What we talk about when we talk about love : an essay in the philosophy of social science
This thesis is a discussion of erotic love considered as a problem in the explanation of
social action. Its primary focus is on attempts to create a general social scientific theory
of love. I detect a tendency in theoretical discussions of love that see their task as one of
providing an account of what love really means. I argue that such projects persistently
misconstrue the nature of our talk about love by failing to see that love is a contested
nonnative concept and that saying what love really means itself forms part of our moral
disagreements. I discuss several current philosophical attempts to define love before
moving on to a discussion of Descartes' Passions of the Soul. I suggest that Descartes'
theory highlights the problems of attempting to fonnulate a self-consciously scientific
theory of love but also that his ultimate recognition of limitations of mechanistic science
offers the possibility of a non-reductive naturalism.
I then proceed to discuss a currently fashionable attempt to explain love in reductive
tenns in the fonn of evolutionary psychology. I locate evolutionary psychology within
the individualist utilitarian tradition described by Talcott Parsons and suggest that it
confronts ali the problems Parsons highlights in this tradition. More specifically, it has
difficulties explaining the routine co-operation associated with love. I attempt to show
how none of the versions of evolutionary psychology currently on offer deal with this
problem effectively and that the only one which comes close, does so by breaking with
key evolutionary psychological commitments. I conclude that evolutionary psychology
cannot explain love since it cannot provide a robust account of nonnativity while
maintaining its persistent individualism.
In the concluding section, I discuss a group of approaches to the emotions which seem to
take the normativity of love seriously. These are social constructionist theories. I
distinguish between a defensible, mnemonic constructionism and an untenable ironic
variety which denies the reality of everyday experience of human loving. I conclude that
the best way to see love is as a matter of practical reason in the context of a contested
moral form of life and discuss the relationship between love and virtue.