Many of us have been in love, and there have been countless great poems and popular songs written about it. So you’d think we’d all know what it is. Yet a lot of what has been written points to a deep mystery. So—as Cole Porter famously asked—what is this thing called love?
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.
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.