Simon May, "What is Love?"
I briefly trace the origin of our prevailing Western conceptions of love and argue that they constitute the last genuinely universal religion in the contemporary West. I identify six distinct conceptions of the nature of love since Plato and the Bible before suggesting that none of them does justice to love’s primary ground, which is not possessing beauty or goodness, or achieving reciprocal goodwill between people of similar virtue, or finding sexual satisfaction, or procreating, or unconditional and selfless giving. Rather love is the rapture we feel for, and the consequent desire to care for, those who inspire in us a powerful “promise of ontological rootedness" – that is, the feeling that our life is indestructibly anchored in a reality whose value we take to be both supreme and stable.
Simon May is Visiting Professor of Philosophy at King’s College, University of London. His books include Love: A New Understanding of an Ancient Emotion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019), Love: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011); a collection of his own aphorisms entitled Thinking Aloud (London: Alma Books, 2009), which was a Financial Times ‘Book of the Year’; Nietzsche’s Ethics and his War on “Morality” (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002); The Power of Cute (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019), and two edited volumes on Nietzsche’s philosophy (OUP, 2009 and CUP, 2011). His work has been translated into ten languages.