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Phenomenology Of Love Essay Example

Love is something that means very different things to different people. For some, love can be purely romantic, or even purely sexual. For others, real love is utterly unconditional and only truly exists between family members, or between people and a deity. And for some people, love is fluid, ever changing, and everywhere, and is felt for family, friends, partners, pets, and even inanimate objects, dead artists, and fictional characters. None of these people would be right or wrong, but one thing is certain: love is the most powerful force in the entire universe. Between partners of any description, be they married or, boyfriend and girlfriend, straight or gay, young or old, love is a relationship of mutual understanding and respect. Marriages and partnerships are often built on common ground that people find when they first meet; this can be as deep as sharing religious, philosophical or religious beliefs, or as simple as finding that you love the same film, book, or band.

This kind of love is often reliant on some kind of ‘chemistry’: that strange feeling that they give you in the pit of your stomach, and the feeling that nothing in the world is more important to you than enjoying the moment you’re in together. Some people feel that they experience love at first sight, where they know from the minute they set eyes on each other that they want to be with that person, but something built on common interests and understanding must be stronger. It is the strength of this feeling that makes love the most powerful emotion that most of us will ever experience. People can do some dreadful things out of hate and fear, but love can push us to do much, much worse. And it is often love that can cause us to hate, whether it’s out of jealousy, or anger because our loved one has been hurt. Love, ultimately, is a sacrifice, whatever the relationship, and it must be the most powerful force in the universe because as human beings, we make true sacrifices for nothing less. Love is a very special and meaningful word to each human being.

Read more: Example of Persuasive Essay About Love

Each human being has his/her own thoughts about love to guide himself/herself to land safely and smoothly into the kingdom of Love. Without this preconceived idea of love, people would be acting like a blind person searching for the light with thousand of obstacles in front. I know this question exists in each human being’s mind including myself. If not it is still waiting to be discovered deeply in your heart. What do I think of love? For me, I believe love is a priceless diamond, because a diamond has thousands of reflections, and each reflection represents a meaning of love. With love I can accept a person’s imperfections without any condition, and able to transfer the way I love myself to another person who I am fancy at. With love I can have the power against loneliness, sadness, and illness, and to be able to change them into my happiness. As well as, having a key to open my heart to look at this world without a mask, to show people who I really am. But on the other hand, my love cannot be a substitute for anything, which means nothing can be substituted for my love.

It also means those reflections of the diamond cannot be replaced by any kind of light or reflection, because the untrue reflection will not be a real diamond, and will not be able to spread out its resplendent and meaningful reflection of love to people about whom I care. Most of us act as though we know what it is without truly understanding its meaning and essence. This has been true of me. Before I encountered this phenomenology of love, I already had experiences of loving other people – my family, my friends, and girlfriends past and present. However, I was belonged to the people whom Erich Fromm described as believing in the popular notion of love. I emphasized the characteristics of the people I loved, why I needed them, and I mostly demanded that they love me more than I demanded myself to love them. My concept love was shallow. Yes, I felt it, but I knew it not. However, all that changed when I came across the phenomenology of love.

It was an articulation of fundamental characteristics of love which I knew my heart was saying but my mind was incapable of putting into words. When I was reading the said phenomenology, I constantly had that weird feeling of realizing something and relating to it strongly with past experiences. I strongly agree with it. Indeed, love begins with the experience of loneliness and then grows as someone reaches out lovingly to the other. I also experienced that, but did not know its meaning in relation to the love I had. Indeed, in loving others, I always sought their love too, in the same or in even greater measure than that which I gave them. But I realized with the phenomenology that it is alright to feel that way and wish for the same, but that it should not be the motivation in my loving act. But what struck me the most was the statement that when we “love” someone without knowing our true worth, we are like making them trash bins to whom we throw ourselves. Because of this and the entirety of the phenomenology of love, I learned what loving is truly all about. Indeed, it’s a many-splendored thing.

J. Edward Hackett

In this post, I explain the particular logical relation C.S.I. Jenkins set out to analyze in her paper "What is Love: An Incomplete Map of the Metaphysics." One barrier to analysis, or at least arguing for phenomenological inroads into the metaphysics of love, is to note how the starting position of the relational proposition she analyzes frames the entire possible trajectory of the debate. For now, let’s explain what she means by love and how she analyzes it.

Jenkins’s principal aim “is to help set up the analytic metaphysics of romantic love as an ongoing concern.”[1] The question “What is love” is seen through a relational lens expressed in propositional language. In this way, she analyzes the proposition of “X is in love with Y,” and she asks “what does x and y stand for?”[2] She understands X and Y as neutral positions, not prefiguring their content. For instance, she will not ask if y needs to be an agent, or even agent-like since its possible to be in love (maybe) with a fictional character, as one might be in love with Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as well as Tom loving a real-life Barista Denise that never will give him the time of day. Moreover, Jenkins has the intuition that “plausibly, [the] states of affairs expressed in [the previous proposition] at least partially (and maybe fully) metaphysically ground the state of affairs expressed in [statements like x and y are in love with each other].”[3] She does this under a self-described analytic lens in which she seeks to understand and analyze the proposition and its contents as if adopting a classical conceptual analysis of the utterance itself. She is after, as you may recall, an analytic metaphysics of romantic love.

