Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Amputated Love

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

We all need some comic relief. Fortunately there's the opening sentence of today's David Brooks column, "The Building Blocks of Learning":

The ancient Greeks had different words for different kinds of love — like Ludus (playful love), Pragma (longstanding love) and Agape (universal love).
That's a Radio Yerevan joke:
Question to Radio Yerevan: Is it correct that the ancient Greek words for different kinds of love included ludus (playful love), pragma (longstanding love), and agape (universal love)?
Answer: In principle, yes. But first of all, ludus is Latin, not Greek; second, ludus meant "game, sport, play" or in the plural "public entertainment", and pragma meant "thing done, fact"; third, when they are used nowadays to mean a kind of love, pragma means "practical" or "convenient love", and agape means "love that is altruistic towards one's partner"; and fourth, these uses come not from the ancients but from the Canadian psychologist John Alan Lee's Colours of Love: An Exploration of the Ways of Loving (1973).
Ludus is one of Lee's primary "love styles" (mapped out like blue, red, and yellow on the traditional color wheel) alongside eros (passionate love) and storge (family love), and pragma and agape are secondary styles, like green, orange, and purple, together with mania (love accompanied by madness and obsessiveness). There are also nine tertiary styles, but we're not getting into those today.

Should we go on?

Sixteen hundred years ago, Augustine argued that the essence of a good life is choosing the right things to love and loving them well.
Augustine definitely did regard choosing things to love as a supremely important component of a good life, though only one choice counts, and it's really not a choice, as Professor Payne explains it for the students of Bellevue College:
He identifies four kinds of things that people can love.  These are physical objects, other people, themselves and God.  In contrast with the Manichaeans, Augustine denied the existence of evil.  Since all things are created by God and God is good, all things must themselves be good.  So all of the things we can love are appropriate objects of love.  All of the things we can love are capable of providing us with some measure of satisfaction.  But not all things can provide us with complete satisfaction.  Unhappiness and suffering are the result of disordered love.  When we expect more satisfaction from an object of love than it is capable of providing, we suffer.  What we need more than anything is the infinite satisfaction that comes from loving God.  When we fail to recognize this and seek complete satisfaction in finite things we are ultimately unhappy and our unhappiness may result in harming others.  All that we perceive as evil, according to Augustine, is the product of disordered love.
You should choose to love God. You can love other things if you want, but it doesn't especially matter which ones you pick as long as you don't do it in a disordered way. I guess if you love things in a disordered fashion you're not doing it very well ("David, are you going to clean up your love? It's a pigsty in there!"), so Brooks gets partial credit for that. Thanks very much, Gus, that's extremely clarifying.

But over the past several centuries our models of human behavior have amputated love. Hobbes and other philosophers argued that society is a machine driven by selfishness. Enlightenment philosophers emphasized reason over emotion. Contemporary social science was built on the idea that we’re self-interested, calculating creatures.
This philosophical shift has caused unimaginable harm, especially in the sphere of education.
Hobbes famously remarked that schoolboys in the Middle Ages were nasty, brutish, and short. The sphere of education immediately began to decay. I'm not clear whether love lost its limbs in this industrial accident or is a lost limb itself from the unimaginably harmed model of human behavior, but we don't really care, do we?

In any case, as long as Brooks's notion of a model of human behavior with love in its proper place comes not from ancient Greece but from 1973, the situation is probably not quite as dire as he thinks it is, so cheer up.

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

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