Lesson 13 Different Forms of Relationship


             We live in a world which thinks of itself as the “age of communications”.   Over and over we are told that we live in a time that enjoys extraordinary means of communication, unknown to previous generations.  This should imply, we are told, that thanks to modern technology the condition of mankind has changed and people can at last get in touch.

            Yet praising communication is not without its ambiguities.  Firstly we tend to mix it up with information.  Information is one-way from one man to another man.  Properly speaking, radio and television are not implements of communication, but implements of information.  You can’t have a discussion with your TV!  Quite the contrary, watching it makes you rather passive.  Communication supposes mutual information.  This means that two people exchange –share – meaning.  Also, if you feel an irresistible need to communicate, perhaps this is precisely because the world you live in is a tragic obstacle to communication.

            However are we aware of what a genuine relation implies?  Is it really only the “means” of communication which is at stake or is it more?  What is a genuine relationship with another person?  


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 A.   Loneliness and Isolation

     Let’s take a look at the different degrees of relating to others.  Perhaps the lowest degree is that of feeling isolated.  One feels isolated when one has the feeling that there is an inerasable dividing line between oneself and others.  On one side there are the others, on the other side there is me feeling lonely because I don’t feel cloaked in the presence of the community of mankind.  This is the case of the elderly person who lives alone and, unable to put up with his feeling of isolation, has the television switched on from morning till night to ‘create a presence’.  All these voices yakking in the television skylight are better than nothing at all; they are a presence which alleviates somewhat the oppressive silence, this silence that takes you back to your isolation in a world in which you count for nothing.   To break the isolation we seek another’s presence; when isolation becomes too painful we escape it any way we can to wherever there are other people.  One goes to the café to forget the dejection of one’s loneliness.  One goes everywhere where people are gathered in quest of some human warmth.  All one hopes for is a little company, however skin-deep, to remedy one’s feeling of isolation.  In the joyfulness of public gatherings, in the ebullience of a crowded pub, there is a kind of contagiousness which remedies this isolation, be it just for a moment.  Yet the feeling of loneliness is soon there again,  tense and empty, a desert one inhabits when one has no one to talk to.  However sometimes one isolates oneself and ends up withdrawing into oneself.  Sorrow and suffering tend to isolate you from others and make you rÊtreat into yourself. The passion you may have for something appears to bring you closer to those who share it; yet it also cuts you off the rest of the world, making you indifferent to it.  Egocentric attitudes tend to isolate us from others and have us withdraw into ourselves.

 Escaping to others is not really a solution.  One can only erase for a while the feeling of being isolated, in the sense that one is outside a community and it is enough to join it.  But loneliness is something else.  Mind’s forlornness has two figures: isolation and loneliness.  I call isolation the figure of a distance from the community of mankind.  I call loneliness the feeling which stems from the perception of each mind’s natural insularity.  Everybody, whether he accepts it or not, whether he assumes it with ease or with difficulty, is alone with himself.  I cannot invite anybody into my head; I am the only one to experience what I experience.  No one can live, think or decide in my stead.  Each man as consciousness is an island, and this even when he is in contact with other people.  One cannot put an end to solitude in the metaphysical sense.  It is an illusion to believe that one could suppress loneliness.  What one can suppress is the separation from other people that yields the feeling of isolation. The result is that the world of other people is closed to me, as my own subjectivity is closed to them.  This explains why it is perfectly possible to experience a feeling of loneliness, even in the midst of a crowd. 

 Loneliness gives us one lesson on communication: it indicates the nature of the subject of the relation.  The person is the subject and this subject must assume his inner loneliness.  This does not mean one has to rÊtreat into oneself – that would be solipsism – but it does mean that by essence we are alone and this is something we have to accept as such.  Refusing loneliness is childish, accepting it implies maturity.  Loneliness reveals the soul’s growth.  In addition, assuming loneliness is neither a flight from relationships, nor an estrangement in others.  The hermit who is isolated does not necessarily experience loneliness, because a mere break with the world is not enough to give a deep sense of inner solitude.  Real loneliness is loneliness with other people.  The experience of loneliness is also a vital necessity, a true need, in so confusing a world as ours.  Daily urban aggressiveness, throngs of people, psychological violence in relationships require that we preserve a right to be alone in order to find ourselves again.  All men need loneliness to recover themselves and take a little distance to life.


