Phenomenological Ontology of Love: Body, Heart and Spirit

Just a word of warning for those not familiar with the speaker's approach to philosophy. The following is an unapologetically partisan and probably minority collection of theories, stand-points, and values (ie a world-view). That is, it does not purport to being a representative summary; nor does it seek to reconcile conflicting views. Hopefully it is not even regarded as arguments proselytizing certain theories etc. What it purports to be is one individual's enquiry and current theories in a certain subject area. So the first questions which it hopefully inspires are:

What is this person talking about ? Why do I disagree (or perhaps agree) with this person ? How do I currently view these issues ?

'Love' as a word which is simultaneously ambiguous; and likely the subject of many diverse, contentious and passionately held theories, points of view and value judgments; reminds us that as philosophers often we must just agree to disagree. Perhaps we should consider our agreement to disagree, as not merely a way of ensuring ordered discourse, but a way of recognizing and legitimising our differences, in a human diaspora into an immense 'mind-space'?

The ambiguity of the word love will remind us that while language is a subject of philosophy; it needs always be treated as a precursor to philosophy. For example an inability to read English would render this essay as just a sequence of groups of meaningless alphabetical characters.Or this talk just a sequence of meaningless sounds. It would be the contention of the writer , that even a large vocabulary and thorough knowledge of English will not guarantee clear communication ; eg. free of ambiguous, meaningless and misleading words ; even in an area of moderate semantic difficulty like philosophy. Difficult for example as abstract vs concrete and/or general vs specific, and/or complex vs simple, and/or subjective vs objective . Perhaps clear communication in any subject area, demands commonalities beyond vocabulary and grammar; commensurate with the difficulty of that area? Certainly the current view of the speaker !

The word phenomenology was coined by the German philosopher and mathematician Husserl, to describe a so called ‘science of the phenomena of consciousness’ (as both sapience and sentience). Obviously if science is considered a program of acquisition of objectively falsifiable knowledge (this writer’s contention); then such a thing is tautologically impossible. This does not eliminate the possibility of dispassionate description of such subjective phenomena though. That is a value free knowledge, whose falsification criteria lies not in objectively observable facts like neurology say, but in personal experience. Perhaps this is the underlying idea in both Husserl’s theory and the contemporaneous psychologies of Freud, Jung etc?

It is also important to emphasis the particular sense in which the word 'ontology' is used here; which is: “the nature or order of reality of a thing “; so for example: Is something merely an artifact of language ? Is it an objective reality ? If so is it an object, quality of an object, situation, structure or process of objects action, quality of action....etc? Is a subjective phenomena ?.If so is a subjective experience, a quality of experience, a process in consciousness, motivation...etc ? So quite a naive usage, where for example the notion of an 'ontological cut'; would find no place !

The title is indicating that the concern is with the nature of love as we can observe it in our selves; as distinct say from in the behavior of others eg. evolutionary psychology or evolutionary sociology or as an emergent property of the brain; eg neurology. As a phenomenological attachment / attraction; lust/ desire does not seem hugely problematic; idiosyncratic and perverse perhaps; it’s roots often lying in atavistic eg social power relationships and sometimes socially and legally prescribed appetites; eg sadism , masochism, homosexuality, and pedophilia. We can at least to ourselves be clear about it. Here we have termed it ‘love of the body’. The same can not be said for what is termed here ‘love of the heart’ with which it is often associated and conflated. A synonym for that term might have been ‘romantic love’; providing we are clear this is not ‘romantic’ in a philosophical sense. Finally spiritual-love which seems to be conflated by philosophical romantics with ‘love of the heart’; yet seems ontologically quite distinct from either.

The approach here is to describe and define a phenomena of consciousness directly; without concern for current and /or future progress with correlating it with the anatomical brain; or perhaps (further on) with some quantitative measure in the electro-chemical human neural-net; aka the quantitative human brain. It is further narrowed by separating the ontological order of this subjective phenomena; from value judgments concerning it; obviously also a subjective phenomena!

eg In the west Epicureans, Dionysians and hedonists of all persuasions might approve or at least not condemned lust and desire; whilst Stoics, Christians and ascetics of all persuasions might disapprove. In the east Tantric mystics and followers of left-hand paths might similarly approve or not condemn lust and desire; whilst main stream Buddhism and similar right-hand paths might have disapproved The enquiry here for example would simply concern the nature of 'lust' and 'desire' in common usage; excluding or more precisely delaying concern, for associated value judgments

Linguistically the approach here is to look at current common usage(s), rather than etymology.

