views updated May 23 2018


Rock group

Loves Labored Triumph

Paradise Lost and Regained

Problems Ran Deep

Selected discography


In 1966, Love was the toast of the Los Angeles, California, rock community. After playing a series of clubs on the prestigious Sunset Strip, an energetic live show won them a contract with Elektra Records, and their self-titled LP garnered favorable reviews. Love were a legendthe quintessence of Hollywood, Steve Burgess wrote in the Marshall Cavendish History of Popular Music, simultaneously seedy and transcendental, pure but scandalous. Critics quickly stamped genius on eccentric frontman Arthur Lee and noted Loves significance as one of the first interracial rock bands. In 1967 Love completed their masterwork, Forever Changes, an album that synthesized folk rock, a touch of baroque, and a large dose of the psychedelic.

By 1968, however, the group was seemingly in the grips of drug addiction. Love secluded themselves in Bela Lugosis mansion overlooking Los Angeles, and rumors of the groups bizarre lifestyle and steady intake of drugs ran rampant. The move from acid to heroin probably gave Love an additional slackboost, noted Mickey Stephens of Pop Matters online. By 1967, they had the money to support big, soul-sucking habits, and they sure used it. The band also gained a reputation as standoffish and unfriendly, the antitheses of the feeling the groups name implied, leading some to refer to them as Hate. Lees tightfisted control of the band and disintegrating mental state led to friction within the band, and by 1968, Love began to implode. In 1969 Lee re-formed the group but without the same cohesion.

Lee, whose given name is Arthur Potter Taylor, was born in Memphis, Tennessee. At age five, he moved to California, and when his mother remarried, Lee adopted his stepfathers last name. A lonely child, he found solace in music, enjoying the popular crooners of the day like Nat King Cole. He also developed something of a reputation in his neighborhood as a tough guy. His street-smart childhood experiences contrasted sharply to Bryan MacLeans privileged childhood in Hollywood. MacLeans first crush was Liza Minnelli, and he was well versed in both show tunes and classical music. When the two men met at Ben Franks coffeeshop on the Sunset Strip, Lee invited MacLean to hear his band, the Grass Roots, at the Brave New World.

In addition to Lee, the Grass Roots was formed by members of two other groups, American Four and the LAGs. A friend of Lees, Johnny Echols, once a neighbor of saxophonist Ornette Coleman, played in both bands. They played R&B, but their musical taste would take a sharp turn after seeing the Byrds perform in Los Angeles in 1965. Formed with these new sounds in mind, the Grass Roots concocted their own style of folk rock mixed with a heavy dose of hard rock and blues. After seeing the band perform, MacLean joined Echols and Lee. In late 1965, the group changed its name to Love, a name that apparently no one liked, to avoid confusion with a commercially successful band also named the Grass Roots.

Loves Labored Triumph

Love carved out a reputation on the rough and tumble Los Angeles club circuit in 1965 and 1966. They played Ciros on the Sunset Strip, Bido Litos in Hollywood, and finally the infamous Whiskey A Go-Go. Their combination of garage rock, folk rock, and the psychedelic gave them a unique edge, separating them from the plethora of other Los Angeles bands. Lee mesmerized audiences. He donned fringed jackets, small sunglasses, Edwardian shirts, and army boots, helping to set the soon-to-be-trendy Los Angeles look. The band transformed Bacharach/Davids My Little Red Book into an angry rock assault, while MacLeans punk rendition of Hey Joe proved a highlight of early shows. The band also expressed a softer side on songs like You Ill Be Following, which leaned closer to the sound of the Byrds. From the start, wrote David Sokol of MusicHound Folk, Love fashioned itself as a dynamic, hard-edged band with a soft touch. These live shows attracted Jac Holzman, who was looking to expand Elektra Records to the West Coast. He signed Love in late 1965.

By January of 1966, the band had added bassist Ken Forssi and drummer Alban Snoopy Pfisterer to fill out what would become Loves classic lineup. The band entered Sound Set Recorders studio to record their

For the Record

Members include Sherwood Akuna (joined group, 1974), bass; Joe Blocker (joined group, 1974), drums; John Donnellan (joined group, 1968), guitar; John Echols (left group, 1968), guitar; Frank Fayad (joined group, 1968), bass; Ken Forssi (left group, 1968), bass; Arthur Lee, guitar, vocals; Bryan MacLean (left group, 1968), guitar, vocals; Alban Pfisterer (left group, 1967), drums; Jay Sterling (joined group, 1974), guitar; Michael Stuart (left group, 1968), saxophone; George Suranovitch (joined group, 1968), drums; Drachen Theaker (joined group, 1969), drums; Melvan Whittington (joined group, 1974), guitar.

Formed group in Los Angeles, CA, 1965; played shows on the Los Angeles club circuit; signed to Elektra Records, 1965; recorded self-titled debut, 1966; expanded to a seven-piece unit for sophomore effort, Da Capo, recorded Forever Changes, 1967; original lineup disbanded, 1968; band re-formed, under Arthur Lees leadership, released Four Sail and Out There, 1969; toured Europe, released False Start, 1970; group disbanded, 1974.

Addresses: Record company Rhino Records, 10635 Santa Monica Boulevard, Suite 200, Los Angeles, CA 90025, (310) 474-4778, website:

eclectic debut, drawing on many of the songs they had been playing in live shows. The album cover, a photograph taken on the grounds of their old estate in Laurel Canyon, featured a surly and street-smart band. Hey Joe reached number 52 on the American charts, and by the time the groups self-titled album was released in May of 1966, Love was the hottest band on the Los Angeles underground circuit. Love also had attitude to spare, which proved off-putting to some, but the band didnt really care. If their behavior occasionally got out of control, as with an ugly incident involving mistreating a member of the press, the band believed their deeds to be innocent enough at the time. Although Love sold 150,000 copies, Lee was unhappy with Pfisterers drumming. He hired a new drummer, Michael Stuart, and moved Pfisterer to the harpsichord.

Although some people Loves attitude as prematurely arrogant, the recording of 7 and 7 Is proved the band wasnt a one-hit wonder. This single stood out as one of the premier psychedelic songs of the era, and the warped lyrics gave notice that the band had begun to experiment with drugs. The record rose to number 33 on the American charts, Loves only top 50 hit, and was called one of the greatest rock singles of the 1960s by Mojo magazine. 7 and 7 Is also laid the groundwork for Loves second album, Da Capo, recorded in September and October of 1966. Under producer Paul Rothchild, the band softened its harder edge and moved toward a psychedelic baroque sound. Critics point to songs like Stephen Knows Who and Orange Skies when noting that the first side of Da Capo ranks with the best music the band ever made. The albums quality suffered, however, with the inclusion of a rambling jam called Revelation. Side two consisted of one continuous opus, wrote Burgess, an adventurous, if unsuccessful, experiment that made side two as self-indulgent as side one was concise.

Paradise Lost and Regained

Love was poised for even greater success following their sophomore triumph in the studio, but Lees aloofness and the bands drug use began to create complications. Lee would later accuse Elektra of spending more time promoting their labelmates, the Doors, than Love, but many outsiders perceived the band as unambitious and unwilling to pay the dues required to achieve fame. Lee seldom went out of his way to work with people who could help his career, and he often refused to leave his hotel when playing out of town. Lee eventually refused to travel more than a few miles to a gig, Burgess noted. Some speculated that the bands lack of ambition came from their plunge into heroin use following the recording of Da Capo. Love further sabotaged their career in the summer of 1967 by turning down a chance to play the Monterey Pop Festival.

The same summer, six months after recording Da Capo, the band entered the studio again to record Forever Changes. In retrospect, it seems a small miracle that the album was made at all. The band was too disorganized to record. Lees drug use was out of control, and MacLean did not show up for practices. Neil Young, signed as co-producer, only managed to arrange one song, The Daily Planet. Engineer/producer Bruce Botnick proceeded to book session musicians for studio recording. The group was in such sad shape, apparently, wrote Richie Unterberger in All Music Guide, that Elektra planned to record their third album with session men backing Lee (on his compositions) or MacLean (on his compositions). As Love sat in the studio and watched other musicians play Andmoreagain and The Daily Planet, some members were so upset that they reportedly began to cry. The shock woke the band up. They pulled themselves together and finished the album.

Forever Changes became Loves masterwork. It wasnt a hit, wrote Unterberger, but Forever Changes continues to regularly appear on critics lists of the top ten rock albums of all time, and it had an enormously far-reaching influence that went way beyond chart listings. The arrangements began with acoustic guitar and added a wash of strings and horns. The poetic lyrics explored paranoia and violence, themes seemingly at odds with the happy mood of the mid 1960s. MacLean penned two songs, the opening track, Alone Again Or, and The Red Telephone. Forever Changes atmospheric combination of folk rock and psychedelia has been described as both beautiful and gentle. Commercially, however, the album did poorly in the United States, topping out at number 152 on the album charts. It fared better in Britain, though, reaching number 24.

Love did not seem bothered by the lack of public response. Critics loved the album and that was good enough. But all was not well within the group. Things appeared to be getting out of hand at the communal chateau, wrote Burgess, and gossip about groupies, drugs and gay liaisons between members of the band were rife. When the band entered the studio again, they seemed to have lost all sense of direction, running up a large bill and recording little of quality. Only Laughing Stock and Your Mind and We Belong Together, released in 1968, were culled from the sessions. Echols heroin habit had become so advanced that he sometimes showed up without his guitar. MacLean, frightened by these developments, felt that it was time to get out. Echols, Forssi, and Stuart soon followed, leaving Lees band in shambles. In the summer of 1968, a demoralized Lee overdosed on heroin and almost died.

Problems Ran Deep

When Lee got back on his feet, he quickly put together a second version of Love with drummer George Sura-novich, bassist Frank Fayad, and guitarist Jay Donnel-lan. They recorded 30 tracks that would eventually be issued on two albums, ten on Four Sail in 1969, and the remainder on the double-album Out There in 1969. The music leaned toward heavy rock, and many critics found the albums disappointing. Lee recorded with his friend Jimi Hendrix in 1970, but only one track, The Everlasting First, was issued on the album False Start. The bands lineup continued to change, and two more albums were recorded between 1972 and 1974 before Love disbanded (Black Beauty went unreleased). The problems ran deeper, wrote Unterberger, than unsympathetic accompaniment: Lees songwriting muse had largely deserted him as well, and nothing on the post-Forever Changes albums competes with the early Elektra records. An attempt at a reunion in 1978 that included Lee and MacLean quickly fell apart.

Though several members joined and recorded with other bands, these explorations failed to recreate the success of their work with Love. Time also proved unkind to several members. On January 5, 1998, bassist Forssi died from brain cancer, while MacLean died on December 25, 1998 of a heart attack. Lee toured with Baby Lemonade in 1996 but a subsequent arrest on a firearms charge landed the singer in jail with a 12-year sentence.

Despite these misfortunes, the music that Love made over 30 years ago continues to influence the current music scene. [I]n later years, wrote Jam! online, the groupand particularly frontman Arthur Leehas become a frequently mentioned influence on the current generation of rockers. Rick Gregory of Audities online noted, To this day, Forever Changes sounds as if not a speck of dust has touched it. The psychedelic music of Love influenced the Paisley Underground movement in the 1980s and has reverberated in English bands like Swervedriver and Jasmine Minks. The deluxe reissue of Forever Changes by Rhino in 2001, complete with bonus tracks, assures that a new generation will be introduced to the lush pop/rock of Love.

Selected discography

Love, Elektra, 1966.

Da Capo, Elektra, 1967.

Forever Changes, Elektra, 1967; reissued, Rhino, 2001.

Four Sail, Elektra, 1969.

Out Here, Blue Thumb, 1969.

False Start, Blue Thumb, 1970.

Reel To Real, RSO, 1974.

Love Live, Rhino, 1982.

The Best of Love: Golden Archive Series, Rhino, 1986.

Out There, Big Beat, 1994.

Love Story 19661972, Rhino/Elektra, 1995.

Once More Again, Distortions, 1996.



Brown, Ashley, editor, Marshall Cavendish History of Popular Music, Marshall Cavendish, 1990.

Santelli, Robert, Sixties Rock: A Listeners Guide, Contemporary Books, 1985.

Walters, Neal, and Brian Mansfield, editors, MusicHound Folk: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1998.


Love, All Music Guide, (June 6, 2001).

Love: Forever Changes, Audities, (June 11, 2001).

Love: Forever Changes, Pop Matters, (June 11, 2001).

1960s Band Love Getting Reissued, Jam! (June 11, 2001).

Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.


views updated May 17 2018


"Love" as a concept enters philosophy at one point through religion, particularly when the origin of the world is expressed as an act of procreation or the Creator is conceived of as loving his creation either as a whole or in part (i.e., the human race). But the concept of love is also a subject for philosophic meditation in regard to ethical problems. Love, as one of the most powerful of human impulses, was early seen to be much in need of control, especially if man as rational animal was to be able to use his rational capacities. Much of the ethical writing on love is designed to suggest some means whereby the pleasures and other values of loving may be preserved without entailing the supposed evils of intemperate sexuality. This type of speculation ran from Plato through the Neoplatoniststhose of both the early Christian period and the Italian Renaissance. In the Platonic tradition love had a unique metaphysical status, for it existed in both the material and the ideal worlds. Love can take on many forms, from gross sexual passion to a devotion to learning, but, it was argued, the ultimate object of love is the beautiful. The goodness that God sees in his creation is its beauty and to feel the beauty of the world is to love it and its Creator.

Classical Mythology

The word eros as it is found in Homer is not the name of a god but simply a common noun meaning "love" or "desire." In Hesiod's Theogony Eros becomes one of the three primordial gods, the other two being Chaos and Earth. Although Eros has no offspring and seems to play no role in the genealogy of the gods, he has the greatest power over his fellow immortals. He unnerves the limbs and overcomes the reason of both gods and men. When Aphrodite is born from the sperm of Uranus (Heaven), Eros and Himeros (desire, longing, lust) accompany her into the council of the gods. Whether Hesiod was talking in terms of personalized abstractions or was actually thinking of anthropomorphic beings is not clear, for the Theogony is a curious mixture of both kinds of expression. For the history of philosophy, the importance of Hesiod's brief mention of Eros lies in the attribution to him of a power that is the enemy of reason. Something similar is to be found in Sophocles' Antigone in the chorus that is sung just after Creon has announced that Antigone must die for having buried her brother's body. Eros is addressed as the god who has brought about Antigone's tragedy. He is described as unconquerable, destructive, roaming over the sea and among the dwellers of the wilderness. Neither the gods nor ephemeral humankind can escape him; he drives his victims to madness and turns the just to evil. An even stronger denunciation of the god may be found in Euripides' Hippolytus, along with the additional warning that whether one surrenders to love or refuses to capitulate to it, one is doomed. And indeed, Phaedra, whose successors are obviously Vergil's Dido and Racine's Phèdre, became the prototype of a woman ruined by Eros.

Such poetic passages reflect certain observations about human nature and human behavior. They point to a struggle within man's psyche between a rational, controllable, prudent, and wise agent and an irrational, uncontrollable, mad, and foolish agent. When the former is in control, man will behave in praiseworthy fashion, but when the latter gains the upper hand, he will act like a beast. He will abandon reason that, according to most of the ancients, alone distinguishes him from the beasts. Although man also has an animal nature, to yield to its demands is to betray his essential nature. The notion that Eros might reinforce the human element in man does not appear in the pre-Platonic writers.

Early Philosophic Reflections

The Greeks admitted several forms of love, including heterosexual and homosexual passion; parental, filial, and conjugal affection; fraternal feeling; friendship; love of country; and the love of wisdom. All were associated with either Eros or Philia (fondness or friendship). Love was believed to be a power capable of uniting people in a common bond. And since not only people but also animals and the elements were thus united, it was appropriate to conceive of this power as lodged in a single agent that governed the whole cosmos. According to Parmenides, Love was created by the goddess Necessity, and in the writing of Empedocles, love emerges as one of the two universal forces (the other being strife) that explain the course of cosmic history. These two agentsthe one of union, the other of decompositionare not simply names for the fact that composition and decomposition occur; on the contrary, love and strife are not resident in things but are external to them and act upon them. According to Empedocles, the cosmos, so to speak, is held in tension between the forces of harmony and disunion. Were the two forces to be synchronously present, the world would clearly be in a state of disorder. Hence, Empedocles introduced the idea of cycles into his philosophy, as well as the concept of world history as an alternation of the reigns of Love and Strife. When Love is in control, the elements form compounds out of which arise more complex units and, eventually, animate beings. In the primitive period of the cycle, men worship Aphrodite, are innocent of slaughter and, presumably, of war, and are, moreover, vegetarians. "The altar did not reek of the unmixed blood of bulls, but this was the greatest abomination among men, to snatch out the life and eat the goodly limbs" (Fragment 128). But when Strife is dominant, disorganization, the ultimate disaggregation of the elements, and war and all its attendant evils, take the place of the blessings of love. As far as we can tell from the surviving fragments, Empedocles believed that the cyclical process was everlasting.

The attribution of peace and harmony to the goddess Aphrodite (Empedocles' name for love) is clearly a renunciation of the early poets' idea of love. Empedocles' conception of her resembles the alma Venus of Lucretius. Yet she remains the goddess of sexual love, for sexual love has become one example of the universal power of union: It provides the philosopher with empirical evidence of a metaphysical principle.


For a complete expression of a philosophic concept of love, one must turn to Plato's Symposium. Probably no other document in European literature has had as much influence on the philosophy of love. The various speeches that are reported in this dialogue represent points of view with which Plato does not always agree but which he apparently thought important enough to be presented as typical. These speeches range from an encomium of love's effect on morality to a description of its effect on knowledge. Phaedrus likened the passionate attachment between Achilles and Patroclus to the conjugal affection between Alcestis and Admetus. In both cases it is the lover, not the beloved, who has gained virtue through his or her love. In the following speech, by Pausanias, two kinds of love are distinguished, that of the heavenly Aphrodite and that of the earthly Aphrodite, or the love of the soul and the love of the body. The former is more likely to be the love of a young man (not a boy) at the time when his reason begins to develop and his beard begins to grow. In this speech honorable love is clearly the attraction that a man has for a virtuous soul and is fused in the mind of the speaker with philosophy itself, which is the love of wisdom. It is this honorable love that Eryximachus then describes as the source of harmony and the preserver of the good.

The conclusion drawn from these encomiums is that love is in essence the love of beauty and that beauty is nothing material; it is an ideal. But no man desires the ideal until he has been educated through philosophic training. In the final speech, which supposedly reports the philosophy of the seeress Diotima, we find that there is a scale of beauty, progressing from that of bodies through that of forms, thoughts, minds, institutions and laws, the sciences, to absolute or ideal beauty.

Beauty, for Plato, was the one bridge between the two realms of the material and the ideal, particulars and universals. (This appears clearly enough in the Phaedrus ; what the Symposium adds is a discussion of the power that draws men to beauty in its many modes.) The two realms present not simply a duality of kind but also of value, for the ideal and the universal, which are perfect and eternal, are always to be preferred to the material and the particular. Sexual love itself, although lowest on the scale of love, is nevertheless the seed of ideal love, since what attracts a man to the beloved is beauty.


Plato's account of love, insofar as it concerns friendship, was amplified by Aristotle in the eighth and ninth books of the Nicomachean Ethics. But Aristotle treated chiefly the ethical and psychological aspects of the matter. He also utilized the metaphor of the attractive power of love in explaining the motion of the planetary spheres, the Unmoved Mover being the beloved and the planetary system the lover. With important differences that will be mentioned below, the Unmoved Mover became a part of the Christian concept of God.

