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Philosophy of Love: A Partial Summing-Up available in Hardcover
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The author of the classic philosophical treatment of love reflects on the trajectory, over decades, of his thoughts on love and other topics.
In 1984, Irving Singer published the first volume of what would become a classic and much acclaimed trilogy on love. Trained as an analytical philosopher, Singer first approached his subject with the tools of current philosophical methodology. Dissatisfied by the initial results (finding the chapters he had written "just dreary and unproductive of anything"), he turned to the history of ideas in philosophy and the arts for inspiration. He discovered an immensity of speculation and artistic practice that reached wholly beyond the parameters he had been trained to consider truly philosophical. In his three-volume work The Nature of Love, Singer tried to make sense of this historical progression within a framework that reflected his precise distinction-making and analytical background. In this new book, he maps the trajectory of his thinking on love. It is a "partial" summing-up of a lifework: partial because it expresses the author's still unfolding views, because it is a recapitulation of many published pages, because love like any subject of that magnitude resists a neatly comprehensive, all-inclusive formulation. Adopting an informal, even conversational, tone, Singer discusses, among other topics, the history of romantic love, the Platonic ideal, courtly and nineteenth-century Romantic love; the nature of passion; the concept of merging (and his critique of it); ideas about love in Freud, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Dewey, Santayana, Sartre, and other writers; and love in relation to democracy, existentialism, creativity, and the possible future of scientific investigation. Singer's writing on love embodies what he has learned as a contemporary philosopher, studying other authors in the field and "trying to get a little further." This book continues his trailblazing explorations.
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Philosophy of LoveA Partial Summing-Up
By Irving Singer
The MIT PressCopyright © 2009 Irving Singer
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePhilosophy of Love: A Partial Summing-Up
Is Romantic Love a Recent Idea?
When I started my trilogy The Nature of Love, many scholars believed that the concept of love as a romantic, sexual, or interpersonal phenomenon originated very recently-within the last two hundred years or so. I felt that this view did not correctly elucidate the history of ideas about these or any other kinds of love. In some respects it is true that the notion of romantic love as we know it today can be considered fairly novel. Nevertheless the received conception about it is far too incomplete. What we call romantic love belongs to an intellectual development that starts with the beginning of romanticism in the modern world. To that extent, the relevant idea is rightly designated (and capitalized) as "Romantic" love. It arose toward the end of the eighteenth century and began to flourish at the beginning of the nineteenth century. But even at the time, few people realized how traditional though also innovative this notion was: it stemmed from an evolutionary process in which theories about love had existed throughout two millennia.
To someone doing the kind of research I did, it was apparent that many elements of nineteenth-century Romantic love derived from sources in ancient Greek philosophy and literature, in Hellenistic fables, in the burgeoning of Christianity, in the reaction against Christianity during the Renaissance, and then in a diversity of seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century modes of thought. You can't really separate this continuum into two periods, the first of which was prior to any ideas about Romantic love and the other consisting in the thinking of the last two hundred years with its great focus on it. The claim that Romantic love is an invention of the latter period is therefore of limited value, and, on the face of it, mistaken.
Yet there was clearly something important and very special that did happen in this modern movement, and we are still living with its ongoing development. It's passed through several phases, some of which I have spent hundreds of pages writing about. The second volume of The Nature of Love, for instance, is subtitled Courtly and Romantic. When I get to Romantic love in the nineteenth century, I distinguish between a type of optimistic romanticism, what I call benign romanticism, and a totally different kind, very prominent about 1850, that I label Romantic pessimism. Earlier there had been foreshadowings of both forms of ideology in the plays of Shakespeare. In various ways he spoke as a critic of what we nowadays call "courtly love," which blossomed in the Middle Ages and for almost five hundred years. As against courtly love, Shakespeare articulated concepts that ultimately turned into nineteenth-century Romantic views about love, both the benign and the pessimistic. Shakespeare was an important contributor to their formulation.
While writing this second volume of my trilogy-a long book, over five hundred pages in length-I didn't calculate in advance where to put Shakespeare. But as it turned out, and as I discovered when the chapters were finished, he ended up right in the middle. In fact Shakespeare is a pivotal figure. Being a thinker whose mentality issues out of courtly love and against courtly love, he anticipates, but does not fully announce, what will later become Romantic attitudes toward medieval philosophy of love. As in many other ways, Shakespeare is a very rare type of genius, one whose artistic creativity became a primal force in Western intellectual history. Though Romantics in the nineteenth century often treated him like one of themselves, he is not a full-fledged adherent to romanticism. Without being a Romantic philosopher or theorist, he is nevertheless a precursor of those who were.