B. Conflict

     Let’s consider at present the situation in which a relationship has transcended isolation, and yet is stuck in confrontation.  Mostly conflict is presented as a form of relating to others, but it is a relation which makes itself fail, and therefore does not bring itself to fruition. 

 How does conflict come about?  There is conflict when one me stands in front of another me, in such a way that the situation is transmuted into a face to face which invariably results in a relation based on domination and subjugation.   Conflict does not first involve mere forces, but above all opposing wills, a position of me in front of the other.  There is me and there is the other and we are watching one another with aggression and one of us lets the other have it his way, puts himself in the position of obedience and the other in the position of commander. This view has been expressed by Hegel in the dialectics of master and slave.[1] 

 This is the meaning of Sartre’s analysis of watching.[2] I am in the corridor of a hotel and, because of God knows what obscure curiosity, I peep through a keyhole.  I believe I am alone and, as long as I believe this, I am unaware of the more or less unsavoury tinge of my peeping. But someone has seen me and all of a sudden I am ashamed.  Another is watching me.  A flush of shame burns my face.  I am embarrassed because the other person is watching me.  He is mastering me  - he has caught me in the act.  At once his watching me has reduced me to a shameful thing. I am his thing, he steals my freedom and reduces me to this act of peeping in which he caught me, and in which I am petrified.  The relation of dominant to domineered has been installed.  To free myself from this humiliation, which is the feeling that I am a thing in his eyes, I can only think of one solution: looking back at him with enough insolence to force him to look down.  If I succeed he becomes the domineered, I become the dominant.  The conflict is there, tense and carrying the print of mutual hostility. Domination is exerted by reducing, through looking at him, the other person to a thing, a little thingy, therefore to objectify[3] him.  There are ways of sizing up others by looking at them that are humiliating and make them feel reduced straightaway.  At once, my freedom is stolen, stolen by that of another who can shrink me to a thing.  ‘Others, through freezing my possibilities, reveal how impossible it is for me to be an object, except with respect to another’s freedom…I am me, inaccessible to myself and yet cast out and abandoned in the midst of another’s freedom.’[4]  In shame, the other person steals my freedom and I feel like a prisoner, guilty, glued and alienated in the other’s crushing presence.

Insofar as we make conflict the model of human relations, then follow immediately the consequences that Sartre sums up in the formula from No Exit: “Hell is other people”.  There is no exception.  Passionate love is in this respect a kind of contradictory impulse, since it aspires for the possession of another’s freedom and turns it into one’s belonging, while freedom is an inalienable good.  Sexual desire reduces the other person to an object of pleasure, and freedom thus coagulated becomes a thing, and hence the bond takes itself to its own destruction.  The power relation turns the other into an object.  The economical relation turns the other into an object and so on.

This is an important lesson.  Conflicts introduce duality and ex-stasis into consciousness, such that consciousness is no more than a thing for others’ look to feed on.  Sartre’s cogito becomes, not I think therefore I am, but one looks at me, therefore I am.  The ego exists only when sustained by a look making me exist in a form that is its role.  An extract from The Reprieve is even more eloquent:

     “And you whose look follow me forever, tolerate me.  What a joy, what an ordeal, at last I am changed into myself!  One hates me, one scorns me, one tolerates me, a presence sustains me in being for all time.  I am infinite and infinitely guilty”.

        In other words, alone with myself, I so little have the feeling that I exist that one must look at me, consider me, for me to feel recognised by another.  I demand this recognition because it makes me exist.  However this demand is at the same time a first violation making its way into the relationship. It summons the other person to respond to my demand, and subjects me to the other through lowering me to the status of an object.  This situation is unbearable since my consciousness also experiences itself as freedom.  I cannot accept to stay congealed into a mere object.  In the figure of conflict, it is not communication which is the foundation of the relationship, but a kind of primary hostility of man to man.  One might just as well state it clearly that conflict is not a form of relation!

