Love as insanity or why you shouldn’t date a philosopher.

It’s not exactly breaking news. Romantic love and insanity have always, in some way, been synonymously classified. Studies have even shown that a brain, which has recently succumb to the curse of falling in love, is very similar to that of someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

No one  can truly deny the onset of a sort of ‘mania’ that comes along when you first start falling for someone; the fluttering heart, the obsessive thoughts, the idea that some day you two might find yourself in a candle-lit room; book of spells in the one hand, sacrifice in the other. Just normal couple stuff. Well, it turns out some of the most brilliant thinkers in history were not exactly immune to these symptoms either but, due to their slightly annoying ability to overanalyze almost everything (Because you know- philosophy) they decided to explain just exactly the way in which love is a sort of sheer insanity.

Of Course, if you can ignore the alcoholism,  mild pedophilia or perhaps the a-grade syphilis, I guess this does sound quite romantic in its own right; sitting on a blanket under the stars, and staring into the eyes of your lover whilst discussing the intricacies of the lunacy we call love. Downing three bottles of wine and reading aloud excerpts from ‘the Gardens of flesh.  Swoon.

Plato or pederasty?

The first of our many suitors is Plato. Although there are many different dialogues discussing Plato’s philosophies of love, specifically the more well-known ‘Platonic love’, the dialogue of ‘ Phaedrus’ includes one such theory. This dialogue is used as more of a premise for a wider discussion about what constitutes well-done rhetoric but is nonetheless very interesting and dare I  say; beautiful.

In this dialogue, Phaedrus, a friend of Socrates, recites a speech, claiming that one should always choose a ‘lover’ over a ‘non-lover’. This is due to the idea that love is a ‘divine madness’ which over time will lead to jealousy, gossip and general complications. On the other hand, a non-lovers’ relationship will be more stable and gratifying in the long-term.

Although Socrates entertains this theory, he objects in the sense that, as Phaedrus mentioned, the lover’s insanity is of a divine nature. Socrates explains this in terms of the world of forms. The world of forms is a Platonic concept, stating that true reality consists of objective ideas. These ideas are the essence of real objects and can only be found through abstract thought and so are beyond the substantial world.

In this Dialogue, Socrates explains to Phaedrus how even though love could be considered a sort of madness or illness, that this is simply a symptom of witnessing beauty in the other person. Beauty, in a Platonic sense, is a type of Form or ideal. When the individual comes across beauty in another person, it ignites recognition of the Forms and so the individual appears to have gone a bit mad.

Of Course, many of Plato’s’ works on love seem to be written in reference to a man seducing an adolescent boy but then again, pederasty was the norm in Ancient Greece.  There are also some vague rumours, that Plato was making moves on Socrates wife. They’re probably not true but still. Tsk Tsk sir.


Nietzsche some lovin?

Friedrich Nietzsche, who himself went a little cuckoo, which I will admit was not caused by syphilis as the many whispers have claimed (he didn’t fuck a horse either. Just saying.), based his conception of love on his philosophies’ of perspectivism, transvaluation, and life affirmation.

In terms of perspectivism, Nietzsche rejected the concept of some sort of conceptual or abstract philosophy of reality such as the one Plato spoke of. He therefore,  did not agree with the idea of an absolute truth. Instead, he saw that what we call ‘truth’ is subjective and deeply personal.

In this sense, morality can simultaneously not be an absolute construction. He saw that these conceptions, created by religious organizations of the time, neglected the darker side of human nature and so, therefore, repressed the ability to explore and express oneself fully, such as in love.

Nietzsche concluded that one should break free of these pre-constructed value systems. He called this ‘transvaluation’ and saw that one should affirm one’s existence by taking responsibility for one’s own truth and deciding one’s own morals.

The quote then; ‘ There is always some madness in love, but then again there is always some reason in madness‘, from my own interpretation at least, illustrates an apparent insanity that might occur if one were to engage with love on their own terms, and not repress the darker aspects that come along with it.



Want to know more about Nietzsche? Read:

Watt? It’s just a little lovin’

Now for our third suitor; Mr. Alan Watts himself.  Well-known for ‘translating’ Buddhist philosophy to suit the delicate Western pallet,  Watts saw that love, as a force or existence itself, can be expressed on many spectrums-romantic love, parental love;  even love for eating ice cream.

His opinion was that many try to replicate love or access it by imitating what are the resultant characteristics of it, such as being generous.  To him, this was as an inverted form of love as it distrusts the fact that love is existence itself. He claimed that by copying the outside characteristics, the result of this ‘fake love’ would come about as resentment from the person who is pretending to love as well as the person who is receiving this inauthenticity.

As a result, we should rather be radically honest with ourselves and express love in whichever way it comes most naturally to us. This is a risk from both sides because by being so radically honest with oneself from moment to moment and trusting oneself to love naturally in whatsoever way,  may lead the individual to fall short of the expectations of the other and vice versa.  This radical honesty is a type of surrendering as one does not force himself to act or express love in a way that has been written for him or herself but rather goes into the flow of love that comes most naturally. As with falling in love specifically, we are taking a  larger leap due to the fact that we are surrendering ourselves over to another.

This giving ourselves to the other may seem crazy due to the fact that we are not in control anymore.  Alan’s personal expression seemed to come about through his adoration of spirits.

‘Human, all too human

You see, this is not an attempt to scar the reputations of these extraordinary minds. Rather illustrate that although they held enticing and well-thought out philosophies on both life and love,  they themselves were also just err.. ‘human, all too human’.

Love has never been a clean-cut affair. For most of us, it is messy, complicated and yes, maddening.   Although, if  anything we can perhaps take what is maybe a slightly gross amalgamation of advice from these three greats: to always look for the beauty in those we love, to embrace everything love brings with it-the dark and the light , to love in whichever way suits us without letting society strangle us with their tiny perceptions, to be radically honest and to take the crazy, heart-throbbing risk of surrendering ourselves to another.

Mr. Watts, you may now have the floor….


[1] Is it love or is it mental illness? They’re closer than you think. -The Wall street Journal

[2] Phaedrus by Plato. Pages 507-534.

[3] Pedophilia in Platos Phaedrus by David Holiday

[4] What was the cause of Nietzsche’s dementia by Leonard Sax. Journal of Medical biography 2003. Page 47.

[5]Nietzsche’s Reflections on Love by Kathleen O’Dyer. Minerva-an internet Journal of Philosophy. Pages 37-77.

[6] Love-a dangerous game we must play-Alan Watts recording

[7] Falling in love-Life lesson motivation-Alan Watts recording

[8] Alan Watts

Leave a Reply