The Four Loves We All Need To Know More About

How we talk about love has become blurry "low resolution language" (it's life-organizing force is often dissipated on trifles). But looking at richer love language can help us improve our aim. And remind us that universal human rights came from a special kind of love that we all need.


1. “Love is… the most watered down word” in English, says Krista Tippett in Becoming Wise (it’s life-organizing force dissipated on such trifles as “I love your dress”).

2. Squashed into “love” are four Greek words that might improve our aim—eros, philia, storge and agape.

3. Eros is romantic, passionate, sexual love. Philia is for friends, storge for kin. But agape applies to all.

4. Christians amplified agape—It’s the love-word in “God is love.” Also in “the whole law is…you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” extending even to “love your enemy.”

5. “There is neither Jew nor Greek...neither slave nor free...neither male nor female; for you are all one.” ( = St. Paul’s universalizing synthesis = Jesus + Jewish and Greek ideas).

6. But agape is tricky to translate. Written in Greek the Gospels got to English via Latin, each step risking love lost in translation.

7. William Tyndale in 1530 complained that Sir Thomas More “rebuketh me that I did translate this Greek word agape into love, and not into charity.” But, I’d argue, by focussing on the afflicted, charity adds clarity.

8. Christian agape overturned ancient “natural inequality” beliefs. In Inventing the Individual, Larry Siedentop details how the unselective aspect of agape ultimately became universal human rights.  

9. Previously “citizens belonged to the city, body and soul”“no notion of rights of individuals against the claims of the city” existed.

10. What now seems “self-evident” took much work. Many long presumed “all men are created equal” couldn’t mean african-americans (context shapes text).

11. But arduously, “all souls” being created equal… became secularized universal human rights.

12. Related nation forming notions have suffered in time and translation. In Inventing America Gary Wills says, "When Jefferson spoke of pursuing happiness, he had nothing vague or private in mind. He meant a public happiness which is measurable."

13. Jefferson’s “pursuit of happiness” wasn’t the feel-good soft-focussed selfie-centric fantasy many now chase (see Aristotle’s happiness = eudaimonia, + Happiness Should Be A Verb).

14. “Words make worlds,” says Tippett wisely. But many build their worlds around words they grasp poorly.

15. Tippett promotes public, practical, “muscular, resilient” love. Agape enacted, beyond its basic human rights form (~civic eros).

16. Love isn’t alone in now being “low resolution language.” Other much loved “superstar” words, as potentially life-organizing as love, are also now blurry (e.g. happiness, self-interest, and even rational).

17. Let's learn to love better all that we need (see needism—>10). 

Illustration by Julia Suits (author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions) modified by Jag Bhalla (using Lyre Clip Art from, by papapishu).

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