Sunday, January 5, 2020
First Aired: 
Sunday, August 27, 2017

What Is It

In most if not all modern Western societies, monogamy is the dominant form of romantic relationship. In polyamorous or "open" relationships, however, each person is free to love multiple partners at once. Just as our friendships are non-exclusive, advocates of polyamory believe our romantic relationship should be too. So why do so many people find polyamory distasteful, or even despicable? Is it immoral to love more than one person at a time? Or is our society's commitment to monogamy simply a fossil of tradition that could one day be obsolete? The Philosophers welcome back Carrie Jenkins from the University of British Columbia, author of What Love Is: And What It Could Be.

Comments (11)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Wednesday, August 9, 2017 -- 3:26 PM


So, where does this come from? I understand monogamy; polyandry; polygamy and queerness. Polyamory sounds like, what's the word? Libertine (-ness) ? Not very convincing. We used to say people were promiscuous if they were of that persuasion. Is this the new defense of that animalistic behavior? Sorry. I don't get it... I have a writers group meeting to enjoy now...

Laura Maguire's picture

Laura Maguire

Monday, August 14, 2017 -- 9:38 AM

Tune in to the show and see

Tune in to the show and see if you change your mind!

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, August 18, 2017 -- 8:01 AM


Hi, Laura!
I was trying to log in to comment on the upcoming anarchy show (first aired in 2015, while I was incommunicado). Could not get in, so tried this avenue instead. Hope my comment gets posted, here goes: In this late dispensation of the human epoch, it seems to me that the anarchy thing has been tried, either intentionally or unintentionally, and found wanting. I know--- this is excruciatingly old-fashioned. But let's look at my assertion, historically and logically (if such is possible in our rationalistic world). Before there was government, there was anarchy. Fast forward to the emergence of religion and there was still repression and murder, but some semblance of order and even civilization was arising from the mire of human cruelty. Argue if you will for or against religious influence, it began to exert a level (forced) of humanity, theretofore unknown. Complexity began to rear its' ugly head, and, even with the reservations of the Church, science and technology emerged and began to further improve the human condition. Now, let's say that anarchy had ruled from pre-religious and pre-scientific times until now. Where do we suppose we would be? Certainly not on the moon; and, probably not even in outer space. Maybe not even here. And that is succinctly my point. If we have no form of governance, we have little impetus towards self-restraint.

Laura Maguire's picture

Laura Maguire

Friday, August 18, 2017 -- 9:19 AM

Hi Harold,

Hi Harold,

There does indeed seem to be a problem with comments on that page. Someone is looking into it right now, so hopefully we'll get it fixed soon. Thanks for letting us know!


Laura Maguire's picture

Laura Maguire

Friday, August 18, 2017 -- 10:27 AM

It's fixed now!

It's fixed now!

Loren Herrigstad's picture

Loren Herrigstad

Friday, September 1, 2017 -- 11:45 PM

Ian Shoales has it right

I always enjoy Ian Shoales' wrap-ups to the program. But this time, he had it right. After exploring so many complicated angles on human relationships, perhaps "bitter solitude" is in fact preferable.

Having once subscribed to the idea of soulmates, eventually settling for someone who was madly interested in me (for a moment, anyway), settling into marriage with that person only to be divorced by her four years later, followed by a rebound relationship, and a decade of solitude since — only at middle age do I now find myself coming to the conclusion that the urge toward romantic or intimate relationships in general seems to be driven by the biological imperative to reproduce. Once a person ages beyond that, at least I just wind up shaking my head, wondering what the whole thing or big deal was about in the first place — the having to possess a person, reveal ourselves to them, merge with them, always have them at home for us.

Country singer Naomi Judd once noted in a radio interview that, "Solitude is creativity's best friend." It is only in solitude that I've discovered I can write fiction, and that independently publishing it will become my next and very unexpected vocation. If I was still married, who knows what drudge job I might still be stuck in to pay the bills and satisfy the spouse. Besides, I now seem to be able to craft more satisfying relationships in fiction than I've been able to experience in the real world. The only thing missing is physical companionship or satisfaction. But as with so many other things, age is causing that to fade, too . . . and I no longer mind.

Ken Taylor's picture

Ken Taylor

Sunday, September 3, 2017 -- 11:58 AM

Solitude -- great idea

Loren Herrigsted:

I think we ought to do a show on solitude. I think it is an under appreciated thing -- especially in the age of constant connection and shallow Facebook friends.

What do you think? Wouldn't that be an interesting topic for an episode?

