The English language is an imprecise language compared to other languages, especially classical languages such as Greek. Love in the English language could mean a range of things from loving one’s wife or husband to loving chocolate. English does not clarify what type of love a person means when one says “love.” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy expounds on this problem by explaining that because love is “broadly defined and hence imprecise, which generates first order problems of definition and meaning, which are resolved to some extent by the reference to the Greek terms, eros, philia, and agape.” Society celebrates Valentine’s Day as a day devoted to romantic love while dismissing philia and agape love in favor of erotic love.
Erotic love is the type of love commonly associated with love by modern society and the type of love that Valentine’s Day celebrates today. Erotic love, or eros, IEP explains “refer[s] to that part of love constituting a passionate, intense desire for something; it is often referred to as a sexual desire, hence the modern notion of “erotic” (Greek erotikos)”. However, the modern notion of erotic love is not what Plato had in mind in Phaedrus. When Plato talks about erotikos in Phaedrus he describes a love that is universally known by humanity and transcends a particular beauty of an individual. Practically, this means that an individual’s particular beauty points to the higher form of Beauty that is in the world of Forms or Ideas following Plato’s Theory of Forms. However, Aristotle’s conception of romantic love recognizes that there is a “special love two people find in each other’s virtues-one soul and two bodies” (Ibid). It is Aristotle’s version of romantic love between two people that is understood today by modern society and the kind that is being celebrated this Valentine’s Day. For most singles in the state of singlehood, romantic and erotic love is the type of love that one does not normally experience in life until a single person transitions from singlehood to a romantic relationship.
The type of love most singles experience is what the Greeks called philia. The classic Greek philosopher Aristotle elaborates upon philia in Rhetoric noting that “things that cause friendship are: doing kindnesses; doing them unasked; and not proclaiming the fact when they are done” (Rhetoric, II. 4). The love of philia is associated with appreciating ones’ friends, family, loyalties, and different communities that one is involved with in life. This means that there are different types and different levels of philia from having best friends, to family, and to professional work relationships. For single people, phila will be the most common love that singles will experience during single life. This Valentine’s Day, celebrate philia love with your fellow single friends by doing something different than what the modern holiday celebrates this Sunday.
Agape is the final type of love that the classical world separated from eros and philia. While philia distinguishes between different levels of friendships between people and eros is romantic –and devoted love to ideals—love between lovers or partners, agape “refers to the paternal love of God for man and of man for God” (IEP). Agape love is a universal love that applies to all of humanity. This is the Golden Rule to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and to love your enemies. This incorporates personal self-love with loving others. Everyone is capable and able to experience agape love by either a relationship with a spiritual entity or by showing love to all of humanity. Single people and married people can share and grow in agape love between friends and with people that they have never met as well as by showing respect between those who are single and those who are married. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Remember that Valentine’s Day only celebrates one type of love in a very narrow sense: eros. Single people should be able to celebrate the holiday too by celebrating philia love with their friends and family. Valentine’s Day should also be used to celebrate universal humanity and to apply the Golden Rule of to love others, and your enemies, as you love yourself on the holiday. These three distinct loves are often forgotten because the English language is imprecise. Reconsider the love that society celebrates on Valentine’s Day and celebrate philia or agape love instead this Sunday.