Monday, September 28, 2009

On Love and Hunger

I have been asked by a member of th studio audience whether I consider love to be something special that transcends the physical universe, or whether I consider it a mere natural appetite like hunger.

You use the word love in your blog, but what do you mean by it? Is it just the effect of some chemical reaction in your brain whenever you think about or see your wife? If so then I do not think that this has any higher meaning than hunger does.

Of course may answer is 'neither'.

There is a sexual appetite, but this is called 'lust', not 'love'. Like other appetites such as hunger and thirst, lust manifests itself as a desire that, once fulfilled, diminishes in strength, at least for a while. A person's desire for sex builds, they have sex, and then they are satisfied for a while, until the desire builds again.

Also, like hunger, people sometimes have a desire for sex that is not good for them, or eat food that is good for them to excess The sexual appetite as well is different in different people, causing people to consume sex when it is not good for them.

But this is not love. Love is something different.

Perhaps the defining characteristic of love is a desire that the desires of another person be fulfilled. This characteristic appears to apply to all forms of love, whether it be a love for one's spouse, a love for one's child, a love for one’s friends, and even a love for one’s pet. In all cases, the person who is ‘in love’ has such a desire that the desires of the person loved be fulfilled that he puts a great deal of energy into that end.

Furthermore, whenever the desires of the one who is loved are fulfilled, the desires of both are fulfilled. "I am so happy for you," the true friend says upon hearing of her friend's acceptance into school, even if the school is far away and they will be separated.

One important difference between the value of this desire and hunger is the value of the desire itself. One of the questions for us to ask or to answer is whether we have many and strong reason to promote this desire, or to inhibit it.

In the case of hunger, the current situation is that we have reason to inhibit this desire. Our desire for food – our hunger – evolved in an environment of much greater scarcity than we have today. We have a disposition to eat when it is not good for us eat. Obesity is a serious problem in the United States. This, in turn, is driving up medical costs for all of us, and thwarting a great many other desires by reducing our ability to act (due to poor health) and making us less attractive to others, and to ourselves. Appetite suppressants sell well for a reason.

Love, however, is a desire that we have reason to promote and to encourage. People in love tend to seek to fulfill, rather than thwart, the desires of others. They are likely to protect the people that they love from harm and to help to ensure that the people they love get what they need in order to reach their desired end.

To the degree that others love us, to that degree they are willing to work to fulfill our desires, and we certainly have many and strong reasons to encourage that. To the degree that we love others, then to that degree their successes are our own. To that degree we work to fulfill their desires and, when our effort brings us to the successful completion of a quest, we both win.

One of the drawbacks of love is when nature (or other people) thwart the desires of those that we love – killing or maiming them or depriving them of that which they very strongly desired. In this case, their heartache is our heartache as well. Sometimes, when a person loves somebody who is going through a very hard time, or who is killed, the thwarting of the desires of those who loved her are very painful. The pain itself is sometimes enough to drive a person to think, "Maybe it is better if I had never loved at all."

However, the successes should outnumber the failures – and successes are a lot easier when you are working with somebody (which love helps to bring about).

There is little wonder why we hold love in such high esteem – far more esteem than hunger, at last as it is currently found, deserves from us.

The very fact that we have many and strong reasons to promote love, and many and strong reasons to inhibit hunger, is enough reason to hold that love ‘has a higher meaning’ than hunger.

1 comment:

Two-hearted said...

Very nice entry, and one that well conveys the very "truest" forms of selfless "love." Obviously in society the word has much broader usage (I tried to roughly define many uses in a blog post at, but much like M. Scott Peck always defined evil as egocentrism, you can easily argue that the opposite is this genuine interest in the welfare of others. That seems to me to be at the heart of mythology and literature, for very good reason. And focusing on "true" loving and caring for others seems a worthwhile point of such mythologies. (Oh, new thought: since many--perhaps materialists--question all altruisim in the end, could some love definitions encompass "enlightened self interest" where there is a win/win, and no intended or unintended harm? (A slightly less strict standard?) Just a thought.