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What Love Is: And What It Could Be Hardcover – January 24, 2017
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
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"[Jenkins] lets readers in on some personal secrets, thereby creating the feeling that the book is a safe thinking space. Her personal approach also humanizes her argument because it gives readers concrete examples about the aggressions, judgments, and discriminations to which she has been subjected... An exceptionally clear and easily readable account of the current research into romantic love and ideas for how we might think differently about it."―Los Angeles Review of Books
"A rich and thoughtful book... Jenkins writes simply and engagingly about a subject on all our minds."―Toronto Star
"Jenkins navigates readers through philosophical and metaphysical conversations in an accessible, conversational, and frequently funny way, using analogies that are both memorable and useful... a readable and highly informative book... [Jenkins] stimulates an essential, relevant conversation in a novel, inspiring way."―Quill & Quire
"Required reading... Equally important to its subject matter, the book is a master class in how to think and why. Jenkins researches, questions, unpacks, considers, and examines... [she] uses her readable book to advocate for thinking both critically and in great depth as a form of self-protection and self-advocacy."―Booklist, starred review
"This is a remarkable book, philosophically rich but also personal in a way that is rare. It uses the almost cliched question what love is to draw the reader into a fascinating multidisciplinary exploration, drawing from science, history, philosophy, and politics. It's highly accessible to any reader, yet it also makes important original philosophical points--an extraordinary combination. It's a great introduction not just to its topic, but to what philosophy can be at its finest: rigorously argued and yet deeply relevant to the most important issues in our lives."―Jennifer M. Saul, Professor of Philosophy, University of Sheffield
"This book is an invitation to think for yourself about what romantic love is and might be. Carrie Jenkins writes with great clarity and openness about a concept that matters to us all."―Nigel Warburton, author of A Little History of Philosophy
About the Author
Carrie S. I. Jenkins is Professor of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, and a nationally elected Canada Research Chair. Jenkins received her BA, MPhil and PhD degrees from Trinity College, Cambridge, where she read philosophy in the analytic tradition shaped by Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and G.E. Moore. She previously held academic posts at the University of St Andrews, the Australian National University, and the University of Michigan. She tweets @carriejenkins.
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“What Love is” is written by a person asking herself if she is in love. OK. Who among us hasn't asked themselves that question?
Moreover, in order to answer that question, she needs to know, like HRH (and, umm, the rest of us jagoffs ?), what "love", in particular "romantic love", is.
So far, pretty lame stuff, no?
What makes this book heady (to this reviewer, anyway) is the person asking the question is a professional analytic philosopher, one whose specialty was intended to be the philosophy of mathematics until she was lured away by the much harder questions evinced by the book's title.
Hard questions are the stock-in-trade of philosophers.
As we know, many of us believe that love cannot be analyzed, that there is a mystique about it which makes it incomprehensible and unexplainable. (As an aside, there are philosophers referred to as "The New Mysterians" who believe the foundations of quantum mechanics are similarly beyond our comprehension.) For perhaps most of us this belief (the mystique of love, or maybe even the incomprehensibility of quantum mechanics) is a comforting sentiment, plus, if one is a slacker like me, it doesn't require much hard work. Quantum physicists shut-up and calculate. People fall in love. Both make the world go 'round , or worlds collide, as the case may be.
Rather than accede to the common wisdom, however, the author does what philosophers do: she questions, gathers information - facts and ideas - from various sources and disciplines, and she thinks.
Philosophers think. (Which might account for the pathetic job prospects of professional philosophers.)
Now, although one might expect that a book about sweet, sweet amore written by a(n "overthinking) philosopher to be a real snooze, the reader of this review is reminded of the hot-blooded Englishman Bertrand Russell (op. cit) , as well as the compelling (if not bodice- ripping) romance novels of Rebecca Goldstein.
Analytic philosophers. Randy as mollusks. Gotta’ “love” ‘em.
So how does Professor Jenkins think? How does she reason?
Because, perforce, she is living an examined life, she begins by openly and honestly considering her own situation, which, in today's jargon, "is complicated".
(Without giving away too much, how would "Casablanca" end in a world where polyamory is as normative as monogamy? Anyone my age (OLD) remember the David Crosby song "Triad"? The author cites a number of pop songs, though peculiarly, nothing from Barry White's oeuvre.)
What follows, is a window into a philosophical indagation, at once both personal, and universal, regarding the question of what romantic love is, and, since philosophers deal in "possible worlds" as well, what love can be.
Without getting into the messy details (and, as we all know, love can be very messy) the author sets about on examining what she sees as the dual and complementary nature of love as rooted in science and society.
The author leads-off by considering some current biological models of love. No surprise there, as some critics see analytic philosophy as mimicking science, and it would be an incomplete study leading to ultimately fallacious conclusions not to take into account established facts.
I must say, though, I was glad to see a gentle calling-out of the biologist who stepped outside of her bailiwick into metaphysical speculation. These days there seems to be a lot of tension between philosophers and scientists. Philosophers can't do a simple box-step without some nettlesome scientist awkwardly butting-in.
Because the author is a philosopher, and not some soulless scientist (not that any of us have souls, mind you ;) ) she recognizes that the label “romantic love” exists in the context of a set of dynamic and diverse cultures, with, as she argues, very real norms.
Consequently, love as biology is followed by a brief counterpoint discursion into love as a social construct.
It’s here that this hack wishes she had digressed a bit into that hugest of social constructs, language, though in trying to define love in terms of science and society she merely alludes to it. Philosophers do love their language ‘n stuff, of which I’m sure the author knows well.
After establishing the dichotomy - biology and society - she wishes to reconcile, the author continues through a chapter which surveys how philosophers have treated the subject, including Russell (supra), and, in the author’s own words, “women thinkers”, e.g. de Beauvoir, all of which she finds either incomplete or lacking for the purposes of her own study. This is followed by a chapter setting about the task of building an argument in favor of the dual nature of love, where neither the biological nor the social models suffice to give a complete, coherent picture of what constitutes romantic love.
Her main thesis established, chapters following address de- and re-constructing our social conceptions of love in other than heteronormative monogamy, while pointing out that such has already taken place in the case of “queer” love (although see her treatment of non-monogamous homosexual love vis-à-vis legalized homosexual marriage ) All if this is the context of , and consistent with, the biological paradigm. In fact, in a section titled “Lovers Gonna Love”, the author addresses biological determinism and the corrosive effects such has had and still has on society.
Fortunately, fairly and correctly, by considering the work of feminist philosophers, as well as cultural markers such as laws and even language, the author continues to suggest salutary changes to our patriarchal, monogamous amatonormativity that address the divisive and inequitable consequences of same.
Moreover, as the book is subtitled “and what it could be”, the author writes about alternative models to hetero – and homo-normative monogamy, e.g., polyamorous relationships, that not could only fit an as acceptable social norms but enrich and expand our universal humanity.
Penultimately, circling back to biology, the author considers the possibility of chemical interventions to the biological model, e.g., love potions and love cures. Not quite the way a potential bf or gf looks in the bar at 2 A.M. but you get the picture.
The Coda. This is where our author considers temporality and love, as well as her own adventure, in light of her “thinking out loud” in previous chapters
So….should you read this book? If one wants a guide on how to approach hard problems in one’s life, yes.
If one is wrangling with their own perplexing mix of emotions and reason, and wants answers handed to them oracularly, meh.
Aww, go ahead. Read it. Read it before a computer program (or even a manga character) makes a meat machine, maybe you or me, fall in love with it, thereby passing "The Turing Test".
To quote the professor:
"The stakes are high. And I'm personally invested, as are you."
(I'm giving the author 4 stars because I expect to see more and better work from her.)
Love, she writes, has a dual nature. It is an ancient biological motivation system, called on to play a role in a social script. Something like this formulation has already been at work in society's recent acknowledgement that gays and lesbians, whose motivations have different targets than the rest of us, have a right to marry -- and thereby to be welcomed into the dominant social script.
It's a bit more challenging, Jenkins writes, if we begin to imagine quite different social scripts -- such as polyamory. Social facts aren't any less real than biological ones. They're powerful, they can hurt you, and they're not easy to change.
This book makes an invaluable contribution to the study of romantic love. It invites people of all romantic orientations to examine "amatonormative" thinking (the idea that if you don't fall in love in the usual way, there's something wrong with you), and to imagine alternatives for the future. We'll all be better off, Jenkins argues, if we make use of the philosopher's toolkit to sort out exactly what we can change, and what we can't.
The book is at once realistic and hopeful, and I recommend it highly to any educated reader with an interest in what love is. Therapists, sex therapists, and activists for social change will all find this book useful.
By the way, the author is herself polyamorous -- a fact she tells us in paragraph two of the book. This is something still rather unusual, and in many places in the world it would be quite dangerous to admit. To her credit, she generally avoids slipping into memoir-mode. But the fact of her own personal stake in the matter hovers always in the background, giving a sense of urgency to her project of thinking as clearly as possible about what love is -- and what it could be.