(a) because the original meaning may have little relation to current common usage
(b) because there often seems to be an implicit (even explicit) suggestion that the original meaning is, the 'proper meaning'.

The contextual linguistic theory here is that dictionary definitions are comparable, falsifiable hypotheses; rather than arbitrary constructions. That is; a set of dictionary definitions of a particular word as concis , precise, exhaustive and reductive descriptions of the subjective category, which is the referent (aka meaning) of that particular word: as a tactile, audio or visual symbol; can be objectively ranked by the statistical preference of it's relevant demographic, ie. by survey. Further that the particular aspect of that 'subjective category' which is described in a definition; is it's ontological order. So ontology and definition are contended to be intrinsically intimately related; along with a particular usage of the word 'understanding’ !

The actual origin of these ideas was quite mundane; the speaker was struck by the confusion concerning 'falling in love ', so much the subject of romantic comedies and romantic tragedies; and the frequent conceit of the story-teller's point of view. Confusion in the former by the conflation of physical love aka lust and desire; with the intense emotional attraction of love of the heart aka 'romantic-love'. Conceit in the latter, in the privileged situation in which the audience is placed, in romantic comedies so that the plight of the afflicted couple is 'all-so-obvious', to the audience; yet not the couple! Hopefully, occasionally it occurs : “ Ask not for whom the laughter rings; it rings for thee ?” (apologies to John Donne) For as one considers the sometimes truly dire consequences of unrequited love eg. suicide, psychosis, neurosis, years lost in depression and confusion , lives and careers irreversibly damaged or simply the misery of dominion ; one ponders just how dark this humour is?

Famously ancient Greece had at least three words for love : eg :https://en.wikipedia.rg/wiki/Greek_words_for_love

[eros]:"love, mostly of the sexual passion.",
[philia]: "affectionate regard, friendship," usually "between equals." or
[agape ]:"love: esp. brotherly love, charity; the love of God for man and of man for God."

In Plato's Phaedrus; ‘eros’ is considered a form of divine madness. But even if true, this would probably not be helpful to an English audience of the third millennium; as we have at least three ontologically distinct usages of madness in;

madness as craziness ie. fragmentation;
madness as strangeness ie. anormality, abnormality or eccentricity and
madness as delusion ie. out of contact with reality ; particularly social and emotional realities ! .

In fact the Greeks seem to have been just as confused as ourselves; since eros seems to have similarly conflated romantic and physical attraction.

The avant-garde practitioners of 'flower-power' in the early 60's , who would become the self-described 'alternative-lifestyle-practitioners' of the late sixties and seventies, who we now know as hippies; placed great emphasis on the word 'love' and even invented so called 'love-ins'. Arguably the Beatles hit “All you need is love” reflected this but the usage seems to conflate all three usages of the title. Like wise the romantics, past and present: have always both idealised and idolized love. With [romantics]: as of the view that, “we are free and can and should cast-our-fate-to-the-wind”; [idealised]: as concerned with ' what should be' as distinct from 'what is’ and [idolized]: as worshiped and aspired to ; whilst similarly conflating all three usages of the title. Hopefully those who find the sound or metaphorical language of “the Rose”, not to their taste; can still listen to the theories in the lyrics.

Problem 1 : What ontologically is 'romantic love' ? and can it be ontologically distinguished from 'physical love' (aka. lust and desire); so that a dictionary definition might distinguish between them ?

TRY: (so a tentative hypothesis, to be rejected if it fails to include any common usage, exclude any unintended usage or precisely catagorise our remembered experience) -[love; romantic]”A profound, irresistible, unchosen, un-choosable, attraction and attachment to another human being; a source of happiness when reciprocated and misery when not”

So ontologically distinguishable from, desire because desire is not profound eg. desire does not survive the deterioration of 20 years or the addition of 20 kg in it's object. Biologically this is what we might expect; since procreation phenomenologically merely requires desire, sometimes not even that. Whereas reciprocated romantic love is the basis of the bond between couples which serves the biological end of providing stable parenting, requiring perhaps 10 – 20 years.

In particular “unchosen, unchoosable ”; makes clear that the attachment springs from the unconscious mind and is stubbornly resistant to the transient preferences and aversions , which constitute the intentional self ( aka the phenomenological Freudian personality). . Thus the origin of “ love is blind”. This also fits the superficially contradictory usage of simultaneously “loving and an hating “ a person ; where the unchosen unconscious attachment/ attraction ; conflicts with one or more conscious aversions. Perhaps more importantly it suggests that romantic-love at least; is not something we can have much choice about; even though we can chose to treat that person well or badly (in our estimation). Although obviously whether that other person will appreciate the estimation of a masochist or someone with an inordinate regard for suffering; will vary considerably.!