And analytic metaphysics of the kind I admire is receptive to, and where appropriate informed by, insights and results from a very broad range of other disciplines as well as extra-academic sources. This kind of metaphysics, I think, has something of a distinctive value to offer to contemporary theorizing about romantic love.[4]

In so doing, Jenkins has reduced the phenomenon of love (partially or completely) to a conceptual and linguistic problem, and understands the metaphysical problem (partially or completely) as a semantic problem of the linguistic variety, though I do not think that the above text precludes all the ways in which one might conduct a metaphysical study on love in Continental philosophy.[5] I do think she might say that the tools phenomenologists bring to bear are not included in what she means by the “range of other disciplines.” When I hear that phrase, I think she means something more akin to interdisciplinary but still naturalistic approaches from which she and other analytic metaphysicians may use to ground speculative efforts. She ends up refining her question as follows: “What is the metaphysical nature of the relation between X and Y (if any) that gets expressed in sentences of the form ‘x is in love with y’ interpreted in the manner described in this section?”[6]

While I do not have the time to fully articulate a phenomenological position on love, I want to note how the initial interpretive assumptions of an analytic approach influence the development of the positions to follow. Notice, Jenkins’s efforts are at a loss to explicate the historical nature of love. On this point, she is very honest. She does not want to give up on the possibility of doing a metaphysics of love, and that means that the philosopher has access to conceptual descriptions of phenomena as they stand the test of time from such analysis. In this way, she is assuming that a static and ahistoric analysis is somewhat possible to describe the relation between X and Y. This view of an ahistoric reality is due in principle to describing the X and Y relation as a relative time-slice in understanding and abstracting this problem. I think this is where the danger lurks in her analysis. At least, this is my prima facie reaction to her paper. Let me explain.

Such a formalization of a relatively small moment of time in such a linguistically-contrived manner also breeds the tendency to oversimplify the complicated and overwhelming textures of lived-experience love can have. As such, what is missing from Jenkins’s initial characterization (and I say initial here since Jenkins’s efforts are just beginning on this score and it would be wrong to treat her cursory attempt here as a full-fledged position), is a way to account for the manner in which love can be experienced. Put another way, love can be given to the one undergoing the experience in relation to another. As such, a phenomenological method would describe how one self is given to another in this experience and all possible ways in which love can be understood on its own terms rather than forcing the experience to fit the prefigured assumptions about how and what we can analyze metaphysically. In a phenomenological understanding of the problem, the phenomenologist does not attempt to prefigure the world and the objects that are given in it, but it does mean that we, as phenomenologists, assume the philosopher should be open to the intelligibility of the world as a guiding intellectual force to help her think about any phenomena, including love. This contrasts with the analytic approach (oftentimes, but not necessarily) that seeks to supplant the content of experience. By contrast, we’ve all sat next to an analytic philosopher at some point during a talk in which the analytic philosopher introduces a distinction between their claim and folk intuitions or claims. By taking up a phenomenological description of lived-experience with the full commitments of the phenomenologist, a better understanding of love is tentatively more plausible than the account she gives under the heading constructive functionalism. Of course, a phenomenology of love can only be taken as providing the manner in which love is given, and someone may take what is discovered in love-qua-givenness as a way into speculation about love. Such a discovery, if that’s what it should be called, turns on a distinction inherent within the history of phenomenology itself.

We may distinguish between those transcendental phenomenologists that think they have uncovered the essence of that experience for all possible experiencers since, as it were, the phenomenological method discovers insight into the perspective of all possible experiencers—what Husserl called the transcendental subject. On the other hand, however, phenomenology is a way to draw out descriptions of the conditions under which a phenomenon is given within the historical formulations in the lived-experience itself. Thus, we might describe love under this hermeneutic lens. Unlike both Jenkins and the transcendental phenomenologist, the hermeneutic phenomenologist regards ontology as historically-situated. For instance, a hermeneutic engagement with love might suggest that love is understood as the fusion between Plato’s indirect influence of eros relates to the Hellenization of Christian thought. So for Plato, love is a transition from a lesser to higher state of knowledge, and regarded as a tendency of objects of sense to ontologically participate in their higher forms. Love is, therefore, dependent as a function of knowledge. A hermeneutic phenomenologist might show how exactly this idea of a self-serving salvation of an individual contrasts very differently with how Christianity regards salvation as a historical process worked out as acts of love and grace for the benefit of all from the very beginning so much so, in fact that we see Christianity gives equal if not more pride of place to love than knowledge. Maybe even more fascinating is how exactly Plato’s idea of love as the striving of not being for being underlies much of how Christians conceive of the unfolding cosmic promise of God revealing himself in history by borrowing some of Plato and Aristotle on metaphysical matters.

