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The Conditions of Love: The Philosophy of Intimacy Paperback – 7 Feb 2002

4.1 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (7 Feb. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0713994738
  • ISBN-13: 978-0713994735
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 1.4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,213,611 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Amazon Review

Love may be a serious drug, but, as John Armstrong divulges in his artful, quietly impassioned treatise on its philosophical qualities, Conditions of Love, its intoxicating qualities can still be distilled and soberly considered. Armstrong, already the author of the discerningly reflective The Intimate Philosophy of Art, is proving himself the master of his form: elegant, scholarly studies that wear their learning lightly, but surely. In turning his focus from looking at art to the art of loving, he provides the perfect median between the two, and dissects what we perceive of as love, and how it stands up to our demanding preconceptions. With calm assurance, he leads us through the froth to the substance of its being, from the evasive nebulousness of its definition, to its place within an evolutionary framework, in doing so touching on theories of experimental psychology also considered by Geoffrey Miller in The Mating Mind. If that perhaps takes the romance out of love, then Armstrong argues that we need to, if we are to strip bare our adolescent notions to reveal a mature, sustainable version which will endure. Backing up his evocations with considered and illuminating reference to the best efforts of the writers and painters, from Plato, Ovid, Turgenev and Goethe, to Ruskin and Chardin, who contribute to our celebration, but also our stereotypes, of love, Armstrong argues for personal responsibility, and a rejection of the restless masochism which drives so many to seek out an idealised partner, or inadvertently seek refuge in the despair of infatuation. As his title puts it, love is best considered as conditional rather than existing as a precondition, and if handled altruistically, can reap the rewards the artists exalt. In marrying the carnal and the cardinal with a poet's sensibility and a philosopher's rigour, much as Alain de Botton did in Essays in Love, John Armstrong guides us towards a more mature, imaginative future, less rosy, but perhaps more rooted. Love may, ultimately, perhaps definingly, prove ineffable, but Conditions of Love charges us with the power to facilitate its bloom, and the inspiration to achieve it. --David Vincent

Review

“ The reader is attracted, amused, encouraged to respond, left fulfilled and eager for more” -- The Independent on Sunday

“ Wise, discursive…It is powerful and valuable” -- The Sunday Times

“Armstrong is perceptive and tender” -- The Evening Standard

“Armstrong’s tone is never patronising and touches on genuinely interesting points” -- Times Educational Supplement

“Wryly right” -- The Guardian

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4.1 out of 5 stars
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I am puzzled by one of the negative reviews of this book: Armstrong does deal with jealousy, approaching it from an evolutionary psychological perspective; he does cross reference; his bibliography includes some of the most notable books written on love; and if he refers to 'females', at least he is consistent by referring to 'males' too. True, he doesn't cite texts on love written by women, and that is a shortcoming, but this lack certainly does not lead to a one-sidedness in his discussion of love. You may not be satisfied with what he says about all or some of these things, but at least do him the small honour of giving an accurate account of what the book contains.

I liked this book. I thought Armstrong did a good job of showing how our idea of love has evolved over the millennia, how revolutionary ideas such as evolution, Marxism and psychoanalysis have left indelible marks on our idea of what love is, enriching the concept while also making it increasingly more complex. All of this is done in a comprehensible language, with a logical structure, and easily manageable and sensibly divided chapters.

Armstrong's argument seems to be that there is no essence of love, and that to go in search of a hard and fast definition is doomed from the start and based on an error of thinking. Love is not any one thing, but a host of related things which are neither identical with each other nor legitimately reducible to something held in common. He shows the many aspects of love: friendly, parental, childish, long-term, passionate, unrequited, and so on. You are left ultimately with an impression of the complexity of the notion and the futility of the attempt to reduce it to one simple thing, an endeavour which the question 'What is love?' all too irresistibly invites.
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I thought Armstrong's essay was, in parts, very good. Insightful, quite poignant in places, and with an excellent understanding of, among others, evolutionary psychology and social constructionism. However, it loses two stars because:

1) There is no referencing to speak of. Whether we agree with the author's claims or not, we would very much want to see what those claims are based on, and in this book there are simply no sources, academic or otherwise, to be found. All we have is a tiny, mostly useless index at the back. As an example, Armstrong claims on p. 28 that '... the sexual reformers of the 1970s ... tried to understand the whole of the human psyche according to a model derived from fashion.' Did they really??? Armstrong doesn't give us a single name, or book, or psychology paper from those supposed sexual reformers of the 1970s who so stupidly thought sexual mores could be explained by flared trousers and long hair (!!!). We have to take the author's word for it - and this sort of thing happens all throughout the book. He might as well pick his arguments from thin air and justify them with 'Because I say so.'

2) This is a very, very ethnocentric view of love, a purely Western philosophy of intimacy. Armstrong doesn't acknowledge this shortcoming. On the contrary. For example, he brazenly states that Plato's is 'the most famous myth of the origin of love' (p. 32). Really??? It may be the most famous in Western Europe, but the human civilization is much older and bigger than that. I'm no expert, but I strongly doubt that those cultures whose love life is guided, for example, by Confucianism, or Kama Sutra, or Oxum, or Ishtar (to name but a few alternatives) have ever heard of Plato's two-faced, four-armed, quadruped hermaphrodite.
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Format: Paperback
Great book on the question of love. It discusses the sources and condition of love from various aspects. It also writes about what does the way and whom we fall in love with says about us. It discusses and contrasts the question using many different schools of thought. Although it does not mention Jung's views on condition of love explicitly, it actually explains 'why do we fall in love?' from Jung's perspective as well. Insightful.
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This book was very timely for me. A very compact and readable, but thorough, examination of this universal subject. Helped me enormously, and continues to have an influence.
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A valuable work on what is a more complex subject than is often understood. Armstrong has a clear and 'user friendly style' and is willing to offer his own views openly.
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