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Write a Testimonial We would love to hear about your experience. Select Rating 10 Excellent 9 8 7 6 5 Average 4 3 2 1 Dissatisfied. Helena St. Please provide additional images if available. Tutorial Videos. Choose Your Character. The key question I was interested in was: can you choose to love? It turns out the answer is pretty complicated, because when we start digging into that question we quickly slide into a tangled mess of theories about biology, evolution, psychology, myths and stories, and social structures around relationships.

I started reading Irving Singer, who wrote an in-depth trilogy about the philosophical history of love. He said that although romantic lovers lose certain freedoms in relationships, the love they acquire compensates. Now, calling someone an existentialist is fraught with danger, because Beauvoir and Sartre reluctantly accepted the label, and Stirner, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche were retrospectively affiliated with existentialism.

Get the weekly Five Books newsletter. The existential idea is that once we free ourselves from all the pressures around us, many of which we might not be fully aware of, then we can be free to create more authentically meaningful relationships. However, this is all easier said than done. Solomon and Kathleen Higgins, which includes lots of excerpts from ancient philosophers including Plato and Sappho, right up to contemporary philosophers such as Martha Nussbaum.

And it also shows how hugely divergent thinking about love is. There are psychological ideas from Freud and Jung, and feminist ideas from Shulamith Firestone, who believed that romantic love was a conspiracy to keep women in their place because it calls for them to sacrifice so much of themselves. We can see seeds for ideas like this in an earlier section on Simone de Beauvoir who thought that patriarchal social structures limit possibilities for authentic loving because it robs women of the chance to be agents in their own lives and create their own futures.


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There were relatively few books specifically on the philosophy of love. Socrates is the last to speak and towards the end, Alcibiades crashes the party. He is so drunk that a flute-girl has to help him walk. This is one of the central dichotomies of love, the tension between thinking and feeling, that we see repeated throughout history. Alcibiades was this beautiful young man whom everybody was in love with, except for Socrates, whom he loved. He presents passion as a necessary first step, but also something that ultimately needs to be overcome.

She describes a ladder on which the first step is appreciating one beautiful body, the second is appreciating two beautiful bodies, the next is appreciating all beautiful bodies, beautiful acts, knowing beauty, and so on until the top of the ladder where we can come to appreciate the Beautiful with a capital B, a pure Form. Diotima explains how at a dinner party of the gods, the God of Resource drank too much nectar and passed out in the garden.

We have this idea that love is beautiful and wonderful, the other side of it is that it can also can be really harsh. However, in the conclusion, Robert Solomon suggests that rather than thinking about love as a force or a mystery, we ought to be thinking about it as virtue. In his view, love is an expansion of the self, but not in a narcissistic way.

Beauvoir argued that we need to be free from oppression in order to be free to live and love authentically. The problem is that women, throughout most of history, have been subordinate to men.

Not because of any particular struggle, but because women have accepted the story that it is in their best interest and that their highest destiny is to get married, to be a mother and housewife, and to raise children — all under the guise of love. Marriage has been marketed to women as being of such importance that women came to be defined by whether and to whom they were married, but all too often it has been a socially acceptable form of slavery: housekeeping in return for financial guardianship.

The existential problem is that it imposes roles on women that they did not actively choose. Under the guise of this being romantic love, presumably.

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The picture of a romantic love is that, for the woman it culminates in a conventional marriage and looking after children and looking after the husband. It was a critique of romantic love, but also a critique of those who find their meaning in life second-hand through other people rather than creating it themselves.

So that can be through romantic love, like people who define themselves through their partners. For example, the ideal of maternal love is supposed to involve self-sacrifice: the greater the sacrifice, the more ideal the mother. If a mother turns herself into being a slave to her children, deriving all meaning in her life from them at the expense of her own projects, then that presents a potential existential problem.

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Beauvoir did not have children, and I sometimes wonder if her philosophy would have been different if she had. Obviously she criticizes one particular vision of romantic love. Beauvoir was well aware that existentialism had a reputation for being negative, but I think her vision of authentic love is positive — and it applies to all kinds of love, not only romantic.

For each of them, love would be the revelation of self through the gift of self and the enrichment of the universe. You either subjugate the other person and make them part of your will, or they struggle against you to subjugate you. She thought we could overcome it with generosity and equality. In Notebooks for an Ethics he says that maybe authentic love is possible.

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I think this is an important book because Beauvoir and Sartre wanted to create a philosophy that could be lived, and attempted to live it as much as possible, through breaking free of social conventions like marriage and monogamy and being engaged in social activism. On the other hand, they wrote prolifically about their intimate lives though their novels, which were not-very-concealed accounts of their actual relationships, as well as autobiographies, and personal letters.

This book brings a lot of that together. It started with Sartre not wanting to commit to one girlfriend, but grew into a whole philosophy. He would say to his girlfriends: freedom is the most beautiful gift we can give one another. Each task is quick, so you take small steps to feeling better about yourself. Bruce Alan Kehr, M. That voice in your head, giving you all of your self-doubts? Activist and poet Sonya Renee Taylor offers ways to understand the origins and liberate yourself from body shame. Model Tess Holliday said the book, "is essential reading for those of us who crave understanding and those who are already on the path to learning how beautiful and complex our bodies are.

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