“Omni vincit amor” – Virgil.
We start the area of purpose in the realm of others with the intimate relationship. There seems to be no question that by adolescence or early adulthood most of us recognize the importance of intimacy and finding of the specific individual for romantic love as a vital purpose of our existence. There is of course the instinctual drive to sexual gratification and reproduction, and the deep thrill of sharing another’s physical person, but this seems to me to be the lower dimension of this form of relationship. Rather the bonding of oneself to a single person seems to most poignantly resolve one of the great challenges of being human – loneliness and disconnectedness. As Plato tells us in Symposium, love originates in the desire to complete oneself by finding our spiritual ‘other half ’ in order to become metaphorically whole.2
Love is not mainly the desire to possess another, but more so the concern for another – a locus where internal purpose crosses over to external purpose. Intimate relationship offers a greater understanding of the human condition. Uniting with another creates feelings of an interconnectedness of all things thereby “shrinking the ego to the vanishing point.”3 Gabriel Marcel contrasts the extreme of self-consciousness with strangers to the intersubjectivity of shared experience among intimates and the power of the deep experience of another person as a safe harbor in the ‘struggle for existence.’4 Love of another diminishes the narcissism of the individual and offers the extremes of pleasure and pain; a bittersweet mix of joy and suffering. Dante tells us suffering because of love is analogous to the suffering of the martyrs – “an abnegation of the self for a value that transcends egoism.”5
Plato also reveals that in the sense of the forms or the ideal, love is ultimately the search for the beautiful,6 another impulse pursued at the level of proximate reality. Here we stumble upon an enigma – is a person loved because she is beautiful or beautiful because she is loved? This seemingly rhetorical question is resolved in the essential duality of love and beauty, that is, the answer to both questions is yes. However, beauty at the level of the ideal extends beyond the exterior. For instance, sexual and spiritual love become analogous to the ‘beatific vision’ in The Song of Solomon.7
To recap, romantic love is shared pleasure and pain, the desire to be united with another physically and spiritually, escape from isolation, an opportunity for understanding what it means to be human, a shrinking of the self in a deep connection with being, and the experience of the beautiful. It comes as no surprise that so many of our predecessors found these attractions of love as the highest purpose in proximate reality. Next time I will offer some of my own thoughts on the metaphysics of love before we move on to family.
1”Love conquers all.”
2The Meaning of Life, from The School of Life, 2019. ISBN 978-0-9957535-4-9, page 19.
3 Needleman, Jacob, and Applebaum, David (editors), Real Philosophy. Arkana (Penguin Group), 1990. Page 189
5Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972. Volume 5, page 92.
6Ibid., page 89.
7Ibid., page 92.