The BBC's recent series of Nigel Warburton-scripted, celebrity-narrated animations in philosophy haven't shied away from the hard questions the discipline touches. How did everything begin? What makes us human? What is the self? How do I live a good life? In all those videos, Gillian Anderson, Stephen Fry, and Harry Shearer told us what history's most thought-about thinkers have had to say on those subjects. But for the latest round, Warburton and The Hobbit's Aidan Turner have taken on what some would consider, at least for our practical purposes, the trickiest one of all: what is love?
You might not turn to Jean-Paul Sartre, life partner of Simone de Beauvoir, as a first love consultant of choice, but the series devotes an entire video to the Being and Nothingness author's theories on emotion. The freedom-minded Sartre sees the condition of love as a "hazardous, painful struggle," one of either masochism or sadism: "masochism when a lover tries to become what he thinks his lover wants him to be, and in the process denies his own freedom; sadism when the lover treats the loved one as an object and ties her down. Either way, freedom is compromised."
Have we any lighter philosophical perspectives on love here? Well, we have a variety of philosophical perspectives on love, anyway: Aristophanes' creation myth of the "missing half," Sigmund Freud and Edvard Westermarck's disagreement over the Oedipus complex, and the conviction of "psychological egoists" from Thomas Hobbes to Richard Dawkins that no such thing as strictly selfless love exists. The philosophy of love, like love itself, can get complicated, but the clear and witty drawings accompanying the ideas discussed in these videos can help us envision the different ideas they encompass. Should you need even clearer (or less witty) illustrations on the subject, you could always turn to Love Is..., though I have a feeling you'd find that solution a bit too simple.
Watch all of the animated videos in the What is Love? playlist here.
Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.