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The Ways and Power of Love: Types, Factors, and Techniques of Moral Transformation

The Ways and Power of Love: Types, Factors, and Techniques of Moral Transformation

by Pitirim Aleksandrovich Sorokin, Stephen Garrard Post (Introduction)

The Ways and Power of Love was originally published in 1954 when Pitirim Sorokin was in the twilight of his career and leading the Harvard Research Center in Creative Altruism. His elaborate scientific analysis of love with regard to its higher and lower forms, its causes and effects, its human and cosmic significance, and its core features constitutes the


The Ways and Power of Love was originally published in 1954 when Pitirim Sorokin was in the twilight of his career and leading the Harvard Research Center in Creative Altruism. His elaborate scientific analysis of love with regard to its higher and lower forms, its causes and effects, its human and cosmic significance, and its core features constitutes the first study on this topic in world literature to date.

Sorokin was the one absolutely essential twentieth-century pioneer in the study of love at the interface of science and religion. Bringing The Ways and Power of Love back into print allows a new generation of readers to appreciate Sorokin's genius and to move forward with his endeavor at a time when civilization itself continues to be threatened by a marked inability to live up to the ideal of love for all humankind. It is certainly right to hope, with Sorokin, that progress in knowledge about love can move humanity forward to a better future. Turning the sciences toward the study of love is no easy task, but it can and must be done.

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The Ways and Power of Love

Types, Factors, and Techniques of Moral Transformation

By Pitirim A. Sorokin

Templeton Foundation Press

Copyright © 1982 Peter P. and Sergei P. Sorokin
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-890151-86-7


The Manifoldness of Love and Its Main Aspects

Love is like an iceberg: only a small part of it is visible, and even this visible part is little known. Still less known is love's transempirical part, its religious and ontological forms. For the reasons subsequently given, love appears to be a universe inexhaustible qualitatively and quantitatively. Of its many forms of being, the following can be differentiated: religious, ethical, ontological, physical, biological, psychological, and social.

A. The Religious Aspect of Love

On the religious plane love is identified with God, the highest value in the Christian and other great religions. "Love is God," and "God is love and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him," says the New Testament. So also say the Bhagavadgita, the Dhammapada, and the Scriptures of practically all the great religions: Taoism and Confucianism, Hinduism and Buddhism, Jainism and Judaism, Mohammedanism, and the rest. Since God is believed to be the absolute value, love participates in God's absolute value. Since God is an Infinite Manifoldness love is also qualitative and quantitative infinity. As such it cannot be defined by any words or concepts; at best these can be only symbolic indicators of the infinite cosmos of love. Paul Tillich well expresses this infinity of love when he says: "I have given no definition of love. This is impossible, because there is no higher principle by which it could be defined. It is life itself in its actual unity. The forms and structures in which love embodies itself are the forms and structures in which life overcomes its self-destructive forces."

On this religious plane three conceptions of love have run throughout oriental and occidental religious, philosophical, and ethical thought: love as Eros, love as Agape, and love as a synthesis of Eros and Agape.

Nygren's delineation of love as Eros and love as Agape serves as an introduction to the problem. He avers that love as Agape is fundamentally different from love as Eros; that the Agape form of love is specifically Christian as meant by Jesus, St. Paul, and the early Christians.

Thus "Eros and Agape stand as direct opposites." Agape is like the sun; it shines upon the sinful and the virtuous, redeeming the sinners no less than blessing the virtuous. Its inexhaustible richness spontaneously pours itself out upon all, without any "rational discrimination." In this sense Agape is inscrutable, and incomprehensible by the human rational mind. Eros is love "earned" by the positive efforts of the loved party. It discriminates against the sinful.

Though the historical accuracy of this typology of Eros and Agape may be questionable in regard to Christianity and the oriental, Platonic, Neoplatonic, and Aristotelian conceptions of love; and though several thinkers of the past and of the present give the terms Eros and Agape essentially different meanings, the typology as such is graphic and logical. Some forms of love are indeed nearer to the type of Eros, while others are nearer to that of Agape. We can, however, ask: can Eros be separated from Agape or are not these two aspects of love inseparable? Is not Agape the redeeming love, pouring itself out in its inexhaustible richness, especially on those who need it for their redemption, salvation, revival, and reintegration? Is not Agape this aspect of love which is "love for the sake of love"? If love were granted only to those who deserve it — the virtuous, the "elect" — would not such a love become a mere commercial prize-giving to the "good boys" for their good behavior? These remarks show that the Agape form of love is inherent in the very nature of love, in its redeeming, resurrecting, and all-forgiving functions. Such an Agape far transcends justice, in the sense of the suum cuique tribuere, as well as of a remuneration for service done.