     What a strange paradox: conflict is sometimes understood as relating, yet it is not.  It is failing to relate.  It is a relationship blocking itself in confrontation and failing to get underway.  However, conflict involves two personalities who have already broken isolation.

             C. Confusion

 In conflict, duality is well established and has carried its first fruit, conflict.  Yet what would happen if, far from opposing one self to another self, the individual mind came to be dissolved in all the others?  One might think that were there no me/others[5] then people would immediately get closer.  Yet this not necessarily so since impersonality can also imply dissolving in the crowd, in the anonymous One[6]; and drowned in the crowd, are we really closer to one another?

       Daily life puts us in this situation.  Straightaway, Heidegger explains, the existent[7], the being-there (dasein)[8] is thrown in among the others, these others who have stolen its being.  First there is One, and only afterwards is the I recovered from and against the anonymity of One.  “We enjoy ourselves, we amuse ourselves, we judge Literature as One does and as One judges…”[9].  One is nobody in particular; it is everybody, it is the being-in-common[10] of daily banality.  Thrown in the midst of One, the existent has from the start the option of not being himself, but to follow One.  One has three mouths at its disposal: public opinion, “what One thinks”, customs, “what one does”, fashion, “what one deems beautiful or ugly”.[11]  Straightaway the existent finds in One everything he needs to think, judge and behave.[12]  One of the roles of One is to make you aware that there is an average.  Another is to level out all values.  “One” cannot stand anything that is different from its norms. Hence One prescribes banality in advance, as for instance in chatter, because it entitles you to keep your speech at the level of platitudes, or in derision, that allows you to mock anything essential and so avoid being affected by anything.  In chatting One sticks to commonplace ideas, this, that or the other, one’s minor health problems and unimportant news.  One maintains vigilance in a state of torpor, an indifferent placidity, while pretending to be concerned and serious.  One is the very way conformism is introduced into everything.  It has no other ideal to propose than the absence of any ideal: simply “doing the done thing”, “doing like everybody else”, follow the herd.  It is par excellence the authority subjecting you to “what will people say?”  Hence, rather than defending his own choices and values, the existent can always refer back to others: “what will other people think of this?” or “what will other people think of me?”  In the end, as long as the existent is subjected to One, he will worry much more about what-will-people-say than about making his own decisions.  One never allows me to decide for myself, to judge, will, think, love or hate for myself.  One prescribes in advance what is acceptable, what One thinks.

        Does one then get nearer other people? Of course not.  In the mode of being of small talk in the coffee shop, there is no real dialogue.  One is there, One talks.  In fact what One says is of little importance, as is the person One says it to and to whom One is talking.  Anybody else would have done, the words would be exactly the same.  If an accident takes place outside, One will say “Ah? We saw nothing, we were discussing”.  Everyone can take cover behind One to remain anonymous.  This fusion with other people has nothing to do with communication, even less so with communion.  An aggregate or a crowd is not a community.  Communication requires two persons with awareness, who have something to say to each other that is of genuine interest.  It requires an I face to face with a you[13] for a genuine we to be woven, which structures a true feeling of being-together.  The being-with of confusion has nothing to do with being-together.  Draughts cannot discuss!  Communication means that it should be possible for a relation to be personal; yet how could a relation between airbags be that? How could goatskins filled with the wind of otherness and everyday platitudes ever relate in a personal way?

        If therefore I am not first myself, but find myself immersed among others, I cannot be close to anyone. Authentic existence necessarily implies that one recovers one’s Self as a Person.  And a personal relationship supposes the reciprocity of existing as persons.  If you allow commonplace to grow in you and invade your space, then you submit yourself to a tyrannical dependence, all the more so as it goes unnoticed. The paradox is that we are not closer then to other people.  When one loses oneself in others one becomes inaccessible and infinitely remote; at the same time other people lose their originality and their specificity.  There is no longer an I face to face with a unique being who is you, someone who cannot be compared to anyone else.  There is a One, and one pays attention to nothing and respects no one. 

