Les philosophes et l’amour (2008)

Les philosophes et l'amour: aimer de Socrate à Simone de BeauvoirLes philosophes et l’amour: aimer de Socrate à Simone de Beauvoir by Aude Lancelin

My rating: ***

Aude Lancelin et Marie Lemonnier (2008) Les philosophes et l’amour: Aimer de Socrate à Simone de Beauvoir. Paris: Plon

I was prompted to read this book by Alain Badiou’s reference to it in his essay In Praise of Love. Written by two female journalists working for the prominent French intellectual and cultural weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, this book is a lively, well-written and often subtly ironic account aimed at an educated general public.

The authors point out that love and philosophy have never made happy bed fellows with philosophers engaging in only limited discussion on the notion of love. Further, what discussion does exist, is very one-sided as most philosophers historically have been male.

The philosophers the two authors examine, with numerous additional references to both historical and contemporary works of fiction and other philosophers, include Socrates, Lucretius, Epicurius, Montaigne,Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Kant. Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Arendt, Sartre and de Beauvoir.

For all the generosity of the authors in trying to render justice to these thinkers, they cannot help but highlight the outrageous hypocrisy and frequently toxic practices and ideas of the chosen philosophers. The two female philosophers, Arendt and De Beavoir, are unfortunately on a par with the men. If one is looking for positive, insightful or even helpful writing on love and male female relations this book demonstrates that one should under no circumstances turn to mainstream Western philosophy (for all Alain de Botton’s attempts to reinstate Schopenhauer in his book The Consolations of Philosophy).

If however, one is interested in some of the less pleasant byways of the human psyche or insights into the historical ideas that have aided and abetted ongoing hostilities between the sexes and the denigration of women, then a reading of mainstream Western philosophy is an instructive if somewhat gloomy experience.

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