What is Love?

What is Love? June 9, 2013

Stephen Post:

Love manifests itself in different ways, all of which are necessary and useful. If love is the hub of a wheel, its spokes point outwards according to the needs of the beloved. There are at least ten modulations or forms that love takes.

Celebration is love affirming the lives and achievements of others;

Helping is love lifting burdens for others;

Forgiveness is love in response to contrition;

Carefrontation (confrontation being such a limited word) is love standing against destructive behaviors;

Humor is love uplifting and reframing in mirthful lightness;

Respect is love “looking twice” (re-spectare) at the views of  others; Attentive listening is love focused on the other’s narrative without distraction or interruption;

Compassion is love aware of suffering and responding to it with depth;

Loyalty is love sticking with others in their hard times;

Creativity is love making gifts for  others.

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  • kenny Johnson


  • Aaron Lage

    The Biblical term ‘hesed’ has many rich facets of love.

  • Pat68

    I’ve been thinking lately how there is a utilitarian aspect to love that we don’t see displayed in reality shows that would purport to show true love. Love is seen in the everyday, mundane things we do for those whom we love. It’s not romantic or goose-pimply (although it can be that at times); it’s simply manifest in what we do for those whose well-being we care about.

  • Robert Landbeck

    Love is an idea upon which one projects aspirations and hopes which are never realized. Probably because reason and Love are at odds. Reason, being the perfect emanation of ‘self’ cannot know Love and by implication God. Thus any ‘recognized authority’ lost the plot long ago. All is chasing after wind!

  • Thursday1

    We often confuse love with compassion:

    “Compassion is a fine, even necessary, thing, but it is not love. Indeed, it is often the supreme virtue in those belief systems that reject love. . . . When one loves a person, one wills that person’s good. This will often include alleviating suffering and increasing happiness, but it means more than that. A compassionate man might be content to leave his neighbor content in ignorance, sin, and degradation, but not the man who loves. Christ said to love our neighbor as we love ourselves; when we inspect our own hearts, we realize that for ourselves we would prefer honourable suffering to a shameful happiness and a distressing truth to a comfortable lie. At least, we know that this is what we should want, if we truly value ourselves.”


  • Thursday1

    Taking a look at Mr. Post’s blog article, he very much confuses love and compassion. Christianity is not compatible with Bentham/Rawls view of morality.

  • Tom F.

    I don’t buy the premise: why would a compassionate person not want to not seek the best possible good for his neighbor?

    It seems like this kind of love could justify things like the inquisition. Indeed, if you read defenses of the inquisition at the time, they are sometimes couched in language that is close to this.

    Would love “help” someone against their will? I mean, children sometimes have to be helped this way I suppose. But this is because they have less capacity than we do, no? If we act against someone’s will in helping them, it seems that you will inevitably treat them like children. Now, *God* can certainly treat us all like children. But is it a good idea for us to treat fellow adults this way?

    Seems like you would end up generating a lot of hostility this way. Or worse, you would attract a lot of adults that feel like children as your disciples.

  • Tom F.

    Nothing of eros? What of the delight that comes from being with the beloved? Maybe this isn’t meant to be exhaustive?

  • Thursday1

    Invoking the Inquisition is getting hysterical. Torture defaces the image of the divine.

    In any event, here is J.S. Mill eloquently stating the issue, in his own vain attempt to avoid “pig philosophy”:

    “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question.”

    You might also want to take up MacIntyre’s book After Virtue, which discusses these issues in more depth.

  • Tom F.

    Okay, I’ll grant you torture is not on the table, but I guess what I’m trying to focus in on is how your definition of love allows for coercion. Maybe some types of coercion are out on other grounds (i.e., torture is wrong because of the divine image), but what about other forms of coercion that might be related to the “honorable suffering” you quote in your post? Are we allowed to inflict “honorable suffering” on others because we can see their good when they can not?

    To give a practical example today: take presentations of the gospel at graduation services. At my brother’s graduation, the valedictorian gave her speech as a 7 minute gospel presentation. I would say this is coercive, because social customs dictate that you can not get up and leave from a graduation ceremony midway through. Anyone who was already a Christian didn’t need to hear it, and those who weren’t likely felt coerced and angry. Your definition of love would seem to promote these sort of socially coercive practices.

    Any definition of love that does not manage to balance the good of a person with the self-determination of that person opens itself up to this problem. Certainly, Mill would be a considerable proponent of self-determination, no?

    The tradition of compelling others out of love in the church, beginning with no less than Augustine, when he wrote against the Donatists.


    Augustine was also against torture and the death penalty, but the precedent is set: others must be compelled into the church by force.

    Later inquisitors did reference Augustine’s conflict with the Donatists. To be fair, the later inquisition was done not out of love for the accused, but out of concern for the rest of Christendom who might be led astray.

    “The 1578 handbook for inquisitors spelled out the purpose of inquisitorial penalties: …
    quoniam punitio non refertur primo & per se in correctionem &
    bonum eius qui punitur, sed in bonum publicum ut alij terreantur, & a
    malis committendis avocentur. Translation from the Latin: “… for punishment does not take place primarily and per se
    for the correction and good of the person punished, but for the public
    good in order that others may become terrified and weaned away from the
    evils they would commit”


  • Tom F.

    As to MacIntyre, in After Virtue, I take it that you mean to suggest that Post’s supposedly utilitarian take on human beings runs up against MacIntyre’s account of goal-directed or telos? I still fail to understand why compassion is supposedly so short-sighted as to not will the best overall good of a person.

    In fact, Post has the phrase “carefrontation” when someone, in love, confronts the other person out of care and love. Why is this so ridiculously opposed to Christian love?

  • Thursday1

    RE: Graduation

    There is no outside neutral position, and no completely autonomous individual. That is the lie of liberalism (in the political sense). By your definition, everything in human society is “coercive,” which is why liberalism, in both it’s left and right wing versions, has become such a joke.

  • Tom F.

    Who said anything about an outside neutral position? Who said anything about a completely autonomous individual? Who said anything about liberalism?

    I am unsure that I defined anything myself- can you point out directly in what I said where I implied that everything in human society is coercive. I think I implied that situations where one is not bound by social convention to physically stay and listen to a gospel presentation would, in fact, not be coercive. For example, if I were to ask my co-worker if I could share about my life and faith, and they were to assent, it would not be coercive for me to share those things with them.

    MacIntyre himself respected that, at least with Kant, it was possible to treat individuals as ends rather than means, and he very much distinguished between “manipulative” and “non-manipulative” influence on others. Why can’t my concerns about coercion be seen through this lens, something MacIntyre discusses explicitly in After Virtue.