Transition to Christianity

In the Magna Moralia, which was probably composed at least in part by Aristotle, it is written that "It would be strange if one were to say that he loved Zeus. It is not love towards God of which we are in search but love towards things with life, that is, where there can be a return of affection." God then is thought to be incapable of returning our love for him, assuming that we can have love for him. In fact, although there are myths in which gods and mortals have been in love with each other, the gods always first disguise themselves as mortals, as Aphrodite did when she fell in love with Anchises, or take on various other forms, which was the habit of Zeus. These myths all deal with sexual intercourse, not with friendship or paternal affection. Omitting the culture heroes, there was no god or goddess in ancient mythology who had any love for humankind. Prometheus is an exception, but he was punished for his help to mortals, and in all probability the historic Greeks thought of him as simply a personification of forethought.

There is no god in classical religion who could be called "our father in heaven." The attitude that Lucretius tried to foster in the minds of his fellow Romans was supposed to be an antidote to their fear of the gods. According to the legends, however, there was good reason to fear them. Ceres and Bacchus may have given men bread and wine, but most of the divinities did little more than take revenge on the human race for the injuries they had received from their fellow gods. In Judaism and Christianity, however, a new relationship to the divinity was established. As early as Deuteronomy 6:5 the commandment was laid down to love God "with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might," a commandment repeated by Jesus (Matthew 22:37) as the first and great commandment, followed by the second, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." It will be observed that now love is not seen as a power that destroys man's reason, but rather, as an emotional attitude that can be voluntarily produced. It is praised in the Psalms (for example, 91:14) and also in the First Epistle to the Corinthians and the First Epistle of John (I John 4:1620). Both epistles cite the power of love to heal discord and fear, and love is represented as a bond between God and man. According to the Gospel of John (3:16), it is because of God's love for the world that redemption is brought to man.

That man could love God, even if he could not love Zeus, had been seen by Philo Judaeus in his Questions on Genesis (XVIII, 16) in which he says that once a man has received a clear impression of God and God's powers, his soul is filled with longing for union with God. Thus, in the First Epistle of John, God is identified with love, "and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him" (I John 4:16). This idea was also found in non-Christian theologians of Hellenistic times, for example, in the Hermetica (Asclepius II, Sec. 21), in which all things, including God, are said to be bisexual, a unity that is approximated by men and women in sexual love. This unity is admittedly incomprehensible and what "you might correctly call either Cupid or Venus." But in both Philo and the Hermetica, as in Plotinus and Cleanthes' "Hymn to Zeus," the original stimulus to the love of God is knowledge, not sexual love. In Asclepius (XIII, 9) the love of God is reduced to worship, sacrifice, prayer, and reverence, and these follow upon a knowledge of the divine nature. In Plotinus the union with God, although aided by ascetic practices, is nevertheless the climax of cognition. Since knowledge occurs only between similar beings, to know God is to be like him; since God is unique, one must become absorbed into his being in order to know him. This may seem to be suggested in the verses from the First Epistle of John cited above, but actually in John the love of God, although it unites man and God, is an act of will similar to the love for one's fellow man. It would presumably be made manifest by one's acts and one's faith; it is not the conclusion or fulfillment of a metaphysical system.

Although the Church Fathers came closest to an identification of God with Aristotle's Unmoved Mover and later Christian philosophers gave God the attributes of that ontological principle, there were differences that have too often been obscured. The Unmoved Mover was neither a person nor a creator; he was uniquely able to produce change without being altered himself, and he could thus suffer no emotions whatsoever. The biblical God was the very antithesis of this. But in order to give an analogy of the way in which the Unmoved Mover moves the world, Aristotle took recourse to the metaphor of the beloved who attracts the lover. This, of course, became in time Dante Alighieri's "love which moves that sun and the other stars." For Aristotle, however, the Unmoved Mover could not return the love of the beings who are below him. In Christianity, as in Judaism, it was essential that God love his creatures as they love him, and, as previously mentioned, love seems to have been thought of as subject to volition. According to Plato (to limit the discussion to him), love arose involuntarily at the sight of a beautiful body. A man's erotic education consisted in a denial, after an analysis of the nature of beauty, of the acts that usually follow such a sight. Once that denial became a part of a man's character, he could rise to allegedly nobler beauties until the final goalthe contemplation of absolute beauty completely detached from anything corporealwas reached.

The early Christians had more confidence in man's will than had their pagan contemporaries. Both love of God and religious faith were thought to be subject to volition. The concept of believing in order to understand, as St. Augustine put it, was based on the assumption that belief was not the effect but the source of understanding. To what extent the early Christian writers were aware of the psychological effect of practicing certain rites, as Pascal later was, is difficult to say. But since great emphasis was put upon ceremonious expressions of devotion and upon the refusal to carry out pagan rites, we can assume that the practices were believed to induce the appropriate emotions. The most famous of such ceremonies was the Christian agape, in which the devout met to share a supper and to rejoice in their common beliefs. The word agape means both love and the object of love, although the pagan satires treated it as if it meant a sexual orgy. The participants in the agape probably thought of it as a ceremony of brotherly love commemorating the Last Supper, although according to the testimony of the Epistle of Jude (12), it was abused at a fairly early date. Whatever its origin and its primitive significance, it is clear that it was supposed to be a ceremony of affection, and it reinforced the friendliness that members of the same religion might be expected to have toward one another. Two emotional factors that seem to have been absent from paganism thus came into prominence in early Christianityfraternal love as an essential of piety and filial love to a divine father, both of which were reciprocated. These forms of love were strengthened by the persecutions to which the early Christians were subjectedpersecutions that bound them together in a special community and led to self-sacrifice in the various forms of martyrdom.


Of the Church Fathers, it is St. Augustine who gives us the most detailed analysis of love, ranging from his youthful sexual escapades to his final love of God. The famous opening of Book II of the Confessions described his condition as one of utter subservience to the flesh. Just as he was capable of enjoying sin (in his case, petty theft), not for the loot it brought him but for the joy of sinning, so he enjoyed love not for the sake of his beloved, but for the sake of his own self-centered pleasure. He described in vivid terms the loathing that invaded him while satisfying his passion. The death of a dear friend aroused in him a realization of the egocentricity of his passion, and in planning to organize a small group of fellow Christians who would live in charity and share their belongings (a plan that came to nothing), he first approached unselfish love. Through self-knowledge he learned to look upon the eternal light and ultimately came to the complete love of God, which he described in the tenth book of the Confessions. The fruit of this love was knowledge of the divine. Whereas for Plato and Philo cognition led to love, for Augustine it was love that led to cognition. This theme was developed in the twelfth century by such writers as William of Saint Thierry and St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

Middle Ages

The ecstatic loss of self that accompanies sexual love was also assumed to be one of the features of the beatific vision. It is apparent in mystical literature that erotic language is especially effective in communicating mystical experience, and the similarities between religious and sexual ecstasy are manifest in, for example, the Song of Solomon. One should not conclude, however, that the medieval mystics were actually aware of the similarity between the beatific vision and sexual union, for those who are supposed to have made "mystic marriages," like the two St. Catherines, had presumably never had a corporeal marriage. Nonetheless, in mysticism the climax of the love of God was self-annihilation, much as in the Indian mithuna, and although the church never encouraged mystic practices, it had to admit their importance when they led to the immediate knowledge of God.

Thus, love in itself became an object of study, and the casuistry of love was elaborated in textbooks and poems as early as the twelfth century. Most of these writings seem to have taken as their source the De Amore of André le Chapelain which, whether intended to be serious or not, was taken seriously by most of its readers. It would appear to be a manual on seduction and to have only the most remote relevance to love. The time of its publication, however, coincided with the appearance of many commentaries on the Song of Solomon, and its influence on the rituals of the courts of love has been admitted by most medievalists. As the etiquette of the courts of love developed, love became an end in itself and was not necessarily to be gratified by sexual experience. The lover was supposed to serve his lady with no recompense other than the consciousness of his having served her.

One can only guess at how faithfully the precepts of courtly love were carried out, but as a set of ideas they form an important part of European moral philosophy. By elevating women to a position of irrefragable sovereignty over men, the ideals of courtly love became interwoven with the religious ideal of unquestioned loyalty to church and to God. The sovereign woman became identified with the Blessed Virgin to whom were applied many of the epithets of the bride in the Song of Solomonrose of Sharon, the closed garden, the tower of ivoryphrases whose symbolical meaning had already been elaborated by St. Bernard. In the thirteenth century the question of the relative primacy of God's reason and will was disputed. For those who believed in the primacy of God's will, it followed that obedience rather than understanding was to be given the higher value. This was also true of courtly love and of chivalry as a doctrine.


The culmination of the medieval writing on love is, for modern readers, Dante's Vita nuova. However else this book may be interpreted, it is the story of how love that begins with the sight of a girl's beauty ends with a vision which Dante intimated was to be that of the Divine Comedy. For Dante the Johannine phrase "God is love" was of essential importance in religion. In ending the Divine Comedy with the love that moves the sun and the other stars, he identified his own love and all love with the love that the cosmos has for its Creator. His "new life" was not to be fulfilled in a union with the woman whom he loved but in her guiding him through paradise. Few words occur more frequently in the poems of Dante than "amore." Sometimes he seems to be writing in the vein of courtly love, sometimes in the mystical vein of St. Bernard, but in both cases love is represented as a force that attracts man to a nobler life. Dante does not overlook the sufferings of a man in love; indeed, he emphasizes them. But to suffer because of love appears to be analogous to the sufferings of the martyrsan abnegation of the self for a value that transcends egoism.

Renaissance Neoplatonism

In Plotinus a distinction was made between three forms of lovelove as a god, as a daemon, and as a passion. The first of these was again divided into the celestial and terrestrial Aphrodite. The celestial Aphrodite inspires the love of ideas and is the soul of the intelligible world. The terrestrial Aphrodite presides over marriage and is the soul of the sensible world. Love as a demon is identified with the souls of individual human beings. As a passion it is the love of beauty in temperate men and the love of sexual pleasure in those who dwell exclusively in the material world of ugliness. All love, however, is the love of some degree of beauty. Plotinus adopted the scale of beauties that had been outlined in the Symposium and read into it a hierarchy of being. At the apex stood the One; the "way up" to the One led from the beauty of material objects to that of ideas. In this instance one sees again the fusion of the erotic passion with the ecstasy of the mystic vision. Paradoxically, an experience that is intimately associated with our bodily life was thought of as the one escape from it.

This complex of confused ideas permeated Renaissance Neoplatonism. Philosophers such as Marsilio Ficino and Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola constantly emphasized the power of love to free the soul from its bodily prison. They took over the theme of the two Venuses, and they assigned separate human faculties to each. They gave different names to the kinds of lovenamely, divine, human, and animal.

leone ebreo

The philosophy of love expounded by Ficino and Mirandola was most fully developed by Leone Ebreo (Judah Abrabanel) in his Dialoghi d'amore (15011502), a work that circulated extensively not only in Italy but (in translation) through all Europe. Leone tied together the religious, philosophic, and literary traditions into a single network of ideas.

In the Dialogues the two interlocutors are Philo and Sophia, obviously elements of the word philosophia. Philo is the lover, and Sophia is the beloved. The first dialogue distinguishes between love and desire and describes the various forms of love; the second discusses the presence of love in all natural operations, from the synthesis of the four elements to the movements of the planetary spheres; and the third deals with the love of God as the force that holds the universe together. Thus, it is asserted that love is a single principle permeating all things, from the material through the spiritual, and that this principle is the dynamic factor in cosmic change. There is no difference in essence between the attraction the elements have for one another and the forms of love that exist in human beings. The appraisal of the kinds of love is based on the objects of love, and Leone, like most of his contemporaries, thought that wisdom was inherently more valuable than pleasure.

It should be noted that the concept of a single dynamic power, whether it was called love or force or attraction, became more and more widely used as time went on. Its most extreme form was the Sehnsucht ("longing") of some German romantic philosophers, the Streben ("striving") of Johann Gottlieb Fichte, and Novalis's endless and unfulfilled search for the blue flower. One of the characteristics of love, at least in the mind of Leone, is its inability ever to be satisfied. Though Philo in the Dialogues pleads with Sophia to tell him that she responds to his love, she will not do so.

Modern Period

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the interest in love was largely psychological and was expressed mainly in novels, poems, and maxims. While love of neighbor and God was approved, sexual love was morally more problematic. The ideal of female chastity was still upheld; in English novels, such as those of Samuel Richardson, a man was allowed to love a woman as long as he did not infringe upon her virginity. Whereas André le Chapelain graded sexual relations according to the social ranks of the maiden and her seducer, Richardson put all men and women on the same level in this respect. Thus, love was democratized. Sexual love was not to be condoned unless sanctified by the sacrament of marriage.

In such French novels as Le grand Cyrus by Madeleine de Scudéry, Les liaisons dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos, and La nouvelle Héloïse by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, one finds more subtle distinctions and analyses. These authors continue the Renaissance casuistry about the different kinds of love and their respective values, but it must be remembered that their psychology of love was developed against the background of Christian moral principles. There is a constant conflict between the fervent religious and moral desire not to satisfy one's longings (described in La nouvelle Héloïse ) and an awareness of the almost unlimited force of the individual's erotic desires (treated in Les liaisons dangereuses ).


The Ethics of Benedict de Spinoza was published in Holland in 1677. In this posthumous work, as in earlier publications, Spinoza emphasized man's need of perfectionthat is, the fulfillment of both his intellectual and his emotional powers, which indeed were not existentially separate. He maintained that the more adequate an idea, the more it is pleasing, liberating, and intrinsically human. The culmination of the ethical lifethat is, the life devoted to freedom of the intellectis found in the "intellectual love of God." This phrase may have come from Leone Ebreo, but the idea goes back to St. Augustine. Both the Confessions and the Ethics are built on premises that are discovered by the intuitive process. The God of Spinoza is far from being the God of St. Augustine, but the method of finding him in the inner life and becoming aware of his presence is curiously similar. Both philosophers present a similar paradox: One must lose oneself in order to find oneself, but in so doing, one finds that what one has really discovered is God.

other writers

The analysis of love now passes into the hands of psychologists. Comte Destutt de Tracy and the novelist Stendhal both wrote books on love in which they attempted to probe its motivation and its effects upon conduct, but neither attempted to do more than to discuss love as a sexual experience. Destutt de Tracy's De l'amour was not published until 1926, although it may have been known in manuscript form; Stendhal's On Love, however, was published in 1822, and although it had no popular success at the time, it was later widely read. In Germany, on the other hand, such books as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther, Elective Affinities, and, of course, Faust gave a quasi-religious tone to the sexual experience. The impossibility of attaining complete satisfaction led men of this tendency to idealize Don Juan as a perfectionist who seeks a goal that he can never reach, for the ideal is precisely that which ought to be and never is. K. W. F. Schlegel's Lucinde is a perfect example of this interpretation of love as the ever-sought and unrealizable ideal.


Arthur Schopenhauer was unique in condemning all forms of love on the grounds that they tie one to the will-to-live. But he found this will even in the subanimate world of nature; thus, he was reverting to the ancient tradition of an omnipresent principle and was more interested in the metaphysical status of this principle than in the details of human psychology. Although Schopenhauer's condemnation of love follows from his general metaphysical position, he supplemented this condemnation with an essay, "Metaphysics of the Love of the Sexes," in which he tried to show that poets and novelists had recognized the evil of loving, although they had not formulated the abstract principles that would justify this point of view. Love drives men and women to suicide, madness, and extremes of sacrifice. Pointing out that he has no philosophic precedents to guide him, Schopenhauer flatly declares that all forms of love are rooted in sexuality and that, obviously, the existence of future generations depends upon its gratification. But the sexual instinct can disguise itself in various ways, especially as "objective admiration," although in reality the will-to-live is aiming at the production of a new individual. Because sexual union exists for the benefit of the species, not for the individuals involved in it, marriages should not be made for love but for convenience. Thus, he says, there is guilt in loving, for its culmination is simply the perpetuation of the will-to-live, with all its attendant miseries.


Historically, Schopenhauer's influence on Sigmund Freud is more important than his theory of the will-to-live in itself. Freud renamed the will-to-live the libido and at one time even saw its goal as death. The concept of the death wish paralleled Schopenhauer's emphasis on art and pity as the two ways of escape from life, and it had no great success in psychological circles. The libido as a term for generalized desire, on the other hand, has become part and parcel of the terminology of psychodynamics. Like most philosophic concepts, it has been distorted by both its supporters and its adversaries, but by reintegrating humanity and its strivings into the natural world, it has revived in a new form the kernel of Diotima's speech in the Symposium. Freud, along with most Platonists, would deny this. However, since love in the Symposium is found not only in sexual attraction but also in scientific research and philosophic meditation, there is only a verbal difference between the two philosophies. Freud, to be sure, does not preach the denial of bodily love, but at the same time he never denied the need for self-restraint and self-discipline. Although he may have said that the scientist is dominated by an anal-erotic urge, he did not deprecate science in these terms; rather, he explained what he thought was its general etiology. He also opened the door to a franker discussion of human motivations, and his contribution to ethics can hardly be overestimated. He attempted to show men how to realize the ideal of self-knowledge that philosophers had advocated for centuries without indicating how one might attain it. By pointing out the universality of love in its various forms and suggesting how it becomes deformed and alienated from its natural goals, Freud laid the foundation for an ethics that would be freed from ecclesiastical dogmatism. Although his followers have modified some of his ideas, as was inevitable, they have not denied either the preeminence of the libido as a driving power in human affairs or its ability to mask itself. One cannot overlook Freud's contribution toward giving men the ability to understand both one another and themselvesa type of understanding that had been preached over the centuries but always on the assumption that human nature could be observed in conscious behavior.

As is always the case in intellectual history, ancient beliefs survive and take on new forms. This is as true of the history of the idea of love as it is of other ideas. It is obvious that although no one believes any longer in the myth of the two Aphrodites as anthropomorphic deities each of whom is accompanied by a special Eros, the distinction between the two still persists as the contrast between carnal and spiritual love. The First Epistle of John and the Gospel of John have been by no means discarded in the Occident, nor has the commandment to love God and one's neighbor been forgotten. Caritas as both brotherly love and charity is still preached, if not practiced, and the Neoplatonic notion that through love we shall have harmony and through harmony, peace, is as potent a force in social education as it has ever been. Philosophy sometimes takes as its goal the rationalization of common sense, or at least of widely held beliefs, and according to the available evidence, no one has ever maintained that the whole duty of man consists in hating, provoking disorder, and disobeying what are at various times called the laws of God or of nature. Philosophers writing on love have attempted in numerous ways, first, to describe the unique part it plays in human life; second, to seek its similarity to other impulses; third, to appraise the ends that it wishes to achieve; and finally, to work out a systematic account of all these distinctions and put them into a logical network of ideas.

See also Aristotle; Augustine, St.; Beauty; Bernard of Clairvaux, St.; Dante Alighieri; Destutt de Tracy, Antoine Louis Claude, Comte; Empedocles; Fichte, Johann Gottlieb; Ficino, Marsilio; Freud, Sigmund; Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von; Neoplatonism; Parmenides of Elea; Pascal, Blaise; Perfection; Pico della Mirandola, Count Giovanni; Plato; Plotinus; Rousseau, Jean-Jacques; Schlegel, Friedrich von; Schopenhauer, Arthur; Spinoza, Benedict (Baruch) de.


primary sources

Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by W. D. Ross. Oxford, 1925. Books 78.

