Adler On


The word that we must examine in thinking about love is "desire." There are two modes of desire, acquisitive and benevolent, desire that leads to getting and desire that leads to giving. The word "love" is misused if it is used for acquisitive desire and, in that connection, carries the connotation of sexual desire.

Imagine a human world from which gender and sex were totally absent but everything else remained the same. If you say that you cannot imagine such a world. I must respond by saying that you do not understand the meaning of the word "love." Certainly in such a world, one would love one's country, one would love the friends one admired, and one would love God and understand what it means to say that God is love.

The Greeks and Romans had three words for the three kinds of "love". In Greek, the words are eros, philila, and agape. In Latin the words are amor, amacita, and caritas.

It is only erotic or amorous love that involves sexual desire and activity, but even erotic love is benevolent in its concern for the enjoyment of sex by the loved one. Sexual activity devoid of benevolent impulse is not love but lust, and lust, like greed, is a mortal sin.

Love is always altruistic, not selfish. Only children and childish persons ever misuse the word "love " for selfish desire, saying " I love candy" or "I love popcorn."

Love is more altruistic than justice. Justice is primarily negative, its precept being not to judge or harm others. But love is entirely positive in it precepts. Aristotle us that if all human beings were friendly, justice would not be necessary, for if they loved those whom they thought admirable, they would be benevolently disposed toward them.

Recommended Readings on
Love and Friendship
Adapted from
Adler's Philosophical Dictionary (1995)
Great Ideas from the Great Books (1963)
by Mortimer J. Adler

Revised 18 December 2000