Defining Love – Part III: What Love Is This

Please feel free to read Parts I & II of this series previously posted.

Now that we have separated sex and love and discussed its common over use as a word, we are ready to delve a little deeper into the subject matter. I had devoted an article specifically on the separation of sex and love, as this is an important concept to understand and the one that can be most readily confused. It is easy to see the differences in the physical act of love (sex) and the emotional or mental state of attraction or admiration (love). But there are different types of love and we must now give each some form and understanding to promote any continued consideration or discussion.

If you Google “types of love” you will be met with a plethora of personal views on the number of types there are and what each one represents. But with a little work, you will find that almost all examples can be readily categorized in three basic concepts of love. Even the site that touted “The Ten Types of Love You Will Definitely Experience in Your Life” had examples that could be neatly arranged into these three categories. The examples were different in analogy and circumstance, but they were representing some principal of the three types we will discuss. And these three types are a readily accepted view of love in the modern fields of psychology and sociology today, although their origins come from the ancient Greek philosophers. Just because the concepts are old, does not make them wrong or inapplicable for our modern times. Believe me, in their less hectic and privileged lifestyles, the Greek philosophers had more time to devote to pondering these ideas than most of us could apply today. That is, unless you are a philosophy major on a full scholarship. So with all of its variations and derivatives, what are the three categories we can assign to the concept of love?

Love comes in three flavors Eros, Philos, and Agape. It is not hard to discern the Greek origin of these words, and as we discuss each you will see them as the origins for other words we use today to express these same concepts. Some would argue for a fourth type, Storge, which in its use in ancient Greek texts would be translated as “affection”. It represents a very diffuse love and its rare use is almost exclusively a descriptor for relationships within a family. It neither gives or takes of itself and can be more accurately seen as acceptance. It is the type of love we are referring to when we say we “love” the Aunt we find completely overbearing, a little crazy, and have no desire to spend time with. We “love” her because she is family, or “accept” her because she is family. With that being said, we will devote no more time to this lesser concept of love and just agree that it exists. So where do we start?

Less start at the lower end of the spectrum with Philos (also called Philia). This is the mental or emotional concept of love. It also would be likened to the English term affection; however, unlike the term Storge, it does not reflect any idea of acceptance. It is a dispassionate form of love. It is the love we have for friends, acquaintances and inanimate objects. It requires little else than a familiarity with the object. It is somewhat the “give and take” type of love. We rarely “give” our time or attention to these objects of love without our own benefit or “take” from doing so. And in this way it is a natural form of love. It is given easily and often without conscious thought. We simply like the things that have positive affect on us. And conversely, with withhold this affection from objects we see as having a negative impact on us, almost unknowingly. We don’t have to think hard about this type of love. We are risking little emotionally and in turn receiving only a measured return. It is also the type we feel we have the most control over. When can turn it on or off based on whatever set of conditions we have formulated as requirements for this type of love. And it can vary in degree or depth as conditions change. We can stop “loving” a friend when they have wronged us or if we perceive the friendship does not return some cognitive measure of love back to us. This is the type of love that permeates the majority of “love” we have in our lives. As the type of love we give deepens, it also becomes more rare. This is the type of love we have for our pets. You may be tempted to give your own relationship with your pet(s) a greater position, but as we discuss the remaining two types you will see that it does correctly belong in this category. I would offer that as much as we love, adore, and cherish our faithful animal companions, it is conditional at best. Would you feel the same towards your pet if he chewed everything you own, crapped all over the house, bit your child, or was mean or vicious in temperament? Probably not in a physical or unconditional way. And since those are the two remaining categories, we must place that type of love here. Part of the reason we see it as a higher level of love is that, much like other people, our animals can emote their own affection or love back to us. It is the same variance in degree between loving a certain food and loving your best friend. Although you can readily see the difference in degree of those two loves, they both are a part of Philos love.

As a note, it is easiest to think of this as mental love. It is the origin for our word philosophy, a study of the mind. I challenge you to recognize the type of love in your own lives. Of all the things you love, who and what would fall into this category?

And keep in mind, that although this is the lesser form of our ability to love. It is always the start of any love that grows deeper. You cannot build a deeper love for someone without this foundation. You can try, but the odds are against you. That is why we dreamily envision “marrying our best friend”.

Next up:  Defining Love – Part IV – Let’s Get Physical

© 2012  Commonsensibly Speaking ~ Brad Osborne

2 Responses to “Defining Love – Part III: What Love Is This”
  1. Fascinating! So maybe we should change the overuse of the word “love” for the word Philos? I have a philos relationship with pasta and a non-philos relationship with brussel sprouts. I think we may have a difficult time making that a mainstream word as it doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as it would if you substituted the word “love” and “hate” in those sentences. lol

    I am also having a bit of a hard time equating the same love I feel for foods, smells, or even certain friends as the love I feel for my dog but you had a good point about the destructive animal. I probably wouldn’t feel the same depth of love for the animal that created problems for me on a daily basis.

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