Happy Valentine’s Day

This time last year I was teaching the course Metaphysics and Mind and one class happened to fall on Valentine’s Day. To contrast any negative connotations of the holiday, like loneliness and consumerism, and their heightened reality in the modern era,1 I wanted to think about love in a different way, in a Greek way. As cliché as it might be, I discussed the eight Greek words,2 along with a Latin word,3 for ‘love’ to demonstrate a range of different ways to potentially interpret the holiday. There are a few terms that should not be celebrated though, as they refer to negative behaviours or outcomes.

Eros: physical attraction and sexual desire, related to the gods of passion and fertility. The Greek god Eros becomes the Roman god Cupid, both of which shoot arrows at both mortal and immortal beings, generating overwhelming feelings of desire.

Philia: an affinity for something or someone, like a friend or family member, which generates deeper and longer lasting bonds than eros. It is associated with trust, shared values, and a spiritual connection which leads to a platonic affection for another. To Plato, the ideal romantic relationship is one which combines eros and philia to create a “friendship between lovers.”4

Ludus: a Latin word for game or play and associated with flirting, teasing, and seduction. It is a carefree, playful love which lives in the moment and is noncommittal. It can also be used to refer to non-sexual forms of enjoyment or sensory pleasure, like dancing, or activities involving a degree of risk like mountain biking or rock-climbing.

Philautia: self-love, both good and bad forms. It arises from how one views and feels about themselves, and can be related to self-compassion but also to egotism. Similar to self-esteem, there are healthy forms of self-love and there are unhealthy forms as well, including arrogance or a sense of superiority. Aristotle states that healthy philautia is a prerequisite for loving others, however, an unhealthy kind philautia places themselves before others. He claims that to accomplish this, we must be accepting of ourselves and our limitations, neither dependent on others nor in competition with them.5 So given that philautia is fundamental for healthy romantic relationships, this form of love is an especially good one to celebrate today.

Mania: the kind of obsessive love often witnessed in stalkers, and as such, is not a good kind of love. It is associated with feelings of anxiety, jealousy, and possessiveness, and in extreme forms, “madness” or mental illness. This is one of those versions of ‘love’ that shouldn’t be celebrated.

Agape: unconditional, sacrificial love; a selfless love felt toward strangers and ideally, all of humanity. Acts of charity and altruism are based on agape, and is integral for keeping groups and societies together, especially in hard times.

Storge: a devoted love usually associated with family, especially towards children. It refers to situations where love is one-sided or requires an acceptance or tolerance of certain situations. Another example of this form of love can be identified in the devotion to serving in the military. The conditions or situations one puts themselves through may be motivated by a love for something abstract or seemingly nonreciprocal, such as a love for one’s government or country or way of life. In the case of children, infants are both physically dependent and somewhat unable express or indicate feelings of gratitude, requiring devoted parents to understand that it is only temporary.

Pragma: a practical love based on duty, obligation, or logic, as in the case of arranged marriages. It is another form of selfless love which considers the needs of others and requires continual effort and dedication. Like agape, this form of love results in feelings of contentedness and satisfaction, resulting in deep bonds that can withstand challenges.

Meraki: this modern Greek word refers to doing work with love, especially creative work.6 When applied to work generally, it refers to a feeling of dedication or devotion that motivates you through laborious, tedious, or repetitive work.

It is important to note that more than one version of love may be experienced at a given time, like agape and storge in relation to family members. There may be cases when it is difficult to categorize feelings or determine which term is most appropriate, potentially arising from an interaction of different forms of love.

So today, and every day for that matter, celebrate all the good forms of love, especially the ones that see you through the hard times like pragma, agape, and storge. Although the historical origins of this holiday may be associated with marriage and fertility,7 I argue that a contemporary interpretation can involve other forms of love as well. I recommend avoiding the celebration of mania because it leads to negative outcomes, as is the case with an over-inflated sense of philautia. Healthy forms of love, however, are just as significant and worthy of celebration as eros, so I hope you take time today to celebrate your loved ones. ♥

Illustration by Albert D. Blashfield from Cupid En Route, 1918

Works Cited

1 K. D. M. Snell, ‘The Rise of Living Alone and Loneliness in History’, Social History 42, no. 1 (2 January 2017): 2, https://doi.org/10.1080/03071022.2017.1256093.

2 ‘8 Greek Words For Love That Will Make Your Heart Soar’, Dictionary.Com (blog), 2 February 2022, https://www.dictionary.com/e/greek-words-for-love/.

3 GHD, ‘9 Different Types of Love According to the Ancient Greeks’, Greece High Definition (blog), 16 December 2020, https://www.greecehighdefinition.com/blog/9-different-types-of-love-according-to-the-ancient-greeks.

4 ‘8 Greek Words For Love That Will Make Your Heart Soar’; GHD, ‘9 Different Types of Love According to the Ancient Greeks’.

5 ‘8 Greek Words For Love That Will Make Your Heart Soar’.

6 GHD, ‘9 Different Types of Love According to the Ancient Greeks’.

7 The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, ‘Valentine’s Day’, in Encyclopaedia Britannica, 13 February 2024, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Valentines-Day; Zoë Randolph, ‘20 Facts You Might Not Know About Valentine’s Day’, Mental Floss (blog), 3 February 2022, https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/655048/valentines-day-facts.