UBC philosopher explores the metaphysics of love
It may just be the most human of all experiences: Love. Its mysteries have been the inspiration behind countless works of art, from the poems of Elizabeth Browning to the tragedies of William Shakespeare. Now, it’s become the subject of a UBC philosopher professor’s research project, and she’s asking for the public’s help.
Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins, a Canada Research Chair in philosophy, is the brain behind the multi-year ‘The Metaphysics of Love Project.’ As part of her analytical look into passions of the heart, Jenkins is inviting the public to contribute their observations and experiences of romantic love using the Twitter hashtag #romanticloveis
“Metaphysics is the inquiry into the nature of reality, what’s real and what isn’t, what’s natural and what isn’t, what’s fundamental and what isn’t,” explains the young purple-haired professor, who certainly doesn’t fit the stereotype of the bearded, brooding male thinker.
“These are all really good questions to ask about love, it seems to me,” she continues. “Is it real or not? Is it natural or not? What is its nature? How fundamental is it? Contemporary metaphysics is just not asking those questions about love.”
Love on her mind
Having long been fascinated with the concept of romantic love, Jenkins says she decided to put her philosophical toolkit of argumentative strategies to work: “If you go back to Plato, it’s really central for his philosophy. Whereas nowadays, if you study philosophy as an undergrad, you’re unlikely to study the philosophy of love.”
And it’s more than just an intellectual exercise. Jenkins points out that her project has practical relevance: “Often, we make big life decisions based on whether we think we’re in love. If you don’t have a definition of what love is, you can make bad decisions. You could think you’re being loved and you’re not. You can get into all kinds of situations that are actually problematic,” she insists.
“What happens when you think you’ve fallen in love with someone and it turns out to be an online persona they created that has no reality to it?” she continues. “Have you fallen in love with nothing? Have you fallen in love with something, but it’s a fiction? Or have you not fallen in love at all?”
Jenkins herself isn’t immune to the pull of love: she is married to fellow UBC philosopher Jonathan Ichikawa. “It doesn’t feel like I would love any differently if I thought about love differently,” she muses, when asked about her own experiences of love. Ever the philosopher, she adds: “Then again, I think it’s probably the case that the way I think about love is informed by how I experience it.”
That’s precisely why she is opening up her project to the public. “I only have my experiences to go on, and I know that’s not representative of the entire world,” she says. “I want to hear from as many people as I can about what they understand romantic love to be.”