How To Love: Wise (and not-so-wise advice from the Great Philosophers) is a new mini-book containing some of history’s biggest ideas. Author Martin Cohen has delved into the depths of philosophy to produce a new world advice book full of old world ideas. Learn the the language of love and rules of romance from greats such as Rousseau, Aristotle and Freud, put together neatly for you by world famous radical philosopher and unconventional thinker himself Cohen.
'It’s the questions that don’t have answers that stretch our imaginations and minds.'
What do historic philosophers have to offer modern day lovers?
It’s true, as a friend of mine put it, that ‘being a lover of wisdom’ is definitely not the same as being a ‘wise lover’, but I’d say philosophers have thought a lot more deeply about love and human relationships –and sex! Than anyone else. My book is just a teeny taste of the incredible range of ideas they have had, from the idea of the selfish gene (that uses us to reproduce itself) to the unbeatable logic of first of all needing to love yourself.
What do you find so fascinating about philosophy?
I like two things about philosophy – and dislike many other things. What I like is the willingness to look at questions that don’t have black and white answers – philosophical puzzles and paradoxes. It’s the questions that don’t have answers that stretch our imaginations and minds. The other thing – sort of the opposite! – is I like the way it can clarify problems, by helping you to see what’s really important. Of course, love is very much in need of both skills. Take 'truth telling', for example. If your partner wants to know 'how they look' - is it really wrong to say they look beautiful?
Tell us about the research process for your book.
It’s a bit like being a detective. Often I only have clues to start with – a two or three word mention that such-and-such a philosopher thought that women should be trained to please men, or that another philosopher said that love was an illusion, a mask concealing a cold evolutionary drive. My job is to then track the original passages down – the gold glistening amongst the gravel!
What would you say are the most important lessons to be learnt from this book?
Tough question! None of the philosophers have a monopoly on answers, in my opinion. I tend to agree with Schopenhauer and Kant, who say that we should see sex and love as two quite different things – but my heart goes with Rousseau – and he seems to have been one of the few philosophers to have had a long-term, romantic relationship (as well as lots of disgraceful, short ones!).
Which pieces of philosophical advice do you follow in your own life?
What I get from it all is really that you should definitely not apply logic to relationships. For the incredibly influential political philosopher, John Locke, the only special thing about the marriage contract, as opposed to say, a laundry contract, or maybe one for owning slaves (which he drew up too!) is that it had to be between a man and a woman. Times change!
Who's your favourite philosopher featured in the book and why?
Diotima, Plato's inspiration and a rare lady philosopher!, is also very interesting. She says the reason we often value youth over wisdom in our lovers is something to do with the search for immortality.
But, yes, I go with the heart not the head, and the French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He describes having simple simple suppers with his lover, perched on ‘little chairs’ with the people hurrying in the streets below.
How To Love: Wise (and not-so-wise advice from the Great Philosophers) is published in the UK on 8th May