Augustine. Confessions. Translated by E. B. Pusey. London, 1907. Book 1, Ch. 12; Book II, Chs. 1 and 6; Book III, Ch. 1; Book IV, Ch. 6; Book VI, Ch. 14; Book VII, Ch. 10; Book VIII, Ch. 2; Book X, Ch. 7.

Bernard. De Diligendo Deo ; Sermon, In Cantica Canticorum. In Patrologia Latina, edited by J. P. Migne. Paris, 18441864. Vols. 182183, respectively.

Chapelain, André le. De Amore. Edited by E. Trojel. Havniae, 1892.

Cleanthes. Hymn to Zeus. Translated by George Boas in Rationalism in Greek Philosophy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1961. P. 251.

Dante. Divine Comedy. Translated by H. F. Carey, 2nd ed. London, 1819.

Dante. Il convivio. Translated by P. H. Wicksteed as The Convivio of Dante Alighieri. London: Dent, 1903.

Dante. Vita nuova. Translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti as The New Life of Dante Alighieri. London, 1901.

Empedocles. Fragments 115, 128, 130. In Early Greek Philosophy, by J. Burnet, 3rd ed. London, 1920; New York, 1957.

Euripides. Hippolytus.

Freud, Sigmund. A General Introduction to Psycho-Analysis. Translated by Joan Riviere. Garden City, NY, 1943.

Freud, Sigmund. Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex and Totem and Taboo. In The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud. New York: Random House, 1938.

Hermetica (Asclepius II, 21). Edited by A. D. Nock and A. J. Festugière. Paris, 1960. Vol. II.

Laclos, Choderlos de. Les liaisons dangereuses. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1961.

Leone Ebreo. The Philosophy of Love. Translated by F. Friedberg-Seelye and Jean H. Barnes. London: Soncino Press, 1937.

Lucretius. De Rerum Natura, Book I, 149. In The Stoic and Epicurean Philosophers, by W. J. Oates. New York: Modern Library, 1957.

Plato. Symposium. In Plato: Dialogues, edited by B. Jowett, 4th rev. ed. Oxford, 1953.

Pseudo-Aristotle. Magna Moralia. Translated by St. George Stock. Oxford, 1915. 1208 b, 31.

Schopenhauer, Arthur. The World as Will and Idea. Translated by R. B. Haldane and J. Kemp, 6th ed. London, 1907. See especially Vol. III, Ch. 44, "Supplements to the Fourth Book." London, 1909.

Spinoza, Benedict de. Ethics, Part 5. In The Chief Works of Spinoza, translated by R. H. M. Elwes, 2 vols. New York, 1955.

secondary sources

Bruyne, Edgar de. Études d'esthétique médiévale. Bruges: De Tempel, 1946. Vol. III, Book IV, Ch. 2.

Gilson, Étienne. The Spirit of Mediaeval Philosophy. Translated by A. H. C. Downes. New York, 1940. Ch. 14.

Mackail, J. W. Select Epigrams from the Greek Anthology. London, 1906. See especially the introduction, Sections vivii, pp. 3241.

Panofsky, Erwin. Studies in Iconology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1939. Chapters 56.

George Boas (1967)


views updated May 29 2018


In the Bible

In the Bible, "love" has, like the word "love" in most languages, many and various shades of meaning.

hebrew words for "love."

It is represented by Hebrew words which range from sensuous, and often evil, desire or passionate love between man and woman (ii Sam. 13:4; Jer. 2:33), through family affection, up to theological conceptions of God's love for Israel, and of Israel's love for God. In most of the passages, "to accept, adopt, or recognize," could profitably be substituted for "to love," and "to reject, disown," or "repudiate," for "to hate." The root most commonly used is ʾahav. Another verb riḥam and the noun raḥamim point to the family feeling through their connection with reḥem, the mother's womb; they express the *compassion presupposing the suffering, distress, or weakness of the other party. The root ḥafeẓ means "wish for" or "delight in," but is also used, with a person as object, in the sense of "feel inclined." A similar meaning is attached to raẓah, "to be pleased with," and "accept." The root ḥashaq involves instead the sense of personal attachment. As for the verb ḥanan and the noun ḥen, both express the idea of concrete favor, rather than warm affection. Finally, the often-used word ḥesed means "loyalty," but sometimes designates the "real love" (Gen. 20:13; 47:29; i Sam. 20:8; ii Sam. 9:1; Jer. 2:2; Ruth 2:20), which is evinced in acts of devotion and friendship, and is conditioned by the fact that there are two parties connected with each other by ties of family, tribe, nationality, treaty, covenant, etc.

love as a spontaneous relationship

The word "love" is first of all used to denote the father's or mother's love (Gen.22:2; 25:28; 37:3; 44:20; Prov. 13:24; Ruth 4:15), the love between young people intending to marry (Gen. 29:18, 20; i Sam. 18:20), or between husband and wife (Gen. 24:67; 29:30, 32; Judg. 14:16; 16:15; i Sam. 1:5; Prov. 5:19; Eccles. 9:9; ii Chron. 11:21). This use is largely attested in the Song of Songs, whose unique obvious theme is love between man and woman, celebrated in glowing colors and passionate words (e.g., 1:3, 4, 7; 2:5; 3:1, 2, 3, 4; 5:8). "Love" designates also the specifically sexual desire for a woman (ii Sam. 13:1, 4, 15). The verb ʾahev denoted also affection and esteem. It is used in this sense for David and Jonathan, to express natural friendship (i Sam. 18:1, 3; 20:17; ii Sam. 1:26; cf. i Sam. 16:21); for a servant, to denote his attachment to his master's family (Ex. 21:5); and for the people, to signify their enthusiastic sympathy for David (i Sam. 18:16, 22, 28). The participle ʾohev means "friend" at least 17 times out of the 62 occurring in the Bible. On the other hand, Isaac, for instance, is said to "love" game as Rebekah knew to prepare it (Gen. 27:4, 9, 14). The verb ʾahev seems to express there a preference, as in several other texts (Gen. 25:28; 37:3, 4; Deut. 21:15; i Sam. 1:5).

The rendering of reʿa in Leviticus 19:18 ("Love your reʿa as yourself"), and similar passages, by "neighbor" is hallowed by tradition; but "fellow citizen" would be more enlightening, since the reference here to one's fellow Israelite is obvious from its identification by parallelism with "kinsmen" (benei ammekha) in Leviticus 19:18 and the fact that an additional verse, verse 34, was needed in order to include the metic (ger, but see Love of Neighbor, below). Common sense tells that the "love" that these verses require the Israelite to extend to his fellow citizen and to the metic residing in Israel is consideration, or, as Jewish tradition realistically defines it, not treating them in a manner in which one would resent being treated (so the interpretation of Pseudo-Jonathan, Lev. 19:18, 34, in accordance with the famous saying attributed in Shab. 31a to Hillel but in Eusebius, Praeparatio evangelica, 8:7, 8, to Philo, and also to be found in Arist. 207; Tob. 4:15; Test. Patr., Iss. 5:2; Test. Patr., Dan 5:3).

the reciprocal love of god and people

In the Bible, the object of the divine love is generally the people of Israel. The two passages where Jerusalem is presented as the object of God's love (Ps. 78:68; 87:2) are only variants of that fundamental aspect. The relation of God to His people is conceived as a union marked by love on one side and demanding a corresponding love on the other. This reciprocal love of God and the people is expressed in categories of familial or social unity: father-son relationship, marriage analogy, or covenantal love.

The doctrine of God's love for Israel, and the imperative necessity of Israel's love for God are rarely found in the first four books of the Bible, but they constitute the basic principles of the Deuteronomic teaching. The Lord's love for Israel is there viewed as the result of His election, manifested in the covenant and sanctioned by it. This clearly appears in Deuteronomy 7:7–8, where the divine love for Israel is mentioned paralleling the oath sworn by God in the rite of the covenant-making, and is ultimately justified by God's free choice. His free and personal love to Israel is manifested above all in the deliverance from Egypt. This primal love of the Lord for Israel (Deut. 4:37; 7:13; 10:15; 23:6) is the basis for the obligation of Israel's love in return (Deut. 6:5; 7:9; 10:12; 11:1, 13, 22; 13:4; 19:9; 30:6, 16, 20). Love in Deuteronomy is therefore a love that God can command: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (Deut. 6:5; cf. 10:12; 11:1; 30:6). It is also a love intimately related to fear and reverence (Deut. 4:10; 5:29; 6:24; 8:6; 10:12; 14:23; 17:19; 31:13). Above all, it is a love which must be expressed in obedience to the requirements of the law. For to love God is to be loyal (davaq) to Him (Deut. 4:4; 10:20; 11:22; 13:5; 30:20), to walk in His ways (Deut. 10:12; 11:22; 19:9; 30:16), to keep His commandments (Deut. 10:13; 11:1, 22; 19:9), to fulfill them (Deut. 11:22; 19:9), to heed them or His voice (Deut. 11:13; 13:5), and to serve Him (Deut. 6:13; 10:12; 11:13; 13:5). It is, in brief, a love defined by and pledged in the covenant. If the people appear to be unworthy of the divine love because of its ingratitude or infidelity, the love will change into wrath.

W.L. Moran has established the relationship of this Deuteronomic concept of love with the ideology and the terminology of ancient Oriental treaties, from the 18th to the 7th centuries b.c.e., in which the term "love" is used to describe the loyalty and friendship joining independent and equal rulers (cf. i Kings 5:15), overlord and vassal, or king and subject. This use of the term "love" is no innovation of the author of Deuteronomy 6:5, which is generally considered the earliest reference to the love of God in Deuteronomy. Since Judges 5:31 belongs most likely to the original Song of Deborah and uses the expression "those who love Him," it is probable that the term "love" goes back to a very early period in the Israelite covenant tradition. The formula "those who love Me" appears also in the passage of Exodus 20:6 and Deuteronomy 5:10, which belongs to the Decalogue. The father-son relationship in Deuteronomy, which reflects the very ancient Israelite concept of Israel as the Lord's son (cf. Deut. 32:6, 10–11, 18–20), is also found in the body of the Book of Deuteronomy (Deut. 1:31; 8:5; 14:1). If there is tenderness in this relationship as seen in Deuteronomy 1:31; 32:10–11; Isaiah 63:16; Jeremiah 3:19; 31:9; and Hosea 11:1, the Lord is in Deuteronomy 8:5 the father who does not spare the rod, but this divine chastening is considered in Proverbs 3:11–12 as a sign of the divine love. Israel appears as a disobedient son also in Isaiah 1:2 and 30:9. He is disloyal even to the point of turning away from the Father to other gods (Deut. 32:18–20), just as a faithless vassal abandons his sovereign for another overlord. God intervenes then as one who is angry with his sons for their disloyalty (Deut. 32:19), and who is, therefore, ready to punish them (Isa. 30:1–5, 8–14). In Deuteronomy 14:1, the relationship between father and son as applied to God and Israel is a motive to obey a particular command. It is thus clearly akin to the covenantal love, which should exist between the suzerain and the vassal, called respectively father and son in the diplomatic terminology of the ancient Near East (cf. E. Lipinski, Le poème royal du Psaume lxxxix, 1–5, 20–38 (1967), 57–66). Malachi 1:6 parallels the son with the servant, and expects reverence from each. Since covenantal love involves reverential fear, there may be here a later offshoot of the same tradition. It may reasonably be inferred, therefore, that the ancient Israelite concept of Israel as God's son is very close to the Deuteronomic conception of covenantal love between God and Israel, though it is also associated with the current imagery of father and son. It can be influenced too by the idea of divine Fatherhood, expressed in personal names of the type ʾaviyyah (Abijah), ʾaviyyahu (Abijahu), "the Lord is my Father." Occasionally, the affection of God for His people is also depicted as the love of a mother for her child (Isa. 49:15; cf. 66:13; Deut. 32:11).

The husband-wife metaphor of Hosea 2 recurs in the earliest poems of Jeremiah (Jer. 2–3; 31:2–6), who had most likely been influenced in his youth by the Hoseanic tradition. Ezekiel, too, knew the symbolism of the marriage (Ezek. 16; 23), which recurs again in Deutero-Isaiah as a means of describing Israel's restoration after the Exile: Zion was a deserted wife (Isa. 49:14; 54:6; cf. 60:15; 62:4), without children (Isa. 49:20; 51:18; 54:1), and reduced to captivity (Isa. 40:2; 52:2), because she has been repudiated by the Lord (Isa. 50:1); but the Lord had decided to take her back (Isa. 54:5–8). yhwh's wrath required the rejection of the people – the repudiation of the unfaithful wife. This was the historical turning point with which the prophets were confronted. Nevertheless, the people was the Lord's people, the chosen people, the object of God's love. What would become of the election and of the divine plan for Israel if the "repudiation" became definitive? A tension ensued between God's love and God's wrath. Even the end of Judah as an independent state did not mean the complete annihilation of the nation. The reason is that Israel is precious in the Lord's eyes, and is loved by the Lord. In Hosea 14:5 it is expressly said that God of His own free will and love will heal the faithlessness of His people. Ezekiel emphasizes that the Lord will restore Israel, but not because of her fidelity to the covenant (Ezek. 16:60–68); and Deutero-Isaiah (under the influence of Ezekiel, e.g., ch. 36) says that God blots out the transgressions of His people not because of their sacrifices, but "for His own sake," i.e., His sovereign love (Isa. 43:22–44:5).

A few texts affirm that God loves the righteous (Ps. 146:8; Prov. 15:9; cf. 3:12), and some psalmists refer to God's compassion (Ps. 25:6; 40:12; 51:3; 69:17; 119:77) for all His creatures (Ps. 145:9). Such texts are relatively rare: the Lord's love is almost exclusively love for Israel, the elect people. Even the prophets never say that the Lord "loves" other peoples, or that mankind is an object of His love; but God's actions in Israel's history are dictated by His love. The same is true of His punitive educative work as well as of His gracious gifts in the continued course of history. This is the main theme of the biblical theology of love, probably because the divine love is generally conceived as related to the covenant. The use of the word ḥesed reveals indeed that this term also belongs to the covenantal terminology.

The love for God is sometimes signified in an indirect way, without mentioning the divine name. Thus when Amos 5:15 exhorts the people to "love the good," he intends the justice demanded by the divine law (cf. Micah 6:8; Ps. 52:5), which is mentioned 11 times in Psalm 119 as an object of love (vs. 47, 48, 97, 113, 119, 127, 140, 159, 163, 165, 167). Of course, the author meant by law, the stipulations of the covenant. The love of wisdom (Prov. 8:17, 21; cf. 4:5–6; 7:4; 29:3; Eccles. 4:11–14) is also interpreted as love of the law (Wisd. 6:17–18; cf. 6:12; 7:10), but this theme probably has an Egyptian origin: the personified divine wisdom seems to be an Israelite adaptation of the Old Egyptian Maat, whose love was also highly recommended in texts celebrating this deified idea of truth and justice (cf. Ch. Kayatz, Studien zu Proverbien 19 (1966), 98–102). The biblical passages mentioning the love for the Temple or Jerusalem (Isa. 66:10; Ps. 26:8; 122:9) express instead the desire for the divine familiarity, more vividly felt in the holy places.

[Edward Lipinski]


The Song of Songs has been called the world's greatest love poetry. In range of imagery, lyric quality, and personal insight, it has taught the true nature of love to much of mankind. While it was admitted to the Bible only after a struggle, and then, apparently, because it was seen as an allegory of the love of God for Israel, the manifest content of the poems could never be denied. Thus an intimate link was established in Jewish literature between human love and the love of God. Jewish mysticism made this a major motif in its esoteric teaching. Rabbinic literature likewise reveals its appreciation of love only tangentially but with the same deep feeling: "A man once said, 'When love was strong, we could have made our bed on a sword-blade; Now that our love has grown weak, a bed of 60 cubits is not large enough for us'" (Sanh. 7a).

It is not the love in itself, or the passion associated with it, or its sexual fulfillment which are valued in these writings, as much as the understanding and the generosity which love creates and sustains. Thus, understanding and generosity become the highest ideals for human relationships. Love between man and woman is almost always connected with marriage, which is either the goal of love or the motive which brings it into being. This ideal of love in marriage which leads to understanding and generosity, though influenced by the various cultural circumstances among which Jews found themselves, remained relatively stable over the centuries. Though the ideal of romantic, courtly love did penetrate the Jewish community in the 11th and 12th centuries, unrequited passion never became a major Jewish concern.

Following the Aristotelian denigration of the senses and passion, the Jewish philosophers, *Maimonides in particular, tended to denigrate sexual love, and to intellectualize the love of God.

They viewed the love of God as an essentially cognitive matter. Maimonides explains that "And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart" means that "you should make His apprehension the end of all your actions" (Guide of the Perplexed, 1:39; see also 3:33; Yad., Teshuvah 10:3–4, 6).

Ḥasdai *Crescas, as part of his general attack on the Maimonidean system, rejected this intellectualization of man's fundamental relationship to God. In great measure this is due to Crescas' insistence that positive attributes may be postulated about God (see *God, Attributes of). Since he then connects will and goodness with God, it is obvious that the appropriate response to such a benevolent God is love (Or Adonai, 1:3, 3). This feeling becomes for Crescas the desired basis of man's service to God (ibid., 2:6, 1–2).

Joseph *Albo's Book of Principles 3:35 treats human love of God and God's love for humanity in general, and for Israel in particular. God is worthy of human love because He is good, beneficent, and pleasant, the three criteria Aristotle posited for the object of love (Nicomachean Ethics 8:2; cf. Maimonides, Commentary to Mishnah Avot 1:6). God's love for people is analogous to a king's love of his subjects, a father's love of his children, and a husband's love of his wife. Albo also represents God's love for Israel as a "desire" (ḥeshek), which has not cause or reason (3:37).

The Renaissance philosopher Judah *Abrabanel (Leone Ebreo; Leo Hebraeus) devoted his book Dialoghi di Amore ("Dialogues of Love") to the theme of love, to the connection between love, passion, and reason, and to love as the principle moving the world and expressing the mutual relationship between God and his creatures.

The mystics, though they had an anti-corporeal, ascetic strain in their teaching, similar to the Aristotelian view of Maimonides, nevertheless, had a more emotional understanding of love, and, following the Song of Songs, could see in the sexual passion between man and wife the model of the reintegration of the presently fragmented divine unity (Zohar 1:49b–50a). In modern times, Jewish thinkers have tended to accept the general, gradual reaffirmation of the physical aspects of human existence as essentially healthy. In the 19th and early 20th century, before this change of attitude toward the physical aspects of love, most Jewish discussions of love remained under the influence of German idealistic philosophy.

The Neo-Kantian philosopher Hermann *Cohen emphasized the moral characteristic of love in Judaism: the love of the alien and of one's fellow Jew is a function of the feeling of compassion, and human love of God is defined as the love of the moral ideal. After World War i, the existentialist philosophy of Franz *Rosenzweig and Martin *Buber introduced a new concern for the whole person, and emphasized human relationships. For them, love becomes the very ground of one's being, the source of all meaning and the guide to all action.

Rosenzweig characterized divine revelation as an expression of love of man. Since revelation occurs in the present – creation being the past and redemption the future – the love of God is the embodiment of the human-divine encounter in every present moment. God being the source of love, He can also command man to love Him ("Love the Lord your God") as an expression of His love for man. Buber emphasized the necessary connection between love of one's fellow (re'a) and love of God, whom he calls "the eternal you (Thou)." Against Soren Kierkegaard, who felt the need to abandon his beloved fiancée in order to make room for love of God, Buber argued that only by love of the other person, the human "you" ("Thou"), can a person attain the love of God, the "eternal you" (Thou).

