What Love Is: And What It Can Be by Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins

A rising star in philosophy examines the cultural, social, and scientific interpretations of love to answer one of our most enduring questions What is love?

This notepad was tagged with: Love/Romance

This notepad was written on February 21, 2024.

There are 2167 words in this notepad, and it will probably take you less than 11 minutes to read it.


romantic mystique

  • people fetishize the idea of the supposed unknowability of love
  • they appeal to this concept as a way to prevent critical thinking about love, which then serves as a limit on the discourse that we have about the nature of love
  • people also think that if they think too hard about love that it might disappear or somehow lose its specialness
  • something that people appeal to is the idea of humor that once you explain a joke that it’s no longer funny, but I don’t think that’s actually true.
    • I think that there’s times when I explain a joke and then someone laughs whether or not, that’s because they feel awkward about having the joke explain to them is a different question
    • I think that an understanding of the conceptual incongruity of a joke can assist in finding the humor

love as biology

  • I can imagine some people would resist biological reductionism, because it certainly feels less sexy as an explanation but also because it seems to neglect the dual nature of romantic love
  • fisher believes romantic love is a fundamental biological drive
    • involvement of dopamine means that it’s probably deeply integrated with our reward system and hence a basic drive like any other?
    • jenkins remarks that it’s odd that fisher separates the drives of romance and attachment
  • it seems like intensity and passion at least initially, is a very interesting through line in theories of love, but perhaps more biologically like nozick
    • I guess infatuation or the honeymoon phase is quite universal, so they try to integrate it into their theory
    • however, I’m unsure if the honeymoon phase is a part of love, or a part of a relationship which are related but different
    • additionally, I don’t think that everyone has a honeymoon phase and certainly not such an intense start
  • it’s interesting to see how thinkers will take their personal experience and create a theory to explain it, which makes sense like it’s an explanation of phenomena, but it does seem odd that these great thinkers can’t generalize— do they know that they are cognitively limited, and are just trying to publish? Or is there a lot of intellectual honesty?
  • there are a lot of problems with evolutionary biological explanation of love but also just in general
    • things can sound very plausible, but it’s not falsifiable
    • we can have any kind of logical reasoning and justify it with evolution somehow
    • I am sympathetic the idea that monogamy and romance, probably co-evolved, but I have no justification for that. Just kind of intuition.
  • if biology is involved in love, which most likely is then there’s no replacement for it in a theory in an explanation, and so any successful theory has to not only acknowledge, but integrate the scientific findings
    • Love happens biologically, but there’s so much that goes on in the life of our mind that shapes and colors our experiences of love
    • in some ways, biology is the grounding or foundation of love, and so theories shouldn’t work against that, but with it, and allow it to fortify it and build off of it and riff off it
    • it’s also interesting to note and take into account the biological variation of the biology of love
    • however, there are limitations to biological explanation of love, for example artificial intelligence they don’t have a biology, so are they in capable of love?
  • The ethical questions of tuning the residence were frequency or other qualities of love is super interesting
  • The biology of love cannot explain evidence that romantic love seems to vary across time and culture
    • maybe we could appeal to expressions of love and so the underlying phenomena is the same but the way that it’s filtered out and expressed is different

romantic love as a social construct

  • Love is associated with biological markers, but rather is a product of social expectations, traditions, and norms
  • monogamy and romantic love serve social functions
    • it structures reproduction and thus the family, see: nuclear family which coincides with the development and proliferation of capitalism
    • it is misogynistic and controlling of women
    • it secures inheritance and property rights
  • Beall and Sternberg argue that the actual experience of love changes from culture to culture not just the expression
    • while it is very interesting to note the vast differences and culture, I don’t buy that it isn’t just expression
  • there seems to be no reason to privilege one culture over the other—what is the socio term for this?
  • “conceptions of love reflect cultural ideas about humanity.“
  • Jenkins believes that social construction comes into play in separating kinds of love, as romantic, of which i agree
    • “romantic love’s distinctive, social function sets it apart from all other kinds of love” it’s what makes it romantic love but it being a type of love is separate
  • if love is a social construction, then social critique is appropriate and perhaps productive

dual nature of love as a biological and social concept

  • she says that the underlying biological phenomenon social expression model is not the best because she saying that of course it’s the case that culture shapes expression
    • I don’t think that saying that society and social norms shapes expression of romantic love is reductive. I think that there’s a lot of complex norm enforcement that goes into it that is a little bit different than culture itself
  • her theory is something along the lines that biology is the actor and the social role is the character in this metaphor about TV show acting
    • “romantic love has a do nature: it is ancient biological machinery, embodying a modern social role”
  • I agree with her assessment that romantic love is most likely an emergent phenomenon as a part of a larger, cooperative evolutionary strategy with complex social bonding
  • I think that Jenkins, larger thesis is expanded on when she talks about the “standard model“ which is a framework where there’s one way of doing things that is standard or ostensibly the right way, and then all others are deviations
  • she thinks that the romantic love biology is not just misfiring in its goal to heterosexual reproduction, but is rather probably, for intense and usually sexually cemented bonding for cooperation which is more inclusive to homosexual and polyamorous relations
  • we probably won’t ever really know the evolutionary psychology of these things, but I think Jenkins brings up a great point of saying, but why are we posing the specific limited theories when we can have more broad, socially liberated hypotheses?
  • romantic loves social function is to take input of attraction and output, the nucleus of a family it’s harnessing emotion capitalistically
  • Biology changes slowly whereas society changes quickly so to what extent is a biological theory of love actually useful in some ways

does she pre-suppose the existence of romantic love?

