January 17, 2007

Friendship and Love, Lewis and Plato.

I just read an interesting post on a blog I've just discovered- about homosexuality- its over here and the author, F, argues that hatred of homosexuality is tied in to the lauding of the heterosexual marriage bond and consequently to sexism. The historical case is obviously a difficult one to establish and someone better than me will no doubt do that- but I'm less interested in exploring that and rather want to explore a concept in the thought of C.S. Lewis that I think brings out something rather interesting about the intellectual strengths of the sexist view of human relationships when allied to homophobia as opposed to Plato, likewise a sexist, but with a different view of homosexuality.

Lewis in his book the Four Loves argues that there are four distinct kinds of love which can meld together and spill out of each other- he argues that they are affection, friendship, sexual love and spiritual love. The last one obviously as a devout Christian he argues is the one that a devout religious person feels towards God. The first three of those loves Lewis anatomises in all their detail and he argues they can coexist- they can be found together- but that they are separate. In particular he argues this with relation to friendship and sexual love- he does acknowledge that women and men can fall in love through being friends but he argues that that's atypical and more often than not women and men can't fall in love through friendship and probably aren't friends in their relationships.

Lewis's friendship is based upon his feelings about his own friendships in Oxford- he thought that those friendships were the model for friendship as a whole. Friendship for Lewis was based on shared interests- and he thought that friendship between men and women on that basis was unlikely- women would prefer to discuss pots, men Plato.

Plato had a very different attitude- Plato thought that sexual love and friendship were bonded together- he argued that sexual love quite often depended on the rationality of the lover- Plato viewed love as being a relationship between young boys and older men- his ideal of love was not marriage but was this kind of homosexual relationship. Now obviously Plato recognised that marraige existed- but there is a further interesting aspect to this which is that Plato also thought that women could be rational, to a lesser extent than men but they could be and thus Plato's love and friendship aren't as distinct as Lewis's and this leads to a conceptual change in the way that Plato views women.

Both Plato and Lewis would today rightly be described as sexist. But because Plato saw sexual love as embracing properly both homosexual and heterosexual forms of love and because he understood that the highest sexual love (from which I hasten to add he excluded most male-female love) included a love of rationality, you could argue that Plato's idea of women became much more moderate than Lewis's, his sexism more moderate because of his idea of love. Because Plato didn't want to separate friendship with a man from love of a woman as much as Lewis because of his acceptance for love from men to men, you could argue that his homophilia made him more receptive to the idea that women were rational than Lewis's homophobia.

I don't really stand securely on this as the number of coulds used in this post reflects so I'm willing to abandon it. Here however is the idea: if you beleive that people's friendships are based on shared interests and shared rationality and you beleive that love is irrational and full of desire then that creates an interesting issue around homosexuality. If you beleive that homosexuality is forbidden and that women and men can't be friends- you are saying that there is one relationship friendship for men and men or women and women and another relationship sex for men and women. If you beleive on the other hand that its possible to love and be friends with a man and that its possible to love a woman in the same way that you love a man- instantly you create the position whereby women and men can both be objects of the same kind of love. And if you say like Plato that I can love a man because he is intelligent then I can feel the same sexual passion for a woman because she is intelligent. Building up the barriers between the ways that its possible to imagine someone loving a member of the same or the opposite sex means building up the barriers between the ways that we regard the same or the opposite sex. In some sense understanding love between men and women comes down to understanding men and women and if you beleive that love can only be felt as an irrational desire by a man for a woman or vice versa, then you are saying something about the ways that men and women can communicate or in this case can't. If like Plato you beleive I can love a man or a woman in the same way- then you are saying that there is something similar about men or women.

This post doesn't say that statistically homophobes are also sexists, nor does it say that historically that's always been true. All I am saying is that if we take Plato and Lewis's arguments about friendship and sexual love, we can use them to show that homophobia and sexism easily coexist. Dividing the world into two halves- superior (men) and inferior (women) is easier if you divide the ways that a man can relate to those two groups into friendship (felt for men) and sexual passion (felt for women), it becomes more difficult if you say that someone can feel friendship or sexual passion for anyone regardless of the group that they come from.

18 comments:

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

What an interesting ananysis in this post. I would say that hatred of homosexuality is also based on fear of it, because it's in all of us - it's a matter of degree, I think.

Gracchi said...

Thanks Welshcakes- I edited it after you made the comment because it was a little unclear and I think it still says the same thing- but thanks for your comment. I do agree that there is an outrageous fear of homosexuality- I love the idea that I as a heterosexual man should feel that a marriage I might enter into in the future is under threat because Simon down the road is married to his boyfriend. It seems ludicrous.

Ellee said...

Gracchi, you are such an astounding philosopher. Fear is always at the root of the anything different and unknown.

Gracchi said...

Thanks Ellee I'm a little overwhelmed by that praise- cheers.

edmund said...

on Gracchi's posted comment I'm intererested by this logic- does that imply that if brothers and sisters in a sexual relationship can "marry", if brother and sister who arn'et can marry if people who are just friends, if people can "marry" an organisation , if mutltidue partners can marry(whihc has a lot more historical and contemporary prcedent than homosexuality) , that the same logic implies "your" marriage won't be affected so how can one object?

