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The Philosophy of Love and Care

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Course Description

This course is an introduction to the philosophy of love and care. We will examine philosophical questions and puzzles about these psychological states: questions that might come up in the course of our lived experience, but that can’t be answered purely by empirical methods. Although our focus will be on critically examining theories that philosophers have given of these issues, we will often turn to lived experience, and to novels, plays and films, in testing these theories.

When moral philosophers talk about love, they mean to be talking about that which is common to the varieties of love that we are said to have for our spouses, friends, and family members. Roughly, to love someone, in this narrow sense, is to care about their well-being.

Love and care, then, are states that are central to the human condition. But they are also deeply perplexing ones. To begin with, just what is love? What, for example, is the difference between love in this narrow sense and varieties of love such as romantic love or friendship?

Perhaps love, as an influential tradition has it, is a response to perceived value. After all, our love for our friends and romantic partners often seems to develop out of liking them. So, on this picture, we come to love them, because we were struck by these attractive properties. Our love, indeed, is justified if, and only if, they in fact have these attractive properties. And we continue loving them, so long as we find them attractive.

But there are some reasons to doubt this position. We don’t always like the people we love. We usually find the beloved irreplaceable: we don’t tend to stop loving the beloved once someone else that we find more attractive comes along. So perhaps love isn’t a response to value. Perhaps it’s rather that in loving the person, we endow them with value. But if love isn’t a response to value, what explains why our love for our friends and partners often develops out of liking them?

The final question we’ll take up has to do with the far-reaching effects of love and care. We often privilege our loved ones. But is that morally permissible?

One goal of the course is for you to get a feel for the philosophical perplexities that arise from love and care, and for what college philosophy classes might be like. But another important goal, as in philosophy classes in general, is to sharpen your critical thinking skills: to learn how to extract arguments from difficult texts, critically evaluate them, and to concisely and clearly communicate the results. These skills are helpful for college and beyond, and can be improved through practice. We will hone them through mapping and diagramming arguments, tightly focused class discussions, and a final argumentative paper.

1. Students will be better prepared to break down and critically examine complex arguments, as well as to craft their own arguments.
2. They will also have considerable practice reading and writing philosophy papers.

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