The word love covers a vast and diverse range of positive emotions and attitudes. The most common understanding of love involves a close and intimate attachment to another person. This can range from the romantic love that is celebrated on Valentine’s Day to the friendship, compassion or loyalty that are part of more stable relationships. People also feel love for a wide variety of things, from their families to their pets.
Love is a complex phenomenon and it can be difficult to consistently define. This is because it has multiple meanings and it often has religious or spiritual significance as well. It is also a relatively new concept in the scientific literature on emotion, which has only recently begun to focus on it.
Biological models of love tend to see it as a mammalian drive that is similar to hunger or thirst. It is believed that the brain releases chemicals that cause the body to behave in ways that support the survival of the organism. These include increased metabolism, physiological arousal and heightened attention.
Many philosophers and other thinkers have argued that these models fail to explain the full range of positive and negative features of love. They do not adequately explain why a feeling of love can also lead to jealousy, possessiveness and even contempt or hatred.
More sophisticated theories of love take into account the different aspects of the experience and attempt to explain how these feelings and attitudes are related. They also try to distinguish between different types of love. For example, they distinguish between passionate love, which is intense longing and often accompanied by physiological arousal, and companionate love, which is affection and a sense of intimacy that is not characterized by arousal.
Other theories of love try to explain the way in which love can be sustained over time. They suggest that love requires a commitment to the beloved and that the intellect contributes to this process by being able to rise above the impulses that generate like and dislike. The intellect can help keep love intact even when one’s beloved develops an annoying habit, such as eating peas one at a time.
Still others argue that love is best understood as a kind of identification. They suggest that it involves a sharing of a person’s values, which can be seen as a form of self-identification. This is very close to the union view, but it differs in that it respects the beloved’s autonomy as a distinct person rather than as an object of one’s love.