Love and Fear of God (Heb. יִרְאַת ה׳ ;אַהֲבַת ה׳)

In his morning prayer the Jew asks God to "unify our hearts to love and fear Thy Name." This request indicates the recognition, prevalent in Judaism since a century or two before the destruction of the Second Temple, that the love and fear of God are the major motives for serving Him, and that there is some tension between them.

Both terms are widely used in the Bible, but the concept of fearing God appears much more frequently than that of loving Him. It is not clear, however, exactly what the biblical writers sought to convey about their faith by using a word for it which, when related to normal experience, regularly describes emotions of dread and fright (Josh. 10:2; Jer. 42:16). In many of its uses, the term loses all denotations of fear, and conveys a broad sense of one's religion, one's god, or one's pattern of worship (ii Kings 17:28; Isa. 29:13). In some cases the term occurs in conjunction with the love of God, so that the two appear to have a similar content (Deut. 10:12). Some scholars have therefore argued that the terms are identical in meaning, but this interpretation seems unlikely in view of the heavy biblical emphasis on God's punishing sin and His utter transcendence of man. He is never described as simply loving man, though He does love Israel; rather the emphasis is on His mercy and benevolence, that is, though He is the master, He deals kindly. Hence, while the primitive denotations of fear have been sublimated in much biblical usage to a more intimate relationship with God, there is good reason to believe that the fear of God is a primary Hebrew response to God as the transcendent one, but it shades off into the love of God as the benevolent one. In both terms, however, the immediate connotation is action. Neither is used to commend an emotional state, worthy because of the feelings it arouses. Both are used as motivations for doing the will of God. They are means to observance.

By early rabbinic times, the emphasis on love had risen to parity with that on fear. Throughout talmudic times, the emphasis was increasingly placed on love as the most appropriate motive for the service of God. This is in accord with the rabbinic stress on carrying out the commandments for their own sake (lishemah). The implication arises that, in doing them out of fear, it is reward and punishment which move the doer, which, to the rabbis, are extrinsic and inferior motives. They do not insist that doing the commandments for their own sake is the only acceptable way for Judaism, but rather accommodate themselves to human frailty by reasoning that from extrinsic motivation people will come to intrinsic motivation, which indicates their preference. Hence, though a number of rabbinic dicta make a distinction between the two motives, none of them prefers service from fear to service from love. The following are typical: "The reward of the lover is two portions; that of the fearer is one" (ser 28:140–1); "Act out of love, for the Torah makes a distinction between one who acts out of love and one who acts out of fear… In the former case his reward is doubled and redoubled" (Sif. Deut. 32).

A major addition to the meanings of loving God is the rabbis' association of martyrdom with the term. Love would naturally seem to imply a willingness to do anything for one's beloved. With R. Akiva as the model, the rabbis saw the will to give one's life for God and His teaching as the highest expression of love for Him (Ber. 61b; Sif. Deut. 32). The rabbis, however, considered martyrdom an end in itself, and placed severe restrictions on the conditions under which one had to give one's life for the love of God. This idea became a major part of the medieval Jew's sense of the right motive from which to serve God.

With the advent of Muslim-Jewish philosophy, with its rigorous, abstract evaluation of motives, a full-scale preference for the love of God over the fear of God began to pervade Jewish literature. For Maimonides, the rigorous philosophical estimate of all things led to a disparagement of the fear of God as a motive worthy of women and children alone (Maim., Yad, Teshuvah 10:1). Only the love of God, because it seeks nothing for itself, should be considered the motive which men ought to strive to achieve as the basis for their action. Yet Maimonides' Aristotelianism did not permit him to accept love in all its emotional connotations. What he carried over of love's normal meaning is its singleness of focus and its comprehensive relation to its object. In terms of man's inner state, however, since thinking was for Maimonides the most significant thing one can do, love was completely reinterpreted in terms of reason and cognition (ibid. 10:6). Even where Maimonides used the symbols of the love of God, his meaning always related to an intellectual activity which concentrates utterly on its object and seeks to carry that fixation into every other aspect of existence (Guide of the Perplexed, 3:51). Such intensive love of God is called "desire" (ḥeshek).

Isaac *Arama's treatise Ḥazut Kashah portrays the philosophers as attaining the rank of love of God resulting from admiration, but not the higher rank of *fear of God. On the other hand, the philosophers negated divine love of man, because in their view God does not relate in any way to individual humans. Baruch *Spinoza typifies such a philosophic position, emphasizing that God does not love individual people (Ethics 5:17). In Jewish mysticism, by contrast, though there are continual references to the fear and love of God, no clear-cut emphasis on one or the other becomes dominant in any of the major movements. The Zohar, for example, esteems both very highly. The concept of devequt calls on man to intimately associate his being with God and to be linked to Him in every activity of his life. This concept incorporates aspects of the traditional ideas of both the love and fear of God. It carries over the closeness of the former, yet maintains a sense of the distance and greatness of God.

Modern Jewish thinkers have avoided discussing the fear of God, since it seems too closely associated with the image of man as passive and abject. Wishing to ascribe to man an active role in his relationship with God, they have almost universally made the reciprocal love of God and man central to their teaching. Since this idea can easily be extended to the point where the distance between God and man is obliterated, as in various schools of humanism, some thinkers have begun to suggest that a concern for the fear of God is not incompatible with the dignity of man and is required by the transcendence of God.

Love of Neighbor

Leviticus 19:18 commands: "Love your neighbor (re'akha) as yourself: I am the Lord." The surrounding verses qualify this commandment. They prohibit unfair dealing and defrauding even of the defenseless, and forbid vengeance and the bearing of a grudge.

It is not clear whether the commandment to love one's neighbor applies to Jews only or to non-Jews as well. There is no substantial data from the Bible concerning the practice of the commandment. From the parallel term in the first part of the verse, benei ammekha ("children of your people"), it would seem that re'akha ("your neighbor") in the second part of the verse refers to specifically Jewish neighbors (see for example, Maim., Yad, De'ot 6:3), though the word re'a is used elsewhere in the Bible to refer to non-Jewish neighbors as well. The fact that the love of the resident stranger (ger) is enjoined in the same chapter in a separate verse (19:33–34) would seem to indicate further that "neighbor" in verse 18 refers specifically to Jews. It is clear that according to the interpretation of the rabbis of the talmudic period the commandment of loving one's neighbor does not refer to idolaters. Idolatry is, of course, the classic wickedness in Jewish eyes. While there is no commandment to hate idolaters, and while there are in rabbinic literature many stories about the positive relations between Jews and idolaters, the law places so many restrictions on association with idolaters and their goods that the commandment of neighborly love cannot easily be said to apply to them.

The rabbis had a clear appreciation of the significance of this commandment. Akiva called it the epitome of the Torah. Ben Azzai, in preferring the verse: "In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made He him" is not denying Akiva's assertion of the importance of this commandment (Sifra 19:18). If anything, he is seeking a more inclusive verse, for "neighbor" might be understood literally or locally, but "creation in the image of God" excludes no human being. Similarly, both Hillel (Avot 1:12) and R. Meir (ibid. 6:1) enjoin that one should love all mankind ("creatures"). Concern for the non-Jew and his welfare is understood to be part of the Jewish goal of promoting peace among men, mi-penei darkhei shalom ("in the interest of peace"). From this commitment a whole range of moral responsibilities toward gentiles devolves upon Jews. Maimonides, in a typical ruling from the many in medieval writings, writes: "We bury the dead of heathens, comfort their mourners, and visit their sick, as this is the way of peace" (Yad, Avel 14:12).

In modern times, when the Jew's neighbor for the first time is widely understood as encompassing all humanity, the understanding of neighborly love by Jewish thinkers has been, correspondingly, universalized.

Moses *Mendelssohn argues that the commandment in Leviticus 19:18 cannot mean to love someone else as one loves oneself, which is impossible; moreover, had the Torah intended to command love of neighbor "as yourself," it would have said ke-nafshekha. The term kamokha, in his analysis, does not mean "as yourself" but "that which resembles you"; the commandment thus means "love your fellow, for he is like you, equal to you and resembling you, for he was also created in the image of God; he is human, like you. This includes all humans, since all of them were created in [God's] image" (Be'ur to Lev. 19:18; the commentary to Leviticus was prepared by H. Wessely, and was supervised and edited with bracketed additions by Mendelssohn).

Samson Raphael *Hirsch makes the love of all mankind a condition for being a true Israelite, and Hermann *Cohen considers it the necessary and unique concomitant of Jewish *monotheism. Cohen also follows Mendelssohn in interpreting the commandment as meaning love for the other who is like you: "The ethical self must be engaged in action. For this self, there exists no I without a Thou. Re'akha means "the other," the one who is like you. He is the Thou of the I. Selfhood is the result of an unending relation of I and Thou as well as its abiding ideal" ("Charakteristic der Ethik Maimunis" (1908), in: Juedische Schrifteniii, Eng. tr. in E. Jospe (ed.), Reason and Hope: Selections from the Jewish Writings of Hermann Cohen (1971), 218).

Leo *Baeck writes: "In Judaism neighbor is inseparable from man… there is no 'man' without 'fellowman,' no faith in God without faith in neighbor…" (Essence of Judaism (1936), 193).

[Eugene B. Borowitz /

Raphael Jospe and

Hannah Kasher (2nd ed.)]


in the bible: B.J. Bamberger, in: huca, 6 (1929), 39–53; D.W. Thomas, in: zaw, 57 (1939), 57–64; E. Jacob, Theology of the Old Testament (1958), 108–13; W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, 1 (1961), 250–8; 2 (1967), 290–301; W.L. Moran, in: cbq, 25 (1963), 77–87; N.H. Snaith, The Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament (19643), 94–142; D.J. McCarthy, in: cbq, 27 (1965), 144–7. Ḥesed: A.R. Johnson, in: Interpretationes ad Vetus Testamentum pertinentes Sigmundo Mowinckel septuagenario missae (1955), 100–12; N. Glueck, Ḥesed in the Bible (1967). post-biblical: N. Glatzer, Franz Rosenzweig, His Life and Thought (1961), xxiii–xxv; M. Buber, Between Man and Man (1948), 28–30, 51–58; M. Harris, in: jqr, 50 (1959/60), 13–44; idem, in: Conservative Judaism, 14 (1959/60), 29–39. love and fear of god: A. Buechler, Studies in Sin and Atonement in the Rabbinic Literature of the First Century (1928), 119–75; Scholem, Mysticism, 233–5, and index, s.v.Love of God; G. Vajda, L'Amour de Dieu dans la thélogie du moyen âge (1957); F. Bamberger, in: huca, 6 (1929), 39–53. love of neighbor: S.R. Hirsch, Horeb: A Philosophy of Jewish Laws and Observances (1962), 52–54; H. Cohen, Religion der Vernunft (19292), 144ff.; M. Buber, I and Thou (1937), passim. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: S. Harvey, "Love," in: A.A. Cohen and P. Mendes-Flohr (ed.), Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought (1986), 557–63; Leone Ebreo, The Philosophy of Love, tr. F. Friedenberg-Seeley and J.H. Barnes (1937); W.Z. Harvey, "Albo on the Reasonlessness of True Love," in: Iyyun, 49 (2000), 83–86; H. Kreisel, "The Love and Fear of God," in: idem, Maimonides Political Thought (1999), 225–66; E. Simon, "The Neighbor (Re'a) Whom We Shall Love," in: M. Fox (ed.), Modern Jewish Ethics: Theory and Practice (1975), 29–56.


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An affective accord or union with what is in some way grasped as congenial. While almost hopelessly general, this definition has the merit of indicating the dynamic and relational character of all love and of suggesting that its function is to promote wholeness. An effort to specify the levels of wholeness toward which various loves are directed cannot fail to throw light on the ultimate meaning and destiny of human existence. This article considers the various kinds of love, the historical development of theories of love, love at the level of sense, and love at the level of reason.

Kinds of Love

Human beings experience many different kinds of love, corresponding to different levels of existence. The most important distinction is that between sensible and rational love; other types are concupiscent and benevolent love, eros and agape, and appreciative love.

Sensible and Rational . Sensible love, which humanity shares with the animals, is geared to satisfying the needs of biological life. It looks to what is presented by the senses as requisite and congenial to the individual here and now. Since it is intrinsically dependent on matter and consists in the dynamic accord of sensitized potency with what can fulfill it, it is radically subjective.

Rational love, on the other hand, is rooted in human spirituality and openness to being. Because he is spiritual, man can grasp the real (both sensible and suprasensible) as independent of the present condition of his organism and affectively relate himself to it on the basis of its own merits. Such love is fundamentally objective. Whereas sensible love is a psychic reaction to stimulus, rational love is a personal response to worth. The first looks to the conservation and promotion of the individual organism or the species. The second looks beyond these to the absolute value of being, which it seeks to promote in all its finite embodiments.

Concupiscent and Benevolent . The fact that rational love is ordered to the continual enhancement of the finite in the light of the infinite leads to a further distinction. For one cannot enhance something without desiring for it whatever is conducive to its growth and development. This facet of love, which is rooted in the limited and potential character of the beloved and seeks goods that will perfect him, is called concupiscent love (amor concupiscentiae ). On the other hand, the beloved for whom such goods are desired and whose full growth in being is sought is loved with benevolent love (amor benevolentiae ). Concupiscent love and benevolent love are thus two dimensions or aspects of rational love; although not identical with one another, they are nonetheless inseparable.

Eros and Agape. Another important distinction in the language of love is that between eros and agape. Although sometimes confused with the distinction between concupiscent and benevolent love, this is really quite different. It does not arise from the essential polarity within all human love, but regards instead the different orientations such love may assume. For since man is open to Being as absolute, he can serve such Being anywhere. He is not limited to promoting being in himself only, but can do so in others. When, therefore, he focuses on himself and seeks his own full expansion in being, his love is called eros. When, however, it looks to others and devotes itself to their fulfillment, it is called agape. In either case, both the concupiscent and benevolent aspects of all human love are involved. On the other hand, neither eros nor agape taken separately would seem to be equal to love's total drive, for the distinction between self and other is a distinction within being. A love, therefore, looking to Being Itself could not exclude either without falling short. But more about this later.

Appreciative. Mention should also be made of what is sometimes called appreciative love (C. S. Lewis). For in the presence of what is congenial, it sometimes happens that a person's stance is neither one of desire nor one of benevolence but is more akin to sheer gratitude. From the depths of his soul he appreciates simply the excellence of what he encounters. However, although this may appear to be a distinct mode of love, it seems better to identify it with the openness to being that is the root of all rational love. It is precisely because man can appreciate the consummate excellence of being wherever he finds it that he seeks to promote it in himself and others and desires what furthers this work. And he is able to appreciate it because of that basic affinity to being that is the root of his spirituality.

Historical Development

Theories of love have gone through so long a process of evolution that it is impossible to detail their history in brief compass. [M.J. Adler, ed., The Great Ideas: A Synopticon of Great Books of the Western World (Chicago 1952) 1:10582; R. Eisler, Wörterbuch der philosophischen Begriffe (Berlin 192730) 2:2938; Enciclopedia filosofica (Venice Rome 1957) 1:173180.]. Here only the main stages are mentioned, with emphasis focused on the origin of such theories among the Greeks and on their development within Christianity.

Greek Theories. Among the facets of love outlined above, the first to take systematic shape in a full-blown philosophy was that of ροςnot eros as contrasted with agape and as one of the two orientations of rational love, but as the overriding dynamism of the soul. Thus plato (Symp. 210AE) conceives the soul as ordered from the outset to a wholly satisfying contemplation of the good, which it can reach, however, only gradually and by means of a laborious ascent. Stirred by the ideal reality that makes its presence felt in and through the sensible, the soul is moved with longing for the eternal. Beyond the fleeting forms of beauty and goodness in the world around it, it looks for that which does not fade and whose immutable possession can alone quench its thirst. The Good, therefore, for Plato, however nobly and spiritually conceived, remains a term of desire (concupiscent love). It is not loved for its own sake but for its capacity to satisfy the soul's hunger. Love, on the other hand, is basically a matter of longing. It is not benevolence, a generous impulse to enhance the world; it is flight from the world to a changeless noetic heaven that is seen as the soul's salvation.

aristotle is more down to earth. His analysis of love is directed largely to the question of friendship and is situated in the context of natural finality (Eth. Nic. 1155a1172a). Like all natural entities, man too has an innate drive toward what will perfect him. This relationship to himself is seen as a kind of friendship, a benevolent attitude aiming at his own promotion in goodness. More importantly, because of man's intellectual nature, he is able to recognize another man as in some sense one with him by likeness and, on the basis of this similarity, to extend the benevolence he has for himself to this other. Friendship is thus a prolongation of self-love and the friend a kind of second self (Eth. Nic. 1166a 12).

The importance of Aristotle's theory is that it makes room for a love that is more than mere desire. Because of his likeness to the self, the friend is loved for his own sake. Love becomes generous, a matter of giving as well as of getting. This is what will permit a Christian theologian such as St. thomas aquinas to make considerable use of Aristotle's ideas in the elaboration of a theory of charity. However, it must be pointed out that because of Aristotle's fundamental naturalism and his lack of a doctrine on creation, the individual substance remains ontologically primary and all its activities, including friendship in the case of man, are necessarily subordinate to its own drive for perfection. Benevolence is therefore rooted in a more radical concupiscence; although one's friend is loved for his own sake, the reason that one enters such a relationship is to satisfy a natural need. Friendship is but a good required for human happiness.

Christian Thought. Christianity brought about a basic shift in man's thinking about love. The abundant generosity of love comes to the fore. Instead of rooting love, as Plato did, in man's spiritual poverty or deriving it, with Aristotle, from the needs of nature, Christian thought sees love's source in the infinite perfection and creativity of Divine Being. God Himself is love (1 Jn 4.8). His very substance is a loving community of three divine Persons. He creates the world out of love. And out of love He sends his Son to redeem man. The Word made flesh is Love incarnate who calls man, made in His image, to a share in His life. Man's basic vocation is now one of generous love, agape. His consuming task is to promote God's kingdom on earth, to spend himself in behalf of the Lord who seeks an ever fuller presence in the world He made. In this perspective, even the search for personal happiness is subordinated to pure devotion to God and His glory (cf. Thomas Aquinas, In 4 sent. ad 3).

This Christian insight, founded on God's revelation of Himself, represents the high-water mark in man's comprehension of love's scope. Subsequent thinkers, working under its influence, have only partially succeeded in elaborating comprehensive systems consistent with it. Too often, when they have not ignored it and reverted to something inferior, their efforts have resulted only in distorting the sublime vision that Christ's revelation affords.

It is perhaps not too much to say that in the writings of Aquinas, the Middle Ages produced its least unsatisfactory synthesis. Even there, however, some thinkers feel that Aquinas's reliance on Aristotle produced a tension in his thinking on love that he never fully overcame. The other great medieval tradition, represented by richard of saint-victor, though more in tune with contemporary personalism, is, like the latter, too lacking in comprehensive categories to provide an adequate metaphysics. Both, however, are truer to the Christian concept of love than anything found in modern thought until quite recently. Thus, for example, the Italian Renaissance combined the impersonalism of Platonic eros with the creativity of Christian agape to conceive love as an immanent, all-pervasive cosmic force. The rise of empiricism, on the other hand, stripped away love's transcendental implications and reduced it to the status of a particular, purely natural instinct. While the romantics absolutized the sexual side of love, the objective idealists, once more recognizing its suprasensible orientation, nevertheless saw it as part of a universal, impersonal dialectic. In reaction to all this, recent years have seen the rise of a new personalism, much enriched by the techniques of phenomenology, but still, it must be said, in search of a metaphysics. If ever there is to be a philosophy adequate to the Christian message, its best hope seems to lie in the restructuring of Aquinas's metaphysics of being along lines that take more explicit account of the central and comprehensive mystery of the personal.