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Tuesday, September 12, 2017 -- 10:00 AM

follow-up comment for Ken

I second your remark concerning a show on solitude. It appears that few people know (or care) what that means. It also seems to me that privacy evokes little interest as an alternative to being constantly connected.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Saturday, December 21, 2019 -- 11:43 AM

The notion of polyamory takes

The notion of polyamory takes me back to relative childhood---I had not recently thought of or remembered the writings of Robert Rimmer: The Harrad Experiment and The Rebellion of Yale Marratt. Actually, the books belonged to my older brother and were not the sort of reading material I was suppose to have access to, at 6 and 1/2 years his junior. We humans do a lot of social experimentation, and sometimes those experiments evolve into customs, traditions and practices. There is no saying what or when we may be doing tomorrow. There is also, likewise, little that may be said about what may be scorned as depraved or praised as forward-thinking, fifty years into the near future. All one need do is look at where we were fifty years ago. It is clear: if you don't like what is happening now, just wait a bit. I won't be around. My grandchildren will. They will have the onerous task of figuring it all out. Grave new world, or the flood of inevitability?

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Sunday, December 22, 2019 -- 10:16 PM

Ray's blog is more tolerable

Ray's blog is more tolerable than this show. I don't think there was a enough skepticism or balance in the presentation or argument.

Polyamory is more complex and spotted than portrayed here. We got some inkling of that in the hierarchical vs. anarchic polyamory but that was elusive. The devil is in the details and for many people (given Ray's Blog data... most people) that is a straight-up truth. Polyamory is a moral, ethical and legal wrong. Certainly not the progressive, smart and modern choice presented by Carrie.

I may have to back track that a bit on smart. There is some data to show that intellectuals are more likely to be polyamorous. Intellectuals like to out think love in lieu of hedonism and passion. It’s not a passion that can be out-thought in my experience or in the science that I read. But what do I know?... evidently little.

If the majority of polyamory occurs in the intellectual elite, and some point toward left leaning politic as well, it is equally indulged by other data that shows conservatives have more fantasy of multiple partners, not to mention more repressive over-lording subculture for right and the more base alike.

Here’s something not presented in the show or Ray’s blog: polyamory is a privileged behavior of the powerful and financial elite. That is true in history and its modern manifestation. There is no trend toward having multiple consensual partners that can’t be explained in economic excess. We are living in a time of unprecedented living standards.

Working class societies and primitive cultures in history and prehistory have strong and primal monogamous traditions and ethics. That deserves some thought. I can’t explain it exactly. In a strong polyamorous family wouldn’t that have economic benefit? Families are messy regardless perhaps and not the ends here to the polyamorous means.

The idea of consent also is missing here. Long term studies of polyamorous relations are rare because they are rare – this needs data but again I would refer to Ray’s blog. These relations are short lived and the “primary” relationships in hierarchical polyamory take a hit. List your exceptions, they come from privilege and supposed intellectual freedom I would think… I don’t know.

Finally and most importantly, I have to see data on children… and I’m not offering up my own. I saw the recent documentary Wild Wild Country on Netflix, it was disturbing to say the least in it’s unspoken threat to children at that commune. Though it wasn’t universal and perhaps not an issue (I think it was), I don’t condone role modeling polyamory to kids at all. The whole idea of polyamory is one for mature, equal and consenting adults and no others. I’m uneasy with that kind of attitude, but I feel it strongly. Children need special liberty and protection. It is complicated but also fundamental to my thought around polyamory.

Overall… not my favorite show or topic. I will read this book and post back with exacting thought if I change at all. I’m challenged to really come up with good data or ideas that could offer up any reason to be critical.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Tuesday, December 24, 2019 -- 11:33 AM

So... I read Carrie's book -

So... I read Carrie's book - What Love Is. I am changed, but not as much or even as Professor Jenkins would have me.

There's much more going on in this book than polyamory. The scope is broad in practical, ethical and meta-ethical argument. We are living in times of science that force philosophical retreat from matters of humanity and even morality. Overall I heed the need to live and let live. Consensual behavior is between those who do it, as long as, it does not limit potential in others.

Jenkins gets the science wrong in places and takes argument without foundation. I would have her take this up with Bertrand Russell whom she visits, takes and leaves to get to a "progressive" attitude of polyamory. Polyamory is not progressive as much emblematic of the free thought and economy we live – at the moment. That can change, is changing and I’m not sure where to.

Certainly there is no science to vindicate polyamory as there is for the growing awareness and sensitivity in and around gender studies. Neuroscience is not finding difference nor refuge for having multiple romantic or sexual partners. If there is a rise or fall in polyamory it will play out in social, cultural, mimetic and memetic spheres that transcend biology.

There is nothing wrong or evil in polyamory. That is repulsive. We need to be sensitive to polyamorists lives and choice (I don’t want to get side tracked here on choice and consent – I do not believe in free will and have fundamental issues around this with respect to consent.)

There may be wrong in role modeling polyamory for those who don’t attend to it’s value. This includes family, friends and especially children. I am particularly not changed in my thought around special liberty and protection for children. That current culture should needle it’s monogamy into the Lego of childhood is no call for equal rights in marketing, family structures or legal stricture.

Let’s just get along in the spirit of the season. To that, I can sign my name.