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Love represents a range of human emotions and experiences related to the senses of affection and sexual attraction. The word love can refer to a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes, ranging from generic pleasure to intense interpersonal attraction. This diversity of meanings, combined with the complexity of the feelings involved, makes love unusually difficult to consistently define, even compared to other emotional states.

As an abstract concept love usually refers to a strong, ineffable feeling towards another person. Even this limited conception of love, however, encompasses a wealth of different feelings, from the passionate desire and intimacy of romantic love to the nonsexual. Love in its various forms acts as a major facilitator of interpersonal relationships and, owing to its central psychological importance, is one of the most common themes in the creative arts.


The Kiss by Gustav Klimt.

The English word love can have a variety of related but distinct meanings in different contexts. Often, other languages use multiple words to express some of the different concepts which English relies mainly on love to encapsulate; one example is the plurality of Greek words for "love". Cultural differences in conceptualizing love thus make it doubly difficult to establish any universal definition. American psychologist Zick Rubin try to define love by the psychometrics. His work states that three factors consititute love: attachment, caring and intimacy.

Although the nature or essence of love is a subject of frequent debate, different aspects of the word can be clarified by determining what isn't "love". As a general expression of positive sentiment (a stronger form of like), love is commonly contrasted with hate (or neutral apathy); as a less sexual and more emotionally intimate form of romantic attachment, love is commonly contrasted with lust; and as an interpersonal relationship with romantic overtones, love is commonly contrasted with friendship, though other definitions of the word love may be applied to close friendships in certain contexts. When discussed in the abstract, love usually refers to interpersonal love, an experience felt by a person for another person. Love often involves caring for or identifying with a person or thing, including oneself (cf. narcissism).

John Major has his own idiosyncratic definition of love. According to this version, the best sort of relationship involves both pints (of beer) and sex; a suboptimal relationship has only beer or sex; but love is what is left in the relationship once beer and sex are removed.

In addition to crosscultural differences in understanding love, ideas about love have also changed greatly over time. Some historians date modern conceptions of romantic love to courtly Europe during or after the Middle Ages, though the prior existence of romantic attachments is attested by ancient love poetry. Because of the complex and abstract nature of love, discourse on love is commonly reduced to a thought-terminating cliché, and there are a number of common proverbs regarding love, from Virgil's "Love conquers all" to The Beatles' " All you need is love". Bertrand Russell describes love as a condition of "absolute value", as opposed to relative value. Theologian Thomas Jay Oord said that to love is to "act intentionally, in sympathetic response to others, to promote overall well-being".

In the Holy Bible1 Corinthians 13 Love is defined as:

1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

A person can be said to love a country, principle, or goal if they value it greatly and are deeply committed to it. Similarly, compassionate outreach and volunteer workers' "love" of their cause may sometimes be borne not of interpersonal love, but impersonal love coupled with altruism and strong political convictions. People can also "love" material objects, animals, or activities if they invest themselves in bonding or otherwise identifying with that item. If sexual passion is also involved, this condition is called paraphilia.

Interpersonal love

Grandmother and grandchild, Sri Lanka

Interpersonal love refers to love between human beings. It is a more potent sentiment than a simple liking for another. Unrequited love refers to those feelings of love which are not reciprocated. Interpersonal love is most closely associated with interpersonal relationships. Such love might exist between family members, friends, and couples. There are also a number of psychological disorders related to love, such as erotomania.

Scientific views

Throughout history, philosophy and religion have done the most speculation on the phenomenon of love. In the last century, the science of psychology has written a great deal on the subject. In recent years, the sciences of evolutionary psychology, evolutionary biology, anthropology, neuroscience, and biology have added to the understanding of the nature and function of love.


Biological models of sex tend to view love as a mammalian drive, much like hunger or thirst. Helen Fisher, a leading expert in the topic of love, divides the experience of love into three partly-overlapping stages: lust, attraction, and attachment. Lust exposes people to others, romantic attraction encourages people to focus their energy on mating, and attachment involves tolerating the spouse long enough to rear a child into infancy.

Lust is the initial passionate sexual desire that promotes mating, and involves the increased release of chemicals such as testosterone and estrogen. These effects rarely last more than a few weeks or months. Attraction is the more individualized and romantic desire for a specific candidate for mating, which develops out of lust as commitment to an individual mate forms. Recent studies in neuroscience have indicated that as people fall in love, the brain consistently releases a certain set of chemicals, including pheromones, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, which act similar to amphetamines, stimulating the brain's pleasure centre and leading to side-effects such as an increased heart rate, loss of appetite and sleep, and an intense feeling of excitement. Research has indicated that this stage generally lasts from one and a half to three years.

