17 February 2004

Is love necessary for life?

Is love necessary for life?

Common sense and reason seem to tell us that if something is really necessary for life we would spend a lot of time, money and effort on it. To test this idea I did a very unscientific experiment and consulted Google™. Somehow I was not surprised that for 'life' I got 184,000,000 hits and for 'love' I got 118,000,000. I also did a control check and looked up 'pencil' and got 4,110,000 hits. I'm not a statistician, but these figures insist that they want to tell me something.

What can philosophy tell us about life and love? The Greeks gave us one idea of love as Eros: passionate, intense desire for something which in the modern sense is referred to as sexual desire. Phila represents fondness and appreciation not just of friendship but also loyalties to family and political community (polis). Agape refers to the paternal love of God for human kind and human kind's love for God and also sibling love for all humanity. These are all ideas which today we include in our language and culture as basic concepts.

However, love in the context of life means that we have to focus our ideas not only on meaning but also on scope. For example, how do we know that we are in love and how do we know that others are in love? How do we 'know' that someone is in love with us? Can our perceptions about pain tell us something, by analogy or psychologically, about love? Is love a private perception with a public manifestation? An analysis of the nature of love, in the physical, emotional, spiritual, ethical and political context might help us decide if love is necessary for life and also pinpoint the nature of that necessity.

If we believe that love is necessary for life than we would expect to find love experienced by the majority of people, maybe in the same way that the majority of people experience hunger and pain. But if love is similarly important for life why don't governments, for example, institutionalise the 'fulfilment' of love in the same way they provide a health service, an educational service and basic staple food? And must love always be reciprocated? I mean, what's the point of having something necessary, for example for life, and then not have it fulfilled or reciprocated? It is like saying that hunger is necessary for life, but then God or nature did not provide us with food.

Maybe we need to put love in the context of reproduction and evolutionary biology. Falling in love in none other than simply being sexually attracted to the opposite members of the species. This also makes sense when we extend love to the family and community, i.e. country, nation. The same emotional force first brings us together to reproduce and then brings us together to sustain life. Two for the price of one! Admittedly, a somewhat functional and randomised phenomenon, but, nevertheless, it seems to work most of the time. It's just bad luck for those left on the shelf and for Shakespeare's context for Romeo and Juliet.

Love could also be seen as the rational side of life. Romantic love appeals to us because we understand that there is more to life than just reproduction and survival. And the idea or perception of love helps meet both the physical and the rational states of a human being's sense of fulfilment. The chivalry demonstrated by knights in shinning armour for damsels, especially in distress, came from respect for the lady and from a sense of justice against evil. And we can even take this idea a step further and extend love to nations of the world. Going to the defence of an ally is not different from going to rescue the lady from the dragon; love is what makes it all possible. Love guarantees life for the lady and love guarantees peace for nation states. I'm sure that few people would disagree with this. Maybe we will find out exactly how many disagree during our next meeting.

Incidentally, I also got 7,430,000 hits for 'oxygen'.

See you Sunday, Lawrence

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