What Is Love?

“I know what love is,” the sincere Forrest Gump famously proclaimed.

I was a bit taken aback by a recent Facebook discussion. One of my friends proclaimed that love is letting each person do as he or she wishes as long as the actions do not hurt anyone else. The context was this: Her friend insisted on continuing to drink alcohol even though further drink could kill her. “It is not hurting me and she just can’t help it the way she drinks,” her statement went.

The ancient Greeks had four words for love. One, storge, is the natural love of a mother for her baby, for example. A second form of love, philia, constitutes the natural love that we have come to call brotherly love in which related people cooperate with each other and have a natural affection. Eros, or romantic love, is the third. The fourth, which was vaguely specified in ancient Greece, agape, came to be known by such scholars as Thomas Aquinas as love that is in service to others for the others’ good.

I think that my Facebook friend had in mind the agape variety of love as she proclaimed her friend’s right to drink herself to death. Yet, such tolerance is a poor substitute for the real-thing of agape love because letting the friend die, perhaps a painful or even tortuous death, hardly is in service to that other.

Since when did tolerance become equated with agape love? “As long as it does not hurt me” sounds much more self-serving than other-serving.

Have we so privatized love that it means letting others do as they please regardless of the outcome…..as long as the other really, really wants to do this and as long as I am not directly and concretely harmed by the action? This seems to me to be the antithesis of genuine love, which would express concern and attempt to help, even if this made the helper uncomfortable……or even made the other uncomfortable.

“I know what love is.” Love unexplored and proclaimed as tolerance does not seem much like love to me.


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Categories: Love


  1. Chris says:

    Tolerance surely is not love because there is so much more to love than that which is encompassed in tolerance. Tolerance can occur with silent disapproval and so can be tinged with anger.

  2. Samantha says:

    Why are societies today not talking about this sort of thing? It seems that we are becoming illiterate with regard to sound philosophical thinking, much to our disadvantage.

  3. Nadine says:

    It seems to me that the other three forms of love would deepen and be enriched if the people involved put agape love first and foremost on the list.


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