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 (3)

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...