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Love as a Contested Concept


Richard Paul Hamilton School of Philosophy and Theology University of Notre Dame Australia PO BOX 1225. Fremantle, Western Australia 6959


Theorists about love typically downplay the scale of persistent and possibly intractable disagreement about love. Where they have considered such disagreements at all, they have tended to treat them as an example of the lack of clarity surrounding the concept of love, a problem which can be resolved by philosophical analysis. In doing so, they invariably slip into prescriptive mode and offer moral injunctions in the guise of conceptual analyses.

This article argues for philosophical modesty. I propose that the starting point of any coherent philosophical investigation of love must be a willingness to take our disagreements seriously. These disagreements stem from profound moral differences: we disagree about love inasmuch as we disagree about how we should properly treat one another.

With a series of examples drawn from philosophy, literature and real life I attempt to illustrate some of the disagreements that arise in relation to erotic love. Drawing upon the work of Wittgenstein, Friedrich Waissman and W.B. Gallie, I suggest that any robust theory of love needs to take account of its contestable nature and the integral role it plays in our moral life.