The Heart and Love

Well, I said I would explain more about some things, so here goes (I realize I have something to say about love, too).

First off, the heart. This is probably the most widely abused word in modern times. There is hearts everywhere, there is hearts in pretty much every song that has to do with “love” (“… listen to your heart, when it’s calling for you / listen to your heart, there’s nothing else you can do…”), everyone is talking about what their heart is telling them and other such crap. “Heart” in modern English has come to mean, not the deepest and most precious part of the human soul, but the place where all desires come from. Especially if your reason can identify that they are wrong. If a husband decides to leave his wife and two children to run off with his latest fling, then it is most probable that he would claim he “listened to his heart” and that his mind told him to fulfill his familial duty, but he had to go with his heart. 

Plato, or Socrates for that matter, did not talk much about the heart, but they did talk about duty. What do you think the guy who accepted the death penalty despite knowing that he was wrongly convicted and had every means to escape would say to that man? In another strange book, in fact it is so strange I can’t even remember its name, this weird Godly-seeming dude says, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It is better for you to lose your hand or your eye than your self.” In any case, Pascal, who has shaped most of my thoughts concerning the heart, says, “the heart has its reasons, which reason cannot understand.” Now, in seeming, Pascal agrees with the scenario above. However, to say that would mean to ignore part of what Pascal is arguing, i.e. that the heart has its reasons. This word has long lost its meaning in the modern world. Reasons imply logic, logic implies mind. Indeed, super-logic and super-mind. As I said in the soul entry, the heart is that part of our soul which is able to tap into the Divine logic, which gives us access to Divine reasoning. It would be simply ridiculous to argue that it was “Divine reasoning” that made this man leave his wife and children, but shift the meaning for heart from the seat of the soul to the seat of desires and when that mean goes to his nearest pop-psychologist, he will feel much better about himself once he/she gives him an approving look as he mouths “I had to go with my heart.”

Of course, pop-psychology is only concerned with making the pain go away, with fixing your self-esteem, not the problem. You can imagine how quickly a doctor in a trauma center would be sued and slapped in prison if he gave all his patients enough morphine that they would not feel pain, but did nothing to heal their wounds. If, however, someone does the same thing to the soul, it is perfectly fine. Why, because you can’t see that your soul is wounded? If someone goes in the ER with a deep cut and the wound is sewn up, then that doctor has done his/her duty and is rightly praised for it. If someone comes into a psychologist’s office with a spiritual wound, it would be a mortal sin to mention the word “sin.” In any case, I digress.

Finally, to love. Because of the inadequacy of English, a lot of people brought up in the US and other English-speaking countries and the West in general, think of love as one thing in itself. In C. S. Lewis’ Four Loves the differences between different kinds of love are explain in detail. I would highly recommend the book, even though I don’t agree with some of the stuff in it.

In a nutshell, however, C. S. Lewis explains that there are:

  • Need-loves (i.e. the love of water, it comes on only when someone is thirsting and stops after the thirst is quenched)
  • Gift-loves (i.e. the kind of love that makes you give to others)
  • Appreciative-loves (i.e. the kind of love that you feel when you see a beautiful sunrise, or smell an aroma coming off of a garden, etc. Basically, loving something for what it is, regardless of whether you possess it)
  • Affection (storge) (i.e. love that comes from prolonged contact with something or someone)
  • Friendship (filia) (i.e. love between two friends)
  • Erotic love (eros) (i.e. love between two lovers)
  • Charity (agape) (i.e. Christian love or the nature of God)

Summarizing the book would take a little too much time and this is already a long blog post, but the big point is that other than the need-loves, gift-loves, and appreciative-loves, which are not evidenced only in humans, there are four types of loves, namely storgefiliaeros, and agape. If you know even a little big about Greek, you can see that the names of the loves are Greek. In fact, most ancient civilizations had a much more systematic and well thought-out understanding of love than ours. The only later addition to the list is agape and that comes on after the advent of Christianity. In any case, the big point is that most of the problems in the West (at least within the family and society relative to the person) boil down to misunderstandings about love.