       Confusion is not a rÊtreat into isolation; it is not an egocentric and ferocious mind engaged in conflict, but dispersion in the common-mind.  In this dispersion I barely exist and nothing concerns me.  Mark you that personal does not only mean that to exist is to try to be original; this would be just as artificial as conformism, which consists in doing the same as everybody else.  Existing as a person means only to be oneself.

Let’s sum up:






Impersonal :

Presence generating depersonalisation


presence generating personalisation

« One « 

« We »








            Here we have a paradox.  At heart most of us are rather egomaniacal, since our thinking revolves around our own person. Yet, at the same time, what is the content of this egocentricity?  Above all the intake of banalities! As Heidegger says, One says “other people” to conceal the fact that in reality one is essentially one of them.  One is not different.  This is the trivial mind, produced by collective consciousness inasmuch as it overpowers individual minds from the start.  This is the force of inertia immanent in commonness, in the crowd, the mute gravitational mass it appears to impose upon the individual mind.

 D. From Sympathy to Friendship

             For an authentic relation to emerge it is necessary that the subject finds himself in the position of personal consciousness.  A relation is personal or it is not.  Human beings could not have an “impersonal relation”, this expression would mean that there is no relation at all.  There has to be the warmth of a personal presence and a feeling of that presence; this is called sympathy.  In ordinary language this term is used quite loosely.  There are people we find sympathetic, and others we find unsympathetic.  Yet this is not sympathy.  It is only the fruit of a judging dual mind. It is not what this word actually means.  Sym means together (as in ‘symbiosis’).  Pathy means feeling in the form of pathos, sentiment.  Sympathy means to experience-together, an experience which receives the other on the level of feeling. Sympathy has the virtue of opening up the feelings of the ego beyond its own interests.  Sympathy unlocks individuality and opens it up to a vaster region.  It is even possible, as Bergson says, that sympathy connects me to everything alive, to everything which is sensitive. Sympathy for the suffering awakens compassion in the heart.  Nevertheless we use the word sympathy first of all in a human sphere. We feel sympathy for someone.  We have sympathy for the person with whom we have affinities.

             It is these elective affinities which found friendship. Friendship is not sympathy, it is more.  Sympathy brings me closer to another person, but it does not suppose reciprocity.  Similarly benevolence is still not friendship.  Benevolence is the feeling that makes us wish the other person well.  There again, there is no reciprocity.  When, on the other hand, both sympathy and friendship are present and they are mutual, then friendship is budding. All that is left is the transformation of sympathy into love.  A friend is someone who at once loves and sincerely wants the other person’s best.  In one word, friendship is a virtue.

             Yet this word is very astonishing.  Our post-modern world does not view friendship from a moral standpoint.  We think of friendship as a kind of entertaining conviviality.  We mix up the buddy with whom we party and the friend.  Or we consider permanent relations due to circumstances, those that take place between people who attend the same institution: we mix up the friend with the colleague or with the companion.  A companion or comrade is not necessarily a friend.  Being subjected to the same regulations in an institution puts us on the same level socially.  That’s it.  Similarly, a friend is not a colleague at work.  One can be colleagues and keep cordial relations without being friends.  Comradeship and cooperation are superficial relations.  Friendship designates a deeper and more essential human relation. 

    According to Aristotle, it can be analysed: a) through how it manifests the likeable, the form this takes in friendship. “We don’t take to anything without distinction, but only to what is likeable, that is good, agreeable and useful”[14].  b) on the basis of its principle of relation.  Aristotle refers to Heraclites’ principle, which says that opposites tend to unite.  One says sometimes that “opposites attract”.  Empedocle’s principle rests on the opposite tendency: similar things attract.  In ordinary language we say like an Indian proverb: “birds of a feather flock together”. 