Love at the Level of Sense

The distinction between sensible love and rational love is rooted in the different types of awareness that give rise to them. Sensible love is aroused by the presence to the animal's senses of something congenial to his nature. Its goal is pleasure, a strictly subjective state that is related to the animal's objective good only as a natural sign. For sensible consciousness is not objective. The animal is wholly guided in its actions by feelings of attraction and repulsion that it is unable to distinguish from the realities stimulating them. Hence those other traits of sensible love: the narrowness of its horizon and its lack of freedom, but also, on the brute level, its sureness and apparent innocence.

Role in Man. With man, the picture becomes more complicated. The sensible level of his nature is radically transformed by the spiritual component it embodies. As spirit, man is at once interior to himself and present to the other as other. He enjoys objectivity. Unlike the brute, he is not imprisoned within his own psycho-organic nature but can refer his sensations and feelings explicitly to the objects arousing them. They become revelations of the nature of the situation in which he finds himself and of its harmony or discord with his own concrete being. Thus, even though his sensible love has pleasure for its aim, it is pleasure known as such and as distinct from the things that provide it. This is what J. Guitton means when he remarks that in man's "most fundamental states, even the most bestial, there is always a hormone of spirit sufficient to differentiate these states from their animal counterparts" (113).

Granting, however, this transformation of sense life by its integration in man with objective awareness, its role nonetheless remains basically the same. In both man and beast, the attractions things exert are in the service of biological lifethe life of the individual and that, too, of the species. Experiencing his own affective accord with certain objects in his environment, of his desires in their absence and of his pleasure in their presence, man, no less than the beast, is induced to satisfy the objective requirements of his psyche-organic nature that the former reactions signify. But whereas for the beast the inducement is compelling, it is not so for man. His self-possession and openness to more comprehensive values leave him free to follow the lead of sense or not to follow it. He cannot suppress the feelings that things arouse in him; but he can, when to yield would conflict with pursuit of a higher good, resist their promptings. Moreover, such regulation by reason is necessary if this vital realm of feelings and emotions, which is meant to sustain and promote human life, is not to disrupt it instead. For since nature has relaxed its grip on man to allow for the emergence of personal freedom, man's fund of emotional energy will dissipate itself in chaotic eruptions unless he personally intervenes to restrain and order it.

Need for Passions. But if man's passionate life apart from spirit's control will lack humanity, his spiritual life will be limp and languid unless fired from below by his passions. This is the truth Aquinas saw when he rejected the Stoic view of the passions as enemies of reason and morality (Summa Theologiae la2ae, 24.2). On the contrary, not only does the rational application of passionate energy not diminish spiritual activity; it enhances and presses it onward (Summa Theologiae la2ae, 24.3). For just as in man the presence of spirit transforms all the levels below it, so also it needs the support and cooperation of all these lower levels to carry out its own work. Here, perhaps, is the germ of truth in views that reduce all love to the level of sense and even to the sexual instinct (H. Spencer, S. Freud). Because spirit can insert itself effectively in the world only through the mediation of psychoorganic energy and because among all his drives the sexual one in man is the most clamorously insistent, the temptation is strong to simplify matters by collapsing all distinctions. One refutation of these views is simply that, in suppressing manifest distinctions, they impoverish experience instead of explaining it. That there is a difference between sensible love whose goal is pleasure and rational love whose term is being itself should become clear in the following section, which is devoted to the latter. Suffice it to say here that when man makes pleasure his overriding concern, not only does he blind himself to all that is valuable in itself, but by that very fact he makes sadness his constant companion. For he condemns himself to the permanent absence of the only good commensurate with the human heart.

Love on the Level of Reason

The root of rational love is the openness and affinity to Being Itself that defines the realm of spirit. To be spirit is to have access to being-as-absolute, i.e., to a value that encompasses both oneself and the other and, while grounding each person in his originality, still transcends him on every side. To be spirit is to be-for-being, to exist, even prior to choice, as sharing in that pure devotion-tobeing that is being. Whereas the dynamism of sensible nature is the dynamism of potency seeking its own fulfillment, the radical dynamism of spirit is one of act, of abundanceit is a pure love of excellence, a pure complacency with perfection, rejoicing in its presence and bent on promoting its reign.

Characteristics. On this basis, the characteristics of rational love, as distinct from sensible love, are clearly discernible. For rational love is the individual's free ratification of this fundamental dynamism of spirit. It is a matter of freely orienting one's life in the direction of service. The element of freedom here is important. The individual, to be sure, is not free on the pre-reflective level to determine what will present itself as good to his intellect. Just as the dynamism of the organism assures that whatever is sensibly present and in harmony with that dynamism will be felt as attractive, so also, when what is intellectually perceived presents itself as harmonizing with the spirit's essential drive, it is known as a rational good (cf. J. de Finance). But whereas, on the sensible level, the reactions are automatic, the response of spirit is not. For the absolute value of Being is present to spirit only through the mediation of particular forms, and the ways it may be served are seen as limited and often conflicting. Moreover, given the distinction in man between his psycho-organic drives, which look to his fulfillment as a separate individual, and the spirit's thrust toward a generous service that subordinates separate fulfillment to a more comprehensive good, the need for man to assume the direction of his life becomes manifest. What will he do? Will he pursue his own satisfaction on the organic level even if it means sacrificing his spiritual fulfillment, or will he let spirit be his guide even when to do so entails the curtailment of sensible appetites? This is the choice he must make. To decide for the former is to reject spirit's call and to settle for a life that he knows falls short. To opt for the latter is to undertake a life of discipline and hardship, but one in which even frustration serves a purpose and is redeemed by what it promotes. Reason and spirit, to be sure, are involved in either case since, on this level, even failure is a matter of free decision. But only when reason directs its course is a person's love truly rational.

Disinterested Love. What has been said about love in the preceding paragraphs raises an important question about love's disinterestedness. For if it is its harmony with the spirit's drive that recommends a particular course of action as goodmuch as sensible attractiveness is grounded in the conformity of an object with the psycho-physical dynamism of the organismthen it seems that love of the good on the level of spirit, no less than on the level of sense, is actually and inevitably simply a form of self-seeking. The reason a person dedicates himself to the service of Being is to achieve himself as spirit, just as the pursuit of pleasure looks to his fulfillment as organism. The one may be a higher and more comprehensive goal than the other, but in both cases the good remains subordinate to self-realization. The question then arises: Is a pure and disinterested love of anything, even God, within the bounds of human possibility? If it is not, then the selfishness of man becomes limitless and incurable, since he cannot help making God Himself a mere means to his own happiness. If, however, such love is possible, how can one even begin to understand itfor it seems to imply that a being can tend to something in no way connected with itself (cf. Summa Theologiae 2a2ae, 26.3 ad 2).

In their efforts to resolve this dilemma, philosophers have usually succeeded in holding on to only one of its horns. Thus, for example, there developed among some of the mystics of the 12th century an ecstatic conception of love (see Rousselot). From their point of view, love is not love at all unless it is completely pure and disinterested, unless the subject goes completely outside himself and loses himself in the beloved. An echo of this passion for complete disinterestedness comes up later in the writings of I. kant (e.g., Critique of Practical Reason ), for whom morality is not genuine if the maxims it proposes are in any way connected with the subject's likes or dislikes or with his drive for fulfillment, even spiritual. "Duty and obligation are the only names that we must give to our relation to the moral law." In both of these views something human is lost. The ecstatic conception maintains a disinterested love at the price of foregoing any attempt to understand it. Kant's doctrine sacrifices love itself to preserve the subject from any touch of egoism.

On the other hand, there are thinkers who are less interested in idealizing selflessness than in giving a rational account of it. Thus P. rousselot defends as the doctrine of Aquinas a thinly disguised monism wherein God and creature are interpreted as whole and part and the distinction between them is all but collapsed. In this light, self-love is identically a pure and greater love of God, since to love oneself is at the same time and more profoundly to promote the whole in which the self has its being. Such a position is not much different from that of philosophers who are openly pantheistic. B. spinoza, for example, likewise collapses the distinction between creature and God. But instead of identifying self-love with a greater love for God, Spinoza ultimately identifies it with God's own love for Himself.

If moves such as these, which account for selfless love by doing away with the self, are philosophically inadequate, they are less so than the ones that either ignore or deny God in their efforts to explain love. For if the individual self is primary and has no ground beyond itself, then in all its relations with others it must ultimately seek itself. Thus, as has been seen, Aristotle was forced to derive an individual's love for another from his natural love for himself. And centuries later, J. S. mill preached service to others as a source of deepest satisfaction to oneself. There is, no doubt, truth in both positions. But neither is successful in explaining disinterested love. For all they actually do is to make selfless love reasonable by showing that it is really not selfless.

Love of Self and Others. If a rational account of truly generous love can be given, it will have to proceed along lines similar to the ones indicated in L. B. Geiger's brilliant exposition of the Thomist solution. The foundation of Geiger's position is the analogy of appetite consequent upon the different ways in which the good is present to it. The will, or intellectual appetite, seeks the good as presented by intellect. But the intellect is man's faculty for objective knowledge. It knows the real not merely in terms of the person's immediate dealings with it but as it is in itself. It presents to the will, therefore, not merely what is good for the individual but what is good in itself. The will thus is seen as naturally ordered to the real on its own merits. It is true to itself only when it loves what is good in itself for its own sake.

To rephrase this in the language used above, one can say that the spirit in man is dynamically ordered to being as an absolute value. In its very roots it is a love of being for its own sake. The perfection of spirit, therefore, is not a matter of acquisition but of orientation. Its fulfillment is to love generously. It is most itself when it is most for the other.

Since, in this light, there is no distinction between self-realization and genuine devotion to being for its own sake, the problem of disinterested love disappears. For now there can be no question of subordinating love for the other to one's own fulfillment (egoism) or of sacrificing that fulfillment to one's love for the other (ecstaticism). Personal fulfillment is identically a matter of generous service. When one loves generously, one is by that very fact fulfilled; one is caught up in Being's embrace. On the other hand, any idea of self-realization as a separate goal to which love is only a means is a misconception. It is to think of the self as something apart from its loving relation to Being and, therefore, able to use this relation for its own advantage. The truth is that the self exists only in this relationship and apart from it is nothing at all.

From what has been said, it is clear that no opposition can exist between genuine love of self and genuine love for others. Hence it is misleading to speak of a person's loving God more than himself, as if one could really sacrifice himself for the love of God and not instead be completed by it. What such a phrase means is that, since the root relation of spirit is one of responsiveness to the consummate excellence of Being Itself (God), the created spirit can be concerned for itself only as derivatively sharing in that excellence, not as rivaling, or, much less, surpassing it. So also with the idea that man naturally loves himself more than his neighbor. One can no more subordinate others to oneself than one can sacrifice self to God. On the contrary, one loves himself truly only in willing and spending himself for others.

What lies behind these other views is Aristotle's idea that self-love is the origin of man's love for othersan idea that, in turn, is founded on the Stagirite's conception of the ontological primacy of the individual substance. With one's own substantial reality functioning as the ultimate reason for all one does, it is manifest that one's relation to others must be secondary to the pursuit of one's own perfection. For Aristotle, this is true without qualification. It is only partly so, however, when viewed from the perspective of a metaphysics that takes account of the fact of creation. Thus St. Thomas, adopting Aristotle's position regarding man's relations with others who are finite like himself, is nevertheless forced to reverse it when it comes to man's love for God. For God is the ontological ground of man's individual reality and hence is the ultimate reason why man himself is lovable. Hence St. Thomas concludes that naturally man loves God more than himself and himself more than his neighbor. This view is tenable, and indeed irrefutable, so long as finite reality is seen as a collection of individual substances that are only accidentally related to one another. It would not hold, however, if the self is essentially constituted by its relationship to the other. Moreover, this latter position seems to some to be more in line with the Christian contention that love is the root of reality, its first beginning and its last end.

Man's Vocation. Thus, even apart from grace, man's vocation as a person is one of generous love. He completes himself through wholehearted commitment to a work of "reasonable service." The dominant motif of this work is the promotion of being in the beings around him, their continual enhancement in the light of possibilities that the enveloping presence of Being opens up. To this overriding motif, all man's passionate energies must be subordinated. The passions supply the raw material with which spirit works, the vitality it requires for any effective accomplishment. But they must be checked, disciplined, and integrated into the coherent work of love.

Unless spirit truly and vigorously assumes the ascendency, man's lower drives run riot in their strident search for satisfaction. But as part of the larger work of love, even their curtailment and frustration in particular instances can contribute to overall growth. This natural capacity of the person to grow in love and achieve a work of genuine service is what grace presupposes and transforms. For the manner and scope of this transformation, which enriches without suppressing what has here been described rather briefly, see charity.

See Also: appetite; emotion; passion; person; sex.

Bibliography: l. b. geiger, Le Problèe de l'amour chez saint Thomas d'Aquin (Montreal 1952). p. rousselot, "Pour l'histoire du problème de l'amour au moyen âge," Beiträge zur Geschichte der Philosophie und Theologie des Mittelatlters 6.6 (Münster 1908) 1102. h. d. simonin, "Autour de la solution thomiste du probléme de l'amour," Archives d'histoire doctinale et littéraire du moyenâge 6 (Paris 1931) 174276. r. o. johann, The Meaning of Love (Westminster, Md. 1955). j. de finance, "La Motion du bien," Gregorianum 39 (Rome 1958) 542. f. e. crowe, "Complacency and Concern in the Thought of St. Thomas," Theological Studies 20 (Woodstock, Md. 1959) 139, 198230, 343395. j. guitton, Essay on Human Love, tr. m. channing-pearce (New York 1951). c. s. lewis, The Four Loves (London 1960). m. c. d'arcy, The Mind and Heart of Love (New York 1947). f. d. wilhelmsen, The Metaphysics of Love (New York 1962).

[r. o. johann]


views updated Jun 27 2018


Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels,—and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1–2, Gideon Bible).

This widely quoted statement from the Christian Bible is not unique. More ink has been spilled about love than any other topic, except perhaps God. Speculation about the nature of love is very ancient; however, the scientific study of love only began in the twentieth century. Human love has been the primary focus, although love is not restricted to humans, as every pet owner knows. Harry Harlow (1974) demonstrated that mother love and nurturance is required for infant monkeys to develop normally. Infants deprived of mother contact became disturbed, unhappy adults, unfit for monkey society.

There are many kinds of love. The encompassing love of our parents begins our own life's journey of love, a journey that wends its way through love of parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, romantic partners, and eventually full circle to the encompassing love of our own children—and grandchildren. St. Paul was right—without love we are nothing!

The primary focus of this entry is romantic love. As Beverley Fehr (1995) noted, the emotions and feelings that underlie companionate love may be the foundation for all types of love. For example, parent-child and friendship love match this general concept of companionable love. Romantic, erotic love is a specialized love that may evolve out of a broader companionable love. But passionate, romantic love is very important to people, thus leading to strong interest by social scientists.

Passionate and Companionate Love

Ellen Berscheid and Elaine Walster (1969, 1978) proposed the distinction between love as passion and love as friendly companionship. These authors construed passionate love as a state of total absorption between two lovers, including mood swings, intense emotions (pleasurable and aversive), and obsessive thinking. Companionate love was construed as the affection two people feel for each other when their lives are deeply intertwined. According to Elaine and G. William Walster (1978), most passionate love affairs end in breakups. But if a couple is lucky, passion can change into the mild glow of companionate love. In essence, passion becomes friendship.

This early scientific theory of romantic love tended toward an either/or view, either passion or companionship, but not both at once. This view may well have had cultural validity during much of the twentieth century. However, Elaine Hatfield (formerly Elaine Walster) noted that people are capable of both types of love and may experience them intermittently during their lives (Hatfield 1988).

People appear to want both types of romantic love. Passion is pleasurable, but its associated strong emotion creates the potential for relationship instability. Lovers want stability and often desire friendship. Several recent studies show that romance and friendship are often combined in today's Western cultural milieu. Susan and Clyde Hendrick (1993) collected written accounts of love, and found that friendship with the lover was the most frequently desired characteristic. Susan Sprecher and Pamela Regan (1998) also found that both passion and companionship were related to relationship satisfaction and commitment. Pat Noller (1996) concluded that a mix of passionate and companionate love best supports the continuity of marriage and family. But passion is important; erotic love is one important predictor of relationship satisfaction, regardless of length of the relationship (Hendrick and Hendrick 2000). Passion alone may not be enough, however; perhaps we must be friends with the one we love in order for love to last. The recent research and theorizing on passionate and friendship love is consistent with the prototype theory of love developed by Fehr.

Prototypes of Love

People think in terms of concepts. For example, love, sex, and intimacy are concepts. But what is a concept and how is it defined? Recent theorizing in cognitive science treats a concept as either a best example, or as a best set of features. These best sets may be viewed as an abstract average of the characteristics that compose the concept. This abstract average is called a prototype.

In numerous studies, Fehr (1988; Fehr and Broughton 2001) has explored a prototype conception of love. For example, she (1988) had people list the features of love that they considered important. A list of sixty-eight features emerged, including both passionate and companionate features. The most frequent features that emerged were trust, caring, honesty, friendship, and respect (Fehr 1993).

So where was passion in this feature list? It was there, but low in importance. Other studies asked people to rate the importance of twenty different kinds of love.

Mother love, parental love, and friendship were the three most important types of love, and romantic love ranked fifth. However, passionate love and sexual love ranked low on the list.

The prototype approach indicates that people clearly distinguish between passionate and companionate love. Companionate love appears to be the foundational type of love. It is general in that it applies to many types of love relationships (e.g., parent, child, friend). Passionate love is more specialized, and its links to sexuality lead to societal restrictions on the people for whom this type of love is appropriate (e.g., lover, spouse).

Fehr's research was concerned with love in general. Another approach could focus only on romantic love and ask people to list its features. Pamela C. Regan, Elizabeth R. Kocan, and Teresa Whitlock (1998) did such a prototype analysis of romantic love. In this case, results showed that sexual attraction and passion were among the central features of romantic love. However, sexual attraction and passion ranked well below trust, honesty, and happiness in importance. When given a large list of features, people appear unwilling to rate passion and sexual feelings as important defining features of love—even when the focus is on passionate love!

What is going on in these studies? One answer was provided by Arthur Aron and Lori Westbay (1996) in a complex statistical reduction (factor analysis) of the sixty-eight features to the smallest possible number of independent factors. Three factors emerged that were identified as passion, intimacy, and commitment. Features on the intimacy factor were rated as more important to the meaning of love than the features of passion or commitment.

So love includes intimacy, commitment, and passion, but the greatest of these is intimacy—at least according to this theoretical tradition. These three prototypes of love form the basic concepts of another theory of love proposed by Robert Sternberg (1986).

Triangular Theory of Love

For Sternberg, the three components of love—intimacy, passion, and commitment—can be viewed as three points on a triangle and occur in people in different proportions (present or absent) to create eight different types of love. These eight

table 1
Triangular theory of love
 three components of love(present or absent)
type of loveintimacypassioncommitment
source:based on sternberg. (1986). "a triangular theory of love." psychology review 93: 119-135.
1. consummatepresentpresentpresent
2. companionatepresentabsentpresent
3. romanticpresentpresentabsent
4. fatuousabsentpresentpresent
5. infatuatedabsentpresentabsent
6. emptyabsentabsentpresent
7. likingpresentabsentabsent
8. nonloveabsentabsentabsent

types may be most easily visualized in table form (see Table 1).

