Formalised by the great Greek thinkers, the philosophy of love has influenced how we view love and relationships.
There are four important distinctions in the philosophy of love. These are Philia, Eros, Storge, and Agape: the different kinds of love. Each category examining the philosophy of love has its own key thinker and its own applications. So, to truly understand the philosophy of love, we must examine each type in turn.
Each kind of love is special in its own right, but can also combine and underpin other types of love. This reflects how we view love in everyday life, as we do not just feel one type of love at one time, we may love one person in many different ways. To truly understand how love works, we must consider what the great thinkers say on the philosophy of love.
Also known as brotherly love, philia love is the affection we feel towards our friends.
Key thinker: Aristotle
Philia love relationships are such as that between lifelong friends, in a religious society, or between members of the same tribe. Philia love is characterised by a mutual affection for one another, by getting on well together and wanting what is best for the other person without an interest in what is best for yourself.
For Aristotle, philia love is essential for human happiness because “no one would choose to live without friends”.
Eros love is a passionate and intense love. It is experienced when we feel desire and passionate love, such as that which is felt between two lovers.
Key thinker: Plato
Plato’s conception of Eros love is slightly complex but has inspired the philosophy of love in modern academics.
Initially, Eros love was known as a form of carnal love; the initial desire and lust, that we feel when we are attracted to another person. Typically, we feel Eros love through sexual attraction. Yet, when examined by Plato, the conception deepened into something more complex.
According to Plato, Eros love helps the soul to remember beauty in its purest and most ideal form. Through Eros love, we appreciate the beauty of and within another person, therefore, appreciating beauty itself.
As such, lovers find the inner beauty of their partner and the eternalness of beauty in itself. By doing so, the lovers will bring themselves happiness because they have found the ideal form of beauty and truth in their partner.
Agape love is selfless love. This kind of love is universal and attributed to many kinds of loving relationships, but most commonly known as the ‘God’ love.
Key thinker: Homer
In the philosophy of love, Agape love is the oldest kind, dating back as far as Homer and being visible in the philosophy of great thinkers such as Kant.
Agape love is the highest form of love. Traditionally, this kind of love was exemplified in the relationship between man and God, but in modern conceptions, we know it as the charitable love.
Agape love is to give affection and honour to another. We feel this love for gilded soldiers, for family members and for those who have past. It is considered the most perfect form of love because it is given with such respect and affection.
We see aspects of agape love in the moral writings of thinkers such as Kant, who highlight the importance of respect and love for one another.
Storge love is love between family, friends and pets. It is more wide-ranging than philia love and is often a part of all other kinds of love.
Key thinker: C. S. Lewis
For Lewis, Storge love is loving someone through fondness and familiarity. It is a bond that is built over time to form a deep connection with another being. As such, it is the most natural and widely diffused form of love.
This love brings with it empathy for others and an emotive fondness. It is present in other forms of love because it develops through time and familiarity with a partner, friends, and family, forging deep and emotive connections.
This love is, therefore, instinctive and intimate because the history and relationship we have with the being we feel this love for. It is storge love that allows us to truly know a person, when they are happy or sad, and to empathise with them.
There are many conceptions of the philosophy of love, but each rests on the four key kinds of love set about by our four key thinkers. These concepts, which founded the philosophy of love, allow us to understand and appreciate the relationships we have with others.
We love people for different reasons and in different ways. To understand the love we feel for them, we must understand why we love them and how; and what better way to do so than with philosophy?
- Aristotle – Book VIII & IX & Rhetoric
- Plato – Symposium
- C. S. Lewis – The Four Loves