Philosophy & Love

Is Love An Art?

Kathleen O’Dwyer asks if we can learn how to love, with Erich Fromm and friends.

“For one human being to love another; that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation” Rainer Maria Rilke.

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it” Jelaluddin Rumi

Love is a universal human phenomenon: we all need to love and to be loved. An acknowledgement of this need is beautifully portrayed by Raymond Carver in his poem ‘Late Fragment’, from Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times:

And did you get what
You wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
Beloved on the earth

However, love is also a uniquely personal experience which can never be fully articulated. From a philosophical viewpoint, the concept of love raises many questions: What does it mean to love? What is the relationship between love of self and love of others? Is love an instinctive emotion, or is it a decisive and rational commitment? In his best-selling 1956 book The Art of Loving, German philosopher and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm (1900-1980) examines these questions and others relating to love, and he puts forward a strong argument that love is an art which must be developed and practiced with commitment and humility: it requires both knowledge and effort.

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