This theory is elegant in its simplicity, yet consistent with everyday notions of love. Moreover, the theory is relevant to the development of relationships over time. For example, before meeting another person the three components of love would be absent (nonlove). After meeting, liking may develop (intimacy). Perhaps some degree of commitment develops also, suggesting companionate love. If passion develops as well, then full consummate love has flowered. Other developmental trajectories are possible. A sudden burst of passion and commitment may develop from an initial meeting. Fatuous love seems an appropriate name for such instant, committed attraction. Perhaps a full consummate relationship loses its passion and intimacy, but retains strong commitment. The concept of empty love captures this situation well.

More recently, Sternberg (1998) shifted his theorizing to focus on the narrative, developmental aspects of love. In fact, the progression of a love relationship is a kind of story, one commonly celebrated in novels and films. In Love Is a Story, Sternberg (1998) explicitly recognized the story-like nature of love, and described twenty-five love stories, each representing one kind of theme or metaphor of love. If people can understand their own love stories, perhaps they will be able to manage future outcomes of those stories more successfully.

The ubiquity of romantic love in human life may suggest that it is part of our genetic heritage for mating, a possibility noted by several theorists.

Attachment Theory and the Evolution of Love

Evolutionary psychology is a broad group of theories that include sex and mating practices as part of their domain (e.g., Buss and Kenrick 1998). Most mammals engage in a mix of emotional expressions and attachment behaviors that, in human terms, appear to be love. In fact, John Bowlby (1969) developed an elaborate evolutionary theory of human infant attachment as the precursor of and foundation for human love. Cindy Hazan and Phillip P. Shaver (1987) elaborated Bowlby's infant attachment theory into an adult model of romantic love. Sydney L. W. Mellen (1981) wrote an entire book on the evolution of love. Mellen speculated that species survival depended on primitive emotional bonding between breeding pairs of proto-humans. Such bonding enhanced survival rates, and in a few hundred generations passionate love emerged as a defining human attribute. Thus attachment processes and love may be closely linked.

The attachment behavior first identified by Bowlby was further explored by Mary D. S. Ainsworth and her colleagues (1978), whose research with infants and their mothers resulted in the articulation of three basic attachment styles. These include secure attachment (warmth and trust in relationships), anxious/ambivalent attachment (nervous dissatisfaction with either closeness or separateness in relationships), and avoidant attachment (discomfort with closeness in relationship).

Hazan and Shaver (1987) adapted the three infant attachment styles to adult romantic relationships, and Kim Bartholomew (1990) broadened the styles from three to four, essentially differentiating avoidance based on dismissal from avoidance based on fearfulness. Much research effort has gone into conceptualizing and measuring attachment over the last decade, and there is some consensus that there are indeed four rather than three styles. It is also possible to view attachment as dimensions rather than styles, meaning that instead of fitting into only one of four attachment boxes, everyone has aspects of all four attachment styles (Feeney, Noller, and Roberts 2000).

Attachment processes are clearly relevant for human socialization. Further, attachment does appear similar to various types of love, including some aspects of romantic love. As an area of scientific theory and research, however, attachment has become very complex. It is not known if there are different types of attachment, or if attachment varies in small steps on one or more dimensions. The stability of attachment processes over the life span is another area of controversy. Perhaps these and other issues will be sorted out as this research tradition matures.

The theories discussed so far capture a broad range of the human experience of love. But they do not capture all of it. To broaden the conception still further, this entry considers a sociological theory developed by John Alan Lee (1973), described in his book The Colors of Love, and commonly referred to as a theory of love styles.

The Love Styles

Although no one theory of love can capture all of love's characteristics in all of love's domains (e.g., parent-child love, love of friends), Lee's (1973) love styles approach proposes six major orientations to romantic, partnered love. These love styles include Eros (passionate love), Ludus (game-playing love), Storge (love based on friendship), Pragma (practical love), Mania (dependent, possessive love), and Agape (altruistic love). The Love Attitudes Scale (LAS) was originally developed with seven items to measure each of the six love styles (forty-two items total) (Hendrick and Hendrick 1986) and is now available in a short form of twenty-four items (Hendrick, Hendrick, and Dicke 1998). The LAS has been used to explore a number of questions about love.

For example, do women and men differ in their love styles? Men typically describe themselves as more game-playing, and women describe themselves as more friendship-oriented, practical, and dependent. Recent research also indicates that men endorse altruistic love more than women do, so sex differences may vary depending on such factors as the version of the LAS that is being used or the age and culture of the sample. In any case, because gender differences are typically small, sex similarities are probably more important. For example, men and women are similar on passionate love, and for both sexes, passionate love (as well as other qualities) predicts relationship satisfaction, across both ages and cultures (Contreras, Hendrick, and Hendrick 1996).

Are romantic partners similar in their love styles? Gregory D. Morrow, Eddie M. Clark, and Karla F. Brock (1995) found partner similarity on love styles (consistent with previous research) and also found that people's love styles (and their partners' love styles) were related to a number of positive relationship qualities (e.g., commitment, investment). Is companionate or passionate love more important to a romantic relationship? Both companionate and passionate love appear to be related to satisfaction with one's relationship, and it is concluded "that passion and friendship/companionship are not consecutive in a romantic relationship but rather are concurrent. Both play a part in relationship initiation and development as well as in relationship maintenance" (Hendrick and Hendrick 1993, p. 465).

The LAS has been translated into many languages, probably because many cultures and countries are interested in romantic love, and also because different love styles may be congruent with different cultures.

Love Across Cultures

Although love needs to be framed within a cultural context, many scholars believe that romantic love is transcultural. Elaine Hatfield and Richard L. Rapson (1996) viewed passionate love as common to virtually all cultures, and indeed, romantic love has been found in most countries of the world, as described in the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample ( Jankowiak and Fischer 1992). Love also appears to have been part of people's conscious experience for many centuries. Wenchun Cho and Susan E. Cross (1995) examined Chinese literature dating from 500 to 3,000 years ago and found themes that seemed to represent passionate love, casual love, devoted love, obsessive love, and free choice of a mate, all themes that are present in contemporary love theories. These authors then used the LAS to see whether these themes were found in current attitudes of Taiwanese students living in the United States. These students did indeed express six different love styles, but not exactly the six contained in the LAS. For example, passionate and altruistic love seemed to be combined in a "Romantic and Considerate love," and practical and altruistic love seemed to be combined in "Obligatory love."

Robin Goodwin and Charlotte Findlay (1997) compared Chinese, Hong Kong, and British respondents on the love styles and the Chinese concept of yuan (fated and predestined love). Although the Chinese participants were more endorsing of yuan as well as practical and altruistic love styles, British respondents also agreed strongly with several of the yuan items. Robert L. Moore (1998) used written narratives and interviews to document the importance of love to both Chinese and U.S. cultures but also emphasized that love in Chinese society is tempered by additional characteristics such as the need for parental approval and the importance of appropriate behavior.

In other research, Pacific Islanders, Japanese Americans, and European Americans (all Hawaii residents) were compared on various aspects of love and relationships (Doherty et al. 1994). Attachment was related to love similarly for all the groups, and the groups did not differ in either companionate or passionate love. Sprecher and her colleagues (1994) also found similarities across cultures. They compared Russians, Japanese, and Americans on love and relationships, and found that although some cultural differences were present—Russians less likely to require love as a basis for marriage, Japanese agreeing less with certain romantic beliefs, Americans more endorsing of secure attachment—"the young adults from the three countries were similar in many love attitudes and experiences" (p. 363).

Cross-cultural similarity in love attitudes was documented by Raquel Contreras and her colleagues (1996), who studied Mexican-American and Anglo-American couples in the United States. The Mexican-American couples were divided into bi-cultural (equally oriented to Hispanic and Anglo cultures) and Hispanic-oriented groups, because acculturation to a majority culture in a particular country may alter the relationship behavior that someone brings with them from a country of origin. In fact, there were only modest love attitude differences among the groups. The Anglo-American, bicultural, and Hispanic-oriented couples did not differ in passionate, altruistic, or friendship-based love, and they were also similar in relationship satisfaction. Modest cultural differences were shown by Bernard I. Murstein, Joseph R. Merighi, and Stuart A. Vyse (1991), who found in comparing French and American students on the LAS that the French students were more agapic, and American students were more manic and oriented to friendship love.

In considering what we know about love across cultures, it is likely that the propensity for romantic love is cross-cultural and may well be part of our genetic heritage. But love is also construed and constructed within contexts of culture and country. As William R. Jankowiak (1995) observed, "Romantic passion is a complex, multifaceted emotional phenomenon that is a byproduct of an interplay between biology, self, and society" (p. 4).

Love Across the Life Span

Love, in its romantic expression, is often thought to belong to the "young," just as sexuality is thought to belong to the young (and often the beautiful). Yet love spans all of human life. Nancy K. Grote and Irene Hanson Frieze (1994) have given particular attention to love and other relationship characteristics in middle-aged married couples. They found that game-playing love was a negative predictor of marital satisfaction, whereas friendshipbased and passionate love were positive predictors of satisfaction. These findings were similar to those for younger couples. In another study with largely the same married sample, Grote and Frieze (1998) asked people to recall their love for their partner when the relationship was beginning, as well as assess their current love for their partner. Passionate love, though perceived as somewhat lower than it had been many years before, was still "moderately strong" (p. 104). Love based on friendship was perceived to be about the same as it had been when the relationship began. Interestingly, husbands perceived that their altruistic love for their wives had grown over the years.

Love across the life span was also explored by Marilyn J. Montgomery and Gwen T. Sorell (1997), who studied relationship characteristics and love styles in four different groups: (1) college-age adults who had never been married; (2) married adults under age 30 without children; (3) married adults (ages 24–50) with children in the home; and (4) married adults (ages 50–70) with no children in the home. The greatest differences between the groups were not based on age, but rather the presence or absence of the marital bond. The young, unmarried people reported less altruistic love and greater game-playing and manic love than the other three groups. Neither passionate love (often thought to be the property of the young) or friendship-oriented love (often thought to be the hallmark of older couples) differed across the groups. The authors noted that "individuals throughout the life-stages of marriage consistently endorse the love attitudes involving passion, romance, friendship, and self-giving love" (p. 61).


Love is fundamentally important to our humanity. Various expressions of love are important, including romantic, partnered love. No one theory captures all the nuances of love, but virtually all of the love theories help us to understand love better. Love may manifest somewhat differently across both cultures and ages, but overall, people are more similar than different.

See also:Affection; Attachment:Couple Relationships; Attraction; Dating; Friendship; Honeymoon; Intimacy; Marital Quality; Marital Sex; Marriage, Definition of; Mate Selection; Sexuality; Trust


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grote, n. k.; and frieze, i. h. (1998). "'remembrance of things past': perceptions of marital love from its beginnings to the present." journal of social and personal relationships 15:91–109.

harlow, h. f. (1974). learning in love. new york: jason aronson.

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views updated May 21 2018


Parents' attachment to and affection for their children are perhaps the most profound emotional experiences of human existence. Infancy and childhood require an extraordinary level of parental involvement and typically call for the parent or caretaker to sacrifice resources, comfort, and even safety in the interests of the child. Contemporary evolutionary theory views affection for children and parental attachment as biologically motivated behavior, fundamental to the survival of the species. Some psychological theories also place the experience of parental love and attachment at the center of emotional development. As children develop, other important emotional relationships grow out of the experiences of affection and attachment that they had as children.

The Ancient and Medieval World

Culture has inevitably grown up around attachment behavior, investing it with meanings and also shaping the behavior to conform to other human needs. Although examples abound in the Bible and in Greek literature of the love of parents for children, these do not necessarily resemble contemporary standards for love. For instance, in 2 Samuel, King David mourns for his dead, rebellious son, Absalom. But his general, Joab, rebukes David for his sadness, reminding David of the danger his men had incurred to defeat Absalom.

Evidence from Rome depicts an upper class that poured out affection for dead infants and children. Yet the experience of childhood may have been filled with relatively few moments of abiding tenderness. Roman fathers could reject children at birth, allowing them to be exposed and die. Roman medical literature has little to say about childhood illness, and children in Roman letters and memorials were often praised for adult characteristics. This does not indicate a Roman ignorance of stages of child development children played freely in their early years and received many toys from fond relatives. But upper-class Romans may have cared more for the adult to be than for the child. Roman children began life and continued through childhood within a dense network of relationships in which the biological parents often were not the primary caregivers and may not have been the primary givers of love and affection. As they grew, boys had to learn the Roman values of citizenship and generally received a relatively extensive education under harsh masters. Even so, there is evidence that by the first century. b.c.e. parental affection for young children had wider acceptance and that during the early imperial period some Romans came to see the family as their principal source of identity.

Historians in the two decades following Philippe AriÈs's groundbreaking 1960 work generally applied Ariès's insights to the affectional bonds of medieval and early modern households. According to Ariès parents loved their children, but not so much for themselves as for the contribution these children could bring to the household. High infant and childhood mortality meant that families feared to invest much time, affection, and attention in small children who might not survive. Even names were reused, either family names or the names of dead siblings. Wet-nursing meant mothers had little opportunity to become attached to their infants, and swaddling and inattention meant that the very young received little opportunity to bond with mothers. Similarly the lack of privacy foreclosed opportunities for purely family activities. Between ages seven and fourteen both boys and girls could expect to be apprenticed to another family, thus ending family closeness altogether. Childhood ended quickly, and youths became miniature adults, with versions of adult roles and responsibilities. Thus, the household economy completely absorbed the bonds of affection.

More recent historians have stressed continuity rather than a sharp change in child rearing from medieval to early modern times. Evidence exists back to antiquity of the recognition that childhood was a distinctive phase in human development and worthy of special attention. Children's toys, evidence of grief for dead infants, and new insights into practices such as wet-nursing all point to a more affectionate family environment. One study of rural France found mothers fussing over young children and grieving at the loss of children through death or separation. Important changes in child raising accompanied economic and intellectual trends from the late Middle Ages. These included extended schooling, the renewed importance of classical models for education, and a newly vital embrace of marriage and family life. These trends tended to reinforce the importance of warmth and affection in the home.

Early Modern and Modern Times

By the eighteenth century the general features of the modern affectionate or sentimental family had become widely disseminated in child-rearing literature and the values of close family ties and affection began to be taken for granted among middle-and upper-class families in western Europe and the British North American colonies. John Locke's 1693 Some Thoughts Concerning Education became a fundamental text of the new family ideal. Locke believed that children were distinct from adults in having few if any concepts, and that the education of children should be central to family life. He urged parents (he wrote to fathers) to use physical punishment as little as possible, but rather to shape behavior through esteem and disgrace. Locke's work became an important point of departure for Enlightenment writers who encouraged sentimental relationships within the family.

By the early nineteenth century, the affectionate family, with recognizably contemporary attitudes toward parental love, had taken firm root among the middle classes in western Europe and the northern United States. The economic functions of the family had largely withered away and in their place powerful affectionate bonds had grown up. Even with continuing high infant mortality, parents recognized each new child as an individual and as worthy of a unique relationship. Children received new and distinctive names. Mothers nursed their own children and both parents attempted to spend time playing with children and nourishing the bonds of affection. Boys and girls would still have gender-neutral clothing until age seven, but the ages of childhood were valued as intrinsically important. Extended schooling limited, sometimes even replaced, apprentice-ships for boys, and girls generally remained in the home. Within the larger middle-class homes, private parlors allowed the family to spend time together away from outsiders. The love of family members for one another, and particularly of parents for their children, became the central concern of the family.

Gender, Class, Ethnicity, and Region

The workings of the affectionate family varied by gender, social class, ethnicity, and region. Among the important economic and social changes in the United States and western Europe was the separation of work from the home. Middle-class fathers, as breadwinners, were absent from the home for most of the day, six days a week. This reduced or eliminated many of the relations that fathers would have with their children within a household-based economy such as a farm or artisan's workshop. Fathers still strived to serve the family and still enjoyed their children and gave them warm regard, but their time for this was limited.

The role of the middle-class mother became far more important. During the nineteenth century, motherhood assumed a vitally important role, becoming the epitome of all love and the highest example of devotion. Mothers, especially as they gained assistance from maids and other servants, could devote ever larger periods of time to raising children, a calling that became central to the self-identity of middle-class mothers. Literature was filled with examples of maternal sacrifice and love. Evidence from letters in the nineteenth century, and from surveys in the early twentieth century, show that both male and female children had fonder memories of mothers than of fathers. But boys had eventually to separate from mothers to pursue independent lives. Girls, on the other hand, could grow to womanhood within a realm of motherly affection that was extended through relations to other female relatives, friends of the mother's, and age-contemporary friends who were part of the extended female network.

In the preCivil War American South, the sentimental family bound by affection and centered on the rearing of children appeared in a modified form among upper-class white families. Here the fathers may well have taken more of a role in the life of the children, and these families may have given greater scope to affection. But southern parents also demanded that children acquire a sense of family pride and honor, and take on roles that were often more prescriptive than those found in the North. Consequently, these families have been described as warm and affectionate but with careful control of emotional displays.

African-American families in the South prior to the Civil War maintained affectionate ties in spite of the hardships of slavery. Frederick Douglass recalled his mother's visits to him, even though she had to travel many miles at night, after her work. The vulnerability of the slave family to being broken by the sale of its members, and the harsh conditions of slavery, meant that many children developed kinship ties to aunts, uncles, grandparents, and fictive kin within the slave community. These ties spread the child-rearing tasks and also the bonds of affection throughout the community. Even so, after the war one of the most common reasons for the almost universal movement of freed men and women was the desire to find spouses and children and reunite families.

Working-class white families in the nineteenth century had little in common with middle-class families. Children in industrializing America had to work and contribute to the family economy from an early age. Affectionate ties within the family always competed with the material needs of the family. Fathers may have been even more distant than in middle-class families. A primary source of tension within working-class families was the demand for children's wages. In immigrant families, especially those from southern and eastern Europe, traditions of patriarchy meant that fathers preferred sons and the family focus was not on raising and adoring children but on serving fathers and catering to male children. Combined with the pressing demands for the entire family to work, this limited affectionate play and the warmth of family life.

The Twentieth and Early Twenty-First Century

The twentieth century brought a range of changes to the affectionate family. With the growing prosperity of the middle class, fathers could budget more time for activities with children. This still left the bulk of child rearing and family chores with mothers, but fathers at least had more opportunities for affectionate play with children. Growing prosperity also meant that successful working-class families began to resemble middle-class families, with their affectionate ties. Mandatory school laws and the limited success of child labor laws meant that more working-class children were experiencing extended childhoods similar to those of children of the middle class.

A peer culture also developed among adolescent youth in the twentieth century. With extended schooling, and with the popularity of summer camps, many more children found themselves with age peers for much more time. Some conflicts grew out of this development, with adolescent children convinced that parents had little understanding of and affection for them. Mothers found it more difficult to continue the long tradition of female bonds among girls and young women.

Motherhood and mother love also came in for criticism. By the 1920s, social scientists and journalists began to attack mother love as a dangerous, even suffocating, emotional attachment. While maternal affection continued to characterize home life, at least middle-class mothers often found themselves fearing that their desire to coddle or praise or worry over children might have long-term harmful effects. After World War II this trend was partially reversed, with the renewed cultural emphasis upon the affectionate family, but suspicion of mother love continued as a motif in American culture throughout the twentieth century.

As indicated by biological and psychological theories that place parental affection for children at the center of human evolutionary survival and emotional development, love of children has become transcendent in contemporary America. Child-centeredness is taken for granted, with the only debate being around the proper means of aiding children in their development. At the same time, late-twentieth-and early-twenty-first-century Americans recognize the possibilities for abuse disguised as love for children. Revelations of the sexual exploitation of children in child-care facilities and religious institutions, and the recognition of dysfunctional family life as an important social issue, have made the proper form of love, care, and affection for children a pressing issue. Because of its importance in contemporary culture, love for children will continue at the center of vital debates on social and moral issues.

