“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

Levi Bryant on the Role of Love in Philosophy

Bryant posted a great piece on textual transference and the role of love in learning. He has succeeded in making me wonder what it is exactly that gives ideas their alluring personalities. How is it that sympathy and charisma have such an effect in the world, while cold-hard facts and rationally deduced truth seem to fall on deaf ears? If an idea isn’t interesting enough for its teacher to sustain a relationship with a student, it will die a mere logical possibility lacking effective deployment in the relational world.

I share Bryant’s sentiment here:

“I…recognize that the world is saturated with many different loves and that these loves carry people in many different directions… Often in directions contrary to my own. The best I can do is continue to speak and write and hope that in doing so I encounter those from whom I can learn and grow.”

I would add, though, that I think love operates at various levels; it isn’t simply the psychological invention of individual human beings, it is a cosmic energy. So is wisdom. I hope not only to encounter other humans, animals, plants, and elements to learn from, but also to participate in the soul of the world from whom we each receive our life.

Bryant writes:

“The philosopher in me, of course, is offended by transference.”

I don’t think philosophy is inherently adverse to love. On the contrary, it seems as though love is the very essence of wisdom (and, as you suggested, love is clearly at the root of learning).

I’m not sure about this:

“When the atheist sets upon the believer, systematically destroying those beliefs, for example, he would do well to remember that it’s never just about the beliefs but that there’s a whole network of libidinal attachment to family, spouses, lovers, friends, rituals, festivals, etc, of which the beliefs are but the tip of the iceberg. Tenacious attachment to these beliefs might very well be, in many cases, tenacious attachment to these other libidinal investments.”

I don’t think atheism should be opposed to belief. Atheism is not the opposite of positive belief, but agnosticism. Atheism is also a system of beliefs rooted in a mostly unspoken network of drives and familial/communal rituals. Even the agnostic, as metaphysically skeptical as they may pretend to be, is still an enculturated animal operating in the world according to some unconscious imaginative background, and to that extent is the historical product of a set of communal practices. In the Jamesian sense, a belief is anything we are willing to act on, despite at first lacking certain knowledge of it. Love, since it is at the root of learning, is the original belief, the belief from which all else, cosmic and human, follows. Without it, there is nothing. Nihil.

The love of wisdom seems to come natural to Homo sapiens.






8 responses to “Levi Bryant on the Role of Love in Philosophy”

  1. Jason Hills Avatar

    I would disagree with “Atheism is not the opposite of positive belief, but agnosticism.” I think that there are important differences between theism, atheism as its negation, and agnosticism. We should preserve the proper negative of theism, since the human phenomenon of each can be very distinct.

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      My point was simply that atheism is also a belief, and so should not be opposed to belief per say. I think atheism and theism have way more in common than agnosticism has with either.

  2. Drew Avatar

    “My point was simply that atheism is also a belief, and so should not be opposed to belief per say”

    I’ve heard this many times in discussions about the issue and it is tragically employed by the followers of theistic faiths to somehow deflect or soften the impact of the skeptic’s slings and arrows. Atheism is NOT a belief. People often say it means “one who believes there is no god”, as if somehow it were a mere uneducated gut preference of someone who didn’t have the full facts about god’s existence. This is misleading because the term itself is derived from the greek words “a” (without/not) and “theos” (god/deity). It does not require any form of belief to affirm that god(s) do not exist, its a perfectly sound hypothesis that is easily confirmed by scientific observation. To say such is a belief is about as coherent as saying an a-unicornist (one who doesn’t believe in unicorns) is holding an unfounded hunch or opinion. In fact by definition, everyone is an atheist since there are gods who religious followers do not believe in (Christians don’t believe in Thor or Shiva, Muslims don’t believe in the divinity of Christ, and so on)- hence Christians are atheists as much as Richard Dawkins, the only difference is that Dawkins obviously doesn’t believe in any gods. Not trying to sound like a dick here, but the obvious danger is when the well-thought positions of self-styled atheists are painted as ‘beliefs’ it seriously undermines the popular credibility of logic and reason and furthers the way for theological-mystical nonsense to prey on society.

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar


      I certainly didn’t mean to imply that atheists are “uneducated” or rash in their decision-making process concerning spirituality. In the interest of fairness, I was just giving the other side of the coin to balance Bryant’s statement, which does make it seem as though all theists are uneducated and emotionally immature. I’m not really interested in playing the definition game, but based on my personal experience with self-identified theists, atheists, and agnostics, there are plenty of uneducated and reactionary opinions among all three.

      I do have to respectfully disagree with you on the issue of whether or not atheism is a belief. Any “-ism” with which one is identified is a belief system. This is not something to be ashamed of, as if humans were somehow capable of rising above culture and history into the pure light of eternal truth. Even science is still a culturally embedded activity, and the theories it develops to account for natural phenomena cannot ever be proven absolutely true; they can only be falsified. We are cultural beings, our knowledge is for the most part socially constructed, and our beliefs regarding ultimate matters will always be shaped by the communities we belong to and the practices we engage in.


  3. Drew Avatar

    I should also add that there is some contention on this issue. For instance, positive atheism would be the position that there definitely is no god, whereas negative atheism would be the position that one is without belief in god. I tend to find the negative position the most adequate to the definition as this is the usual sense of the term. We can also distinguish between weak/implicit atheism, whereby one simply has no belief in god regardless of one’s investigation into the matter or not, or explicity/strong atheism, whereby one affirms that there is no god based on careful consideration of arguements and observations.

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      I think it should be admitted that deeper investigation into this matter can lead one in either direction: either from atheism/agnosticism to some form of theism, or from some form of theism to atheism/agnosticism.

      A helpful video from Prof. Corey Anton about atheism and religion:

  4. astrotometry Avatar

    “The love of wisdom seems to come natural to Homo sapiens.”

    I wish.

    PRECIOUS few.


  5. ggoldbergmd Avatar

    I would slightly re-phrase this. It is not the love of wisdom that comes natural but the deep satisfaction that derives from successfully applying wisdom to resolve real-life problems and challenges. Organisms are basically problem-solving creatures. They do so in order to continue to exist. Naturally, viewing living as an ongoing “accomplishment” as can be understood, for example, from a reading of the Phenomenology of Life by Hans Jonas, then the issue of wisdom is its pragmatic application to the question of solving problems. When ‘wisdom’ is able to successfully lead to eloquent and ‘clean’ solutions to problems, then, it is clear that this is a deeply satisfying circumstance (to which any good mathematician will attest). It is also something to which any good “puzzler” will attest!

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