 1) Let’s call pleasant friendship the one in which what is liked is the agreeable.  This friendship is the one formed by people who pursue the same forms of leisure.  The friend is the one who plays the same games, who has the same affinities, he whose company is pleasant and with whom you go to parties.  This form of friendship follows the principle of Empedocle, because what brings people together in this case are common tastes.  I am similar to him (her) in the sense that we have the same recreations.  This is the kind of friendship preferred by young people. “Those whose friendship is founded on pleasure do not feel affinity for intelligent people because of their true nature, but only because of the enjoyment that can be derived from them.”  Enjoyment is a very frail and unstable ground for friendship, since pleasure changes with circumstances and maturity.  “The friendship of young people seems to be rooted in pleasure; passion rules their lives and they pursue their own pleasure before anything else and the pleasure of the moment; hence friendships live and die with equal speed.  Their friendship changes object as rapidly as their tastes, and diversions such as theirs are subject to frequent change”.   Pleasure is finally quite poor a foundation for a relation.  Hence this friendship is accidental, so too is its cause.  It begins and ends with circumstances.

2) Let’s call useful friendship the one in which what is liked is what is useful.  This friendship is found among those whose relationship is founded on mutual favours. A friend is someone who does me a favour by bringing me something of use to me, and to whom I return similar favours.  In this case friendship is governed by Heraclites’s principle: what I don’t possess the other does and vice-versa I have what he does not have so we need one another.  This way you explain strange relations between people who are very different by nature, but whose differences are complementary and who appreciate each other for this reason.  Those who like each other in this way “do not like each other for what they are, but for whatever advantage the one hopes he can derive from the other”.  This sort of relation demands that we can exchange something: books, knowledge, abilities. However, “usefulness is not a lasting thing, but varies with the times”.  Our needs are relative to circumstances.  They are not always the same.  Also a friendship of this sort will come to an end as soon as it is no longer useful.  Useful friendships are accidental relations because it is not the person who is liked, only what is expected of him.  Our needs are very variable, our interests very volatile.  Hence, once what gave rise to the friendship is no longer there, the friendship itself dissolves.

3) Finally, let us call perfect friendship, or virtuous friendship the friendship in which what is loved is the good.  I want what is good for my friend and he wants what is good for me.  This moral aspect is very important.  You cannot call friend whoever would encourage you to depravation in order to please you.  Whoever offers alcohol to the alcoholic or drugs to the drug addict is not a “friend”.  A friend is someone who minds what is good for you and who may sometimes question your behaviour in order to lead you out of aberration.  Condoning pleasure has nothing to do with concern for someone’s good.  Also “to want the other person’s best is to reach the height of friendship”.  Is the intention which wants the other person’s best accidental? No.  Aristotle underlines that such a feeling expresses the very foundation of being and not an accidental state.  To persevere in goodness is to assert one’s real and proper nature.  Virtue is a power of assertion natural to man. Also Aristotle adds: “perfect friendship is that of good people and of people who are similarly virtuous.  Since they are by nature good they want each other’s best; they are good by essence”.  What is liked is no longer some advantage or gratification to be derived from the other person; these are simply two manners of exploiting others.  What is liked is the person for his own good.  Consequently perfect friendship is not the friendship of a day, but one that lasts.  Its duration is the duration of our own nature insofar as it is motivated by what is good.  We must be very clear here.  One can conceive of a useful or agreeable friendship between a bastard and a good man, or between two vicious men, but it is unthinkable that they have a perfect friendship.   Connivance in evil makes impossible the highest form of friendship.  Finally, let us add that virtuous friendship includes without denying them the other forms of friendship.  It is perfectly natural for true friends to do each other favours and to seek gratification together.  Friendship does not suppose asceticism, but hedonism.

 Yet it must be said that such a friendship is rare.  Mostly our motivations are pleasure and utility.  Friendship demands the time to get to know another person and time to spend on him.  In this respect Aristotle distinguishes passions and virtues. A passion is a natural inclination, which depends on a force of nature; virtue depends on a will, a good human will.  Friendship is virtue and not passion.  Sympathy can be experienced in passivity, while friendship is wanted, it must be maintained, and demands that one devotes some time to the friend.  Therefore it is easy to wish for such a friendship, but more difficult to maintain it!