Finally “happiness and misery” is to acknowledge the profound dominion exercised by that attachment and the real social power imbalance, that any lack of reciprocosity may give rise to. The happiness and misery perhaps inpart, simply reflecting this balance ?

Further the theory implicit in this definition would seem to suggest that ontologically, romantic-love has much in common with parental-love; which whilst assumed and conventional; can never-the less, simply fail to eventuate, as when a parent eg mother fails to bond with her child. Which can be psychologically unfortunate for both.The parent then having the enormous burden of child rearing through perhaps 10 -20 years; of a dependant for whom they have little affection and the child total physical and emotional dependancy on a parent, who apparently resents their existence.

Digressing one could even speculate that perhaps society is getting superior future citizens at a very low cost ; when the product of affectionate couples is compared with even the best that social institutions can devise?. Whilst it might be argued that the English upper-classes, seemed to place little importance on parental-love; sending young boys to boarding schools for most of their childhood, without dire consequence; one might question whether for society or cityzen ?

In another digression perhaps one could even speculate phenomenologically that; observed parental bonding in birds and mammals; suggests the existence of such an attachment in other species ? So having distinguished between and related: lust and desire, romantic-love and parental-love;

Problem 2: What ontologically is spiritual- love ?

The most well known example of this usage is in the New Testament section of the Bible “ Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind", "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:35–40, Mark 12:28–34)”; suggesting that whatever the original Aramaic word may have been ; the Greek translation was probably 'agape'.

Ontologically the notion seems to be an 'unselfish affection' ie without the self; but the question arises can the intentional-self ever act 'unselfishly' ? This is not to suggest of course that the intentional-self is incapable of inventing or acquiring various ideals of ‘unselfishness’; charity is sometimes cited as such an action; but we have the expression 'Cold as charity'; which some read, as about other than the temperature ! Rather the concern is whether the intentional-self is capable of acting in a way which is indifferent of consequence to that intentional-self ?

What seems a quite ontologically distinct usage is 'a labour of love'; as some action done for it's own sake regardless of consequence. So an action of the present moment; an 'action out of time'; if you will. Curiously the archaic usage referring to the English House of Lords as “ the Lords spiritual and the Lords temporal” also seems to suggest that the spiritual is somehow 'out of time'; which could be read as 'of the present moment only'.

A further example might be the Tibetan Buddhist practise of devoting enormous effort and time to the creation of large precise abstract images called a ‘mandala’s; drawn with a selection of brightly coloured sands; only to sweep them away on completion; suggesting it was the journey not the destination which was of importance.

So the tentative suggestion is :

[love, spiritual]: “ An action springing from some profound affection for something or someone; without regard for consequence, thus ‘out of time,’ as ‘of the present moment’ “

Moot points in deciding between the two notions of spiritual-love is :

1/ Are there breaks in the continuity of action of the intentional-self. ie when this self is not ?
2/ In phenomenological time (as distinct from say time by the clock); can the intentional-self act in the moment without regard for future benefit or loss ?
3/ Perhaps these are merely two different ways of describing the same experience ?

To reiterate, if one accepts as this writer contends that only physical-love as desire, has it’s origins in the conscious mind, in particular the id of the Freudian personality (aka the intentional-self); then we can only regard the arising and dissolution of romantic aka love of the heart fatalistically. Similarly if the Freudian personality aka the intentional self is tautologically incapable of acting unselfishly, which is also contended; then spiritual-love would also seem innacessible to the intentional-self.

In conclusion; even though we can each probably testify to the existence of romantic-love and perhaps spiritual-love, in our lives ; if no amount of or duration of diligent intentional activity, on the part of the intentional-self, can fabricate either romantic-love or spiritual-love from simpler parts. That is, they seem to exist in our remembered experience as without intentioned cause. Is this whole essay, just a council of despair and/or acknowledgement of one more limitation of the intentional- self ?

I am reminded of a legend of a tribe whose members spent their spare time on full-moon nights; searching for and climbing tall trees. In the hope they might find one high enough to reach the moon. Apparently one member of the tribe rebelled and declared that no tree would ever be high enough and went back to sleeping on full-moon nights!

Treating the legend literally rather than metaphorically; perhaps the lesson is that just as we did get to the moon by other means; so perhaps love of the heart and love of the spirit is accessible; but not by the intentional-self ?