C. S. Lewis rightly says the quickest disappearing form of love in our civilization is filia or friendship. We have all heard versions of, “if you want a real friend, get a dog.” Of course, this chiefly comes out of the huge misunderstanding that you can go into any environment wanting to make friends and then make them. I can’t say that I have never behaved in such a silly way, but some of the closest friends I have I have met while doing other things and realized that there are other people who love doing the same things as me in the same way. Whereas the objective of the person who wants “to make friends” is to make friends and once he/she has these new friends their objective is complete, the person who does what he/she deeply enjoys and meets others who deeply enjoy the same things just as deeply, will have those friends for as long as their personality does not suffer an extreme shift (frontal lobotomy style).

Another very important point in the book is about eros. Here is where I personally disagree with C. S. Lewis on account of Plato’s Symposium, because I believe Lewis misses the distinction between pandemia (common) Aphrodite and ourania (heavenly) Aphrodite, but nonetheless, he does have a very important quote in that chapter, which is “man must do eros’ works while eros is missing. One of his points is that eros is not forever (which I disagree with), but I do agree that eros inspired by common Aphrodite (physical attraction) does not last forever. When that is so, the lovers must do eros’  works while eros is not present. That is to say, common Aphrodite is a feeling, however, the duties of love are to be completed even when that feeling is absent. In other words, if you are so ugly that you make me vomit, I can’t help that, but I can help how I behave toward you. After a marriage counselor gave a lecture once, a man came to talking to him. He explained to the marriage counselor that he had stopped loving his wife. The counselor replied, “Well, then, you should love your wife.” I don’t think the married man understood.


7 comments on “The Heart and Love

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  3. davor says:

    Croatian philosopher Marijan Cipra used to put it abstractly: ”Philia is the love of the same, eros is the love of the different.” Perhaps married couples too often become too much alike, and then eros dies. Maybe some differences should be treasured. In some societies different roles of man and woman are fixed – what if that is their attempt to answer this problem? Also famous ”getting in touch with feminine side” (for men) could be reconsidered from this perspective.

    • I find that unlikely. I think that a huge drive in relationships with couples is to become more like the other (I forget who said this, perhaps T. S. Eliot, but he says, “I love you? No, I am you.”) which is good and proper, Plato defines love (eros) as desiring to have the good and beautiful things outside of you. Of course, that means that eros is not necessarily sexual. In the end, however, eros arises quickly and dies quickly. I think we can both agree that it would be awkward to be in a relationship where both partners “desired” each other all day long. That is why a stronger and more subtle bond will have to be developed (duty, marital affection, self-giving love (agape), etc). I do not think, though, that it is that couples grow too much “alike” at any point. If you spent your entire life with one other person, there would still be a world of difference between the two of you. The intricacies of the human soul are so vast that one lifetime is not enough to explore them all.

      That being said, I think that there is something similar to “growing too much alike” that is at fault with most people growing tired of their spouses. That is the fact that most people today marry on a whim, not really being in love. As time passes, you find out that the person you promised your life to is not quite all you had imagined, so you grow contemptuous of them for not filling your mental mold, and tired of how dull they are in comparison to your imagination. The second is the inability of a lot of people today to make strong, lasting bonds, which is coupled with the fact that divorce and infidelity is depicted as attractive in today’s media, so it’s really a cocktail for failure.

      • davor says:

        I belived that agape was used only for love of between Creator and his creations. Is it ”self-giving love” in general? If it is, perhaps the abstract schema ”love of the same (philia), love of the different (eros)” could be expanded to include storge and agape: agape as the love of two different becoming one, love of union (in marriage, but especially in mystical experience), and storge as the love of disunion, when what previously was one becomes different (especially in love of parents, as they lovingly support when their children grow more independent). Well, just a thought that occurred to me this morning. 🙂

  4. Agape is the love between Creator and creation, but the Creator commands His believers to “love each other as I have loved you,” (John 13:34-35) so St. Paul assigns this new meaning to the word “agape” in Greek, which had previously only a vague and useless meaning (sort of like the word “love” in English, you always need to qualify it if you’re doing philosophy) and gave it this new meaning. The difference between agape and all other loves is that whereas they are all feelings (or at least start thus), agape is a commandment and action of the will. “Fall in love with Emma!” would be a silly command, you can’t command that. “Hang out with Jimmy!” makes as much sense as “Love vanilla ice-cream!” The only difference is agape.

    By the way, eros is not necessarily a “sexual” term. It most often did bear that connotation, but it does not have to mean that. I wish everyone who asserts that Achilles and Patroclus were gay lovers would understand that…

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