of things like friendship, eros in general, platonic love, courtly love, and the phenomenon which psychologists call "limerence" and which the rest of us call being "in love" (or romantic love). I am particularly interested in examining the relationships among these various but interrelated phenomena, and in showing how many of our common conceptions about them might be mistaken and therefore counterproductive.

These are all very real phenomena and I don't think they can be readily dismissed by philosophers of the human condition. Each of these phenomena tells us something, not only about ourselves, but also about reality. Human beings are certainly a part of reality, and the things we feel, and even the things we invent, can all provide clues as to the nature of the world that produces us. The philosopher's task is to start with the familiar facts of human experience and to dig down through all the layers to discover what these phenomena can tell us about the nature of ourselves and of the world in which we live.

Though philosophy inevitably and necessarily involves some level of abstraction, my own style of philosophizing tends to be more personal and essayistic. I will no doubt draw upon and make reference to my own experiences, but I will not reveal the actual names of other people in order to respect both their privacy and my own. This project is not intended to be a confessional but a philosophical meditation. It is just that I like to relate my philosophical speculation to concrete experience as much as possible.

To some degree, I have already devoted much writing, in my novel, to speculation, meditation, and analysis of and on these subjects, but nonfiction writing provides a different means to think about and present the topics and issues. Fiction (including poetry) and nonfiction can address things in complementary ways and can work together to create a fuller picture. In both modes of writing, my discussion of these topics is meant to be exploratory rather than dogmatic. I am not providing definitive answers (as though I had them) as much as I am simply asking questions and exploring concepts in a search for understanding and truth. In this ongoing series of posts, I hope to begin painting a fuller picture of love, its nature and its meaning and its possibilities, not only for others but also for myself.

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