Love by Children

The history of children's love is obviously more obscure than that of parental love. As sentimental love became more highly emphasized, it was usually assumed that children would respond in kind. But not all children proved as loving as their parents hoped. One feature of adolescence often involved a period in which active affection was less forthcoming, which could be confusing to child and parent alike. Sociologists have speculated that a longer-term result of the growing emphasis on love for children involved a need for children (perhaps particularly girls) to fall in love in order ultimately to separate themselves from their parents (particularly their mothers). The ramifications of the history of love and childhood deserve further attention.

See also: Emotional Life; Fathering and Fatherhood; Mothering and Motherhood.


Ariès, Philippe. 1962. Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life. Trans. Robert Baldick. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Buss, David M. 1988. "Love Acts: The Evolutionary Biology of Love." In The Psychology of Love, ed. Robert J. Sternberg and Michael L. Barnes. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Clement, Priscilla Ferguson. 1997. Growing Pains: Children in the Industrial Age, 18501890. New York: Twayne.

Dixon, Suzanne. 1992. The Roman Family. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Greven, Philip. 1977. The Protestant Temperament: Patterns of Child-Rearing, Religious Experience, and the Self in Early America. Chicago: University of Chicago.

Griswold, Robert L. 1993. Fatherhood in America: A History. New York: Basic Books.

Hawes, Joseph M. 1997. Children between the Wars: American Childhood, 19201940. New York: Twayne.

Herlihy, David. 1985. Medieval Households. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Ladurie, Emmanuel Le Roy. 1988. Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error. Trans. Barbara Bray. New York: Vintage.

Macleod, David I. 1998. The Age of the Child: Children in America, 18901920. New York: Twayne.

Ozment, Steven. 2001. Ancestors: The Loving Family in Old Europe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Rawson, Beryl. 1991. "Adult Child Relationships in Roman Society." In Marriage, Divorce, and Children in Ancient Rome, ed. Beryl Rawson. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Reinier, Jacqueline. 1996. From Virtue to Character: American Childhood, 17751850. New York: Twayne.

Shaver, Philip, Cindy Hazan, and Donna Bradshaw. 1988. "Love As Attachment." In The Psychology of Love, ed. Robert J. Sternberg and Michael L. Barnes. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

John C. Spurlock


views updated Jun 08 2018


Sociologists agree that love is one of the most complex and elusive concepts to deal with from a scientific point of view. Indeed, they often point out that poets, novelists, and musical composers are much more adept at producing eloquent expressions about this pervasive sentiment. Dictionary definitions are of limited use in categorizing the essential ingredients of love, except to connote its many variations as an attitude, an emotion, or a behavior. No one definition can capture all the dimensions of love, which can involve a wide range of elements such as romantic obsession, sexuality, caring, even irrationality. Indeed, some have argues: "There is no single, subjective meaning of love that everyone experiences in the same way" (Hendrick and Hendrick, 1992). Part of the difficulty is that individuals and their cultures define love very differently, depending on particular relationships and circumstances.


Conceptions of love have varied not only from one culture to another, but also from one historical era to another (Murstein 1974; Hunt 1959). Prominent among these are courtly love, Romanticism, and Victorian-era love (Hendrick and Hendrick 1992), as well as the modern era of love (Seidman 1991). Various forms of courtly love appeared in the twelfth century. This marked the beginning of the transformation of love from a philosophical or theological ideal to a practical way of relating between men and women. Sexual desire and expression were seen as one of the goals of love, and the love relationship was seen as intense and passionate. This bond was not limited to one's spouse, however. Marriage was seen as a more mundane and practical relationship. In contrast, courtly love was impractical, as the time commitment necessary to follow its elaborate rules and customs limited involvement to the wealthier or aristocratic classes. It often found its expression—sometimes sexual, but often not—in the idealized devotion of a knight or nobleman to a lady of nobility, who symbolized the perfect partner. Men and women did not relate in the day-to-day interaction associated with more recent intimate relationships.

In the late eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries, Romanticism replaced courtly love. In Romanticism it is possible to recognize the origins of some of our modern ideas about love: concern with similarities between partners, equality in the relationship, and the experience of the emotional side of love. This form furthered the courtly love ideal of sexual expression between partners as a worthy goal, with the added recognition that this fusion of emotion and sexuality could (and ideally should) occur with one's spouse.

The Victorian era (approximately 1830–1900) brought great changes to the idea of romantic love. This is hardly surprising, as people of this time were also adjusting to the changes in work and community life brought about by the Industrial Revolution. In the shift from the home economy to paid labor, the status of women declined, and new myths and ideas about love and its expression emerged. The partnership-oriented focus of Romanticism all but disappeared. Women in the Victorian era were seen as weaker and less intelligent than men. Within marriage, this assumption defined women as mothers and helpers, not individuals who might have complementary interests and a rightful concern for equality within a relationship. Women were also seen as childlike and asexual during this time, and were thought to need their husband's protection. This is an abrupt departure from earlier modes of loving, which acknowledged sexuality as an important aspect of the experience of love. In the Victorian era, sexual matters were not discussed between spouses.

In the modern era (1890–1960), the literature on love and marriage once again recognized the importance of an intimate bond between partners. Marital advice from this time shows a preoccupation with couples' happiness and the security of the marital bond. During this period, romantic love and sexual compatibility were inseparable, and this sexualization of love (Seidman 1991) brought the perception of sexual expression in romantic relationships full circle. Sexual expression was no longer seen as a component of love (whether an idealized or neglected one) but the very basis of love itself.

Sexual impulses and romantic love are often directed at the same person, but they are not the same. People are known to pursue sexual encounters in the absence of any romantic feelings. Sexual impulses are derived from our biological heritage, and romantic love is a learned cultural pattern. The two bear a relationship to one another, however, in that romance often encompasses sexually motivated behavior plus a cluster of cultural expectations (Hatfield and Rapson 1993)


The range of psychological and social meanings attached to love would, therefore, appear to be limitless. However, we experience and express love mostly according to the culture and subcultures in which we have formed our sentiments. The formation of these sentiments begins very early and evolves through the physical and emotional attachments that characterize the parent-child relationship. While idiosyncratic patterns exist, love scripts by and large reflect the influence of social conditioning. In short, love is largely a learned response.

Despite cultural differences, several aspects of love seem to be universal (Sternberg 1998). Everywhere love involves four ideals: the suitable partner, the emotional experience of loving, the mental experience or thought process of loving, and the actions deemed acceptable and expected between the lover and his or her partner. Although these components seem to be found in all societies, how they are defined is culturally specific. The suitable partner may be of the opposite or the same sex, younger or older than oneself (or the same age), and tall and thin or short and heavy. Similarly, thoughts about love may be pragmatic or passionate, and emotions may range from deeply affectionate to reserved and respectful. The potential combinations that add up to "love" vary widely, and might be unrecognizable to a person from another culture. For example, in some tribes in Africa there is a traditional system known as "sweethearting" in which young people choose partners based on emotional and physical attraction (Goode, 1963). Even within this system there is variation. Some tribes allow sweethearting to lead to marriage, while others permit their young people to take lovers by choice but maintain the practice of arranging marriages for girls when they are still children. In the Arab world, love may also take secondary importance to familial concerns in taking a spouse. Many unmarried adults in Arab countries report that love is their ideal basis for marriage. However, married adults report varying levels of emotional closeness with their spouse prior to marriage, including love, acquaintance, and kinship ties without either love or acquaintance.

Cultural norms are internalized and program us to fall in love with specific types of people, within certain social contexts, to the exclusion of others. However, love is not necessarily related to marriage. There is a saying, for example, that in the West one falls in love and then gets married, whereas in the East one marries and then falls in love. In some societies, arranged marriages were and still are contracted. The emotional intensity a couple feel toward each other is given little or no consideration. Instead, emphasis is given to the sociopolitical implications of the marital alliance for the families and kinship groups involved.

In the United States, on the other hand, love is viewed as an important condition to marriage. We are generally suspicious of anyone who would marry for any other reason. We are not comfortable with the idea that in some cultures a man marries his mother's brother's daughter because that is the prescribed pattern. Even among our upper classes, where concern about protecting family resources leads to a greater emphasis on practical considerations in mate selection, couples are expected to espouse mutual love as the basis for their marriage, or else their motives become suspect. Revelation of marital alliances designed to preserve or enhance family wealth often receive a cynical response from the public at large.

Families recognize that courtship and mate selection merge not only two individuals but also two different kinship lines, which in turn may affect their socioeconomic and political stature. Consequently, families invest considerable energy and resources to control love (Goode 1959). Several mechanisms to accomplish this have been identified, including the direct control provided by (1) child marriages, in which betrothal may occur before puberty or even before the child is born; (2) defining the pool of eligibles, that is, delineating whom one can and cannot marry; (3) physical or social isolation to limit the probabilities of contact; and (4) various indirect controls such as moving to preferred residential neighborhoods, enrolling children in appropriate schools, joining select organizations, or attending certain churches. The latter mechanism is most characteristic of Western societies.


In American society a romantic love complex exists, and this complex posits love as a central prerequisite to marriage. The basic components of this complex are assimilated through the mass media—through romantic stories in novels, magazines, television, and movies. In this way we are psychologically prepared to fall in love. The major characteristics of romantic love include romantic democracy; that is, cultural differences between couples are minimized or ignored because "love and love alone" is sufficient. Indeed, it involves the notion that romantic love thrives on such differences. Romantic love also includes romantic intensity; that is, people are expected to fall in love instantly (to experience love at first sight) and deeply, with great emotional attachment. Finally, romantic love includes romantic monopoly in that once the "bolt from the blue" strikes, the couple presume exclusive emotional and social rights to each other, in perpetuity (Merrill 1959). A person experiencing the full thrust of this complex is, supposedly, consumed by constant thoughts about the beloved, a longing to spend all one's time with that person, a sad pining in the beloved's absence, and a feeling that life would not be worth living without him or her (Tennov 1980).

There is disagreement about the extent to which people adhere to the tenets of the romantic love complex and whether it actually influences mate selection. Sociologists have generally viewed it as a poor basis for the establishment of permanent unions, inasmuch as it involves an element of capricious choice based upon an unpredictable emotion. Moreover, romantic love is not completely rational. Part of its credo is that there is one and only one true love or ideal mate. Yet we know that people fall in and out of love several times in a lifetime.

People caught up in the romantic complex often idealize their partners. Some argue that this process of idealization, in which a distorted positive picture of the love partner is constructed, results from the blockage of sexual impulses by cultural prohibitions. If this were true, then one would expect a liberalization of our sexual mores to be accompanied by a decline in romanticism. However, this does not appear to have happened, at least in Western societies. What does happen is that the elements of the romantic love complex, including the idealized picture of the partner, are modified to fit the reality of that person that emerges through close and intimate interaction over time. Couples unable to make this accommodation are apt to suffer disillusionment, and their marriages may encounter persistent difficulties. For marriage to succeed, the overly romanticized notions and idealizations of romantic love must eventually be replaced by conjugal love, which is based upon habits, common interests, mutual acceptance, and mature companionship derived from a shared history.


The mass media undoubtedly encourages many romantic myths about love. This can be problematic for several reasons (Ellis 1985). Fictional lovers, whether in the movies or in novels, can magically go about their romantic business without the mundane everyday constraints faced by real people. Fictional portrayals of romantic love also tend to idealize the partners as beautiful, perfect people who are in the earliest passionate stages of love. It is assumed that this stage of love will last forever for the couple. In reality, few of us are unencumbered by family expectations or blessed with perfect beauty. Perhaps more damaging, the passionate stage of love shown on the silver screen tends to mature and deepen in real life into a more companionate form of love—which may then be taken as not being "real" love by those who subscribe to the romanticized media ideal.

Media portrayals of love and family life may also set up a template for behavior that is difficult or impossible for a couple to enact and sustain, while at the same time making them feel wrong somehow for failing to meet this expectation (Coontz 1992). Many intimate partners do not choose to follow the homemaker-breadwinner pattern in their relating. For some others who would like to be able to do so, this may be a financial impossibility. To make matters even more complicated, mass media presents other images of lifestyles that are at odds with the nuclear family image. Messages of consumerism and mass consumption in television shows and commercials encourage individuals to keep their choices open and to accept only the best. This message of individualism makes intimacy and commitment between romantic partners more difficult, as some may shy away from choosing a partner out of fear that something better may come along. Our kinship system does not provide a protective mechanism against this individualism. Because we trace kinship bilaterally through both the mother and the father, lineage concerns do not keep couples together (Farber 1964). As a result, marital status and presumed romantic exclusivity do not prevent partners from being available as a potential mates to others.


There appear to be gender differences with respect to love and loving. It is generally assumed that such differences reflect culturally defined sex roles. Women have been stereotypically portrayed as starry-eyed romantics, while men are viewed as exploitative realists. However, research shows that men fall in love more quickly than women do and with less deliberation, score higher on scales of romanticism, express stronger romantic attitudes, and suffer greater emotional stress when relationships are terminated. Compared to men, women are more apt to exhibit a companionate rather a passionate approach to love. The difference between the two centers around the element of emotional intensity. Companionate love "is a calm, steady, relaxed state; passionate love is an emotional roller coaster, with intense highs and lows" (Fehr 1995). Because women may have potentially more to lose from a social and an economic standpoint, they tend to be more prudent or discriminating in establishing and maintaining love relationships (Hochschild 1983). They are more apt to take into account practical considerations regarding mate selection. Hence, in comparison to men, women are more likely to terminate relationships and are able to disengage emotionally more easily when they break up (Rubin 1973).

Men and women also have different expectations of love (Cancian 1987). The common denominator among many of these differences seems to be communication styles and preferences. Women have an advantage in communicating emotionally, because traditional gender norms have allotted the jobs of nurturing and relationship maintenance to them. They also tend to have more emotionally close (but not sexually intimate) relationships than do men. This suggests that women have less difficulty with emotional vulnerability and communication. Women tend to want more intimacy through verbal communication from their partners. This can cause a host of problems, as men tend to express feelings of love actively rather than verbally.

Love is also experienced differently by men and women partly because of varying levels of dependency. Although a large proportion of women now hold paid employment, economic dependence on men is still a factor in many wives' and mothers' experience. They are more likely to put their careers on hold to raise children than are men, to earn less than their spouses, and to relocate due to a spouse's career needs. The critical link between gendered experience of love and financial concerns can be seen in socioeconomic class differences. Working- and middle-class men are less likely to identify strongly with their work than are men in the upper middle class. As a result, it is in the upper middle class that conflict between wives' needs for intimacy and husbands' desires for self-fulfillment and career achievement may be felt most acutely.

The gendered differences inimical to romantic love are found in communication as well (Gray 1992). Men and women have vastly different communication styles, and problems arising from miscommunication may lead to difficulties within a relationship. For a man to feel truly loved he must feel that he is needed. For a woman to feel loved she must feel understood and appreciated as well. These requirements stem from men's desire to feel competent and women's desire to feel socially and emotionally connected to others. When partners relate, however, they tend to speak to one another in ways that they would like to be spoken to themselves because they do not recognize these differing bases for feeling loved. Women tend to air their problems and difficulties with their partners in order to feel validated and understood. In response, men tend to offer solutions to women's problems or to minimize these problems—offering the vote of confidence in their partners' competency that they would want in similar circumstances. These differences can potentially undermine feelings of love experienced by the partners (Gray 1993). A woman is left feeling that her partner does not truly listen or understand her when he offers solutions to her grievances, and she feels abandoned when he withdraws to consider his own problems in privacy. A man can feel blamed by his partner's complaints and stunned by her negative reaction to his proposed solutions, and tends to feel hounded if she attempts to penetrate the silence he needs to work issues out for himself.

Social scientists have explored the sequences through which the dimensions of love relationships develop and have constructed numerous theories, models, and typologies of love (Fehr 1995). They have also detected and described a number of styles of loving (Kemper 1988; Lee, 1988; Hendrick and Hendrick, 1986; Lasswell and Lasswell 1980). Love is said to begin typically with physical symptoms—palpitations of the heart, rapid breathing, sweating, and so on. At this stage the symptoms are essentially similar to those associated with other emotions such as fear. Next the person proceeds to label his arousal as a love response. This labeling process gains impetus from social pressures and cultural dictates, which prod one to define the experience as love and to follow its ritualistic patterns.

The optimum conditions for love to flourish require that the couple be equally involved in and committed to each other and the relationship. Where there is unequal involvement, the person with the strongest commitment may be vulnerable to exploitation. This is known as the principle of least interest, in which the partner with the least interest has the most control. Few relationships that are based on this principle can endure.

(see also: Courtship; Interpersonal Attraction; Mate Selection, Theories)


Cancian, Francesca M. 1987 Love in America: Gender andSelf-Development. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.

Coontz, Stephanie 1992 The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. New York: Basic Books–HarperCollins.

Ellis, Albert 1985 "Romantic Love." In John F. Crosby, ed., Reply to Myth: Perspectives on Intimacy. New York: Wiley. pp. 218–227.

Farber, Bernard 1964 Family: Organization and Interaction. San Francisco: Chandler.

Fehr, Beverley 1995 "Love." In David Levinson, ed., Encyclopedia of Marriage and the Family, vol. 2. New York: Simon and Schuster–Macmillan.

Goode, William J. 1959 "The Theoretical Importance of Love." American Sociological Review 24:38–47.

——1963 World Revolution and Family Patterns. New York: Free Press.

Gray, John 1992 Men Are from Mars, Women Are fromVenus. New York: HarperCollins.

——1993 Men, Women and Relationships, rev. 2nd ed. Hillsboro, Oreg.: Beyond Words Publishing.

Hatfield, E., and Rapson, R. L. 1993 Love, Sex, andIntimacy: Their Psychology, Biology, and History. New York: HarperCollins.

Hendrick, Clyde, and Susan S. Hendrick 1986 "A Theory and Method of Love." Journal of Personality andSocial Psychology. 50:392–402.

Hendrick, Susan S. and Clyde Hendrick 1992 RomanticLove. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage.

Hochschild, Arlie R. 1983 The Managed Heart. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Hunt, Morton 1959 The Natural History of Love. New York: Knopf.

Kemper, Theodore 1988 "Love and Like and Love and Love." In David Franks, ed., The Sociology of Emotions. Greenwich, Conn.: JAI Press.

Lasswell, Marcia, and Norman M. Lasswell 1980 Styles ofLoving. New York: Doubleday.

Lee, J. A. 1988 "Love Styles." In R. J. Sternberg and M. L. Barnes, eds., The Psychology of Love. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.

Merrill, Francis E. 1959 Courtship and Marriage. New York: Holt-Dryden.

Murstein, Bernard 1. 1974 Love, Sex, and Marriage throughthe Ages. New York: Springer.

Rubin, Zick 1973 Loving and Liking. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Schwartz, Gary, Don Mertem, Fran Beham, and Allyne Rosenthal 1980 Love and Commitment. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage.

Seidman, Steven 1991 Romantic Longings: Love in America, 1830–1980. New York and London: Routledge.

Sternberg, Robert J. 1998 Cupid's Arrow: The Course ofLove through Time. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.

Tennov, Dorothy 1980 Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love. New York: Stein and Day.

