The Four Loves
Our everyday concerns organize our lives. Now and then, however, we find ourselves jolted out of our complacency in something vastly more important than our immediate desires and interests, something not of this world.
From Plato to Kant, “philosophers have tried to capture the particular way that beauty dawns on us” (Scruton 2011). In fact, beauty shines on us in the ordinary things, like a sudden ray of sunlight or a surge of love. In fact, love is the beauty that we speak about. It is found in a sudden burst of sunlight which dawns our appreciation for it. A surge of erotic love that we have for our beloved. The solace found in the agreement between friends. The awe of kind intention that connects us to the sacred. The following essay will detail each of the four loves, familial or affectionate love (storge), friendship (philia), romantic love (eros), and spiritual love (agape), by presenting this author’s philosophical treatment for each of these.
The subject of friendship has long occupied ancient discussions of the good life. Aristotle's investigations of friendship in the Nicomachean Ethics contributes to us the not only the discussion of friendship but the determined questions that should be addressed. Aristotle argues that the perfect form of friendship are between people who are equals in virtue, status, power, or intellect. This author argues that friendship is possible between people who are not "equals" in virtue, status, power, or intellect. Friendship is a good point in the discussion of love in that once the friendship of men is established, each party is treated as equals in relevant respects. P.M.S Hacker writes, “The abstract noun philia brackets both love and friendship” (Hacker 2017). It should be noted that although friendship is primarily a relationship, and not emotion, that “relationship may be deep or superficial (casual), depending upon the strength and depth of the feelings that obtain” (Hacker 2017). Vlastos (1981) in a discussion Plato’s and Aristotle’s accounts of love argue that they fail to distinguish “disinterested affection for the person we love” from “appreciation of the excellences instantiated by that person” (p. 33). This author agrees with Vlastos as he provides an account of love that is a love of properties rather than a love of persons. Here we find a love of a type of person, rather than love of a particular person, which truly continues friendship (philia). This justifies love regarding the properties of the person, and thereby we might say that friendship is a love by which we love those properties and not the person.
Perhaps then friendship is a love formed by the bestowal of value and a matter of appraisal or the appeal to these valuable properties of one in friendship. Naturally, the valuable properties which make up a friendship "gives way" to the ordinary usage friend means, to “ally.” To align oneself to another is to place or arrange oneself in support by which parties come together in agreement or alliance. In this way, friendship is purely functional. Friendship is for us, of course, the shared activity and therefore the companionship on which Friendship supervenes will often be a bodily one like hunting or fighting. This is not to say that friendship is without love. For instance, a loving friendship (the non-erotic friendship) between man and man is exemplified by the relationship between David and Jonathan. P.M.S Hacker writes, “the soul of Jonathan is described as being ‘kit with the soul of David’ and Johnathan is said to have “loved him as his own soul’ (1 Samuel 18:1). Love displayed here is not between social equals, nor does it represent the demand for "perfect virtue" of the Aristotelian. Friendship, therefore, is possible between people who are not "equals" in virtue, status, power, or intellect since friendship is an alliance in which each party is treated, in relevant respects, as equals in mutual support and interest. Just as friendship is a love formed by the bestowal of value, so is appreciation but unlike friendship, we must have appreciation in order function as humans.
Strangely, the experience of appreciation makes us feel at home because it reminds us that we have more than practical needs, we are more than governed by animal appetites, like consumption and sleep, but that we have moral and spiritual needs too. If those needs go unsatisfied, so do we. The Greeks called this love storge, which is affection, especially of parents to offspring. Affection is that of a mother nursing a baby. It is a love which is needed by the young but a love that is gifted by the mother. Within this paradox, there lies affectionate love. Affection is a need-love, but yet it needs to be given, while affection is also a gift-love, but it needs to be needed. There need be no apparent fitness between those whom it unites as it ignores the barriers of age, sex, class, and education. Affection is the humblest of loves given that affection is a selfless love, both given and received by the need of compassionate nutriment, not on the proof refinement.
Affection gives its giver no proof of their refinement or perceptiveness that they have loved another nor that another loved them. With affection one looks to another so that the two individuals may coexist in a mutually enriching and satisfying environment. Affection allows us to, in the everyday world, be transported by what we love from the very world of our appetites to the illuminated sphere of contemplation. A flash of the face of a loved one will make us realized that life is worth living. Affection affords us with moments in which we see glimpses of a higher world. Experiencing affection calls us to the divine. If we were to define affection in reflection to how it manifests itself in our lives, affection would be defined as the expression of having grown a comfortable familiarity or fondness of something we are experiencing without loudly expressing it. Affection determined on this basis would, therefore, be identified as the foundation on which our capacity for love-cravings, which is typically innate within, is built to become that which becomes whatever solid or durable affection there is in our lives. In speaking about love-cravings, Eros is a love-craving built on affection. Although the fondness of contemplation is found in affection by which Eros is formed, the love and contemplation of beauty originate in Eros.