The hermeneutic phenomenologist, then, becomes different in her consideration of ontology. For her, the status of the relation between X and Y is just a presupposition of how we now characterize love. Instead, ontological vocabulary regarding the self-showing of love reveals the historic constraints of its own givenness, and that ontological vocabulary could never transcend and explain all varieties. In fact, the hermeneutic phenomenologist regards the historical nature of understanding like stars spewing the primordial elements out into the cosmos that become churned over again to make something else. Our attempts at a hermeneutic phenomenological understanding of love and its metaphysical status would only illuminate how much our current understanding of love is a product of this effective history. Our interpretation of love would connect the dots between the causally efficacious history and how it has come-to-be taking into consideration the raw material of these occurrences such as the socio-historic dimensions of pair bonding, the languages of these texts, the past influence of ideas from the Greeks, Romans, and development of Christianity up until the present day collapse of these overarching powerful threads.

To some outside Continental philosophy, the last description of what a hermeneutic ontology of love might be reached through a phenomenology constrained by history might resemble a historic genealogy of something like Foucault on sexuality or Nietzsche on morality. This could not be further from the truth, and since the metaphysics of romantic love are on the table,I only wish to contrast and make clear that genealogical analysis is different than a historically-constrained phenomenology without exactly calling attention to what Foucault’s efforts amount to in his actual History of Sexuality (I refrain from doing this since the amount of Foucault I’ve read is rather small in comparison to others that would be in a better position to do it). The genealogical method is dedicated to the proposition that the only forms of experience and concepts are interpretations of completely historically mediated understanding. The hermeneutic phenomenologist is, at least, dedicated to the proposition that the intelligibility of experience can change with history, but the phenomenologist is still after a description of the form experience takes, and the description and analysis of that experience, in our case that of love, still connects with the continuity of our experience in some way. The genealogical thinker reaches back into history and discovers the genesis of the concept, but attaches no philosophical privilege to the analysis of an ideal, concept, or experience. In fact, a Foucauldian might say that phenomenologists are blinded by the passivity of their own method to preserve what is given without trying to discover the actual process by which an concept is generated. Being mindful of those arbitrary elements that go into the manufacturing of a concept might illumine our present understanding for the purposes of an emancipatory wish. In so doing, there is the hope of illumination. Now, in Foucault’s case, he often tries to take a look at power in the context of an institution and then seeks to explain how that concept evolves to the point that it is possible to explain how even in our contemporary efforts to move beyond a concept we become trapped by the very concept we seek to overcome by our efforts. The genealogical thinker could in principle apply such tools of philosophizing to love, but in that way, the genealogist would make metaphysical presuppositions about existence and history that would prefigure what they would say about the metaphysics of romantic love.

Let me take stock of my efforts here. At first, I suggested that Jenkins’s analysis might be limited from her methodological commitments. I attempted to show what the commitments of the transcendental phenomenologist might be committed to if he were to analyze love. In that case, I concluded that the transcendental phenomenologist and Jenkins’s efforts are similarly ahistoric by introduction of the hermeneutical phenomenologist. Finally, I contrasted the methodological commitments of the genealogical thinker from the hermeneutic phenomenologist. What I’ve shown is how these positions all frame the metaphysical possibilities of romantic love from the very outset. Neither Jenkins nor all the other positions are immune from the metaphysical trajectory their analysis takes from the very beginning of their efforts, and Jenkins never presents her findings as coming from a neutral position. My only thought was to draw out how prominently problematic a metaphysics of love is from any characterization and what different possibilities of a Continentally-informed analysis might look like. I need not mention how indispensable Scheler’s writings on love are in his Nature of Sympathy or his Love and Knowledge. In the next section, despite disagreeing with the initial characterization of the problem, I think Jenkins should be applauded for creating a logical road map into a fascinating problem, and I’ll go through them all as a matter of fascination in my next post. I’ll then introduce phenomenology as a way to undermine and modify what she calls primitivism.

It is with some irony that I write this essay just two days from my nine-year wedding anniversary (I love you Ashley!)



[1] C.S.I Jenkins, “What is Love? An Incomplete Map of the Metaphysics of Love” in Journal of the American Philosophical Association (2015): 349-364. Jenkins, 350 cited here.

[3] Jenkins, 351. I also want to mention that her wonderful analysis of proposition “3. X and Y are in love, i.e., with each other” is equally fascinating and in some ways you cannot understand her reasoning for choosing to focus on 2 listed above. However, I’ve tried to keep my efforts short here, so I did not conclude it as a measure for why she does what does. I’m only to show how the framing assumptions implicitly constitute the possible trajectories much later on in both her analysis and the logical map she develops. See her distributive and collectivist reading in section 2 of her paper for more information.

[5] I should say I am often alone in my want to use phenomenology for getting into the ontology and metaphysics of phenomena. Continental philosophy is just now rediscovering the metaphysical impetus in the various ways in which speculative realists now take up objects, and the history of 20th century Continental philosophy is, after all, a history of rejecting metaphysics completely or seeing such efforts operate under extremely modified lenses.

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