‘Two Conceptions of Love in Philosophical Thought’ by Christopher Cordner

(In Sophia: International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Metaphysical Theology and Ethics (University of Melbourne) Vol 50, No 3, Sept 2011, pp.315-329)

Wandering through the library lobby this morning, I got distracted by this piffy little article from the new Journals shelf.  Cordner points out that there are 2 very different ways of thinking about love in the Western ways, of which Platonic and Christian thought have given us the richest formulations. (He also argues that those who have conflated the two misrepresented both!)

Firstly, he argues Plato sees love as needy. “Love is always the Love of something, and…that something is what he lacks.” (p. 316, Corner quoting from Plato’s Symposium.) In this sense it more like the idea of Falling In Love which I have been reading and writing about this year – a projected desire for some aspect of ourselves which we see in another. Can’t quite make out then, why we use the term ‘Platonic Love’ to describe relationships where there is no such projection, or is it just no projection that expresses itself sexually? (Obviously there is etymological history here which I’ll readily admit I’m not abreast of!) For Plato the goal is self-sufficiency but that leads the human person into a state where they have no need of love! Have to admit I’m not at all attracted to that idea.

Second, what Max Scheler calls ‘an act of the spirit,’ and Cordner designates fairly nominally as ‘Christian,’ is a conception of love as expansive. God loves out of the overflowing fullness of God’s being, and so too do/can/should human beings, created in God’s likeness. “This love is experienced by its beneficiary, then, as not alienable by contingencies of what she does, or of the specific qualities she has or lacks, or what she might become.” It is unconditional (p.321).

Cordner points out that in Plato’s conception of love, it is assumed that the person in love is sick, whereas, in the Christian conception, the human person is healthy. On the whole, Western ethical and anthropological discourses flow from the former – human beings are deprived of absolute goodness (i.e. the Platonic category of The Good) but loving actions may offer the prospect of redemption as we find that which we lack in ourselves from others. I desperately want to shout out ‘Love does not have to function that way!’ – though surely sometimes it does.

How is it possible not to prefer this ‘Christian’ Love as Cordner describes it:

“If such love is a spontaneous ‘going out’ towards the other, it is also a very important fact that we can find ourselves affirmed in our deepest being by others’ love… That response to love is a realising, in the one loved, of her own value or worth. But this loving of her is then not an arbitrary creation of anything; it is a creative realising of a value in the one loved that she herself can find affirmed in the way she experiences that love. Putting this slightly differently: if there is reason for calling this deepest kind of love ‘gratuitous’, it is both a marvellous and an important fact that people can find their own deepest being affirmed by it” (p.329).

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