If you’ve ever been in love, then you know what a powerful emotion it can be. It can change your perception of the world around you. It’s the reason why many people want to find that special someone and spend their lives with them. It’s why they reread their partners’ texts in the middle of work, view their photos over and over again, and dream about them at night. It’s why they make plans together and rehearse future conversations in their heads all the time. It’s why they’re willing to do things for their partner that they wouldn’t do on their own, or even enjoy. It’s why they’re willing, albeit reluctantly at first, to try new foods or activities that their partner likes, just so they can be close to them.
The full meaning of love can be difficult to pin down. It’s often a feeling of affection and attachment, but it can also be a strong desire to belong to a group or cause. It can be a desire to protect and serve, to sacrifice and endure, or to share the good times with those we care about. It’s an all-encompassing emotion that’s experienced differently by everyone.
Despite this, it remains one of the most important and confusing aspects of human life. It’s not surprising then that so many philosophers and theologians have tried to explain it. In the end, however, it seems that any definition of love will be incomplete unless it includes some combination of both companionate and passionate love.
Biological models of love tend to see it as a mammalian drive, not unlike the drives that lead us to seek out food or water. These supposedly include primitive neural systems that activate when we look at our beloved and think loving thoughts, and may also involve hormones like oxytocin and neurotrophins.
This view of love can be criticized for being overly reductionistic. Moreover, it’s unclear whether it can account for the intuitional depth of love that so many people feel.
Other philosophical approaches to the concept of love, such as those offered by Frankfurt (1999) and Jaworska & Wonderly (2017), attempt to provide a more holistic understanding of the phenomenon. These views view love as a response to antecedent value, which can then be bestowed in ways that have practical importance (see section 6 below).
This approach is more inclusive of the euphoria and attachment elements of love while also recognizing that it is a creative response. In addition, it recognizes that it’s hard to understand the value of a person without knowing them as a unique individual. It thus seems to be the most promising of the various current attempts to capture a concept of love that is both unified and holistic.