Since the lust and attraction stages are both considered temporary, a third stage is needed to account for long-term relationships. Attachment is the bonding which promotes relationships that last for many years, and even decades. Attachment is generally based on commitments such as marriage and children, or on mutual friendship based on things like shared interests. It has been linked to higher levels of the chemicals oxytocin and vasopressin than short-term relationships have. In 2005, Italian scientists at Pavia University found that a protein molecule known as the nerve growth factor (NGF) has high levels when people first fall in love, but these levels return to as they were after one year. Specifically, four neurotrophin levels, i.e. NGF, BDNF, NT-3, and NT-4, of 58 subjects who had recently fallen in love were compared with levels in a control group who were either single or already engaged in a long-term relationship. The results showed that NGF levels were significantly higher in the subjects in love than as compared to either of the control groups.


Psychology depicts love as a cognitive and social phenomenon. Psychologist Robert Sternberg formulated a triangular theory of love and argued that love has three different components: intimacy, commitment, and passion. Intimacy is a form in which two people share confidences and various details of their personal lives. Intimacy is usually shown in friendships and romantic love affairs. Commitment, on the other hand, is the expectation that the relationship is permanent. The last and most common form of love is sexual attraction and passion. Passionate love is shown in infatuation as well as romantic love. All forms of love are viewed as varying combinations of these three components.

Following developments in electrical theories, such as Coulomb's law, which showed that positive and negative charges attract, analogs in human life were developed, such as "opposites attract". Over the last century, research on the nature of human mating has generally found this not to be true when it comes to character and personality; people tend to like people similar to themselves. However, in a few unusual and specific domains, such as immune systems, it seems that humans prefer others who are unlike themselves (e.g. with an orthogonal immune system), since this will lead to a baby which has the best of both worlds. In recent years, various human bonding theories have been developed described in terms of attachments, ties, bonds, and affinities.

Some Western authorities disaggregate into two main components, the altruistic and the narcissistic. This view is represented in the works of Scott Peck, whose works in the field of applied psychology explored the definitions of love and evil. Peck maintains that love is a combination of the "concern for the spiritual growth of another", and simple narcissism. In combination, love is an activity, not simply a feeling.

Scientific models

"Sacred Love versus Profane Love" by Giovanni Baglione

Biological models of love tend to see it as a mammalian drive, similar to hunger or thirst. Psychology sees love as more of a social and cultural phenomenon. There are probably elements of truth in both views — certainly love is influenced by hormones (such as oxytocin), neurotrophins (such as NGF), and pheromones, and how people think and behave in love is influenced by their conceptions of love. The conventional view in biology is that there are two major drives in love — sexual attraction and attachment. Attachment between adults is presumed to work on the same principles that lead an infant to become attached to its mother. The traditional psychological view sees love as being a combination of companionate love and passionate love. Passionate love is intense longing, and is often accompanied by physiological arousal (shortness of breath, rapid heart rate). Companionate love is affection and a feeling of intimacy not accompanied by physiological arousal.

Studies have shown that brain scans of those infatuated by love display a resemblance to those with a mental illness. Love creates activity in the same area of the brain that hunger, thirst, and drug cravings create activity in. New love, therefore, could possibly be more physical than emotional. Over time, this reaction to love mellows, and different areas of the brain are activated, primarily ones involving long-term commitments. Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist, suggests that this reaction to love is so similar to that of drugs because without love, humanity would die out.

Cultural views


- "Even after all this time the sun never says to the earth you owe me. - Look what happens with a Love like that, - It lights the whole Sky." - Iranian ( Persian ) Poet and Mystic, Hafez - Rumi, Hafez and Omar Khayyam are just symbols of the passion and love that the Persian culture and language presents.

Over seven centuries ago, Sa'di, an Iranian poet, wrote the following verses:

- "The children of Adam are limbs of each other - Having been created of one essence. - When the calamity of time afflicts one limb - The other limbs cannot remain at rest. - If thou hast no sympathy for the troubles of others - Thou art unworthy to be called by the name of a man."

Love in Persian is the word Eshgh. In the Persian culture, everything is encompassed by love and all is for love, but for starters we practice loving our friends and family, then our husbands and wives, our country and culture, and eventually the ultimate love of divine love which is the ultimate goal in life.

Chinese and other Sinic cultures

The traditional Chinese character for love (愛) consists of a heart (middle) inside of "accept", "feel", or "perceive", which shows a graceful emotion.

