What is love? This is a question that can stand both rhetorically and philosphically. Rhetorically, the question of what love is has never succeeded in being accurately defined. Philosphically, theorists and other philosophers have never agreed on what the precise definition of “what love is” entails. Does it require succumbing entirely to the needs of one’s lover? Does it require the desire to form a “we” between two lovers, or does love simply mean valuing someone else intrinsically, or for their own sake? None of these questions has ever received a precise definition. Although the question of what love is has never been rightfully answered, theorists have compiled several theories on what love should be, or what it entails for love to occur. One of these theories in particular is love as a union. Philosophers like Scruton, Solomon, and Nozick, collectively known as union theorists, have their own unique theories that come together to form a theory of love known as Love as Union.
Love as Union
According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, love as a union is a view that consists in one’s desire to form a union, or a “we” with another individual. While union theorists believe that this desire does in fact exist, union theorists differ on their perspectives as to how this “we” is actually formed. Union theorists cannot seem to decide whether this “we” forms a new entity(this view is meant to be taken literally), or whether the “we” is a mere metaphor. The formation of a “we” from a literal perspective has been widely endorsed by union theorist Solomon.
Solomon views the formation of a union as a literal fusion of both “souls” of the two lovers. According to Solomon’s view, love is the passageway that allows lovers to redefine themselves in terms of their relationship. Solomon supports his theory by saying that love is a concentration as well as an intense focus of mutual definition on a single individual. From this, one could say that Solomon sees loves as the blueprint for an individual’s re-creation of themselves. For the sake of their relationship, an individual has to somehow take on a new identity that will overall be beneficial to that person’s relationship as a whole. This new identity requires the lovers to begin combining their interests, roles, and virtues that once belonged solely to them. Literally, there is no longer any separatism between the two individuals. The two now share one identity, but each lover has the role of defining their identity.
Contrary to Solomon’s literal view on forming a union between lovers, Scruton’s view of love as a union theory has a metaphorical sense of how a “we” is formed. Instead of the fusion of two souls, as in Solomon’s view, Scruton sees love as a union as a union of concern. According to Scruton, a union of concern is when the lovers act out of concern for the sake of the relationship rather than for the sake of themselves. While Scruton’s view is meant to be taken as a metaphorical concept, his view requires the actual union of the cares and concerns of each lover.
Going back to the earlier definition of love as a union, or the desire to form a kind of union(“we”) with another, Nozick accepts that the mere desire to form a union with another(complying that the other has the same desire) is the only necessity for love. Nozick also claims that the “we” is actually a new entity in the world. Nozick’s view differs from the other two union theorists in the sense that he insists that the succession of the union depends on each lover sacrificing their well-being as well as their autonomy.
Those who object to the views of Solomon, Scruton, and Nozick say that these union theorists have created perspectives that challenge autonomy and individuality. Critics say that union theorists challenge autonomy by not placing enough emphasis on independence and distingushing between the interests of the lover and the interests of the beloved. One critic believes that in order for the lover to be able to properly respect their partner, they must respect their partner’s autonomy and value them for their own sake.
Replies to Objection
Nozick defended his theory by arguing that sacrificing autonomy for love is actually desirable. Nozick believes that loss of autonomy will ultimately lead to a successful union. Fisher also agrees with Nozick. Fisher claims that losing that autonomy is an acceptable consequence of love. Solomon simply describes this loss as a “paradox of love”.
While each union theorist harbors a somewhat different view on how love as a union is supposed to proceed, each theorist is similar in their belief that forming a “we” with another person requires a forming a new identity. Scruton indirectly establishes this by saying that love as a union should be seen as more of a union of concern, but also acknowledging that a new identity is formed by the fusion of each lovers cares, concerns, and actions. Solomon directly establishes a new identity by saying that the “souls” of the two lovers are fused together to create a new identity that shares interests, roles, virtues, etc. Solomon’s view, however, completely isolates the lovers to their relationship rather than to themselves. While Solomon simply views this as a “paradox of love”, This can propose a serious problem for the couple. Since the lovers are literally a new entity, this leaves no room for spontaneity or differences among the two lovers. Nozick’s view also has this problem. Autonomy and individuality are non-existent in Nozick’s view. This means that whatever identity that each lover has is destroyed and they are “reborn” to the world in a sense with their lover. Nozick’s, just like Solomon’s view, leaves no room for differences or individuality.