 Kant clearly perceives this difficulty.  There is so frail a balance in friendship that it pertains so to speak to an Ideal.  In friendship we must conciliate at once love and respect.  Love brings you closer to someone, but we know that as passionate love it can lack respect.  Respect on the contrary keeps a distance, yet on its own it does not include affection.  Respect when conducted by morals is formal, sometimes cold and deprived of feeling.  However in friendship the warmth of affection is there and at the same time there is respect, there is modesty, which makes us mind the other person’s dignity.  Men are torn between these two extremes: either we have a purely formal respect, like the one we have for our colleagues, or we have passionate attachment, but this one is reserved for the near and dear in the context of family.  Not much place for friendship therefore.  Friendship would find its place again if we had different values from those we have nowadays.  Our social models favour passionate relationships (look at movies!), a certain type of virile complicity (in sports), a superficial conviviality (in the workplace, games and parties).  We would have to find a sense of wisdom, a sense of beauty, a concern for the art of living to cultivate this aspect of relations.  Yet how are we, given the harassment that surrounds us, to appreciate the words of Epicure: “bread, water and friendship”?[15]  Friendship seems well and truly an Ideal: something we tend towards, but that we cannot attain.

 E. Love

 There is friendship in love, yet love considered from the point of view of its essence is not friendship.  We often speak of love but do we even know what it is?  It is a word that has been worn out and disfigured by its use.  One says ‘I love’ about everything: ‘I love chocolate’, ‘I love travelling’, ‘I love watching the sun set on the hills…’ Yet is this love?  We hear of the love of our nation, even that we have to be ready to kill for it.  Love is spread all over the weekly press, in which it is identified with desire and sexual pleasure.  Preachers speak of love in a different way, they speak of the love of God, which implies the rejection of the flesh. We also say that one has to love, but is love a duty?  Is it an idea?  We are caught in a trap of multiple opinions and immersed in confusion.  The word love is so hackneyed that to understand it we must first strip it of what it is not.

 Can one call patriotism ‘love’ when it asks to kill for the love of one’s country?  In its essence love is not an idea and even less so an ideology.  It cannot contain in itself the negation of the other.  Is asceticism nearer the truth when it splits life into secular and profane?  Can one speak of a sacred love and a profane love? True, some religious people say that watching a woman is evil, that enjoying sexual intercourse is evil, that it takes you away from God.  Yet they “repress their desires who devour them.  Negating their sexuality, they plug their eyes and tear out their tongue, because they negate all the beauty of the earth.  They are starving their heart and soul. They are desiccated creatures, they have banned beauty, because beauty is linked with woman”[16].  In reality love is indivisible.

 Ought we to identify it to desire?  Can love be reduced to desire and to the quest for gratification?  Desire generates attachment, which most of us effectively take to be love.  One says that one loves someone as long as he responds to our emotional needs, our demand for security; that is as long as he belongs to us.  When he turns away, then enter jealousy, contempt and hatred.  Attachment creates tight ties that choke and imprison.  It fetters both the one and the other, it makes love impossible.  It kills the other person’s freedom; hence it is endlessly called in question.  Attachment generates passionate love and passionate love mutates into passionate hatred.  What we are actually saying is: “As long as you belong to me I love you; as soon as you no longer belong to me I hate you!”  Attachment is possessive, it is as much a predator as is desire, of which it is the direct manifestation. Is this love?  If we truly love, we would allow the other person to be free: “when one loves, one must be free, not only with respect to the other person, but with respect to oneself”.

Can one turn love into a duty?  When one acts out of duty, is there love?  What is done by duty is not done with the heart.  Love is not like moral respect, it cannot be commanded.  As long as one forces oneself to act out of duty, one does not love what one does.  Conversely when love is really there, there is also respect.  When one loves, one respects the loved one in warm affection.

 This does not mean that love would be emotional, in the sense of a sentimental reaction, like the tears of sadness.  For instance, when we lose a loved one, we weep.  But over whom do we weep?  Is it over ourselves, because we have been deprived of the other in whom we had invested  affection?  Feeling sorry for oneself and weeping over oneself is not love.  “When you mourn your dead brother, be it for him.  It is easy for you to weep over yourself, thinking that he is gone.  It would seem that you weep because your heart is wounded, but it is not for your brother that you suffer, it is for yourself, because you feel pity for yourself and this pity hardens you, makes you withdraw into yourself – more so, it makes you dull and stupid”.   Emotional outpourings of sentimentality with no other object than the ego, is not love.

