Ethics – Love – Definitions

Friday, August 29th, 2008 at 8:00 am.
by pre.

This week we are taking advantage of the fact its is a five-Friday month to make this week’s article a prelude, an aside. We’ll explain the topic of the meditation to be published next week rather than focus yet more on social perception. By having the first our our essays on ‘love’ this week we can do four articles on Social Perception, four on Love, and still have a week for a recap before we complete the first lap around the spiral at the end of September.

Which is useful, because the word “Love” is a frustratingly ambiguous mess in the English language, and it’ll take a short diversion into it’s meaning before we can really start to talk usefully about how love can help your ethics, why you should care, and how to improve and gain more control over your loving skills.

The Greeks do not suffer from this same ambiguity. They have at least five words which loosely translate into the English world “love”: Eros, philia, agapē, storge and thelema.

C.S. Lewis counted only Four Types Of Love when he thought about it, missing Thelema and so presumably never saying “I love to play tennis” or “I love to write allegories on the bible as children’s stories “.

Each of the types of love are no doubt useful and powerful emotions which should probably all be developed and nurtured and expanded and controlled to help push us closer to transcendence. Let’s examine them in turn.

Eros

Eros is, of course, romantic love. Full of lust, passion and sexual desire. It’s a red-hot overwhelming, burning need. A jealous possessive love which, if uncontrolled, can lead to Shakespearian tragedy and, if unrequited, to suicidal misery and stalking.

When you learn to take more conscious and deliberate control of this emotion you’ll better be able to turn on that passion and lust in yourself and your partner. You’ll be more able to ignore an unrequited love and through understanding gain more perspective on it’s importance to your Thelema.

Thelema

The type of Greek Love which C.S. Lewis missed, presumably damning it as no love at all because it’s not a relationship between people, but an intrinsic will or desire. You can feel Thelema towards a sport, towards a drug or brand of baked beans or even towards an abstract concept — “I love maths”. When people say “Do what you love” they mean Thelema.

It refers to your drives, subjective value systems, the things you get out of bed for on a Saturday.

The Transcendence Institute is at least a part of our thelema. The pursuit of knowledge, understanding, self-consciousness and self-control, the drive to learn how to be most effective in the rest of our thelema.

As you learn to know yourself better, you will find and resolve desires which conflict. Knowing your will, your Thelema, will better enable you to find ways to peruse that will, and remove any fear you have of chasing that which you love to chase. Eventually you’ll also learn to increase your thelema and thus drive yourself more passionately towards your goal.

Philia

C.S. Lewis called Philia “Friendship” and the scientific suffix “philic” means essentially “Attracted to” in the sense that a magnetic south pole is attracted to a magnetic north. Unlike North and South though, Philia arises though a similarity, having things in common. I love (Philia) you because we share a goal, or enjoy a similar pastime, support the same team, are of the same nation, friendship-group or family. We may even call it comradeship.

As you learn to understand this kind of love, you’ll learn how to inspire it in others — to ‘make friends and influence people’. You’ll better be able to find what common cause you have with people to base a friendship on, and you’ll learn to value your friendships more, and more accurately.

Storge

Storge is an affection, a familial love. A brotherly or sisterly love. A love which will tend to grow as you spend time with someone just through that familiarity. A wish for someone’s well-being because you’d miss them if they were gone.

It’s useful to control and understand your Storge, and that of others. To know why you feel the way you feel, to edit and change those feelings if they conflict with other types of love, your Thelema or Philia. To learn how to turn these emotions up and down as appropriate to your will.

Agapē

Early Christians, certainly Paul/Saul in his biblical letters, used the word “Agapē” to describe their god’s love for the world. The word which he claimed that his god loved unconditionally. Buddhists may see if at the source of good-karma: loving even that which does you harm. A general well-wishing, wanting good for the whole world.

It’s clear why this kind of love would improve our instinctual sense of ethics. If we have a general wish to see all parties — all things — come out better, if we love the entire world, then we’re more likely to find the fair solution to a problem than if we’re selfishly loving (Eros) our spouse and want to see them advantaged or if we’re biased towards those we’re familiar with (Storge). The emotion of Agapē gives us a sense of ‘fair-play’. As you learn to practice Agapē you’ll find pleasure in more things.

That’s not all

Even this list of Greek words does not fully expand upon the vast spectrum of emotions which the world “love” so vaguely describes. The Transcendence Institute would add to this list at least an appreciative, love, a love felt because the object of that love is good, a love that’s not Eros (the object of that love isn’t sexy), it’s not Philia (we need not share common cause or even know each other), it’s not Storge (we could not feel it for the black sheep of the family), it’s not Thelema (it’s not a drive, a desire, just a recognition of that which is ‘good’), it’s not Agapē (we do not feel appreciative of everything, only that which is good).

We would also add a love built from gratitude, even indebtedness, loving someone or something because of the help they have provided in the past.

All these types of love are pleasurable, at least in some circumstances, and this alone is sufficent reason to encourage them in yourself, to practice and train yourself on them.

The point of this article, however, is not to enumerate types of love. Human emotion is a huge continuous spectrum of experiences which we’ll barely be able to touch on next month. There are more instances of love than there are people who have ever existed, for each will have loved many times. All these words capture some parts of the experience and miss other parts. The point isn’t to list what is possible but to give a framework for discussion. Not to put love into boxes, but to give some markers, stake out some landmarks in the landscape of love.

This, we have done, so next week we’ll introduce a meditation designed to help increase and control Agapē, for to improve our ethics we must feel that sense of fair-play, and apply it to all things

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