Love and Philosophy

How different philosophers have thought about love and relationships.

Platonic love
Passions of the Soul
Desire for real-world things and people
Authentic love

Introduction to Love and Philosophy

Love and philosophy have been intertwined since ancient times. Ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle wrote extensively about the nature of love – an emotion as relevant to people then as it is today.

Centuries later, the Renaissance saw an explosion in philosophical thought on the subject, with writers seeking to better understand the meaning of love, while Eastern philosophers have also offered their own unique perspectives. In more recent years, feminist philosophers have weighed in on the subject, adding their voices to a conversation that was historically dominated by men.

Every philosopher has a unique opinion on the role of love in human lives, but there is one thing they all agree on: this deeply powerful and universal emotion is something that humans should strive to understand.

Greek Love: Plato's Views


Plato was one of the earliest philosophers to write about love and relationships. Even though he was writing more than two thousand years ago, his ideas remain relevant today.

Plato addresses love in his famous *Symposium*. He proposed that love is like climbing a ladder. The bottom rung is carnal, physical attraction, and by the time you reach the top, your attraction has become more spiritual – a union between two souls.

In the modern world, people still talk about platonic love and platonic relationships. These terms are often used to talk about non-romantic relationships, such as a pair of friends, but that does not match Plato’s philosophy. A platonic relationship should be spiritually romantic, but not sexually romantic. It describes two people who have ascended the ladder of love.

Greek Love: Aristotle's Views

Aristotle’s writings on the subject of love refer to the concept of philia. Philia is a type of mutual affection, where two people care for and support each other.

Selflessness is key to the concept of philia. Neither person is doing this for their own personal gain; they support the other person because they care about them, and want to see them happy and successful.

According to Aristotle, this type of mutual affection is a cornerstone of romantic relationships, but it can also be found in other relationships, such as family bonds, lifelong friends, or even mutually beneficial business contacts. In other words, love is linked to philia, but it is not the only place it can be found.

Renaissance Love: Descartes

In the 1600s, René Descartes explored the concept of love and relationships in his work *Passions of the Soul*. This book explored human emotions in general, but love was part of the discussion.

Descartes believed that humans were made up of two pieces: the body and the soul. Emotions, like love, were the product of the body, and could stop the soul from thinking rationally. There was nothing intrinsically wrong with this, as long as emotions did not grow too strong.

To stop this from happening, people needed to learn how to keep their emotions in check. He said, “even those who have the weakest souls could acquire absolute mastery over all their passions if they worked hard enough at training and guiding them.”

Enlightenment Love: Kant

Immanuel Kant explored the concept of love about a century later than Descartes. In his *Metaphysics of Morals*, he wondered whether people have a moral duty to treat each other well.

The question of love comes up as part of this wider discussion: do people have a moral duty to love each other? Kant concluded that “Love is a matter of feeling, not of willing […] so a duty to love is an absurdity.”

In other words, we cannot control who we fall in love with, so it would not make sense to say that love is a moral duty. Having said that, Kant believed that people should always treat each other well. Just because you do not love a person, it is not an excuse to treat that person badly.

Examining Confucius on Love

Throughout history, Eastern philosophers have also grappled with the concept of love. In China, Confucius explored the subject even earlier than Plato, and came to some unique conclusions.


Confucius did not view individual people as solitary and autonomous. Instead, we are defined by our relationships with other people. A virtuous relationship is described as ‘ren’. This is how people should strive to treat each other, and it is sometimes translated as ‘love’.

Every person is capable of ren, and has a moral duty to manifest ren when they form relationships with other people. When more and more people love each other, society will benefit as a whole.

Buddhists and Love


In the context of major world religions, Buddhism has a relatively liberal approach to love and relationships. This stems from their teacher, Siddhartha Gautama, who lived in India more than two thousand years ago.

Gautama believed in non-attachment: people need to overcome their desire for real-world things and people. On the surface, this sounds as though Gautama is discouraging love and relationships, but that is not the case.

He warned people not to seek control over the person they love, or to try to possess them like a physical object. Instead, we should try to love each other on a pure, spiritual level. This is non-attachment: loving each other as fellow spirits, as opposed to physical objects.

Feminist Views on Love and Relationships


For thousands of years, the philosophy of love was dominated by male voices, but in the last century or so, women have had the opportunity to join the conversation.

In the 20th century, Simone de Beauvoir wrote about authentic love. This was the idea of loving one another on an equal footing, always respecting the other person’s personal freedom and supporting each other fifty-fifty.

De Beauvoir said that authentic love was rare throughout history, as patriarchal structures had typically prioritized men over women in any relationship. For example, men were free to pursue careers, while women were confined to the household. She spoke about lesbian relationships as an example of authentic love, as both sides are on an equal footing, without patriarchy getting in the way.

Feminist Love and Relationships: bell hooks

bell hooks was an American social activist writing at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century. In 2000, she published *All About Love: New Visions*, in which she explored the philosophy of modern relationships.

hooks believed that modern society lacked a common understanding of ‘love’. This is particularly obvious between different genders. Men are taught to repress their emotions and distrust love, while women are taught to embrace love and try their best to achieve it.

She also argued that love should only be used as a verb as opposed to a noun. It is not about how we feel; it is about how we act on that feeling. She said, “So many people think that it’s enough to say what they feel even if their actions do not correspond to what they are saying.”

You will forget 90% of this article in 7 days.

Download Kinnu to have fun learning, broaden your horizons, and remember what you read. Forever.

You might also like

The Neurobiology of Love;

How your brain falls in and out of love.

The Freedom To Love;

How love has been subject to restrictions and discrimination, and how many of these continue today.

The Art of Loving: How Our Culture Shapes Love;

The influence of cultural norms in shaping our romantic relationships.

Evolution of Love in Humans;

The role the love had played in evolution, and how love was evolved alongside us.

Love and Literature;

How different writers have considered the topic of love, and its many nuances.

Types of Love;

The psychological underpinnings for the many different kinds of love.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *