- Hardcover: 224 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; 1 edition (January 24, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0465098851
- ISBN-13: 978-0465098859
- Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.9 x 8.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #189,307 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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What Love Is: And What It Could Be Hardcover – January 24, 2017
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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."
"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
"Jump-starts a serious conversation about the true meaning of love and its societal implications... [Jenkins's] message to readers-'think about love for yourself'-is clear, and her vulnerable voice is charming and relatable." -Publishers Weekly
"A provocative start to a complex subject."
"Anyone feeling disenchanted or discomforted by the itchy constraints of traditional, heteronormative, monogamous, pair-bonded, procreative, romantic love will be well-served to read Jenkins' accessible and incisive treatise on what love is. Within her argumentation is a well-placed critique of the misogyny and heterosexism woven throughout traditional philosophical and scientific discourse on love. Through a feminist lens, she studies these biases and reveals their links to contemporary beliefs about love and relationships, highlighting how these constructs ultimately constrain expressions of affection from the many possible configurations that, for some, may be more satisfying than the monolithic norm of monogamous, heterosexual love. Hers is a readable, entertaining, and poignant commentary on the current state of thinking, sure to ignite passionate conversation while working to dissolve the artificial boundaries limiting our experience of love."
-Meredith L. Chivers, Associate Professor of Psychology, Queen's University
"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
"Is love biological? Is love a social construct? Is it both? Does it matter? For anyone who thinks he or she "knows" what love is-or who insists it's a mystery we can't know and shouldn't even try-Carrie Jenkins' provocative, well-researched and highly enjoyable What Love Is and What it Could Be is a must-read. Jenkins gently but thoroughly strips away any preconceived notions of romantic love and instead offers the promise of a broader, more inclusive and, yes, more loving version of love."
- Vicki Larson, journalist and co-author of The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels
"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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Top customer reviews
People with (at least) some background in academic philosophy take it as being too simple, with very little argumentation toward a fairly obvious thesis and failing to interact with enough of the surrounding literature on the topic. Such criticisms make sense if they were of Jenkins’ other book, “Grounding Concepts: An Empirical Basis for Arithmetic Knowledge”, but less so for something that is trying to do for philosophy what Carl Sagan has done for science writing.
On the other hand, many reviewers find Jenkins to be too dry, asking weird abstract questions, using large or esoteric words, and having a condescending tone—much of what you’d expect someone to say with their first interaction with philosophy (especially if they didn’t know what they’re getting into). But taking it as solely one or the other is a mistake: it is best understood as a mixture of the two.
Jenkins’ view on love is quite similar: it is both biological and socially constructed at once. The strongest chapters of this book include these two on the biology of love and the social construction of love. Viewing this book as a kind of introduction to philosophy (what sorts of questions philosophers are interested in asking and how they go about answering them), it is quire successful in its early chapters. However, other chapters like “philosophers on love” and “under construction” are conceptually disorganized and hard to follow. Despite them having masterfully sequential prose, I found myself wondering what the overarching point of the chapter was, or if this is merely where some leftover—but important—ideas found themselves strung along.
As for her philosophical contribution, I agree that it is a bit simplistic, with little argumentation, but those don’t seem to me problematic. However, throughout her discussion of love, it is very hard to tell when she is talking descriptively (what love is) and normatively (what love should be). She often gives normative style refutations of what appear to be descriptive answers to the question of what love is (i.e. that so-and-so’s view is sexist). This argumentative move alone is not a bad thing specifically because we take love to be a good thing! But it seems that she should be more clear in stating that some normative concerns will play into our descriptive project, perhaps it—like the biological and social aspects of love—is not a dichotomy but a blend.
Thus, when she sadly concludes that she may not be in love because romantic love is currently constructed to be monogamous, she could easily say that her own life bears out that this can’t be the answer! Perhaps what love could (or should) be is part of what love is. This ultimately seems like her conclusion, but she takes a quite roundabout way to get there.
“What Love Is” ultimately exceeds in many ways as an introduction to philosophy by making clear what the questions are, and how we go about answering them. But some digressions (like the wholly true one about how problematic the culture of academic philosophy is) seem to serve as more commentary for those already in the (academic) community than getting the general population into a particular method of asking and thinking. Her philosophical contribution is in weaker form, but, at the end of the day, Jenkins has mostly accomplished her goal of giving the reader a jumping off point to think about love for oneself, even if she took you on a few odd detours along the way.
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.