Essential Reflections

The Nature of Love

I read in the paper this morning that Irving Singer died.  It was strange for me to read this because I had been thinking of him yesterday and teaching my students something I learned from him.  Professor Singer taught philosophy at MIT, where I was an undergraduate.  When I took his course on the philosophy of sex and love at the age of 20, I learned quite a bit, some of which took me a while to appreciate. Professor Singer is best known, I think, for his three-volume work on The Nature of Love.  He was a good teacher and a sweet man, who I encountered briefly only a few times after the course I took with him back in 1972. I remember him, during that class, developing the ideas for which he was to be best known.   Personal love is a way of valuing someone, which, he noticed, we do in two ways.  We value others for a reason, perhaps a quality or combination of qualities we appraise as good.  We also value others as a kind of gift we bestow without any appraisal.   He saw love, as we live it, as comprised of both these elements. After all, we can’t eliminate the appraisal part, since we would then have to love everyone the same.  That doesn’t make sense of the kind of favor in which we hold the ones we love over others.  We also can’t eliminate the bestowal part, since we would then have to love strictly in accordance with merit.  That doesn’t make sense of our freedom to love those we choose even over those who might deserve it more. We are left with the challenge of seeing our experiences of love as some combination, or weaving together, of appraisal and bestowal.   Since I first heard these ideas, I have been using them to understand love affairs, friendships, family love, spiritual love, and whatever other forms love has taken in my life.  Beyond understanding, I have tried both to appraise well and bestow generously.  I am imagining my students, with whom I shared these ideas just yesterday, beginning to use them in their lives. So, with these few words, I bestow one last gesture of appreciation on my old teacher, whom I appraise as a blessing.