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Conditions of Love: The Philosophy of Intimacy Paperback – 30 Jan 2003
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What does it really mean to love another person? Is there such a thing as the "perfect partner"? How does infatuation differ from the real thing? The need to love and be loved is central to our idea of happiness, yet it sometimes seems that the more we reflect on it the more elusive it becomes. In this lucid and graceful meditation on the deeper meanings of intimacy, John Armstrong explores the ideas that have shaped how we view affairs of the heart. Drawing on poetry, novels, philosophy, paintings and music, he shows how love is inextricably bound up with perception and the imagination: that loving a real, complicated person and being understood and valued by them in turn is not something we find, but rather something we create.
About the Author
John Armstrong is the author of THE INTIMATE PHILOSOPHY OF LOVE. A philosopher at the University of Melbourne
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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. I doubt that even in the rest of Europe (i.e. Scandinavia or East) the Platonic myth is the daddy of all love talk. Armstrong makes no effort to ever consider love, couple psychology, marital customs etc. outside Europe. But, on the other hand, he has a lot to say about the Christian tradition. As if it, and Europe, are the only valid terms in which love can be discussed.
So, this little book is a good attempt written in excellent, very clear prose. But, without decent references, it's nothing but unsubstantiated guess work. And, because it simply ignores the non-European majority of the human race, a very thin and poor bit of guesswork at that, offering a grievously truncated vision of the subject. It should have been called 'A bunch of personal musings on love, informed by Christian dogma and limited strictly to Western European cultures'. Shame, it promised so much.
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.