While most people intuit what love is—recognizing it when they see it—it is not always easy to say what it is. Moreover, while everyone experiences love as dramatic and often problematic, most do not think of love as a philosophical and theological problem. Our very word “love” witnesses to the problem, in its resistance to the perennial attempts to tie it down to one of its many elements. The tendency to partiality is instantiated well in the so-called “problem of love” where ascending eros (now taken to be “need love,” “interested love,” “egoism”) is understood to be incompatible with the Christian descending agape (now taken to be self-abnegation, “disinterested” or “altruistic” concern for the other alone).
It is evident that persons ought to be loved “for their own sakes,” as ends, not as means. It is also evident that one cannot but desire one’s own happiness and fulfillment, which desire stands at the heart of the most basic natural inclinations. What is not clear, however, is how these two loves are to be held together in unity. This course attempts to give an account of that unity. It does so by considering the various polarities of love: love as an inclination (amor naturalis) and love as an act (amor rationalis); “love of concupiscence” and “love of friendship;” and ascending “eros” and descending “agape.” It also considers the various “objects” of love (self, neighbor, and God) and the order between them (the ordo amoris). All of this is done with an eye to the novelty of Christian love and the claims made on account of it (Nygren) and against it (Comte).
The course follows a historical trajectory, beginning with Plato (eros), Aristotle (the three friendships), St. Augustine (the uti-frui distinction), the Cistercians and Victorines (the “stages” of the love of God), St. Thomas (the natural desire for happiness, love as a passion, the two-fold distinction, and the order of love), and, finally, modern and post-modern altruism (Comte, Mill, Derrida). The course will end with a consideration of the nature of the Christian novelty with respect to love (Richard of St. Victor, Balthasar, John Paul II, Scola).