It is 5.30 am, that time of the night when the darkness awaits for the light, like an intrepid lover, who has been alone for too long. It is a time of passage, when everything is still dark, but we can already hear the noise of the day break. Day and night, light and darkness: the opposite converge and greet each other.
It seems to me the most propitious time for an “intermezzo sub species aeternitatis”, or, if you dislike pedantic Latinisms, “an intermezzo under the species of eternity”. What does that mean? It means that I want to invite all of you — philosophers, lovers and friends of wisdom, as well as everybody assembled here for a “night of philosophy” — to look at love, to think about love, to speak about love from the point of view of eternity.
Why eternity, you may ask? Why eternity, of which we know so little, if anything at all? Well, because anything less than eternity would be an excess of particularism at best and an unforgivable provincialism at worst. Let me explain what I mean.
When Plato gathered his phantasmatic interlocutors to speak about love, philosophy was still the mother of all disciplines. Every lover of wisdom and knowledge was a philosopher, a philos–sophia. Since then, philosophy has assisted to the departure of all of her innumerable children: from theology to natural science, from mathematics to sociology, they all became independent, mature disciplines and left their maternal home, at times severing all ties with their origins and even forgetting where they came from.
Together with all those children, philosophy has also given up on their respective domains, most of the time retiring into a very small enterprise. Instead of the huge villa she used to inhabit, she ended up in a little one bedroom apartment, doing an increasingly specialized work, forgotten by her progeny and, at times, even scorned by them. Perhaps for some form of inferiority complex towards the increasing specialization of her ungrateful children, philosophy over-reacted, and tried to become like her own children, hyper-hyperspecialized and inaccessible to the non-adepts.
Why philosophers have accepted exchanging a villa for a one bedroom apartment is still not entirely clear to me. But this is where we are. Anyway, the result is that instead of speaking about love in its frightening complexity, the few philosophers who still dare to take up the issue, they only do it in very restricted way: not love, with all of its sides (sexual love, parental love, fraternal love, intellectual love, and so on and so forth) but maybe just romantic relationships in particular. But what do I say! Even that is too general! Most of the times, we do not even dare to speak about romantic love in general, but we look at even more specific points of view. Or maybe just the love on that fancy dating app? Maybe tinder love? And, why not grinder, or 3nder if we think that love should not be limited to two people? And why not SeniorPeopleMeet, if we are to be a bit more inclusive, and less ageist, or perhaps KNKI love, the best app “for those with a little red room”? As we learned a while ago, there is no limit to the narcissism of small differences. Particularly when it comes to love.
The problem I see with this increasing specialization is twofold: First, it cannot but appear arbitrary in its particularism. Why heterosexual romantic love instead of gay love? Why romantic instead of parental love? Whenever we choose a type of love, we exercise a choice that cannot but be arbitrary for those in different life circumstances. And secondly, in doing this, we tend to forget that the framework we used to look at the issue at stake is already a big part of the answer.
So why not choose the biggest possible framework, and thus, that of eternity? In that way, we would be much better prepared to include all types of loves, beginning with present, past and even those yet to come.
It is true that we do not know much about eternity, but we do know much about life on this world either. Is the whole game here and now or is there any form of continuation of life after death? We do not really know and going with the scientific answers to the question would mean giving up our task as philosophers, so we are condemned to remain in a terrain, where, for sure, there is not much agreement.
So why not eternity? Maybe it is time to give up our inferiority complex as philosophers, and take up again the burden of big questions and thus also that of the big framework. Let us try to take that point of view, even if it is just for a moment, even if that is just for a little intermezzo in a night of philosophy and ideas. If we do so, it quickly turns out that speaking about love from the perspective of physiological processes, be they the brain synaptic reactions or the hormonal changes in the body, is too much of a provincialism. Why would a spatio-temporally limited chemical reaction in some bodies be the most appropriate way to talk about love? When we do that, we behave like in the story of the drunk guy in the street, who has lost the keys, and he only looks under the lamp because that is the place where he can see better. We have to look at the entire street, even if the light is kind of dim, if we want to say something meaningful at all.
If we do so, it seems to me that we need a concept of love that can unify all the possible objects as well as all the possible subjects of love, not just one instance of love, but love over time, before time and even for the time to come. Seen in this perspective, there is only one type of love deign of a philosophical conversation, that is amor fati, or amor dei, the love for what is, for what it has been and what it will always be. Some philosophers spoke about amor fati, love for destiny, but I fear that the concept of destiny may still be interpreted in an individualistic way (I love my destiny but not that of my neighbors or those of the Guantanamo prisoners). So I prefer to use Spinoza’s expression amor dei, love for God, where the term God is another name for the unique, infinite and eternal substance. Nothing more, but also nothing less.
This will allow us to include all kinds of temporalities but also all types love: sensual love, paternal love, maternal love, heterosexual love, homosexual love, intersexual love, fraternal love, material love, immaterial love, intellectual love, physical love, individual love, collective love, trans-individual love, and perhaps even trans-species love. Because, in the end, even those we do not know, even those animals whose existence we ignore, even plants and planets, need to be loved.
Amor dei , that is the only love that can resist the test of time, and indeed of all times, that is love sub specie aeternitatis. Anything less than that, is and will always be guilty of an unforgivable provincialism.
Chiara Bottici is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research.