Love's Vision

Love's Vision

Love's Vision

Love's Vision


Love often seems uncontrollable and irrational, but we just as frequently appear to have reasons for loving the people we do. In Love's Vision, Troy Jollimore offers a new way of understanding love that accommodates both of these facts, arguing that love is guided by reason even as it resists and sometimes eludes rationality. At the same time, he reconsiders love's moral status, acknowledging its moral dangers while arguing that it is, at heart, a moral phenomenon--an emotion that demands empathy and calls us away from excessive self-concern. Love is revealed as neither wholly moral nor deeply immoral, neither purely rational nor profoundly irrational. Rather, as Diotima says in Plato's Symposium, love is "something in between."

Jollimore makes his case by proposing a "vision" view of love, according to which loving is a way of seeing that involves bestowing charitable attention on a loved one. This view recognizes the truth in the cliché "love is blind," but holds that love's blindness does not undermine the idea that love is guided by reason. Reasons play an important role in love even if they rest on facts that are not themselves rationally justifiable.

Filled with illuminating examples from literature, Love's Vision is an original examination of a subject of vital philosophical and human concern.


To live within limits, to want one thing, or a very few things, very
much and to love them dearly, cling to them, survey them from every
angle, become one with them—that is what makes the poet, the art
ist, the human being.


The conjunction of the word love with limits may sound discordant to the contemporary ear. We like to think of love as having no limits, as a force that releases us from limits. We think, or at least we say that we think, that love is eternal, that not even death can end it. At the same time, we have forgotten how to see the value in limits, viewing them only as challenges to be overcome, so that a limit that cannot be overcome and must be lived with is a source of frustration and pain. But as Goethe saw, limits can help make a life meaningful, and part of love’s value is to limit a life by giving it a shape, a character, a focus of concern. What one cares about is an important part of who one is. But saying “I care about this” always carries with it an implied “and not that.”

This, at any rate, is one of the main thoughts underlying this book. in speaking of love in terms of vision, I will suggest that love is, in a very real way, a kind of perception, a way of seeing the world. and perception is always a matter of being limited because a perceiving agent is situated in a particular time, place, and situation. There is foreground, and there is background; there is what is before one’s eyes, and there is what is behind one’s back. Seeing one thing always means not seeing something else. in large part we choose what we see, by moving around, taking certain positions, opening (or closing) our eyes, and so forth. But we cannot fully determine how the world appears to us; its contribution to our experience vastly transcends our will. So perception, like love, is both active and passive; it is a matter of interacting with the world, not of determining it or being completely and helplessly determined by it.

In this preface I indicate, or perhaps confess, a few of the idiosyncrasies that characterize my approach to the inexhaustible topic of love. One peculiarity of my approach is that I am especially, indeed exclusively, concerned with love for persons. It is undeniable that we use the word love in other contexts, too. After all, one can be said to love a great many things: Thai food, Bach’s concertos, playing or watching baseball, one’s . . .

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