Simon May

Simon May is Visiting Professor of Philosophy at King’s College, University of London. His books include Love: A History (Yale University Press, 2011), a collection of his own aphorisms entitled Thinking Aloud (Alma Books, 2009), which was a Financial Times ‘Book of the Year’ in 2009, Nietzsche’s Ethics and his War on ‘Morality’ (Oxford University Press, 2002), and two edited volumes on Nietzsche’s philosophy.  His work has been translated into ten languages.

Love and the promise of homeland

Most accounts of human love in Hebrew Scripture focus on the two great love commands, the Song of Songs, the love of Jonathan and David or Ruth and Naomi, the love of Abraham for Isaac in the Akedah, and other explicit invocations of love, whether descriptive or normative. In my paper I suggest that, in addition to these well-known invocations of love, Hebrew Scripture’s overarching narratives of Covenant - promised homeland, revealed law, and overcoming exile - articulate a truer model of human love – its nature, origins and the virtues internal to it - than any of the dominant models in the Western tradition.

My argument for this is based on my recent theory of love, outlined in Love: A History (Yale University Press, 2011), which, in contrast to Platonic, Aristotelian and other dominant models of love, conceives love as the rapture we feel for those whom we experience as offering us a promise of rootedness, of home, in the world. A promise of rootedness is offered by those in whom we sense a lineage or origin with which we deeply identify, an ethical home that we want to make our own, the power to give us what we most value and yet lack, and the terrifying call to our own being – to our individual “I am”. As such, human love, far from being “unconditional”, is inescapably conditional, first, upon the encounter with one who can offer such a promise and, second, upon what I call “obeying the law of his being”.