Ah, love. It has caused countries to go to war, people to commit suicide and kings to abdicate their throne.
For most of us, it may not have such far-reaching results but it can be dramatic nonetheless.
Love has been on the mind of Troy Jollimore, a poet and an associate professor of philosophy at California State University at Chico. Jollimore's latest book, "Love's Vision," argues that love is a way of seeing, a way that's guided by reason even though love often resists or eludes rationality.
The IJ caught up with Jollimore before he comes to Mill Valley on Dec. 2 for a live taping of "Philosophy Talk," a talk radio show and podcast co-hosted by Stanford University philosophy professors Ken Taylor and John Perry.
Q: Do philosophers really sit around talking about love like women do over cosmos at a gals' night?
A: The funny thing about philosophers is that when we get together we don't talk as much about philosophy as about other things. A lot of philosophy is sitting alone in a room writing.
Q: Earlier this year, the book "Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love" came out, detailing the horrible love lives of some of the world's most respected thinkers. Are philosophers any better at dishing out relationship advice than, say, Dr. Phil?
A: No, we try to understand it; I think everyone's trying to understand
it in their own way.
Q: You write that we are in the midst of a society obsessed with love. Is that a bad thing?
A: I don't know if it's a bad thing. There are dangers in it. You can take it too far. I think a lot of people have the idea that they are going to meet someone that's going to fix everything that's wrong with their life, and that's expecting a lot of somebody else. You're almost setting yourself up for disappointment. I wouldn't want to live in a culture that doesn't place any value on love because it is really important and it is really exciting.
Q: Is that different than in the past?
A: When I read the ancient Greek philosophers like Plato and Socrates, they also talk about love and they clearly thought it was very important and they even seemed to have an idea of romantic love, which is the idea we have. People say the idea of romantic love is a modern invention, created a couple hundred of years ago, but I don't really believe that. It's a pretty deep part of human nature, not only to be in love and fall in love and want those things, but to put a lot of importance on them.
Q: Love isn't easily defined, yet we all believe we know what love is. Aren't we all having different experiences of love?
A: To some degree that has to be true, but I think we're having mostly different experiences of the same thing. There is something in common; we do basically understand what love means. ... The expectation of a young person who really hasn't been in love yet but thinks they know what it's going to be like, they're probably wildly inaccurate. As you go through life, you experience different ways and different kinds (of love).
Q: Marriage historian Stephanie Coontz has written than when we started marrying for love, all hell broke lose. Do you think love is a crappy reason to marry?
A: No. I'm sure in some cases, for immigration reasons or whatever, it can be very convenient to marry someone without love. I wouldn't condemn it, but in general I do agree with the traditional idea that love is, hopefully, the main reason if not the only one.
Q: Can someone who cheats on a spouse truly love that spouse?
A: Yes, although it depends. Truly love? Yes. If you said ideally, then I'd probably say no. If it's deceitful, then clearly the love isn't ideal in some sense; it could be stronger, it could be more devoted, but that's always true. Any of us could be more devoted to the person we're with. But if it's something the person isn't being honest about and it is something the other person wouldn't approve of or be happy about, yes, that's certainly a sign that something is lacking or wrong in that relationship or just wrong in that person's commitment. That doesn't show that this person doesn't love the other person at all. Human beings and our desires are complicated.
Q: When Ashton Kutcher cheated on Demi Moore, who's 15 years older, a lot of people scoffed, "Well of course; she's losing her beauty." Yet you say it's "possible to love someone for having
been beautiful" -- a thought that should make a lot of middle-aged women happy. Why do so many of us assume that as we age and lose our looks, we're somehow less lovable?
A: You could become less desirable in some ways without becoming less lovable because of what you used to have, which can still be the basis of the commitment. In some ways, we tend to get more lovable as we get older and that's the elaboration of the deepening of the relationship. We're so anxious about that desirability part; we equate that with love. It's an important part of being loved, but it certainly isn't everything.
Q: You write that it's human nature to have high hopes for love, which love can't possibly live up to. Yet, if love is unlikely to give us "everything," you say it's good for "something." What is love good for?
A: It makes us feel good, and it makes us happy. It can also make us feel really bad and miserable, too ... In our daily life we encounter human beings all the time, and we live in very crowded places, but you don't necessarily have a connection with any of these people. Love is a chance to make a very direct, intimate contact with somebody else, and really know who they are and open yourself up to them so you're known by a person that way. That's very valuable.
Vicki Larson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow her on Twitter at @OMGchronicles, fan her at on Facebook at Vicki-Larson-OMG-Chronicles.