What Is Love?
Ken Wais 3/3/14
This idea is perhaps the most difficult of the human conceptions I’ve examined thus far. We have looked at Perfection and Beauty from an Existentialist perspective and found them both to be artificial human impositions on our external reality. So, what about Love? Well, it doesn’t seem to me that love is really a contrived idea. I know that I love my daughter, though she has many, many times tested that love. No, love is a much more personal notion we hold. It has various instantiations. Though, strictly speaking in 19th century English grammar, love, the noun was only to be used in reference to living beings, not inanimate objects. Today, this rule is all but abandoned. In light of this, it is clear there are various forms of love. We can love ourselves, our creative works, our possessions, or love ideas, objects, and for sure other human beings. Love doesn’t seem to be an idea that we’ve created. It appears much more like something that results from our physical existence in reality. We develop love, we learn to love, as we learn to hate. The concept of love certainly seems to be a result of our perceptions, not a notion we design and create in the abstract. We know that love is an emotional state of being. Beyond this, love seems to be genetically rooted in our species. The mother seems to be genetically inclined to protect and care for her child from birth. The father just as innately appears to be genetically defined to provide and support his offspring from birth. But, do these common sense notions really define love as a perception? We all know of counterexamples to these behaviors. Instinctual behavior on the part of animals appears as love to us, yet biologists have shown it is nothing of the sort. A mother cow that suckles its young is not expressing love, but a genetically defined propensity to care for offspring. If we view love from a perspective of evolutionary theory, it would be a response to our environment in the quest to survive. We form affections and bonds not because of love, but because we seek to survive in a world that can easily extinguish us. If that were the case, we could call love, associations driven by the physical need to keep living. The error of that view is obvious since people associate other than for the need to survive.
Let’s divide love into two categories: Personal love and Universal love. What we will see from this dichotomy that Love too is a synthetic human conception and not a part of the object existence.
Love as a personal experience can be a wide variety of states of being. What is important to note here is it is an experience we perceive. It is an emotional experience. We can’t love anything we have not experienced. It is also an experience that requires we have knowledge of the object of affection. I can’t love the recipe for an exotic meal if I don’t know what it contains, all quite obvious. So, to have a personal love or a state of being of love, we must know what it is that we love. But greater than this, we must experience this state of being. So, to love the physical experience of a woman’s body, we must have the experience of sexual union with her. To relish a meal we must experience the consumption of the dish. Add to this, we must have the knowledge that we want to have this experience. That is, we must have desire. Desire, ah, there is a new noun! Prerequisite to a personal experience of love is the penchant to have. A person can have the yen to play an instrument, and practice, study, read about the instrument and finally achieve the desire to play that instrument and thus love his ability to play the instrument. This personal experience has formed a state of mind in him of love for the ability and music he creates. He loves being a musician. This is personal love and it is real. We have these experiences all the time. But, there is another personal love all of us know. That is the love other human beings. Here we get into a much more difficult form of love to depict. We know that this form of personal love has many expressions; love of family, sex partners, and close friends, even intellectual equals, etc. We can include the same comments for non-human companions like pets. I believe that all personal love is motivated by the desire to form a union with others to assuage our knowledge of our utter being alone in the world. You might recall from earlier articles in this series, we are conscious beings aware of our being alone in our minds in a world without meaning. Our human condition motivates us to seek out others to commune with. Why we have this inbred desire to socialize and unite, Existentialism doesn’t really concern itself with, it accepts the inclination as describing the human species. Herein lies the seed of desire that leads to love for others than ourselves. This proclivity is not contrived, it is very, very real. We actually do need to seek love and to be in turn loved. That it springs from the natural state of being alone (as Jean-Paul Sartre would have said) is irrelevant. It is fraught with much trying, despair, deceit, emotional pain and failure. But, is this desire to unite with others really Love? If this is true, then we can define Personal Love as the following:
Personal Love is the desire that leads human beings to seek out and become a part of the state of being of other human beings.
The state of being means to share the life and thoughts of others like we do with ourselves. Then Personal Love is the lifelong process of doing this—seeking out others that we can share our thoughts, emotions, strivings and knowledge with. This love is something the individual does most of his or her life. This seems to me not a false and architected idea. So, what of Universal Love?
Here we tread on weak and unsupported ground. We have all heard such clichés as the love of your fellow man…love conquers all…the love of freedom…love binds our hearts together…we must show our love for the environment in which we live…And many other trite barbs of that sort. No such love exist and is most definitely a contrivance of the idealistic philosophic set. There isn’t even love of your country, race, ethnic group or any other non-personal collection of human beings. Since this might appear odd to some, consider this, how can you entertain the idea of loving someone, whom you never met, don’t have any personal knowledge of, just because this person say speaks your language of is of the same race as you? Suppose you’re told there are 20 Americans in some state in the U.S. that you should love because...well because...uh.. they’re fellow Americans. You then find out all 20 are convicted murderers, do you love them? Of course not right? Our love cannot be made universal based on such contrived ideas. Love is a personal experience. We can love family members because we come to know family members through experience. In fact, people that have relatives they’ve never known, find it hard, if impossible to have this sense of identifying with them as described above.
What these ideas are really expressing is the very negative idea of human self-aggrandizement. Take the idea we should love our fellow man, because we empathize with ourselves that is we have intense affection for our state of being. We should have the same affection for other human beings. This seemingly common sense logic is flawed. There is nothing in the minds of men that requires this. It is prescribed and thus synthetic. I find nothing in my mind that implies this conclusion. Moreover, there is no reason to believe any such idea can obtain a perceptual state in our minds. Or take Love itself as a concept, this surely doesn’t exist in reality. This means of course there is no universal Hate too. It too is prescribed. You can’t hate poverty, injustice, oppression ad infinitum. These are conceptualizations. You can hate the people that perpetrate them for sure, but not the ideas. Teachings that avow a belief in universal love or even just love of inanimate objects of reality like nature, the environment, our galaxy and so on are contrivances. Yes, they are designed for many reasons. For so-called Great Religions, this Love may have been espoused to bind the believers together, though it has been used to lull conquered peoples into servitude. Whatever the reasons behind the idea, it is far removed from objective reality. Again to show the synthetic nature of Universal Love, look at Universal Hate (if any such idea exists by the way). To hate let’s say the ravages of natural disasters, is without meaning. You can’t hate events that have no human intentional cause. If love in the personal sense is a desire to become a part of another individual’s existence, then hate would be the desire to not become a part of another individual's existence. These sentiments are very real. Incidentally, we don't have to have the desire to be a part of our closest relatives lives, since we are usually born into their lives. This condition generates this emotional state of love, and when it isn't present, biologically related people don't have love as it is defined above. To return to the comparison, when love is applied in the abstract, it loses all meaning.
So can sum it up, by noting that love in the form of personal experience is a real state of being. It is without meaning to the objective world we live in, but we do feel and express it. It is our attempt to cope with our state of being in the world. That is, to eschew being alone against a cold, meaningless external reality. It like all parts of existence is without purpose too. But, it does exist. But, Love as a conceptual object does not exist, never has and never will. It is part of the incessant delusional propensity the human beings have for making meaning where there is none.
One last remark I should note. Above, I referred to love being a state of mind that we can have about more than just human beings. That is imprecise. What I should actually say is we can experience a state of enjoyment of non-human objects of our perception. We can enjoy music, ideas, books, and yes even conceptions like say the tenets of mathematics. This in turn means we derive a perceptual pleasure from this state and this can be mistaken for love, though it is not. And that will lead to yet another essay.
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