Love: A New Understanding of an Ancient Emotion
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN 10: 0190884835
ISBN 13: 978-0190884833
What is love's real aim? Why is it so ruthlessly selective in its choice of loved ones? Why do we love at all?
In addressing these questions, Simon May develops a radically new understanding of love as the emotion we feel towards whomever or whatever we experience as grounding our life--as offering us a possibility of home in a world that we supremely value. He sees love as motivated by a promise of "ontological rootedness," rather than, as two thousand years of tradition variously asserts, by beauty or goodness, by a search for wholeness, by virtue, by sexual or reproductive desire, by compassion or altruism or empathy, or, in one of today's dominant views, by no qualities at all of the loved one.
After arguing that such founding Western myths as the Odyssey and Abraham's call by God to Canaan in the Bible powerfully exemplify his new conception of love, May goes on to re-examine the relation of love to beauty, sex, and goodness in the light of this conception, offering among other things a novel theory of beauty--and suggesting, against Plato, that we can love others for their ugliness (while also seeing them as beautiful).
Finally, he proposes that, in the Western world, romantic love is gradually giving way to parental love as the most valued form of love: namely, the love without which one's life is not deemed complete or truly flourishing. May explains why childhood has become sacred and excellence in parenting a paramount ideal--as well as a litmus test of society's moral health. In doing so, he argues that the child is the first genuinely "modern" supreme object of love: the first to fully reflect what Nietzsche called "the death of God."
"May could just have achieved the seemingly impossible and produced a truly original philosophy of love... May is able to draw out what is true in each age's perception of love, discard what is misleading, and synthesize the result into the most persuasive account of love's nature I have ever read."--Financial Times
"Rich, provocative and illuminating."--Jane O'Grady, Times Higher Education
"Intellectually engaging . . . Provocative."--Charlotte Allen, The Wall Street Journal
"May could just have achieved the seemingly impossible and produced a truly original philosophy of love... May is able to draw out what is true in each age's perception of love, discard what is misleading, and synthesise the result into the most persuasive account of love's nature I have ever read."--Financial Times
"It's a big question: what is love? May plunders Western poetry, philosophy and psychology to find answers, tracing our understanding from religious to romantic to ossified. Thought-provoking stuff."--Holly Kyte, Sunday Telegraph
"This book deserves to rank with Denis de Rougemont's classic Love in the Western World. Readers...will gain much from May's well-crafted study."--Library Journal
"[May's] discussion...provides a coherent narrative that is aided by his illustrative writing."--Publishers Weekly
"Well written and provocative, this book challenges tradition."--R. White, Choice
"A powerfully demystifying critique . . . that aims to show what love can and cannot mean in our lives."--John Gray
'A beautifully written and fascinating account of the cultural history of love. Simon May gives a vindication of love that is both deeply insightful and inspiring, and, whether you believe that God is love or that Love is god, you will find your portrait in this book and rejoice in it.' - Roger Scruton
'May's enquiry into the nature of love is an amazing tour de force: surprising, provocative, refreshing and instructive by turns, it surpasses everything hitherto written on this subject in its scope and ambition.' - A.C. Grayling
'Simon May's Love is that rarest of achievements: scholarship as inspired illumination. Fluent, witty, humane, May explores Western concepts of love from the Torah to Romanticism and on to the "fascinating paradox" that the liberation of sex and marriage in our day coexists with retrograde, and at times destructive, notions of love. May offers a corrective, and the reasoning that takes us there is an utterly riveting adventure.' -Wendy Steiner, author of The Real Real Thing: The Model in the Mirror of Art
About the Author
Simon May is visiting professor of philosophy at King's College London. His books include Love: A History (Yale University Press, 2011), Nietzsche's Ethics and his War on "Morality" (Oxford University Press, 1999), a collection of his own aphorisms entitled Thinking Aloud (Alma Books, 2009), which was a Financial Times Book of the Year, and two edited volumes on Nietzsche's philosophy (OUP, 2009 and CUP, 2011). He has contributed op-eds to newspapers such as the Financial Times and the Washington Post, and has appeared on radio and TV for the BBC, among other broadcasters. His work has been translated into ten languages.