Surely the point with any such move and with gay "marriage" is that a) they redefine marriage and attmept to undermine the core meaning of what it is and has more or less always been ( the last example doesn't apply in non Christian cultures to be fair) b) insofar as marriage still has legal priviledge the opening of them up to a new relationship weaknes the practical effects of it.


On Welshcakes comment wouldn't it's a matter of degree imply people who are pro homosexuality are secretly gay I don't get what youre saying

Gracchi said...

Ummm Edmund this is not a post about marriage- I didn't mention marriage at all. The point of this post is this: according to Lewis women and men naturally fall in love, men and men naturally feel friendship. Other relationships particularly concerning men and men falling in love are unnatural and hence bad. The issue there is why? One reason to argue why is that there is a fundamental difference between the sexes- that's all that is being said here- no word about marriage at all.

As for Welshcakes to come to her defence- though I'm sure she is perfectly able to do so herself- I think lots of hatred of homosexuals is inspired by fear of homosexuality. As for her comment about a matter of degree- there is a school which says that we are all partly homosexual and partly heterosexual- there is some support from the animal kingdom for the idea that this isn't binary either as well. But I don't know the evidence to be honest.

The first point is the key I don't understand what your comment adds to this discussion because I haven't mentioned marriage once.

edmund said...

on why i've mentioned marriage I was responding to your comment

"I love the idea that I as a heterosexual man should feel that a marriage I might enter into in the future is under threat"

I'm sure welshcakes can look after herself but the continum argum would seem to me to imply it's false to talk about people being "gay" or "homosexuals" and make the pint that all sexual behaivour is a matter of personal inclination-insofar as it is valid.

It strke me that though obivou the point hatred of a practice/ group is always liikely to have osme elent of fear (even say infanticide-0 to talk a pracitce that's no direct threat to anyone who can coneptialize it, I think is partly hated because of fear) this stirkem me as beign less true of homoesi than lots of other condmented actions eg theft or racism- it's heavily based on disgust I would say rather htan fear- though I accept fear and hatred are often closely related emotions.

I'll try and respond to the actual post tommorow!

Liz said...

An interesting post. I would agree that homophobia and sexism are intertwined in the way you suggest.

It is difficult to guess at how many people are bisexual. I would imagine though, that if a person was either purely homosexual or heterosexual they could not love a member of the same or opposite sex respectively the same way they could a person of their sexual preference. Speaking for myself I have never been in love with a woman, for example.

Gracchi said...

Liz I agree I've never been in love with a man either- its something that I don't understand because I don't understand the science- I still have difficulty working out the evolutionary purpose of homosexuality.

Edmund I think the continuum argument is quite difficult because to be honest I don't understand what its really saying. However personally I'm not sure I could choose not to be heterosexual- just considering it for a moment- I do have a set of responses to an attractive woman and they aren't the responses I have to any man and they are pretty instinctive.

On your point about fear versus disgust- I agree with both things that you say- its obvious that fear and disgust shade together and its obvious that there is a yuck factor here. I suppose my point to Welshcakes is that often leglislation is called out by a yuck factor combined with fear- I might write a post about that in the future- the ways that a yuck becomes fearful and then we leglislate to some extent I don't think that's completely accurate.

Waiting for your response with fear.

Ian said...

Courtesy of the blogger previously known as Larry Teabag comes this rather intriguing research that seems to link homophobia and homosexual arousal. This appears to support WCL's remarks.

Gracchi said...

Interesting research Ian- its quite a small sample though- only 35 homophobic and 29 non-homophobic men. I don't know whether it could be deemed statistically significant- its suggestive but it does seem like possibly too small a sample to say anything more than the idea than that its suggestive.

Ian said...

Well, that challenges a long-held belief I have about size...

I take the point; I wonder whether it will prompt any research using larger samples.

edmund said...

This is a very complex post which demands a fuller response I will endevour to give soon (sorry for delay have been very busy)

What makes you think that eros vs at friendship means can't be between mean and woman? CS Lewis borhter had homosexual affairs so he was very aware of it. His point is that friendhsip and love are veyr diffen emotions and tend to establish from very difn bais, the latter requirng common inter4ests in a way differnt from the former. This seems to be a (I thnk rather perceptive if rather depressing) comment about the natural of attraction i totally fail to see how it feeds in to same sex vs singe sex relationships?

And he is very clear that eros does not have be moral-so the fact that homosexual sex, incest ect is condemned by Lewis does not mean he doesn' think it can be eros.

Gracchi said...

But Lewis actually says that he thinks male female friendships are possible but not likely.

I've never seen any evidence his brother was homosexual- drunk yes but homosexual no.

As for your point about insight- I don't think that's born out- Lewis himself fell in love with a friend. All my relationships have developed out of friendships.

Emmie Johnson said...

That was a real good analysis..U must have researched a lot b4 putting up this post

Plato said...

I an so happy that there is a web site that people can go to to see that omo sexuality is not a bad thing!

Gracchi said...

Thanks to everyone who left a comment

robert swayze said...

Hi Gracchi...quite an interesting post...there are people who have endorsed homophobia but how does that create a link with marriage?? a homophobic cannot be involved in any marotal relationship as that would wouldnt lead to any fruit...if homosexuals want to stay together..they have every option to do so...this is a very contradictory topic and am glad that u raised it and thought of making it an issue...quite a good and thought provoking post...keep up the good job :)