02/27/2015 10:21 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Is Love an Art or a Craft?


Irving Singer was a philosopher whose Times obit ("Irving Singer, M.I.T. Professor Who Wrote 'The Nature of Love,' Dies at 89," NYT, 2/15/15) describes how he had written a three volume work devoted to one of the most over used words in the English language, one whose definition has stymied and challenged thinkers throughout history. The Times obit quotes Singer thusly,

"This, like so many philosophical works, began as an attempt to understand my own inadequacies. Everyone in my family persuaded me that I ought to be more loving, which troubled me. So like most philosophers, I dealt with the criticism by constructing a theory and a philosophy which enabled me to dismiss their ideas."

Singer who according to the Times taught for many years at M.I.T. seems have had a sensibility that in many respects was closer to that of humanistic psychologists like Erich Fromm who wrote The Art of Loving who also had a philosophical background (as a product of the Frankfurt school). On the basis of the obit, Singer did not appear to bet a utilitarian or consequentialist like Peter Singer or Derek Parfitt. He was not concerned with the kind of ethical problems that bugged trolleyologists like Philippa Foot and the description of his work in the obit with its emphasis emotion doesn't seem to tie it to language philosophers or the work of phenomenologists like Husserl or Heidegger. But the very inception of Singer's project makes one think about how other great works of philosophy might have come into being. Did Kant's Critique of Pure Reason derive the fact that his family found him to be was unreasonable? Did Heidegger's Being and Time result from the philosopher's problems with lateness or in the case of Sartre's Being and Nothingness, a great mind's inability to deal with varying kinds of absence (God, money, an empty cupboard). Could Sartre's existentialism and his obsession with nothingness have derived from the fact that when he was was a little boy, he frequently came home to an empty refrigerator?

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}