As illustration, take the play Much Ado About Nothing, which Kenneth Branagh made into a popular movie. It is structured in terms of two kinds of love. One is the relationship between Claudio and Hero, the young man and woman who have a courtly relationship based on very little understanding of themselves or of each other, and not including much more than their awareness that they have both fallen in love. Though they strongly feel they love each other, Shakespeare demolishes the authenticity of their attachment. He shows how Claudio falsely accuses Hero of infidelity, while he himself isn't faithful since, instead of handling whatever problems he may have with this woman, he immediately condemns and humiliates her. Their bond therefore comes out as emotionally suspect. The other relation is the bellicose but ultimately loving tie between Benedick and Beatrice. They have a natural attunement that shows itself in ways that are typically Romantic. Romanticism frequently presupposes a basic hostility between male and female. It takes this to be a deeply innate tendency resulting from the fact that, being differently programmed, the sexes do not see the world in the same manner. As a consequence, each is natively suspicious of the opposite gender, and in a state of constant warfare with it.
There's support for that view in work that recent biologists have done, for instance, with herring gulls in the mating season when the female arrives on an isolated island by herself. She maps out her terrain and waits for the males to come. But as soon as one of them enters her property, she attacks him. Only after a period of what scientists call "equilibration" do they work out some mutual understanding, and she realizes that he is what she has been wanting for reproductive purposes. She then lets him onto her terrain, and they become a romantic couple. Well, the same kind of thing happens to human beings within the Romantic frame of thought, and it's what happens to Beatrice and Benedick. They are born enemies, ridiculing each other at first, but then, because of a quirk in the plot that Shakespeare artificially but deftly arranges, they overcome their initial belligerence.
Having done that, the two who are now one are able to help their friends-the courtly lovers who can't make things work out by themselves-and in helping them, their own bond becomes stronger. Beatrice and Benedick act together in a companionate and fully satisfying alliance. Even though they joke about their mutual animosity, they experience a consummate love. Both pairs get married, but we surmise that Beatrice and Benedick are much more likely to succeed in marriage than the other couple. Only the embattled ones understand each other, and, having survived their initial animosity, they are capable of attaining wholesome unification. For them the inherent disdain among people of different genders has been successfully overcome.
Despite the bumps and quarrels and all the tribulations that occur in the marital state, we feel that Beatrice and Benedick may really live happily ever after. We can't be sure what it will be like for Hero and her young man-the other pair. That confrontation between courtly and Romantic is presented in the works of Shakespeare better perhaps than in almost anyone else's. And most of the elements in his thinking, processed over an expanse of three hundred years, enter into the residue of Romantic love that still exists today. The common belief that true love as conceived in the nineteenth century was all sweetness and light is a fallacy.
Even in the benign phase there was recognition of the difficulty in obtaining authentic oneness, apart from any outside interference from social expectations about marriage and courtship and, of course, from parental control. It was understood that males and females were significantly unlike each other, and even incompatible in many ways. But there remained the hope, the dream, that those difficulties could be surmounted. This typically Romantic view is what Shakespeare had portrayed. It is why I think of him as a great pivotal figure. All the same, he is only one among many others who constructed ideas about the human search for love that have been developing in the last two thousand years and more.
Excerpted from Philosophy of Love by Irving Singer Copyright © 2009 by Irving Singer. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
ContentsForeword by Alan Soble....................ix
Philosophy of Love: A Partial Summing-Up....................1
Is Romantic Love a Recent Idea?....................1
Concepts of Transcendence and Merging....................16
Courtly Love and Its Successors....................28
Varieties of Romantic Love....................38
Identification of Love and Passion....................44
Bestowal and Appraisal in Relation to Freud....................51
Schopenhauer and Nietzsche....................59
Implications for Marriage....................67
Dualism and Freud on Erotic Degradation....................73
Democracy as Related to Romanticism....................81
The Love of Life: A Pluralist Perspective....................95
Harmonization of Dewey and Santayana....................105
The Role of Creativity....................112
Future Prospects for the Philosophy of Love: Science and Humanistic Studies United....................117
What People are Saying About This
" Philosophy of Love is marvelous... a needed defense of humanism when the world seems to be growing more pragmatic and less reflective. In addition to introducing some important themes in the philosophy of love, the book should remind humanistic philosophers why they do what they do, and it should whet the appetites of a broader audience for further reading."Notre Dame Philosophy Reviews
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"Nearly everyone can learn something from this book." Library Journal
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