In contemporary Chinese language and culture, several terms or root words are used for the concept of "love":

  • Ai (愛) is used as a verb (e.g. Wo ai ni, "I love you") or as a noun, especially in aiqing (愛情), "love" or "romance." In mainland China since 1949, airen (愛人, originally "lover," or more literally, "love person") is the dominant word for "spouse" (with separate terms for "wife" and "husband" originally being de-emphasized); the word once had a negative connotation, which it retains among many on Taiwan.
  • Lian (戀) is not generally used alone, but instead as part of such terms as "being in love" (談戀愛, tan lian'ai—also containing ai), "lover" (戀人, lianren) or "homosexuality" (同性戀, tongxinglian).
  • Qing (情), commonly meaning "feeling" or "emotion," often indicates "love" in several terms. It is contained in the word aiqing (愛情); qingren (情人) is a term for "lover".

In Confucianism, lian is a virtuous benevolent love. Lian should be pursued by all human beings, and reflects a moral life. The Chinese philosopher Mozi developed the concept of ai (愛) in reaction to Confucian lian. Ai, in Mohism, is universal love towards all beings, not just towards friends or family, without regard to reciprocation. Extravagance and offensive war are inimical to ai. Although Mozi's thought was influential, the Confucian lian is how most Chinese conceive of love.

Gănqíng (感情), the "feeling" of a relationship, vaguely similar to empathy. A person will express love by building good gănqíng, accomplished through helping or working for another and emotional attachment toward another person or anything.

Yuanfen (緣份) is a connection of bound destinies. A meaningful relationship is often conceived of as dependent strong yuanfen. It is very similar to serendipity. A similar conceptualization in English is, "They were made for each other," "fate," or "destiny".

Zaolian ( Simplified: 早恋, Traditional: 早戀, pinyin: zǎoliàn), literally, "early love," is a contemporary term in frequent use for romantic feelings or attachments among children or adolescents. Zaolian describes both relationships among a teenaged boyfriend and girlfriend, as well as the " crushes" of early adolescence or childhood. The concept essentially indicates a prevalent belief in contemporary Chinese culture that due to the demands of their studies (especially true in the highly competitive educational system of China), youth should not form romantic attachments lest their jeopardize their chances for success in the future. Reports have appeared in Chinese newspapers and other media detailing the prevalence of the phenomenon and its perceived dangers to students and the fears of parents.


In Japanese Buddhism, ai (愛) is passionate caring love, and a fundamental desire. It can develop towards either selfishness or selflessness and enlightenment.

Amae (甘え), a Japanese word meaning "indulgent dependence", is part of the child-rearing culture of Japan. Japanese mothers are expected to hug and indulge their children, and children are expected to reward their mothers by clinging and serving. Some sociologists have suggested that Japanese social interactions in later life are modeled on the mother-child amae.

Ancient Greek

Greek distinguishes several different senses in which the word love is used. For example, ancient Greek has the words philia, eros, agape, storge and xenia. However, with Greek as with many other languages, it has been historically difficult to separate the meanings of these words totally. At the same time the ancient Greek text of the Bible has examples of the verb agapo being used with the same meaning as phileo.

Agape (ἀγάπη agápē) means love in modern day Greek. The term s'agapo means I love you in Greek. The word agapo is the verb I love. It generally refers to a "pure", ideal type of love rather than the physical attraction suggested by eros. However, there are some examples of agape used to mean the same as eros. It has also been translated as "love of the soul".

Eros (ἔρως érōs) is passionate love, with sensual desire and longing. The Greek word erota means in love. Plato refined his own definition. Although eros is initially felt for a person, with contemplation it becomes an appreciation of the beauty within that person, or even becomes appreciation of beauty itself. Eros helps the soul recall knowledge of beauty, and contributes to an understanding of spiritual truth. Lovers and philosophers are all inspired to seek truth by eros. Some translations list it as "love of the body".

Philia (φιλία philía), a dispassionate virtuous love, was a concept developed by Aristotle. It includes loyalty to friends, family, and community, and requires virtue, equality and familiarity. Philia is motivated by practical reasons; one or both of the parties benefit from the relationship. Can also mean "love of the mind". Storge (στοργή storgē) is natural affection, like that felt by parents for offspring.

Xenia (ξενία xenía), hospitality, was an extremely important practice in ancient Greece. It was an almost ritualized friendship formed between a host and their guest, who could previously be strangers. The host fed and provided quarters for the guest, who was only expected to repay with gratitude. The importance of this can be seen throughout Greek mythology, in particular Homer's Iliad and Odyssey.

