Essay II

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Time Enough for Love

Consider Brunning's brief characterization of polyamory and polyamorous relationships:

Monogamous norms historically concerned marriage. They prohibited marriage to multiple people at once, and regulated sequential marriages. Today, however, monogamy describes the confinement of one’s romantic and sexual attention to one person at a time. (Monogamous relationships are dyadic and exclusive.)

People deviate from monogamy in various ways; from adultery, to swinging, or polyamory. Unlike cheating, polyamory is a paradigmatic form of consensual non-monogamy. Alexis Shotwell defines polyamory as 'the practice of consensually and with mutual interest negotiating desire for more than one relationship.' This definition, which perhaps surprisingly says nothing of love, aptly captures the complexity of polyamory. It reflects the fact that one can be polyamorous without currently being in a relationship; it is silent on the subjects of the desire in question (one partner in a couple maydesire multiple relationships, the other not); and it captures the honest and interpersonal character of polyamory.

Deborah Anapol suggests that,'the form [a polyamorous] relationship takes is less important than the underlying values'. Unlike Shotwell, however, she emphasises the centrality of love:

...the freedom of surrendering to love and allowing love–not just sexual passion, not just social norms and religious strictures, not just emotional reactions and unconscious conditioning–to determine the shape of our intimate relationships is the essence of polyamory.

Neither definition foregrounds sex, which is fitting because the connection between sexual desire and polyamory is not straightforward. Someone with limited sexual desire, for instance, may pursue a polyamorous relationship so their partner can befulfilled sexually. Polyamory is notable for privileging emotional intimacy with others. Such intimacy is typically guarded against in other forms of consensualnon-monogamy.

Brunning, it may be supposed, embraces Anapol's account for the purpose of defending polyamory. Consider, however, that the theories of love we've examined this semester may or may not be compatible with polyamory. That is, since polyamory presumably involves the romantic love of more than one person, and, depending on the theory, romantic love is unique in such a way that it is not at all like, say, parental love or the love one has for one's friends, it may be that a given theory rules in favor of monogamy and against polyamory.

For each of the following theories of love we've explored this semester, indicate whether the theory would rule out polyamory or would not rule out polyamory, taking care to explain exactly why you draw each of the conclusions you do. Be sure to use concrete examples in your explanations to illustrate the relevant distinctions.

  • Aristophanes' Theory
  • Plato's (Socrates' (Diotima's!)) Theory
  • Singer's Theory
  • Nozick's Theory
  • Frankfurt's Theory