What Is Love?
Love is one of the most commonly used words in the world today. It is a concept in philosophy, psychology, theology, sociology and in a number of other courses. In each of these fields of studies, the question what is love is being asked and attempts have been made in providing answer to the question. Despite being a widely used word, it has no commonly accepted definition. They are as many definitions of love as there are many authors that have written on it. Everybody attempts a definition from their cultural, religious and personal point of view.
But one thing about love is that everybody feels and understands but it becomes very elusive when one is asked to define it. This explains why the question “what is love is being asked again and again. It is one of the most searched questions in Google. The best way to answer the question what is love is to look at it from various perspective. Here are various ways people try to answer the question “what is love.”
What love is not
Given the elusiveness of the word, most people attempt to answer the question “what is love” by saying what love is not. Love is defined in this manner by St Paul one of the renowned early Christian saint in his first letter to the Corinthians verse 4 to 6. Here he mentioned what love is not. There are other writers that have tried to provide answer to the question what is love from this point of view. In this regard, Love is not hatred and jealous. It is not apathetic or indifference to others. It does not speak ill of the other or slander. Love is not infatuation. Love does not manipulate the loved. It is not the same thing as lust. Love is not violent in nature.
But this means of defining love does not clearly answer the question “what is love.” Many writers and poets reject such definitions and try to define it by pointing out the various characteristics of love.
Defining love from its characteristics
There are writers who think that it is better to use the characteristics of love answer the question “what is love.” One of the commonest characteristics of love is caring. Love for some people is caring. If you love somebody, you must care for the person.
Some writers emphasise attraction in their definition of love. Love is attractive. It attracts a person to another person. It is this attraction or body chemistry that is the basis of romantic love or sexual desire towards the loved one. But this definition has been rejected by some author because it does not take into consideration instances of love or types of love where there is no sexual attraction. For example, most culture and religion condemns incest or sexual relationship between a parent and his or her child. But there is parental love and filial love. So, defining love as attraction does not perfectly answer the question what is love.
Love is commitment. Love makes you to be commitment to another person. If you love a person, you will not just care for the person. You will give full attention to the person and become loyal to the person. You will ensure that the needs of the loved one are taken care of before any other thing. Commitment is a very important characteristic of love but it does not exhaust everything about love and so it does not answer the question what is love.
Intimacy is another crucial aspect of love. Intimacy here means self-revealing. If you love a person, you will come close to the person and you will not keep any secret from the person. It is a kind of psychological nakedness. Love makes you to open up to another person. You are available to the person. There is some attachment that comes with love. However, intimacy does not explain everything about love. Intimacy alone cannot be the answer to the question “what is love.”
It is difficult to define love from its characteristics because love manifests itself from various perspectives and it is felt in different ways by different people. Given this, no one definition of love based on its characteristics fully answers the question “what is love.” All the above definition of love from the point of view of the characteristics of love are found wanting. So, the question what is love remains unanswered.
As it has been said above, love is a concept studied in various fields of human endeavour. It will be good to examine the definition of love in these points of views.
Biological definition of love
From the biological point of view, love is seen as chemistry. It is a neurological condition like thirst and hunger. Certain neurological process brings about love. Certain hormones are associated with love. When you have love for another person, the brain releases certain chemicals and hormones. Some of the hormones or chemicals associated with love include serotonin, dopamine, pheromones, vasopressin, norepinephrine, oxytocin, testosterone, oestrogen and others. Love here has two components, namely, attraction and attachment. When a person has some sexual attraction towards another person, the brain will release certain chemicals which have significant effect on the body. It pushes the person to go after the loved one making the person to have strong physical and sexual desire towards the loved one.
Love from evolutionary point of view
The evolutionists see love as mechanism developed by living things in order promote mutual defence, feelings of safety, parental support of children, security and long-term relationship.
Psychological point of view
Many psychologists define love as emotional responses to another person. The emotional responses manifest themselves in various ways. The way a mother relates emotionally to her child is different from the way a young woman relates to her lover. The different emotional responses give rise to different types of love. There is parental love which is the emotional response of parent to his or her child. There is also filial love which refers to the love a child has for his or her parents. There is also erotic love which is sexual type of love that exists between couples or people in a romantic relationship. Agape love is a type of selfless love that does not give rise to any sexual emotions. In other words, the various types of love are caused by different emotional responses people have for other people. It also explains why there are different levels of relationship and friendship. You relate with a person based on the emotional response you have for the person.
Cultural view of love
Love is one concept that is common to every culture. Every culture speaks of love. However, each culture has its own understanding of love. Culturally speaking, there are as many understandings of love as there are various understanding of love. The way Japanese understands love is different from the way the Chinese or the Greeks understand love.
The Greek for example distinguished various types of love, namely, the philia, xenia, agape, eros and storge showing the different ways love is manifested in our relationship with other people.
Love as union
Some people describe love as union. Love according to this people is the desire to establish union with another person. This view is upheld by some philosophers like Aristotle, Hegel, Montaigne, Fisher, Scruton and Delaney. However, each of these thinkers has his unique understanding of love as a union. This explains why there are various variants of the union theory of love in philosophy. So, you need to study the thought of each philosopher about love as union in order to fully understand how differs from other people.
Types of love
Another way of answering the question what is love is to talk about the different types of love. As it has been said above, there are different types of love owing to the fact that love manifests itself in many ways. Here are some types of love that you should know.
Impersonal love refers to a type of love a people has towards other things or values. It includes the love of a country, goal, religion, principle and value. It is referred to as object orientation, dogma or nationalism. It is this form of love that pushes people to go to war or fight in defence of their religion or principle.
Paraphilia is the love of material objects, activities and animals. It is this type of love that gives rise to bestiality.
Interpersonal love is the type of love that exists between human beings. There are different types of interpersonal love including sexual love, filial love, parental love, love without any sexual implication and other.
This is a type of love that exists between human beings and God. It is this type of love that makes a person to believe in God and holds what is said to be forbidden or allowed by God as sacred. Religious love produces martyr. In the world today, we hear stories of people killing themselves or fighting for their religion to the extent of dying. It makes people to give up their lives in pursuit of some religious values which they believe is higher than their life. This type of love is discussed in theology of various religions. Each religion has its own understanding of love. Christian understanding of love for example may not be the same with Muslim understanding of love.