The love of beauty originates in Eros, a passion that all of us feel and call romantic love. For Plato, Eros was a cosmic force which flows through us in the form of sexual desire. Eros then is a love for the one living in this worlds, an urgent passion. If Eros is human desire, how can this love have anything to do with the divine? Sexual desire, in the form of Eros, presents to us a choice: adoration or appetite, love or lust (Scruton 2011). Lust is about taking, but love is about giving. The experience of “being in love” looks on the beloved as something non-existent in this present world. Eros is the state which we call “being in love,” an objective mode of expression in which sexuality is addressed. Although sexuality is included in Eros, Eros is the influence of “being in love” in which the role of the senses is reduced to a minor consideration given that Eros is love’s contemplative in which sexuality is only a late complication of the immemorial biological impulse. Eros obliterates the distinction between giving and receiving in how Eros wants the Beloved instead of wanting a sensory pleasure while having sexual desires. In Eros, a Need is intensely seen as a thing admirable in herself that goes beyond one’s relation to the lover’s need.
Eros is a complicated love as it invites us to transcend and unit with another in the pure love of beauty. Eros then, I would say, is beauty contemplated but not possessed. Eros, then, does not aim at happiness. This is the reason of how it is the very mark of Eros that when Eros is in us, we rather share unhappiness with the Beloved than be happy on any other terms. For it is better to be miserable with Eros than to be happy without Eros. Eros, then, is not only about finding beauty in a young person but also in a face full of age and grief. The urge to unite with someone or the loss of someone loved are moments in which we understand the scared. Love is in our nature, part of our longing for consolation in a world full of grief, suffering, and disappointments. The purpose of Eros is in its nature a program that calls a lover to bring forth the works of Eros, which are humility, charity, and divine grace. For Eros is driven to promise what Eros of itself cannot perform. Eros shows us that Eros cannot of itself be what it must be if it is to be Eros and, therefore, must be ruled over by God. Plato writing in Athens in the fourth century BC argued that the beauty of love is a sign of another and higher order. For Plato, the only explanation was its transcendental origin (Scruton 2011). Although we may concern ourselves with the nature of God, it is a conceptual problem about the nature of spiritual love that we will concern ourselves with below.
Spiritual love (agape) (what Kant, unfortunately, called pathological love) is in its pure sense the command to love God, and therefore, is Christian love. It may seem somewhat strange if we are to think of love in this instance as an emotion. Spiritual love is especially as distinct from erotic love or emotional affection. Spiritual love is what the New Testament calls charity, which is a concept closely associated with grace and mercy. Spiritual love is gifted with favor graciously within charity as to richly satisfy and protect the one loved from shame and exposure of wrongdoing; therefore, spiritual love is a type of love which is the most selfless. In fact, Agape love is often associated with a communal meal in token of Christian fellowship, in which the selfless love of Christ is commemorated. At this point, it is important to note that spiritual love (agape) is not only the command to love God but also the commandment to love others.
Spiritual love is a commandment that relays that we do not get to paint reality in any way we want; bending the truth of reality to serve out interests is not what is right. We will stand in the presence of God with our spiritual love when we speak the truth about our neighbor no matter what it costs us personally. Spiritual love never starts with what we do for another, but what we do for others. For Spiritual love loves a persona as they are, and not as they should be. How natural loves can be taken up into the realm of charity is how they may be used in activities of selfless love. In certain activities, the natural loves can become works of the glad and shameless and grateful Need-love which are both Charities. They are modes in which natural loves can promote the gift of forgiveness or the reception of forgiveness in which we are reconciled to another, for the benefits of another. In fact, the whole existence of love and charity points to the existence of a loving, spiritual God who desires for us to be reconciled to him through the very nature of love which is indeed spiritual.
In view of love in its various forms, through an experience of love, one finds themselves being jolted out of their
complacency in something vastly more important than our immediate desires and interests, something not of this world. Through love, we are brought into the presence of the sacred. Kant thought that the experience of beauty and love connects us with the ultimate mystery of being (Scruton 2011). It is true that love and beauty speak to us like the voice of God. Love in its various forms is the driving agent by which man as a personal being shows himself created for not only the community but for eternity and an eternal God.
Vlastos, G. “The Individual as Object of Love in Plato,” in Platonic Studies, 2nd edition, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981,
Hacker, Peter M. S. The Passions: A Study of Human Nature. John Wiley & Sons, 2017.
Scruton, Roger. Beauty: a very short introduction. Oxford University Press, 2011.