Felix M. Berardo
Erica Owens


views updated May 11 2018




Husbands and Wives. What was the relationship between a husband and wife? The legal relationship depended upon whether or not the marriage conveyed manus. The personal relationship depended on much more. Because the husband was usually older than his wife, especially if this was her first marriage, there was some expectation that the husband took over the wife’s education about domestic matters. As the wife (and possibly materfamilias) her duties included managing all aspects of the household: overseeing cleaning, cooking, giving orders to slaves, and preserving the pax deorum (peace with the gods) inside the home by attending to the household gods (the Lares and Penates) and outside the home by attending religious festivals and by behaving appropriately in public.

The Marriage-Relationship. The relationship that developed between a husband and wife ranged from complete dislike to a genuine love. Obviously, marriages in which the couple could develop no working relationship often ended in divorce, but there is no reason to believe that bonds of love never developed in arranged marriages, or even that a son’s or daughter’s expression of love had not convinced a father to arrange the marriage in the first place. Much more has come down about what a wife owed to her husband within the bonds of marriage, but some of these expectations were reciprocal. What, then, did a husband owe to a wife, and vice versa? The first expectation


This inscription from the Corpus of Latin Inscriptions (CIL 6. 1527, 31670), dating to the early part of the first century C.E., offers an account of the life of a woman known as Turia. Her story demonstrates the close bonds between all members of a family and the devotion married couples had for each other, even in times of peril. In addition, we see the destructive effects of political turmoil on the family.

…Rare indeed are marriages of such long duration, which are ended by death, not divorce. We had the good fortune to spend forty-one years together with no unhappiness. I wish that our long marriage had come finally to an end by my death, since it would have been more just for me, who was older, to yield to fate.

Why should I mention your personal virtues—your modesty, obedience, affability, and good nature, your tireless attention to wool making, your performance of religious duties without superstitious fear, your artless elegance and simplicity of dress? Why speak about your affection toward your family (for you cared for my mother as well as you cared for your parents)? Why recall the countless other virtues which you have in common with all Roman matrons worthy of that name? The virtues I claim for you are your own special virtues; few people have possessed similar ones or been known to possess them. The history of the human race tells us how rare they are.

Together we diligently saved the whole inheritance which you received from your parents’ estate. You handed it all over to me and did not worry yourself about increasing it. We shared the responsibilities so that I acted as the guardian of your fortune and you undertook to serve as protector of mine.…

When my political enemies were hunting me down, you aided my escape by selling your jewelry; you gave me all the gold and pearls which you were wearing and added a small income from household funds. We deceived the guards of my enemies, and you made my time in hiding an “enriching” experience…

Why should I now disclose memories locked deep in my heart, memories of secret and concealed plans? Yes, memories—how I was warned by swift messages to avoid present and imminent dangers and was therefore saved by your quick thinking; how you did not permit me to be swept away by my foolhardy boldness; how, by calm consideration, you arranged a safe place of refuge for me and enlisted as allies in your plans to save me your sister and her husband, Gaius Cluvius, even though the plans were dangerous to all of you. If I tried to touch on all of your actions on my behalf, I could go on forever. For us let it suffice to say that you hid me safely.

Yet the most bitter experience of my life came later…I was granted a pardon by Augustus, but his colleague Lepidus opposed the pardon. When you threw yourself on the ground at his feet, not only did he not raise you up, but in fact he grabbed you and dragged you along as if you were a slave. You were covered with bruises, but with unflinching determination you reminded me of Augustus’ Caesar’s edict of pardon. … Although you suffered insults and cruel injuries, you revealed them publicly in order to expose him as the author of my calamities. …

When the world was finally at peace again and order had been restored in the government, we enjoyed quiet and happy days. We longed for children, but spiteful fate begrudged them. If Fortune had allowed herself to care for us in this matter as she does others, we two would have enjoyed complete happiness. But advancing old age put an end to our hopes for children. …You were depressed about your infertility and grieved because I was without children. … You spoke of divorce and offered to give up your household to another woman, to a fertile woman. You said that you yourself would arrange for me a new wife, one worthy of our well-known love, and you assured me that you would treat the children of my new marriage as if they were your own. You would not demand the return of your inheritance; it would remain, if I wished, in my control. You would not detach or isolate yourself from me; you would simply carry out henceforth the duties and responsibilities of my sister or my mother-in-law.

I must confess that I was so angered by your suggestion that I lost my mind. I was so horrified that I could scarcely regain control of myself. How could you talk of a dissolution of our marriage before it was demanded by fate! How could you even conceive in your mind of any reason why you should, while still alive, cease to be my wife, you who remained very faithfully with me when I was in exile, indeed almost in exile from life! How could the desire or need for having children be so great that I would break faith with you!

I wish that our old age had allowed our marriage to last until I, who was the elder, had passed away; it would have been fairer for you to arrange a funeral for me. … But by fate’s decree, you finished the race of life before I did, and you left me all alone, without children, grieving and longing for you. … But inspired by your example I will stand up to cruel fortune, which has not stolen everything from me since it allows the memory of you to grow brighter and stronger through praise. …

I conclude my oration with this: you have deserved all, and I can never repay you completely. I have always considered your wishes my command. I will continue to do for you whatever I still can.

May the Manes grant to you and protect your eternal peace, I pray.

Source: Jo-Ann Shelton, As the Romans Did: A Sourcebook in Roman Social History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).

was fides: faithfulness or trustworthiness for the wife in sexual matters but also in economic and personal matters. The wife ran the household, and access to her husband’s financial affairs gave her a certain amount of power. Likewise, a husband needed to demonstrate his trustworthiness in managing his own finances to ensure that he could provide for their children, in using his wife’s dowry, and in developing his own reputation so that their children would benefit from the public appraisal of their parents. Although a wife could not require sexual fidelity from her husband, some epitaphs testify to the husband’s faithfulness in sexual matters. Both the husband and wife owed each other a certain measure of respect, reverentia, but only the wife was expected to behave with obsequium, dutifulness or cooperation, toward her husband. Kindness, comitas, might also characterize the relationship on both sides. A husband could show kindness by indulging his wife with material comforts or with genuine gentleness in his treatment of her and discretion in any extramarital alliances. A wife might equally allow her husband his indulgences without complaint. Societas —partnership, alliance—was a word the first king of Rome, Romulus, used to describe what the Sabine women would share with their Roman husbands. He particularly stated that the women would be partners of all of their husbands’ possessions and of citizenship and children. Amor is more difficult to trace. Certainly husbands and wives are described as loving each other, but there is little direct evidence. The writings of Cicero (at times), Quintilian, and Pliny the Younger express heartfelt affection for their wives. Inscriptions on tombstones provide what seem to be personal sentiments, but can also be somewhat formulaic: for example, there are certain things that one expects to find on tombstones, and thus the sentiments might have more to do with what was expected than what was felt. At the same time, enough monuments give the barest of epitaphs, recording only that “X gave this monument to Y who was well deserving” to say more was a conscious choice on the part of the surviving spouse.

Courtesans, Prostitutes, Slave Women, and Mistresses. According to an anecdote, one day Cato the Elder saw a young man coming out of a brothel and praised him for spending his sexual energies there. When Cato saw the same young man coming out of the brothel several days in a row, he expressed his dismay: he told the young man that it was fine to visit a brothel, but not to take up residence there. This anecdote provides a glimpse of the role that prostitution played in Roman society. Ideally, prostitutes, courtesans, and slave women provided acceptable options for men’s sexual exploits and need for companionship without compromising freeborn Roman women or other men’s wives. But “ideally” and “in reality” are two different

things. Although Cato himself was well known for spending his nights with a slave girl after the death of his wife, other men, such as Julius Caesar, spent their time with the wives or former wives of their peers.

Social Levels. It is important to note the different social levels within the world of prostitution itself. Slaves, both men and women, were subject to the desires of their owners. Streetwalkers, women who had no set place of operation and who stationed themselves in areas where men could easily find them, had little choice about their clients. At the next level might be those who worked in brothels. Although their conditions were still deplorable and these women had no control over the men who bought their time, they did not have to have sex in alleyways, and they did have some protection by the brothel owner against abusive clients. For the most part, street-walkers and brothel workers would have been frequented by lower-class men or young men with little money of their own.

A Different World. Courtesans lived in a different world. They often had houses or apartments provided for them, or enough money to buy their own property. They had more control over the men with which they associated. These women could provide a distraction as well as sexual pleasure. All prostitutes had to register with the aedile (city commissioner) and all paid taxes on what they earned. Legal Loophole.

Because prostitutes were immune to legislation that punished adultery, some upper-class women who wanted the freedom to have affairs registered as prostitutes, thereby circumventing the laws that Augustus had passed. During the reign of Tiberius, however, a measure was passed that prohibited the descendants of senators (down to the great-grandchildren) and the immediate relatives of members of the equestrian class from engaging in prostitution.

Homosexuality.. Ancient sexuality existed in a world free from the moral issues that Christianity attached to sexual relations between men and women, men and men, and women and women. In Rome there were two primary concerns with sexuality: the first was the need to know the paternity of one’s children without a doubt; the second was a matter of dominance. The Romans felt that no man should willingly be dominated sexually (or in any other way, for that matter) by another man. Homosexual behavior (this is a modern term and notion, not an ancient one) was not rejected but was considered appropriate and acceptable within certain limitations: men were free to penetrate slaves and prostitutes (male and female), but just as they were supposed to abstain from sex with freeborn women or girls, so also were they supposed to avoid sexual contact with freeborn boys. Information about lesbian relationships is exceedingly scarce and most problematic, since it comes primarily from poetry and especially from satires that aim at condemning the women who would take the dominant role in sexual intercourse with another woman. Again, the issue was one of role, rather than homosexuality itself. To the Roman way of thinking, men, not women, should play the aggressive and penetrating partner in sexual intercourse. Thus, poet Martial objects to Philaenis, not because she engages in sex, but because she “devours girls” and challenges men to competitions in satisfying sexual appetites. The true emotional devotion one man felt for another, so evident in the Emperor Hadrian’s attachment to his lover Antinous, has no visible public parallel for love between two women, but that does not mean that no such love existed.


Suzanne Dixon, The Roman Family (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992).

Dixon, The Roman Mother (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988).

Judith P. Hallett, Fathers and Daughters in Roman Society: Women and the Elite Family (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984).

Susan Treggiari, Roman Marriage: Iusti Coniuges From the Time of Cicero to the Time of Ulpian (Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).


views updated May 18 2018


There is rich history of attempting to define love and its scope. Ultimately there is no one definitive interpretation of love. Generally, love involves a strong feeling of affection, care, and desire. This has prompted a centuries-old debate on the relationships among love, charity, desire, and friendship.

Traditionally for some, love is equated to the New Testament Greek word agapē, and it is sometimes equated to the Latin translation of agapē, caritas, or charity. Anders Nygren (1953) drew a sharp distinction between agapē and caritas because he believed that charity combines the desire and longing of erōs with the spontaneity and gratuity of agapē. This was, for Nygren, a distortion of the Christian theme of agapē. Beyond religious contexts, charity often refers to benevolence and philanthropy, as it is a response to human needs.

Others make distinctions among agapē, erōs, and philia. Historically for Christians, love is considered the primary characteristic of God's nature and is also seen as the ultimate expression of Christian faith and action. In the New Testament, the most common words for love are philia and agapē. Philia denotes friendship and affectionate mutual regard for those with whom one is closely connected—biologically or emotionally. Agapē denotes God's unmerited love for humanity or the love humans have for each other that is shaped by God's love for humanity. Agapē has often been seen as a love that flows toward another, whatever the goodness or lovability of that person or persons. Eros is not found in the New Testament; however, many see it as indicating a passionate desire that loves for the person or the object's ability to satisfy one's own needs.

Theologians such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas suggest that agapē is similar to a passionate love for God. For them, there is a place for ardent friendship that flows from our relationship with God. In the contemporary era, theologians such as Mary E. Hunt have expanded this interpretation. Hunt considers the friendships between women. For her, the love found in these friendships prompts a drive for unity that does not mean that either party loses her uniqueness as an individual. Rather, this unity generates something new that is greater than and beyond the two individuals.

Until recently, Christian theology and ethics argued that God's love is best represented by agapē. Roman Catholicism appeals to the personal relations with the Trinity (Father/Son/Holy Spirit or Creator/Redeemer/Sustainer) as a way to emphasize unity and community as the essential features of love. Margaret Farley, a Roman Catholic theologian and ethicist, finds that human love is characterized by the equality found in the relationship within the Trinity. Protestantism appeals to the death of Jesus on the cross for sins of humanity and often stresses self-sacrifice as the distinctive feature of love. Some Protestant theologians, such as Beverly Wildung Harrison, caution that the death of Jesus on the cross should not be seen as his desiring death. Rather, Harrison argues that Jesus accepted death as a consequence of his persistent love for humanity.

This overview merits a closer examination of the debate on the nature of love. Within this debate are concerns about the compatibility of self-love with other forms of love, the importance of self-denial, the possibility of truly loving those beyond one's immediate family or intimate relationships, and the possibility of love that is completely objective. In the twentieth century, Nygren helped to focus this debate in Agapē and Eros (1953). For Nygren, agapē prohibits all self-regard or self-centeredness, for Christians must love as God loves. Because Nygren believed that only God can really love objectively, people are only able to love others without seeking personal gain to the extent to which they are routes through whom God works.

Nygren's position parallels the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard's Works of Love (1847). Kierkegaard contrasted Christian love with the love between man and woman or between friend and friend. For him this latter form of love is selective and focuses only on particular people or persons. This kind of love between humans is only a disguised form of self-love (how Nygren depicts erōs) that will ultimately fail over time. Christian love, for Kierkegaard, does not choose its object but goes out to all and is a duty that will not fail and will withstand the shifts of time and circumstances.

Nygren was partially supported by others, such as Karl Barth. In his Church Dogmatics (IV/2), Barth agrees with Nygren's distinction between agapē and erōs. However, he disagrees with Nygren's refusal to admit that it is possible for humans to have love toward God. Barth points to the way in which Jesus approved the love Mary Magdalene showed him when she washed his feet with oils and when he chastised the disciples when their actions and ideas were legalistic rather than demonstrating love toward others. For Barth one cannot follow Jesus and God obediently if one does not love them. Love, then, is the foundation for the Christian life, and the freedom to love God and others is the gift God gives humanity through Jesus Christ. Ultimately Barth considers Kierkegaard too legalistic and Nygren too pessimistic.

In recent years the notion that genuine love must involve self-sacrifice and a rejection of self-concern has been challenged by Gene Outka and others. The most outspoken critics of this understanding of love are found among those representing various liberation theologies (e.g., Latin American, black, womanist, Asian American, feminist). The largest body of work has been generated by feminists who are particularly critical of the idea of love as self-sacrifice.

Generally, the major drawback these thinkers see in equating love with self-sacrifice is that this often reinforces social inequality. When one makes self-sacrifice such a high, if not primary, virtue, this gives powerful religious validation to oppressive and destructive behaviors and situations (e.g., sexual abuse, domestic violence, unjust economic systems). Those who lack power and status in society have no incentive to seek equality when the religious ideal is altruistic self-sacrifice. The danger is that self-sacrifice becomes an end in itself rather than as a means to create more just and loving relationships among people.

Another drawback in equating love with self-sacrifice is that this fails to emphasize the relational character of love. Feminist theologians such as Barbara Hilkert Andolsen, Margaret Farley, and Beverly Wildung address this by arguing that self-love is not morally negative. In fact, for them, situations of self-sacrifice are often indications that oppressive behavior and attitudes are present. They make an important distinction between self-sacrifice and self-abnegation. Farley, in particular, notes the difference between justifiable self-sacrifice and faithless self-abnegation. She insists that justifiable self-sacrifice is that which confers actual benefits on others. Its aim is universal human dignity, which is found in mutual relationships based on love and justice.

These theologians define love as mutuality between people that calls for openness and vulnerability for all parties. Farley is clear that love (agapē) is full mutuality that is found in genuine equality between men and women. This mutuality is marked by loving relationships. Harrison agrees with Farley about the radical nature of mutuality and points out that most of humanity is unable to maintain the openness and vulnerability that this love demands.

The nature of erōs has also been reinterpreted in more recent years. Writers such as Audre Lorde focus on the nature of the erotic, particularly in women. For her, the erotic is a resource that is deeply female and spiritual. It is a kind of knowledge that is intuitive and nonrational. Ultimately it is powerful because it is the creative energy to feel and to be fully present, body and soul, in all that we do and experience.

On a larger scale erōs means that humanity has at its disposal the power that comes from sharing deeply all of life and living. Rather than relying on self-sacrifice or self-abnegation to create loving relationships, erōs opens our capacity for joy and gives us a way to scrutinize how we create our social relationships. This will allow us to realize our deepest emotions and feelings and relate to one another passionately. This now passionate relationship is not confined to sexual emotions but encompasses all emotions. All of who we are is brought to bear in this form of erōs. Ultimately erōs in this sense seeks an intimate and lasting form of mutuality that recognizes and affirms just and loving relationships in humanity and the larger social order.

There is little doubt that the debate about the nature of love will be unending. At stake is our understanding of how we see ourselves as humans and how we behave in relation to others and the world around us. As this shifts with our various circumstances and the environments they produce, we will gain new insights, rediscover old paradigms, and reform our behaviors to signal the ways in which we believe we must relate to each other in caring ways.

See alsoBible; Ethics; Feminist Spirituality; Feminist Theology; Legalism; Psychology of Religion; Trinity; Womanist Theology.


Andolsen, Barbara Hilkert. "Agape in Feminist Ethics." Journal of Religious Ethics 9, no. 1 (1981): 69–83.

Farley, Margaret. Personal Commitments: Beginning, Keeping, Changing. 1986.

Gremillion, Joseph, ed. The Gospel of Peace and Justice:Catholic Social Teachings Since Pope John. 1980.

Hunt, Mary E. Fierce Tenderness: A Feminist Theology ofFriendship. 1992.

Nygren, Anders. Agapē and Erōs: A Study of the ChristianIdea of Love. 1953.

Outka, Gene. Agapē: An Ethical Analysis. 1972.

Emilie M. Townes


views updated May 17 2018

love / ləv/ • n. 1. an intense feeling of deep affection: babies fill parents with intense feelings of love their love for their country. ∎  a deep romantic or sexual attachment to someone: it was love at first sight they were both in love with her we were slowly falling in love. ∎  (Love) a personified figure of love, often represented as Cupid. ∎  a great interest and pleasure in something: his love for football we share a love of music. ∎  affectionate greetings conveyed to someone on one's behalf. ∎  a formula for ending an affectionate letter: take care, lots of love, Judy.2. a person or thing that one loves: she was the love of his life their two great loves are tobacco and whiskey. ∎ Brit., inf. a friendly form of address: it's all right, love. ∎  (a love) Brit., inf. used to express affectionate approval for someone: don't fret, there's a love.3. (in tennis, squash, and some other sports) a score of zero; nil: love fifteen he was down two sets to love.• v. [tr.] feel a deep romantic or sexual attachment to (someone): do you love me? ∎  like very much; find pleasure in: I'd love a cup of tea, thanks I just love dancing | [as adj. , in comb.] (-loving) a fun-loving girl. PHRASES: for love for pleasure not profit: he played for the love of the game.for the love of God used to express annoyance, surprise, or urgent pleading: for the love of God, get me out of here!for the love of Mike inf. used to accompany an exasperated request or to express dismay.make love1. have sexual intercourse.2. (make love to) dated pay amorous attention to (someone).not for love or money inf. not for any inducement or in any circumstances: they'll not return for love or money.there's no (or little or not much) love lost between there is mutual dislike between (two or more people mentioned).DERIVATIVES: love·less·less·ly·less·ness·wor·thy / -ˌwər[voicedth]ē/ adj.