On the other hand, Agape in no way excludes Eros-Love. Eros-Love is nothing but falling in love with love and trying to be more perfect in love, with all the mental, moral, aesthetic, and physical ennoblement such a perfection implies. The ultimate point of such an Eros-Love is to reach the inexhaustibility of all-redeeming, all-loving, all-forgiving, and all-ennobling Agape. A person's Eros-Love, reaching this level, becomes God's Agape. This inseparability of Eros-Agape explains why factually most systems of love contain both these forms.

If the transfiguration is possible only by the way of Nygren's Agape, then evidently one need not do anything; all efforts to achieve the goodness of love are of no avail; it may shine equally upon the virtuous and the sinful. If the transfiguration is possible only by the way of Nygren's Eros, then there is no need to pray for the grace of God or any super-individual power. Any love-seeker would become a sort of Prometheus who achieves his goal exclusively by his own efforts, regardless or even in spite of Zeus or any other force.

In the oriental as well as the occidental ethico-religious and philosophical conceptions, the prevailing view has been a combination of Eros and Agape as the way of salvation and achievement of love at its highest and best. Personal effort reinforced by the grace of God is considered the only real way to accomplish the purpose. "God helps those who strive, not those who rest and slumber," says St. Tychon. Either of these forms alone is insufficient by itself: without the grace of God or some super-individual power, man's efforts are inadequate. On the other hand, the love and justice of God are gladly granted those who earnestly labor for love and salvation. The thought and the practice of salvation in all great religions are based upon this postulate. Otherwise, all the calls to be good, to perform good deeds, to fulfill moral and religious commandments would be senseless.

Only a few minor streams of thought and practice, in the Orient and the Occident, singled out exclusively either the Eros or the Agape way; and even these minor currents now and then had to grant to the other way a subsidiary role.

From this standpoint D'Arcy justifiably critizes the one-sidedness of Nygren's, Rousselot's, de Rougemont's, and other conceptions of Eros and Agape. He rightly says that "that two [forms of love] egocentric and theocentric have to live together," that "we must not think of the two loves as separate and independent within the one self, even though, in order to bring out their distinct characteristics, we have to treat them as if they were alone." "On the one side, there will be a man with a passion which seeks for deliverance [of his real self from his pseudo-self]"; on the other, "God, who respects man's integrity while lifting him up into a new relation of love with himself."

To sum up: properly understood, self-centered love, as an effort of man to liberate in himself his real and divine self and to reach union with God, and God-centered love, as divine grace helping man in this endeavor, are given in practically all true systems of love, oriental and occidental, though some systems stress the Agape, and others the Eros. Later on we shall meet this problem in its empirical ramifications.

B. The Ethical Aspect of Love

Ethically love is identified with goodness itself. Love is viewed as the essence of goodness inseparable from truth and beauty. All three are unified aspects of the Absolute Value or God. Real goodness is always true and beautiful; pure truth is always good and beautiful; and genuine beauty is invariably true and good.

C. The Ontological Aspect of Love

Ontologically love is, side by side with truth and beauty, one of the highest forms of a unifying, integrating, harmonizing, creative energy or power. Empedocles correctly noted the unifying creativity of love as the ontological essence of this power. As such it is opposite to the functions of strife as "separating apart in enmity" what is united in and by love. In accordance with this, subsequent thinkers viewed even the unifying physical forces of gravitation, of the unification of electrons and protons in the atom, of chemical affinity, of magnetism, and so on, as the manifestation of love energy acting in the physical world; the "instincts" of sociality or gregariousness, biological mutual aid and cooperation, as the manifestation of love energy in the organic world; conscious love, sympathy, friendship, solidarity, as its manifestation in the psychosocial world. Everywhere in the inorganic, organic and psychosocial worlds the integrating and uniting role of love functions incessantly. Untiringly, it counteracts the dividing and separating forces of chaos and strife. Without the operation of love energy the physical, the biological, and the sociocultural cosmos would have fallen apart; no harmony, unity, or order would have been possible; universal disorder and enmity would have reigned supreme. As a creative energy of goodness, love unites what is separated, elevates what is base, purifies what is impure, ennobles what is ignoble, creates harmony in the world of enmity, peace in war. Love raises man as a biological organism to the level of divinity, infinitely enriches the human self, and empowers humanity with a mastery over the inorganic, organic, and sociocultural forces, up to the potential rescue of an individual and mankind from even biological death. Dostoievsky well expressed this ontological power of love in his Brothers Karamazoff. "Seeing the sins of men, one sometimes wonders whether one should react to them by force or by humble love. Always decide to fight them by humble love. If it is carried through, the whole world can be conquered. Loving humbleness is the most effective force, the most terrific, the most powerful, unequalled by any other force in the world." All great apostles of love unanimously testify to this. Without love, neither the possession of the tongues of angels, nor the gift of prophecy, nor a complete understanding of all mysteries and possession of all knowledge amount to anything, says St. Paul, and then magnificently describes the ethico-ontological nature of love:

Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not;
love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own,
is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things,
hopeth all things, endureth all things;
Love never faileth:
And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three;
and the greatest of these is love.

