The Four Loves is a book by C. S. Lewis which explores the nature of love from a Christian and philosophical perspective through thought experiments. The book was based on a set of radio talks from 1958, criticised in the US at the time for their frankness about sex. Taking his start from St. John's words "God is Love", Lewis initially thought to contrast "Need-love", such as the love of a child for its mother and "Gift-love" epitomized by God's love for humanity, to the disparagement of the former. However he swiftly happened on the insight that the natures of even these basic categorizations of love are more complicated than they at first seemed: a child's need for parental comfort is a necessity, not a selfish indulgence, while conversely parental Gift-love in excessive form can be a perversion of its own. Pleasures Lewis continued his examination by exploring the nature of pleasure, distinguishing Need-pleasures, such as water for the thirsty from Pleasures of Appreciation, such as the love of nature. From the latter, he developed what he called “a third element in love...Appreciative love”, to go along with Need-love and Gift-love. A fictional treatment of these loves is the main theme of Lewis' novel Till We Have Faces. Storge – Affection Affection is fondness through familiarity, a brotherly love, especially between family members or people who have otherwise found themselves together by chance. It is described as the most natural, emotive, and widely diffused of loves: natural in that it is present without coercion; emotive because it is the result of fondness due to familiarity; and most widely diffused because it pays the least attention to those characteristics deemed "valuable" or worthy of love and, as a result, is able to transcend most discriminating factors. Philia – Friendship Philia in Greek is the love between friends. Friendship is the strong bond existing between people who share common interest or activity. Lewis immediately differentiates Friendship Love from the other Loves. He describes friendship as, "the least biological, organic, instinctive, gregarious and necessary...the least natural of loves" - our species does not need friendship in order to reproduce - but to the classical and medieval worlds the more profound precisely because it is freely chosen. Nevertheless Lewis was not blind to the dangers of friendships, such as its potential for cliqueyness, anti-authoritarianism, and pride. Eros – Romance Eros for Lewis was love in the sense of 'being in love' or 'loving' someone, as opposed to the raw sexuality of what he called Venus: the illustration Lewis uses was the distinction between 'wanting a woman' and wanting one particular woman - something that matched his classical view of man as a rational animal, a composite both of reasoning angel and instinctual alley-cat. Agape – Unconditional Love Charity is the love that brings forth caring regardless of the circumstance. Lewis recognizes this as the greatest of loves, and sees it as a specifically Christian virtue. The chapter on the subject focuses on the need of subordinating the natural loves - as Lewis puts it, "The natural loves are not self-sufficient"- to the love of God, who is full of charitable love, to prevent what he termed their 'demonic' self-aggrandisement. Lewis did not actually use the word agape although later commentators did.
The Four Loves
summarizes four kinds of human love--affection, friendship, erotic love, and the love of God. Masterful without being magisterial, this book's wise, gentle, candid reflections on the virtues and dangers of love draw on sources from Jane Austen to St. Augustine. The chapter on charity (love of God) may be the best thing Lewis ever wrote about Christianity. Consider his reflection on Augustine's teaching that one must love only God, because only God is eternal, and all earthly love will someday pass away:
Who could conceivably begin to love God on such a prudential ground--because the security (so to speak) is better? Who could even include it among the grounds for loving? Would you choose a wife or a Friend--if it comes to that, would you choose a dog--in this spirit? One must be outside the world of love, of all loves, before one thus calculates.
His description of Christianity here is no less forceful and opinionated than in Mere Christianity
or The Problem of Pain
, but it is far less anxious
about its reader's response--and therefore more persuasive than any of his apologetics. When he begins to describe the nature of faith, Lewis writes: "Take it as one man's reverie, almost one man's myth. If anything in it is useful to you, use it; if anything is not, never give it a second thought." --Michael Joseph Gross