Project Summary

Can you be in love with someone you have never met?

Analytic metaphysics addresses all kinds of questions about what is real and what is natural, aiming to address these questions carefully and thoroughly. Romantic love, despite its significance and interest, has been of little concern to contemporary analytic metaphysicians. This project moves to remedy that.

Romantic love has never fallen entirely out of the remit of poets, but it does not enjoy as central a place in contemporary poetry as in (say) the Early Modern period. A core aim of this project is to bring metaphysicians and poets working on romantic love into dialogue, to stimulate new directions in both the metaphysics of love and contemporary poetry. Ultimately, the project aims to help reinvigorate and re-centralize romantic love within these two great traditions of investigation and exploration.

Love of various kinds featured prominently in the ancient philosophical traditions from which contemporary analytic metaphysics descends. Plato dedicates large sections of his Symposium to discussions of eros. But the ancients cannot offer us an understanding of romantic love adequate to our contemporary situation. Current work in the philosophy of love, meanwhile, is largely pursued under the aegis of ethics, political philosophy, or the philosophy of mind. So there is little emphasis on metaphysical questions, and the enquiry is disconnected from the powerful conceptual toolkit of the contemporary metaphysician.

As regards contemporary North American poetry in English, romantic love has fallen out of favour to the extent that attempts to pursue it in professionalized contexts are now somewhat isolated, though it remains a popular topic among poets working outside such contexts. This trend can be traced back to "Modernism", and to the institutionalization of poetic practice (and Creative Writing as a discipline) in the twentieth century. Canonical love poetries tend to be derived from Early Modern works and, to a lesser extent, eighteenth and nineteenth century poetry. Students of poetic accounts of love are these days more likely to encounter "courtly love" themes in Geoffrey Chaucer, or the sonnets of Shakespeare, than contemporary romantic love poetry.

But contemporary poetry can be an avenue for the exploration of questions and thoughts that are on the edges of being formulable or comprehensible via other means. And these edges are of great significance for philosophers, who strive to bring the boundaries of current thinking about the nature of things into clearer relief and make them more susceptible to explicit questioning. Enquiry in the best traditions of analytic metaphysics challenges assumptions about what is "obvious", "intuitive", or "normal", highlighting ways in which these may in fact reflect preconceptions, social contexts, and other influences. Poetry likewise makes room for, and celebrates, the unexpected: it too offers an arena in which what seems "obvious", "intuitive", or "normal" can and should be subverted. Metaphysicians and poets thus stand to benefit considerably from each others' experience and expertise in the pursuit of shared goals.

Some of our research questions

The word on the street?

This is not an exhaustive list!

  1. What is the range of viable outlooks concerning the metaphysical nature of love?

  2. Which other disciplines can help inform the metaphysical debate? (Psychology? Evolutionary biology? Sociology? Neuroscience? Anthropology? Economics? ...)

  3. What tools from other areas of metaphysical enquiry can be applied to the study of love?

  4. Is romantic love real?

  5. How do we distinguish romantic love from other kinds of love?

  6. Is talk of love best construed as a kind of fiction? Or as a kind of mistake?

  7. What does it take for romantic love to exist?

  8. Should we adopt a minimizing or deflationary metaphysics of love?

  9. Is love fundamental, i.e. not susceptible to analysis?

  10. Is love natural?

  11. What conditions must be satisfied in order for romantic love to be present?

  12. Is it possible to be in love with a non-existent person?

  13. Could a computer operating system fall in love?

  14. What are the formal properties of the love relation? (Is it irreflexive? Is it always dyadic? Etc.)

  15. Can love be reduced to or identified with something describable in other terms?

  16. To what extent is it a socially constructed phenomenon, as opposed to (say) a biological one?

  17. Is love something ‘objective’?

  18. What are the roles of technology and medicine in contemporary romantic love?