the weblog of Alan Knox

Distinguishing types of love

Posted by on Feb 24, 2010 in books, love | 2 comments

We may love the beloved (1) for the sake of the beloved, (2) for our own sake, or (3) for the sake of a relationship we have with the beloved. I call these love relations (1) agape, (2) eros, and (3) philia. Thus, I distinguish agape, eros, and philia by the phrase “for the sake of.” The one for whose sake we love determines the kind of love we have. This distinction lies in our intention, in the meaning the act has for us, not in any results of the act. Thus, it may well be that in loving others we do the greatest good for ourselves. But if we love others in order to do the best for ourselves, we are not loving them for their sakes. If another act that was better for ourselves was available, we might abandon them and perform that act. We we love others as a way of fulfilling ourselves, this love of others is eros, not agape. (Edward Vacek, Love, Human and Divine: The Heart of Christian Ethics (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1994), 157-58.)


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  1. 2-25-2010

    Some very good thoughts in this quote. Do such distinctions hold true in Scripture as well, or are the words interchangeable in usage?

  2. 2-25-2010


    I don’t think we can say that the words philos and agape are used with that much distinction. There is certainly some overlap in their ranges of meaning.

    However, I think it may be possible to show that even where philos is used instead of agape that the “agape” type love that the author mentions in the quote above is actually in view.

    What do you think?