The meaning of love

By Helen Mason

I do not think ‘love’ has a meaning of its own. It can mean “I love (or enjoy) chocolates” and it can mean “I feel a love for all mankind”, when it is describing warm and positive feelings.

The English Philosopher Hobbes (1588-1679) considered the passions in his Leviathan. ‘Endeavour’ may be defined as a small beginning of motion; if towards something, it is desire, and if away from something it is aversion. Love is the same as desire, and hate is the same as aversion. We call a thing ‘good’ when it is an object of desire, and ‘bad’ when it is an object of aversion. (from Bertrand Russel’s History of Western Philosophy)

I have noticed how often the word ‘love’ is used in English television drama today, and I suppose these dramas reflect real life situations. When a child is leaving for school or an outing, for example, their parent says “love you”. I think that if it is said automatically the word ‘love’ becomes empty of meaning, but it may be re-assuring for a person who is lacking confidence, and all of us may need re-assurance sometimes. But I can think of some who will agree with me when I think about a possible alternative situation: when someone has committed a misdemeanor and these words are purposely missed out. This would then seem a bit like a bribe, where love is won or lost as easily as a treat is offered or withheld. In other words, conditional love. Perhaps the word ‘love’ would really mean something if after a serious misdemeanor their parent or partner said “I still love you”.

When the word love is part of a routine, what is its meaning? Perhaps it is the equivalent of a good mark or a mark of approval, and you might ask what harm there is in having plenty of this. In answer, I am inclined to think good marks should not be given away too easily and people should learn not to be too reliant on the approval of others. If love (whatever it is) is given, it should be worth something and it should be lasting.

Disclaimer: views represented in SOFiA blog posts are entirely the view of the respective authors and in no way represent an official SOFiA position. They are intended to stimulate thought, rather than present a final word on any topic.

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