Turkish (Shaman & Islamic)

In Turkish the word "Love" comes up with several meanings. A person can love the god, a person,the parents or the family. But that person can "Love" just one person from the opposite sex which they call the word " Ask ". Ask is a feeling for to love, as it still is in Turkish today. The Turks used this word just for their romatic loves in a romantic or sexual sense. If a Turk says that he is in Love (Ask) with somebody, it is not a love that a person can feel for his or her parents. It is just for one person and it indicates a huge infatuation.

Ancient Roman (Latin)

The Latin language has several different verbs corresponding to the English word 'love'.

Amare is the basic word for to love, as it still is in Italian today. The Romans used it both in an affectionate sense, as well as in a romantic or sexual sense. From this verb come amans, a lover, amator, 'professional lover', often with the accessory notion of lechery, and amica, 'girlfriend' in the English sense, often as well being applied euphemistically to a prostitute. The corresponding noun is amor, which is also used in the plural form to indicate 'love affairs' or 'sexual adventures'. This same root also produces amicus, 'friend', and amicitia, 'friendship' (often based on mutual advantage, and corresponding sometimes more closely to 'indebtedness' or 'influence'). Cicero wrote a treatise called On Friendship (de Amicitia) which discusses the notion at some length. Ovid wrote a guide to dating called Ars Amatoria (The Art of Lovers), which addresses in depth everything from extramarital affairs to overprotective parents.

Complicating the picture somewhat, Latin sometimes uses amare where English would simply say to like; this notion, however, is much more generally expressed in Latin by placere or delectare, which are used more colloquially, and the latter of which is used frequently in the love poetry of Catullus.

Diligere often has the notion 'to be affectionate for', 'to esteem', and rarely if ever is used of romantic love. This word would be appropriate to describe the friendship of two men. The corresponding noun diligentia, however, has the meaning 'diligence' 'carefulness' and has little semantic overlap with the verb.

Observare is a synonym for 'diligere'; despite the cognate with English, this verb and its corresponding noun 'observantia' often denote 'esteem' or 'affection'.

Caritas is used in Latin translations of the Christian Bible to mean 'charitable love'. This meaning, however, is not found in Classical pagan Roman literature. As it arises from a conflation with a Greek word, there is no corresponding verb.

Religious views


The Christian understanding is that love comes from God. The love of man and woman, eros in Greek, and the unselfish love of others, agape, are often contrasted as 'ascending' and 'descending' love, respectively, but are ultimately the same thing.

There are several Greek words for Love that are regularly referred to in Christian circles.

  • Agape - In the New Testament, agapē is charitable, selfless, altruistic, and unconditional. It is parental love seen as creating goodness in the world, it is the way God is seen to love humanity, and it is seen as the kind of love that Christians aspire to have for one another.
  • Phileo - Also used in the New Testament, Phileo is a human response to something that is found to be delightful. Also known as "brotherly love".
  • Two other words for love in the Greek language -- Eros (sexual love) and storge (needy child-to-parent love) were never used in the New Testament.

Christians believe that to Love God with all your heart, mind, and strength and Love your neighbour as yourself are the two most important things in life (the greatest commandment of the Jewish Torah, according to Jesus - c.f. Gospel of Mark chapter 12, verses 28-34). Saint Augustine summarized this when he wrote "Love God, and do as thou wilt".

Paul the Apostle glorified love as the most important virtue of all. Describing love in the famous poem in 1 Corinthians he wrote, "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres." - 1 Cor. 13:4-7 ( NIV)

John the Apostle wrote, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." - John 3:16-18 ( NIV)

John also wrote, "Dear friends, let us love one another for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." - 1 John 4:7-8 ( NIV)

Saint Augustine says that one must be able to decipher the difference between love and lust. Lust, according to Saint Augustine, is an over indulgence, but to love and be loved is what he has sought for his entire life. He even says, “I was in love with love.” Finally, he does fall in love and is loved back, by God. Saint Augustine says the only one who can love you truly and fully is God, because love with a human only allows for flaws such as, “jealousy, suspicion, fear, anger, and contention.” According to Saint Augustine to love God is “to attain the peace which is yours.” (Saint Augustine Confessions)

Christian theologians see God as the source of love, which is mirrored in humans and their own loving relationships. Influential Christian theologian C.S. Lewis wrote a book called The Four Loves.