A person who becomes a real incarnation of love "will yield an influence greater than that of the sceptred monarch," testifies Gandhi. "Love is basically not an emotional but an ontological power, it is the essence of life itself, namely, the dynamic reunion of that which is separated such is the recent reiteration of this ontological power of love.

Among others, N. F. Fedorov (a little-known Russian thinker who notably influenced Dostoievsky and Leo Tolstoi), and under his influence V. Solovyev, have especially well developed and analyzed this ontological "energy" of love. They have shown that only through love, in cooperation with truth and beauty, can man rise from the level of a mortal biological organism to that of a conqueror of death and master of inorganic, organic, and sociocultural forces; that only in this way can man realize his truly divine nature and become "God-Man" (Bogotschelovek); that only thus can man fulfill his mission and redeem his historical existence; that only through such a real immortality are all the other values of humanity preserved, instead of becoming meaningless and perishing in vain.

In this ontological conception, according to Solovyev, love is the power that counteracts the dark evil that permeates the world of raw nature.

Evil is a universal fact because each natural life begins with struggle and hatred, continues in suffering and slavery and ends in death and rottenness.... The first law of nature is the struggle for existence. All the life of nature in the raw takes place in an incessant enmity of creatures and forces.... Every creature in this natural world beginning with the smallest particle of dust and ending with man tells by its whole natural existence one and the same thing: "I am, and the rest of the world exists only for me as a mere means," and, colliding with others, it says: "If I exist, you cannot exist, there is no room for you with me." Each creature in brute nature says so, each attempts to fight all the others, wants to destroy them, and is destroyed in turn by the others. In so far as it is based upon egoism, life in brute nature is evil life, and its law is the law of sin. By the same law sin inevitably causes its own retaliation, one evil calling forth another. For if one creature inimically acts against the others, these others act as inimically against it. Such an enmity is suffering — another form of the world evil. Since everything in nature sins one against another, everything suffers from one another.

Owing to this egoism, which separates one creature from all the others, each creature is a stranger living in an inimical environment which presses and attacks it from all sides.... All its natural life consists in a struggle with this inimical environment, in self-defense against the rest of the world. But it cannot defend itself against the pressure of all these inimical forces: a given creature is one while its enemies are many. They naturally overcome it. This conflict between each and all the rest inevitably leads to the destruction of each creature: the overwhelming inimical forces finally destroy its life, and the struggle ends universally by death and rotting. Death makes only explicit the secret brute of nature's life; it shows that life in nature is a hidden death. Such is the fiery wheel of natural existence. Such is the universal evil, one in its nature and triple in its forms. Such is the tree of life in disintegrated nature: its root is sin, its growth is sickness, its fruit is death.

Love is the universal creative force that counteracts this evil. Love replaces the struggle for existence by harmonious unity and mutual aid. It tends to make the whole universe one harmonious cosmos in which each particle is not fighting all the others but harmoniously working with the rest of the world. By the power of love each creature is not opposed to all the others, is not attacked by all the others, and therefore is not destroyed by the others. For this reason its life need not be ended by death and destruction. Love tends thus to destroy the death itself and to replace it by eternal immortality.

So far in the natural world we have only a partial realization of this creative work of love energy. Only through it does the world continue to exist in spite of the all-pervading destructive forces of evil. Love keeps the world going and living. Love prevents the universal death and destruction of the whole universe. If and when love is realized more and more fully, sin, suffering, and death are bound to decrease — and with the full realization of love, to disappear. Such is the ontological role of love as the highest creative power.

The foregoing gives one of the many variations of the ontological conception of love as the universal creative energy.

D. The Physical Aspect of Love

According to Solovyev and others, the physical counterpart of love in the inorganic world is shown in all physical forces that unite, integrate, and maintain the whole inorganic cosmos in endless unities, beginning with the smallest unity of the atom and ending with the whole physical universe as one unified, orderly cosmos.


Excerpted from The Ways and Power of Love by Pitirim A. Sorokin. Copyright © 1982 Peter P. and Sergei P. Sorokin. Excerpted by permission of Templeton Foundation Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Pitirim A. Sorokin (1889-1968) was a controversial figure in twentieth-century sociology, and a pioneer in the scientific study of unlimited love. He served as the founding chairman of the sociology department of Harvard University. He was interested in discovering more about how love for others is related to felt participation in a Presence that is higher than our own and that serves as a source of unlimited love across all divisions of religious, political, and ethnic loyalties.

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