Happy Valentine’s Day! In honor of the occasion, we are reposting an essay from Professor Roy Brand, author of LoveKnowledge: The Life of Philosophy from Socrates to Derrida, in which Brand discusses the relationship between love and knowledge.
What is the love that turns into knowledge and how is the knowledge we seek already a form of love?
LoveKnowledge is a book for lovers, but love is taken here in the widest sense, as the love of life and of humanity, the love for culture, for thinking and for art. Romantic love comes up numerous times, be it in Plato’s Symposium or Foucault’s History of Sexuality. And it is indeed carnal and passionate, far from the view that philosophy is all about abstractions and lofty ideas. But romantic love is a fairly new invention. And it is used nowadays for marketing purposes, such as in this Valentine’s Day. The general Greek word for love is philia, which applies indifferently to the feelings one might have to his family, friends, and lovers. Thomas Mann expresses this in beautiful prose in The Magic Mountain:
Isn’t it grand, Isn’t it good, that language has only one word for everything we associate with love- from utter sanctity to the most fleshly lust? The result is perfect clarity in ambiguity, for love cannot be disembodied even in its most sanctified forms, nor is without sanctity even in its most fleshly…Irresolute? But in God’s name, leave the meaning of love unresolved! Unresolved—that is life and humanity, and it would betray a dreary lack of subtlety to worry about it.
To achieve a “perfect clarity in ambiguity” might be the very purpose of philosophy–a practice of love that begins with not knowing and teaches us how to live with uncertainty without being crippled by hesitation.