Were we able to see through all this confusion and somehow cleanse our understanding of love, then what would be left?  Certainly not a discipline we ought to cultivate.  One can cultivate things like manners, kindness, respect.  Love manifests as feeling, it cannot be cultivated in the manner of a virtue.  Love is the heart’s gift of itself that does not expect to be loved in return, that does not demand reciprocity, a gift which finds joy in the sheer act of giving.  It is expressed in the thought “I love you, but that is none of your business”: I don’t peddle feelings, I expect nothing of you, I impose nothing.  Love flows like a river in its bed.  “Love can only be born out of a total abandonment of the self”.   The flower offering its perfume does it with neither calculation nor ulterior motives, it does not seek to take advantage of the eyes resting on it, it radiates its own being, and it is up to you to inhale its fragrance and delight in its beauty or turn away from it.  The rose gives of its beauty for no reason, in the same way as love gives without expectations.  Unfortunately, our relationships are so self-serving and so egocentric that we reason about love as we reason about shares in the stock market.  We ‘invest’ affection and demand that it ‘pay off’, we want to ‘benefit’ from others.  If the other person turns away, if he does not respond to our demand, we feel bitter, jealous, filled with hatred. Our understanding of love is so sensual and so personal that it excludes from the start the gift of oneself.  And there is no love without the gift of oneself.  The gift of oneself has no fixed limitations.  Love is at once personal and impersonal, it may without any contradiction extend to one only or to many.

The sensitivity of the heart is not the sensuousness of desire. One can be very sensual without being truly sensitive.  Between the two is all the difference between the delicacy of feeling and brutal possessive desire.  It is for this reason that genuine love is more of a feeling than a passion – for this or that person, ideal or object.  Feeling is a tinge of the heart, pure emotion in the field of affectivity.  It is only when desire is added to it that it reaches the dimension of passionate love.  There is a distance between the delicacy of feeling, the warmth of giving and the tyrannical despotism of desire.  What we ordinarily call love, what our media world advocates, is attachment.  Attachment stems from the desire to take from the other what we are lacking, to squeeze out, to blood-suck affection.  Passionate love – supposing that it could be reciprocal, (which is absurd: its tragedy is that often only the one loves passionately, while the other savours the adulation) – could be likened to two vampires mutually drinking each other’s blood!  Attachment saps the other person; that is why it is suffocating. 

True love is union and wonderment, the joy of giving and of a presence.  Desire never stops demanding, love never stops overflowing.  Love could never be a bargain with another in order to secure his affection.  This is why love can respect your freedom, surround with care, help a child to grow up.  Love opens up the eyes, allows one to understand instead of judging.  It reveals the other person’s best sides.  Even better: when one loves someone, his otherness disappears, there is no duality, no conflict, no confrontation.  Love inserts unity where you normally find duality, it makes us traverse the suffering of separation by giving us the unity of feeling.

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        What exactly then is a true relationship?  It is not the negation of isolation, which locks one away from other people.  It is not the state produced by egotistic procedures, so enclosed it ends up suffocating us.  A true relationship supposes however an adequate awareness of the loneliness of each and every mind. Only an awareness, which has matured from inner loneliness, can form a relationship of quality. A true relationship is not a conflict, which is the failure to relate, a relationship stuck at the level of confrontation.  Nor is it a fusion with other people.  A relationship is personal, and it is in friendship, in the midst of duality and difference, that we have found the apogee of the personal relation.  Love founds its relation on unity, it carries a relation to its highest point because it is the expression of the principle of giving, a gift which is not purely formal or moral, but which rests on the effluence of the heart. 

            In a way some sort of relation is always there.  We live related.  A relation does not have to be created, it must above all be lived and not be broken.  It is clear enough that our lives together are incomplete and uneasy as long as we don’t know how to communicate.  On the path to a true relation we must learn to bring it warmth and lose the habits that would destroy it.  One last point: communication is not only interaction with others; it is more than an interaction. 









