The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis

Plot: Lewis discusses four kinds of love in the world, affection, friendship, eros and charity.

My thoughts: I’m a huge Lewis fan, and I found out it was about time I read some of his more essayistic works. Cleo was going to have a readathon of this book, and I decided it was a great way to stop procrastinating aThe-Four-Loves cleond just read a book.
This is the type of book I really enjoy reading, but does stir some counter-arguments or questions. To me, this is a great sign that the book managed to engage me, because if I didn’t care I wouldn’t argue. It’s also important to know that just because I don’t agree with everything C. S. Lewis says, doesn’t mean I don’t like this book. If you enjoy philosophical books about the most intimate aspects of the human condition than this book is for you.
C. S. Lewis was Christian, and Christian dogma is a foundation for his arguments. I do think that the issue of love and different kinds of loves, is an inter-religious/agnostic/atheist issue, and I would enjoy listening to what non-Christian readers thought of this book and the points C. S. Lewis tries to present.
So, on to my comment.

“The first distinction I made was therefore between what I called Gift-love and Need-love. The typical example of Gift-love would be that love which moves a man to work and plan and save for the future well-being of his family which he will die without sharing or seeing; of the second, that which sends a lonely or frightened child to its mother’s arms.”

Godward: The Old Old Story (1903)

I do think it’s great Lewis separated between the love we give to our family and the love we seek from the people we love. My problem is that I don’t think this is an adequate level of separation. Let us take the case of inheritance and nepotism in regards to the workforce. On one hand, both these acts will fall into the Gift-love category, but it still becomes a huge problem due to egoism that influences how societies work. *We* all say that nepotism is bad when the son or daughter of a CEO gets a big job in their company, but you can also turn this around and say the CEO only did it because of Gift-love for their own children. As a parent, in most cases, you want to help your children in any way you can, that’s the case for gift-love. At the same time, we frown when a rich (either economics or status etc.) person does this, compared to a poor farmer or craftsman. Another example is who we choose to donate our organs to. I will happily risk my health and life to give my organs to my sister if she ever would need it, but I don’t do it for the many people who at this moment does need an organ transplant. While donating your organs is a huge gift, either to your family or strangers, I was missing the acknowledge difference between the two. Especially since, as I pointed out, in certain areas in society that difference does impact how our society is constructed.

“love ceases to be a demon only when he ceases to be a god” – M. Denis de Rougemont

Some of you might argue that he does talk about this point. He mentions among other things that:

By having a great many friends I do not prove that I have a wide appreciation of human excellence. You might as well say I prove the width of my literary taste by being able to enjoy all the books in my own study. The answer is the same in both cases–“You chose those books. You chose those friends. Of course they suit you.” The truly wide taste in reading is that which enables a man to find something for his needs on the sixpenny tray outside any secondhand bookshop.

Painting of a feast / Early Christian catacombs / Paleochristian art. Fresco of female figure holding chalice in the Agape Feast. Catacomb of Saints Pietro e Marcellino (Saints Marcellinus and Peter), Via Labicana, Rome, Italy.

But here is the difference. He claims that a person who loves should love a wide variety of people, and love people who they didn’t choose to be in their life. My argument is that while he argues for you to love people you don’t know as well as the people you do, he doesn’t say anything about how people in general don’t love all people the same way. While I don’t think his project was to get you to love all men equally, he does ignore the consequences of this unequal love in our society and what that means in the grander picture of things regarding love. As a society, is love something we should strive for, if that means someone is not loved? Children end up with a different chance in life because of the different love rich people have for their own children. Should we condemn love or just the love of the well-to-do? My point is to highlight that this is more complex than I think C. S. Lewis leads on in this book, despite my admiration for the work.

Please, leave your comments down below.


2 thoughts on “The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis

Add yours

  1. A really wonderful review, Marcelle, and some excellent questions!! 👍

    As for inheritance and nepotism, do either of these fall under “love”? I guess inheritance could, but it also could fall under a material aspect of life and therefore would fall outside of love. A business position given out of gift-love would have to benefit the person in a non-monetary/worldly way (ie, the motivation of the gift would have to benefit them spiritually, or strengthen character, etc.) otherwise it isn’t truly given for the intrinsic benefit of the other person and is a misapplication of love. If it’s not motivated for the good of the other (again, not a worldly good), it wouldn’t be truly love to Lewis.

    I think Lewis would say that it’s not possible to love all people equally, nor were we meant to. That’s why we have mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and families and close friends. I personally am amazed at how ‘equal’ society tries to make everything when it is so obviously naturally not equal. Not that we shouldn’t attempt to make certain things equal, but we shouldn’t expect it. In most things you can find hierarchy, even when it is attempted to be eradicated. It is like we were supposed to have hierarchy and it is only the twisting and misapplication of it that made it something bad.

    I don’t think the rich love differently, although they may be focused on different things. I’ve seen people from all walks of society love well and love poorly. Lewis perhaps was focusing on areas that we all struggle with.

    And while I do agree with Lewis if he implies that we cannot truly love everyone equally (would this be a scenario for Heaven?) but I do think that we can strive to RESPECT everyone. Now not everyone will be deserving of respect because we all have issues, some more than others, but I do know there are people I can respect whom I do not technically love.

    Does all that make sense? In any case, thanks so much for jumping aboard the read-along. I’m behind in my posting but I hope to get the third post up tomorrow!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. (Sorry for the late reply, a lot happend this month). Thank you for your insightful comment. (And I’m writing this before I’ve read your other posts on this book). The reason I talked about inheritence, is something Lewis talked about as a definiton of give-love, where he talked about the father that working to give to his family without reciving any direct pleasure from it himself. This made me think about inheritence. Which made me think about nepotism.

      I don’t think anyone disagrees with people loving people in different degrees. I would gladly donate my kidney to my sister, but I’m not currently in the hospital to donate it to a stranger. I think most people can understand this sentiment, without talking about me being a person who can’t feel love. The issue people might have is when this sentiment influences society. If you as a rich person wants to do good by your children, get them a good education, let them travel so they can grow as a person etc., and how does your ability to give these things for your children impact other peoples possibility to get the same things. Should rich people pay taxes so that the children of parents who can’t pay good teachers to teach their children, can still get this type of education. This might be a political issue (and I’m not trying to debate politics here), but also an ethical one and why people are so focused on this hirarchy and nepotism. When does our love influence the world around us, in relation to what other people get a chance of recieving due to our options? Is it love to make sure everyone gets educated, or is it love enough to ensure our own children are educated?


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