What Is Love?

Sunday, February 14, 2021
First Aired: 
Sunday, April 22, 2012

What Is It

It may seem doubtful that philosophers have much to tell us about love (beyond their love of wisdom). Surely it is the poets who have the market cornered when it comes to deep reflection on the nature of love. John and Ken question the notion that love cannot be captured by the light of reason by turning their attention to the philosophy of love with philosopher-poet Troy Jollimore from CSU Chico. Troy is the author of Love’s Vision, as well as two collections of poems: At Lake Scugog and 2006's Tom Thomson in Purgatory, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. This program was recorded live at the Mill Valley Public Library, just north of San Francisco. 

Listening Notes

Many people have claimed (at least once) that they are in love, and it is a theme in countless books and songs. But what is love? Is it rational or irrational? John and Ken agree right off the bat that it’s a complicated concept. Troy Jollimore, philosophy professor, poet, and author of Love’s Vision, is invited to the conversation to puzzle with them.

John begins with the million dollar question: “What is love?” Troy responds by saying that love is an emotion, but there are more than simple feelings involved. Love is also a perception of value and a commitment of will. Feelings come and go, but along with this ebb is a consistency of decision to be devoted to someone. 

Next, Ken wonders how subject love is to reasons. He describes a few of the reasons why he loves his wife; she’s smart, beautiful, and cares about animals. But if those qualities are the reasons why he loves his wife, Ken wonders, then why wouldn’t he begin to love someone else who had more of the same qualities? And why don’t other people love his wife if they agree that his reasons are good ones? Troy calls these two scenarios the trading up problem and the universality problem. He insists that love is rational, but not in the coldly calculated, economic way of comparison that we usually associate with rationality. He categorizes love is a type of perception which is effected by perspective; to a degree, love is actually “blind,” but this does not mean that it is irrational, because all of Ken’s reasons for loving his wife are still good ones.  Although Ken, John, and Troy mostly discuss reciprocal romantic love, they also touch upon friendship, the love a parent has for a child, unrequited love, and the case of arranged marriages.  

The last audience comment wistfully compares love to a revolution. Both starts with an idea, come about because something is missing (either in one’s life or in the state of a country), and no two are the same. John finds this comparison apt, and Ken continues by commenting how love is special in that it allows one person to see another in their full, unique particularity. Troy agrees, proclaiming love to be the cure for solipsism.

  • Roving Philosophical Reporter (Seek to 6:10): In this segment, the audience is made privy to two highly personal, real life love stories. One is about love found through the ordeal of a life-threatening medical emergency, and the other is about love lost after a deadly robbery at gunpoint.
  • 60-Second Philosopher (Seek to 48:36): First bemoaning the fact that “love is boring unless you’re in it,” Ian Shoales briefly describes a few spectacular love stories about romance-induced pity and punishment from Greek and Roman gods. He then proceeds to call to mind some of the most famous couples from popular culture.


Comments (9)

Zoospec's picture


Friday, January 15, 2021 -- 12:39 PM

What is love?

What is love?
It is simple. One molecular cluster connects with the other to try to create a more viable system for the next generation of clusters.

Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Thursday, February 11, 2021 -- 10:44 PM

Love is human in the sense

Love is human in the sense discussed here. It has a context of time, place and community.

It seems more elusive than hate, but not apossite to it or any other feeling.

Love is a feeling for sure. It is a projection through memory. It is emotional without its own category. Jealousy, lust, power, regret, grief, peace...there seems no end to the emotions and other feelings with which it can mix.

Love is not the end all. It is fickle. To love is to be vulnerable.

I don't know if solipsism is possible with love, but I think I have loved and I still have worries I am alone.