Home         © Philosophy and spirituality, 2003, Serge Carfantan. Translated by Catarina Lamm










[1] In Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.  This is quite a difficult read, but worth the effort.  You find a free electronic copy online, translated by Baillie.  A more modern and readable translation by Miller is available in the shop.  If you are new to philosophy I would recommend that you start by reading the book Hegel for Beginners by Spencer and Krause, or some other short clear introduction to his thinking.  The dialectics of master and slave is an important topic since it will inspire 20th century Marxist analysis of power clashes and class conflict.

[2] In Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, another difficult read in continental philosophy.  Iris Murdoch’s short book on Sartre may be helpful for beginners, or Introducing Sartre in the ICON books series.

[3] French objectifier, that is to turn someone into an object.

[4] Sartre Being and Nothingness

[5] The forward slash is used by many contemporary continental thinkers to indicate a scission, a duality : I/you, subject/object, me/others and so on.

[6] One as in « one thinks », « one does », that is anyone and not the number one.

[7] The human being as a subject existing in the world.

[8] Heidegger’s vocabulary may frighten ‘newreaders’ if we may call them so.  In fact these exotic terms are quite easy to explain : an ‘existent’ is simply someone who exists, an animal or a person.  A ‘being-there’ is an existent.  Why ? Because the fundamental awareness of each existent is that he is there in this world. The most basic aspect of living that you are conscious of is that you are simply here.  You don’t know how it comes that you are here, but  here you are.  This is a primary, inexplicable, given experience to anyone alive.

[9] Heidegger Being and Time.  This is another difficult read, but again well worth the effort.  Micheal Inwood’s Heidegger A very short introduction, which you find in the shop for about £5, should help you out.

[10] Being-in-common : Heidegger construes quite a few expressions using dashes between the words.  This is a way of creating a new concept out of more familiar ones, or to understand words we are used to in a new and deeper way.  The meaning of these constructions is often obtained by simply reflecting on the terms involved.  The expression « being-in-common » contains first of all « being », so it refers to a state, something we are or which is the case.  Second, the term « in-common » refers to what we all have in common, here all the clichés and platitudes that form the intellectual life of most people.  It is what you hear people say, what you hear on telly and so on.  It is the very opposite of thinking for oneself.  But Heidegger, using the coined expression « being-in-common » says more than that ; he says that this is how we ourselves become because we are surrounded by banalities.  The commonplace and ready-made ideas we hear day in and day out become our own.  Our own self (being) ends up identifying with this anonymous, hackneyed ideas. So being-in-common means, in more down to earth language, that if you live in a surrounding of empty talk, you become an idiot yourself.

[11] This again is quite straightforward : public opinion is what people think in general.  The very fact that they don’t think independently is shown by the fact that most of them think the same thing at a given time and place in History.  Existents (i.e. people, persons) manifest as identified with One when they say things like ‘What will people think ? », « people say that… ».  Similarly for customs : one identifies with the being-in-common when one says things like « That is not the done thing ! » (why ?), when one automatically behaves like everybody else.  As for fashion, being-in-common means that when judging Art and Literature one finds clever or stupid, beautiful or ugly, whatever everybody at a given time and place judges to be so. 

[12] There is a nice expression for this in French: the prêt-à-penser.  The expression is a pun on an expression used in clothes design, the prêt-à-porter, literally “ready-to-wear”.  In English you speak of ready-mades for clothes needing no adjustment to fit your body, you just buy and wear them as they are.  Similarly you could coin the expression ready-thought for all these ideas you simply take as they are, without further reflection on whether they are true or not, whether they fit your life and experience, and if they are really meaningful to you.

[13] In the singular.  In English, unlike French and German, we do not distinguish between you (one) and you (many). That is why this relation is sometimes translated into English as I and Thou.  It is a one-to-one relationship. 

[14] Aristotle Nichomean Ethics  All quotations in this section are from this work.

[15] There is a nice chapter in Alan de Botton’s The Consolations of Philosophy on Epicure, which deals with friendship.  You can read it as a complement to this lesson.

[16] Krishnamurti Freedom from the Known




dialogue : questions and answers

  Home         © Philosophy and spirituality, 2004, Serge Carfantan. Translated by Catarinna Lamm