What can we learn about romantic love from Harry Frankfurt’s account of love?

Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 14 (3) (2019)
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Harry Frankfurt has a comprehensive and, at times, compelling, account of love, which are outlined in several of his works. However, he does not think that romantic love fits the ideal of love as it ‘includes a number of vividly distracting elements, which do not belong to the essential nature of love as a mode of disinterested concern’. In this paper, I argue that we can, nonetheless, learn some important things about romantic love from his account. Furthermore, I will suggest, conversely, that there is distinct value in romantic love, which derives from the nature of the relationship on which it is based. Frankfurt tries to take agape and reformulate it so that it can also account for love of particular people. Whilst he succeeds, to some extent, in describing parental love, he fails to accurately describe romantic love and friendship, and, moreover, overlooks what is distinctly valuable about them. Although it was not his intention to describe romantic love, by failing to include features such as reciprocity in his account of love, Frankfurt leaves no room for a kind of love that is important and valuable to many people

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Natasha McKeever
University of Leeds


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