Love #1 – Models of Love

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Area: Language Arts and Literature
Grade Level: High School & Beyond
Topics: ethics, love, Relationships
Estimated Time Necessary: Two hours, can be spread out over multiple sessions

Lesson Plan

Objectives:
Thinking together about various philosophical models of love.
Students will gain insight into three major models of love in the philosophical literature and think together about the nature of love, how they wish to love and be loved, and whether/how love can persist over time.

This lesson plan can be read in conjunction with “Chapter 3. Love” (pp. 45-68) in the freely available teaching resource Coping: A Philosophical Guide (OpenBook Publishers, 2021) with discussion questions (pp. 123-4) and additional teaching materials (p. 119). 

1. Models of Love

In the philosophical literature, there are three grand models of love: the eros model, the agape (pronounce: ah-gah-pahy) model, and the fusion model. On the eros model love is based on finding attractive features in the other. On the agape model love is self-forgetful. It is a love that commits itself to building up the other or taking care of the other. On the fusionmodel love is about forming a shared identity. The lovers are no longer separate people. They see themselves and present themselves to the world as one.

Here is a motto for each model. On the eros model, to love is to find one’s beloved great. On the agape model, to love is to make one’s beloved great. And on the fusion model, to love is to become one with one’s beloved.

Students should come to understand these three models of love in the philosophical literature. I have a few suggestions about how to introduce them to these models.

  1. If your students can do some independent reading, ask them to read pp. 48-59 of Coping: A Philosophical Guide and turn to the questions below.
  2. You can start from my short description above, write my mottos on the board, and ask students to explain these mottos.
  3. You can start from poetry and lyrics. For the eros model, I suggest Thomas Carew’s “The True Beauty”. For the fusion model, I suggest Christina Rossetti’s “I loved you first: but afterwards your love.” For the agape model, we are a bit less highbrow and read or listen the lyrics of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by your Man.”

Discussion questions:

  1. Say in your own words what distinguishes the eros, agape (pronounce: ah-gah-pahy), and fusion models. Are there couples in your extended family or among your friends who would be more aptly described by one or the other model. Why? Give some illustrations. 
  2. Can you think of any song lyrics that underline aspects of the eros, agape, and fusion models.
  3. Which of the models of love discussed in this chapter are you most drawn to? Which one are you least drawn to? Explain. What model of love would you like a beloved of yours to see you through? What model would you want them to not see you through? Explain.
  4. How have dating apps changed the nature of courtship? Do couples who met in real life differ from couples who met online? What features of the eros, agape, and fusion models are more fitting for couples who met in real life, while others are more fitting for couples who met online.

2. The Eros Model

Discussion questions:

  1. When you fall in love, are there certain features of the beloved that explain the attraction? How important are physical appearance, ethnicity, social class, smarts, wittiness, etc. to you? Could you say: I would never fall in love with a person unless they were … (fill in your favorite feature)
  2. Do you think that there are certain features as the basis for love that give love a better chance to last? Do you think love is more likely to persist if we weren’t carried away, say, by physical appearance, as the Thomas Carew’s “The True Beauty” suggests.  
  3. Some poets resist the notion of being loved for any feature. In “For Anne Gregory” W.B. Yeats has the protagonist wanting to be loved not for her yellow hair, but for herself alone. In “If thou must love me … (Sonnet 14)” Elizabeth Barrett Browning wants to be loved not for any of her features, but for love’s sake only. Do you agree? Is there anything about you that you would not like to be loved for? Or is there anything about you that you would like to be loved for?

3. The Agape Model

Discussion questions:

  1. If you are in love with someone, do you think that this love would persist in the face of (i) a deteriorating illness, say multiple sclerosis, or (ii) persistent mental health problems, such as chronic depression or schizophrenia. Or is love bound to fade? Is it only a sense of obligation that makes people attend to the person they once loved? What are our obligations at various points in a relationship to the person we love or once loved?
  2. Would you say the same in the face of (iii) substance abuse and domestic violence? Why or why not?
  3. Pope John-Paul II defends the agape model of love. Your commitment to your beloved should be unconditional.

We love the person complete with all his or her virtues and faults, and up to a point independently of those virtues and in spite of those faults. The strength of such a love emerges most clearly when the beloved stumbles, when his or her weaknesses or even his sins come into the open. One who truly loves does not then withdraw his love, but loves all the more, loves in full consciousness of the other’s shortcomings and faults (…)

Pope John-Paul II in Love and Responsibility (1993)

Do you agree? Why does he say that we should love people in spite of their faults up to a point? Might it be the case that the commitment of love as agape is not entirely unconditional and that we may withdraw our love at some point?

4. The Fusion Model

Discussion Questions

Robert Nozick, one of the most prominent 20th century philosophers develops a variant on the fusion model with two individual selves merging into a single shared self. For Nozick, the individual selves remain, but a lover constructs a “shared self” that is distinct from the individual self. How do the individual self and the shared self relate to one another? Nozick envisions two models. On one model the individual self makes room for the shared self, as in the left diagram below. On the other model the individual self becomes absorbed in the shared self. What model do you consider more attractive? Nozick also suggests that there are gender differences. What model might men prefer? What model might women prefer? Do you think that is true?

  1. How do the individual self and the shared self relate to one another? Nozick envisions two models. On one model the individual self makes room for the shared self, as in the left diagram below. On the other model the individual self becomes absorbed in the shared self. What model do you consider more attractive? Nozick also suggests that there are gender differences. What model might men prefer? What model might women prefer? Do you think that is true?
  2. Kahlil Gibran’s “On Marriage” is a favorite reading at wedding ceremonies. How does this text relate to the fusion model of love? Do you think that Gibran is offering good advice to newlywed couples?
  3. There is something deeply romantic about the notion of finding someone who complements you and makes you whole. This is very much the attraction of the fusion model of love. But Shel Silverstein is critical of this model in his children’s books “The Missing Piece” and “The Missing Piece Meets the Big O.” I have made a link to the YouTube versions. Do you think that the message he is conveying to children is worthwhile, or should we tell children that love will complement us and make us whole.
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Resources

This lesson plan was created for PLATO by: Luc Bovens, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Artwork by Fiorella Lavado.