Love is a Word

Love is a concept by which we measure our pain.

John Lennon — God

Love is an archetype. It’s a word we’ve created to express the notion of caring off the charts, on steroids. We throw it around and over-use it for many purposes. Generally, love is amorphic and expansive. In the typical scenario, a mother with a loved-child who bears another loves them both equally, but it’s not part of some arithmetic function where each child gets half an equal dose each. Love defies any notion of conservation of energy. Both children receive equal shares of the same quantity of love that the first received.

The Beatles – All You Need Is Love

The ancient Greeks had several words to express love.

Storge (στοργή)

Storge is the love we have for community, for family, for our children and spouses. Storge is not romantic love. It is more a love of affection and tenderness. It may be the basis for the urge toward tribalism and nationalism, and it may have a sort of analogue to gravity, wherein the proximity of the source, the greater the attraction. This is where ‘blood is thicker than water’ and why I like my sports team better than yours.

Storge – love of family

Agape (ἀγάπη)

Agape is a sort of universal love, the selfless love of biblical reference of God and all of his children. Neither is agape a romantic notion. It is akin to charity, and the connection of transcending storge to include all of the world and ignoring the silos of tribalism. There appears to be a tension between agape and storge because one cannot have an equal love for all whilst retaining a greater love for one’s own tribe. Perhaps the notion is more aspirational than practicable.

Agape – Universal love

Philia (φιλία)

Philia is fraternal (to be more inclusive, perhaps also sororal) love, the brotherly love hoped to be inspired by the city of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania. This is an affectionate love, typically between equals. Again, philia has no romantic basis.

Philia – Sororal love

Eros (ἔρως)

Eros is notably erotic love; sexual love; intimate, passionate love; lust. Eros is ephemeral. Returning to physics, eros requires a lot of energy to maintain. In a typical setting, eros moderates to storge or pragma.

Plato believed that this love was transcendent of the body—and so could exist independently of body—, but I’ll not give heed to this metaphysical notion. Perhaps, this is where the notion of soulmates derives. This is a romantic love.

Ludus

Ludus is a lightweight version or precursor to erotic love. It is the playful, flirtatious nature expressed by young proto-lovers. Viewed teleologically, ludus may be seen as a stepping stone to eros, but not everyone makes it successfully to the final level.

Full disclosure: Ludus is Latin and not of Greek original.

Pragma (πράγμα)

Obviously, pragma is a pragmatic love. This is the love that remains to bond a pair who have remained together for years, say, an old married couple. This form either requires a lot of energy and compromise or a lot of apathy or indifference.

Older couple demonstrate pragma

Philautia

Philautia is a love of one’s self. It’s a portmanteau of philia + auto. As the saying goes, if you can’t love yourself, you can’t love anyone. As with most adages, they is as often true as not and require additional context to assess. Philautia should not be confused with narcissism, which may more properly be classified as a mania. It should also not be confused by onanism.

Philautia – Love of one’s self

Love will tear us apart… again.

Joy Division

Mania (μανία)

Some people include mania in their love collection. Mania is simply an unbalanced sort of love; obsessive love; eros gone wild.


Love has many meanings, but they are all about connecting. Perhaps, I am being hasty to dismiss the term, but it is overused and perhaps more phatic than genuine. In the parlance of Foucault, it’s a power phrase—especially in the erotic arena—, a means to manipulate.

This blog post was about mania, but I’ll link it nonetheless.

Image source: Colour Wheel of Love: By Kaitlindzurenko – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45330870

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