  • she mentions amatonormativity but more in the context of saying that love isn’t the ultimate goal and that people are failing for not obtaining it, but doesn’t say anything about not experiencing it more broadly
  • if we still use the dual concept, aromanticism or asexuality can take part in the biological or the social or philosophical Rome, where an a romantic person still has bonding biological machinery they’re just probably not of the monogamous phenotype, or nothing about the values, a strong, singular partnership
  • I have yet to see her halfway through the book talk about platonic love like why can none of romantic love be explained by platonic love?
  • is she trying to shoehorn her love into romantic love to make polyamory more palatable in the general sense like is she trying to have broader appeal by somehow proving that you can be in love with multiple people romantically because that’ll be easier for people to understand?
    • page 103
  • love isn’t a filter (expression) but a pipe or something that redirects and harnesses those feelings into something that is socially productive — romantic love as a social concept is meaning making? the feelings themselves aren’t socially constructed but the narrative in which we understand them and how they can be utilized is
    • i still think biology is love and then we social construct everything
  • she talks about how the alternative to romance is not loneliness, but she doesn’t really go beyond that

love changing role

  • pg 107 twin earth thought experiment lol
    • aliens falling in love at the social level but not biological level
    • or inversely 19th century lesbians biologically in love but socially excluded from love
      • in many ways we cannot call them gay? bc times were different that’s like calling the greeks gay
  • combatting biological determinism with the naturalistic fallacy
  • denying the possibility of love is the main strategy of social stigmatization
    • it reduces the relationship to merely sexual and then puritanical attitudes toward sex are applied to bring under question whether such relationships can output stable family units
    • this is a form of conservatism and resistance to change because restructuring love means restructuring institutions of society like the family
  • the concept of love and other social constructions change gradually over time toward the edges and stay the same object: ship of theseus
  • Love is gendered at the social level, because there are different prescriptions of experience of love for women and men
  • A lot of the arguments about queer love have centered around the fact that they are more loving and so that kind of goes to show that it’s normal or good
    • there are still things settling about gay, parental adoption and things like that but I’m sure a lot of the conversations are centered around how gay families can still be nuclear family units
    • this has somewhat necessarily excluded polyamory, or other non-monogamous arrangements
  • polyamory is not a protected class so discrimination is entirely possible and it seems as if it’s mostly harassment, but you never know
  • sometimes the things that are normative i.e. they are socially prescribed does not mean that they are statistically normal/widespread in any way not everyone wants kids or family.
  • “The normative assumption that love should lead to marriage and biological reproduction; the norm of romantic monogamy; amatonormativity; and, permeating all of these, while also contributing further harms of their own, the stereotypical gender roles for romantic love.“
  • “ love, sex, and people are not property or resources that we get to manage and distribute in the name of equity”
  • One True Love Model
    • One will stick, but the True part will fall and permanence will be less of a consideration in romantic relationships
    • We see this in serial temporal monogamy

The book to me is a lot of like philosophically, motivated, evolutionary psychology theory, specifically surrounded in queering love? it’s more about questioning how we do science and philosophy about love, and then she has her own personally motivated theory to explain, romantic, love among multiple partners, as the author is polyamorous.

does she believe that only romantic love should be protected? or does she just believe that it has more ascribed legitimacy and so that if poly love is romantic love then it can gain legal protection and social acceptance?

does she ever talk about what the role of romance is for if not for reproduction love has a social role but it need not be romantic love

  • she means for it to imply partnership more broadly
  • she’s probably not committing to anything on person

she addresses romantic abolition in a way and says it’s infeasible at least from a planning perspective well sure but it doesn’t have to be so pragmatic

  • she thinks that if we tear up the social script for romantic love to stop, organizing our social lives around it and to stop talking about it If we were desirable thing, it would lead to suppression, secrecy, suffering, and medical intervention to maintain the new status quo.
  • we aren’t broadening any love to be romantic
  • she refuses to confront this fairly because she thinks that the biological missionary of love will continue to serve as an anchor for the kind of social script writing that has any realistic chance of working out
    • in other words, she thinks that social scripts about romance are inevitable because of our biological starting point which is simply not true I don’t think

how would she feel about sex, kids, family and home building among friends or non-romantically involved people? this happens in some polyamorous circles

she does call for the de privileging of romance as the norm for everybody

think about love for yourself and build it custom and choose it instead of having it handed to you

Other Love/Romance Notepads

The Norms of Romance

Outlining the various norms of the stages of romance.

The Problems With Romantic Desire

I believe that romantic desire is a fickle master that is not suitable for organizing long-term relationships.

The Allure of Convenience

I believe that part of the reason why the modern romantic relationship collapses the therapist, roommate, partner, and more into one is because it is an easier social structure. It is not the easiest to maintain however.

Romance as a Bad Organizing Principle

I believe that romance is not a good organizing principle for life or relationships.

Imagining a post-romantic world

What would a world that goes beyond romance look like?

Detangling Romance and Partnership

Romance and partnership go hand in hand conceptually, but do they need to be?

Romantic abolitionism

Should we abolish the concept of romantic love?

What is the difference between platonic and romantic attraction?

Trying to answer the age-old question that tortures many people in their relationships.

Your partner shouldn't complete you

Soulmates and perfect halves don't exist and the idea may cause more harm than good.

Is compatibility discrete or continuous?

Yes/No vs % compatibility with a romantic partner.

Love Languages Are Fake. So What?

Love Languages were created by a somewhat problematic marriage counselor and are not evidence-based/supported by science. Does this mean that Love Languages should be scrapped entirely? I think that with some rehabilitation, the concept of Love Languages can still provide a lot of utility to people.

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