When a loved one dies l have never felt more alone. Yet I persist and other emotions persist, but love is gone. Did I make it up...I don't know.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, February 28, 2021 -- 12:36 PM

Just trying to ketchup,

Just trying to ketchup, catsup, er catchup---yeah, that's what I'm talking about. Long absence from this delightful venue. Words and meanings are so, ambivalent ( rwo-sided): ambidextrous ( two handed); unilateral ( one-sided).Love,for example. The word does not mean much. If I say I love lobster
thermador, the expression means nothing. For two reasons: 1. I have never eaten the dish. 2. Loving food is irrelevant...the objective is avoidance of starvation,not some higher-order humanistic sort of transcendent experience .You can't have love without hate. Seems a paradox. A few thousand years of civilization affirm this. So...,is love meaningless? No. Do we really know what we are talking about when we talk about love? More-or-less, yes. Still, it is a paradox---triadox ---- quadradox. You choose.
Or, reject... we vocalize the doxical aspects--- to make each other feel better. And meet social expectations---something Davidson called propositional attitude. It does not pay the rent...does not foster world peace...

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, March 7, 2021 -- 12:28 PM

I guess my understanding of

I guess my understanding of philosophy is all wrong. Love of wisdom? I have never thought so. Why? Well, wisdom is ephemeral. Subjective. More in the eye of the beholder. Like, uh, beauty. Maybe, just maybe, it depends on the meaning of sophistic, or, sophism. I once knew a man who hated sophism.
Said he did. Said it was never acceptable. So, is sophism the love of wisdom? Or a love of knowledge?
Was my older antagonist's dislike all about wisdom or knowledge? Did he even know what HE was lalking about?

Seems to me, wisdom is much more ephemeral than knowledge. If love of knowledge is more about
philosophy than love of wisdom, then it seems Jack Baird did not know what he was talking about. So, what's it going to be? What is the difference among wisdom and knowledge? It is not, you see, a matter of 'between'. How many ways can there be? Aris-tot-tel; So-crates and Pla-too were primitives.
They muddled through, best they could. Giants? No. Pygmies... Those have always preceded giants.
Seems to me...

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, March 7, 2021 -- 12:35 PM

Or, less philosophically,

Or, less philosophically, what is love? Five feet of heaven in a ponytail. The cutest ponytail, that sways with a wiggle, when she walks.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, March 19, 2021 -- 3:30 PM

There did not appear to be

There did not appear to be anywhere to add this comment, in current discussion. So, I'll put it here. Something about happiness. Finland. Another one of those Scandinavian countries: Number 1. In happiness. I have commented on conditions in Sweden---their social democracy---their level of content---and anything, everything else one might want to entertain. i don't need to speculate on happiness in Scandinavia. It is self-evident. I don't know about Alaska either. It is cold, I hear. It can be cold in Canada---I know. Happiness runs in a circular motion...
We have a newscaster here from Canada. He seems to have forgotten where he came from.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, March 22, 2021 -- 7:07 AM

As we go along in this life

As we go along in this life we are given, it becomes clear that certain of our concepts, imaginings and perceptions resist definition. I have briefly remarked elsewhere on the illusiveness of truth, and notions about a totality of circumstances. In a similar sense, it seems to me that totality applies to what we call love. Love embodies other of what Davidson called propositional attitudes: belief; desire; expectation;and so on. Perhaps key, though, is trust, because no matter how strong we may imagine our love to be, it blows up; breaks down; falls apart and wears out when we lose trust. Even parental love, I think the most powerful, may not endure if trust is abused and lost. And, romantic love sours dramatically if trust is betrayed. Courtfoom television aptly demonstrates this, whether it is otherwise absurd or somehow believable. So, love is both simple and complex. As with so much of life.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Saturday, June 19, 2021 -- 5:56 AM

Like desire, belief,

Like desire, belief, expectation, ideology and several others,I think love is a propositional attitude, after Davidson, et. al. There is quid pro quo entailed. And, there is no such love as unconditional love, accordingly. Even among our domesticated animal friends, their love for us is conditioned on our kind and gentle treatment of them. If we change that treatment to cruelty, they wil fear us. Or worse.
This is how it works. Anything more profound is impossible.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, February 21, 2022 -- 12:14 PM

Further reflection led to the

Further reflection led to the following thesis. If sensoria lead to things such as belief; desire; expectation; and other such propositions, is love much different? Because, it seems to me, many of those propositions are essential for engagement and cultivation of that emotion we call love. If any are neglected, abused or lost, love withers. Dies. Such is the fragility of love. It just cannot weather any sort of neglect.

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