Benedict XVI wrote his first encyclical on God is love. He said that a human being, created in the image of God who is love, is able to practice love: to give himself to God and others ( agape), by receiving and experiencing God's love in contemplation (eros). This life of love, according to him, is the life of the saints such as Teresa of Calcutta and the Blessed Virgin Mary, and is the direction Christians take when they believe that God loves them.


In Buddhism, Kāma is sensuous, sexual love. It is an obstacle on the path to enlightenment, since it is selfish.

Karuṇā is compassion and mercy, which reduces the suffering of others. It is complementary to wisdom, and is necessary for enlightenment.

Adveṣa and maitrī are benevolent love. This love is unconditional and requires considerable self-acceptance. This is quite different from the ordinary love, which is usually about attachment and sex, which rarely occur without self-interest. Instead, in Buddhism it refers to detachment and unselfish interest in others' welfare.

The Bodhisattva ideal in Mahayana Buddhism involves the complete renunciation of oneself in order to take on the burden of a suffering world. The strongest motivation one has in order to take the path of the Bodhisattva is the idea of salvation within unselfish, altustic love for all sentient beings.

Indic and Hindu

In Hinduism kāma is pleasurable, sexual love, personified by the god Kama. For many Hindu schools it is the third end in life ( artha).

In contrast to kāma, prema or prem refers to elevated love. However, the term bhakti is used to mean the higher, divine love.

Karuna is compassion and mercy, which reduces the suffering of others.

Bhakti is a Sanskrit term from Hinduism meaning 'loving devotion to the supreme God'. A person who practices bhakti is called bhakta. Hindu writers, theologians, and philosophers have distinguished nine forms of devotion that they call bhakti, for example in the Bhagavatha-Purana and according to Tulsidas. The philosophical work Narada Bhakti Sutras written by an unknown author (presumed to be Narada) distinguishes eleven forms of love.

Arabic and Islamic views

In a sense, love does encompass the Islamic view of life as universal brotherhood which applies to all who hold the faith. There are no direct references stating that God is love, but amongst the 99 names of God (Allah), there is the name Al-Wadud or 'the Loving One', which is found in Surah 11:90 as well as Surah 85:14. It refers to God as being "full of loving kindness". In Islam, love is more often than not used as an incentive for sinners to aspire to be as worthy of God's love as they may. One still has God's love, but how the person evaluates his own worth is to his own and God's own counsel. All who hold the faith have God's love, but to what degree or effort he has pleased God depends on the individual itself.

Ishq, or divine love, is the emphasis of Sufism. Sufis believe that love is a projection of the essence of God to the universe. God desires to recognize beauty, and as if one looks at a mirror to see oneself, God "looks" at itself within the dynamics of nature. Since everything is a reflection of God, the school of Sufism practices to see the beauty inside the apparently ugly. Sufism is often referred to as the religion of Love. God in Sufism is referred to in three main terms which are the Lover, Loved, and Beloved with the last of these terms being often seen in Sufi poetry. A common viewpoint of Sufism is that through Love humankind can get back to its inherent purity and grace. The saints of Sufism are infamous for being "drunk" due to their Love of God hence the constant reference to wine in Sufi poetry and music.


In Hebrew Ahava is the most commonly-used term for both interpersonal love and love of God. Other related but dissimilar terms are Chen (grace) and Hesed, which basically combines the meaning of "affection" and "compassion" and is sometimes rendered in English as "loving-kindness".

Judaism employs a wide definition of love, both between people and between man and the Deity. As for the former, the Torah states: "Love your neighbour like yourself" ( Leviticus 19:18). As for the latter, one is commanded to love God "with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might" ( Deuteronomy 6:5), taken by the Mishnah (a central text of the Jewish oral law) to refer to good deeds, willingness to sacrifice one's life rather than commit certain serious transgressions, willingness to sacrifice all one's possessions and being grateful to the Lord despite adversity (tractate Berachoth 9:5). Rabbinic literature differs how this love can be developed, e.g. by contemplating Divine deeds or witnessing the marvels of nature.

As for love between marital partners, this is deemed an essential ingredient to life: "See life with the wife you love" ( Ecclesiastes 9:9). The Biblical book Song of Songs is considered a romantically-phrased metaphor of love between God and his people, but in its plain reading reads like a love song.

The 20th century Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler is frequently quoted as defining love from the Jewish point-of-view as "giving without expecting to take" (from his Michtav me-Eliyahu, vol. 1). Romantic love per se has few echoes in Jewish literature, although the Medieval Rabbi Judah Halevi wrote romantic poetry in Arabic in his younger years (he appears to have regretted this later).

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