When philosophy and love don’t mix

I spend quite a bit of my time reading good works of philosophy (as well as literature) and I’ve often wondered about the relationships of philosophers and how successful or not they were at combining love relationships and deep philosophical thought. I myself have struggled with that idea for a while. I wrote Marriage, Motherhood and the Philosophical Mind as a result of my own struggles. I suppose I wouldn’t have anything to struggle about had I not given up the object of my intellectual pursuits – my career in biotechnology.

Now, I struggle to find intellectual challenge as a stay-at-home mother to three beautiful daughters. Try finding intellectual conversations in the middle of a Midwestern blue collar neighborhood. It ain’t gonna happen.   I have had a few correspondents via email though and that has helped some.

I came across an interesting blog post this morning highlighting a book about a topic that’s near and dear to my heart – philosophical thinkers and their love relationships.

Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love by Andrew Shaffer.  Don’t you find it interesting that it has a cover of all men?  I think that must be so because women philosophers are 1) so very few in number and 2) manage to either give up or table their dreams to raise a family because relationships tend to take precedence (though I could be wrong about both).

From Poor Sap Publishing’s blog post, John Francisconi writes

An anecdotal history of mankind’s biggest brains being stumped by affairs of the heart, it is, put simply, a joy to read. Shaffer writes with a smartly narrowed focus on the philosopher’s romantic lives.

A dear internet friend of mine and I had talked about this, that some great minds who had made time for love and had children often abandoned their wives and children in the pursuit of their own scholarly or creative ambitions.  Apparently it’s tough to be a responsible parent AND make room for the thinking life. This isn’t the realm of male thinkers either. Anais Nin had an abortion or two because she had no interest in being a mother while she pursued men and her creative life.

The next book I’d like to see written is Great Philosophers Who Made Room for Love and Family – with men and women highlighted to show it can be done.   Because there has to be a lot of success stories out there.   Because there’s got to be a few great minds in history who haven’t abandoned or neglected their families for the thinking life.


About Casey

“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’ ~ Jack Kerouac, On The Road Again
This entry was posted in Anais Nin, Literature, Love, Must reads, Nietzsche, Philosophy and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to When philosophy and love don’t mix

  1. Rick says:

    I think it can be done. But I agree that it’s a difficult choice, and you can only have “one master.”

    I remember admiring the works of Ezra Pound, right up until I learned he was a pro-fascist anti-Semite. And there are a lot of writers whose craft I enjoy, but I wouldn’t want to hang out with.

    So, who would count as “Great Philosophers Who Made Room for Love and Family?”

    CS Lewis married an American woman out of intellectual compatibility and to let her stay in the UK (via a civil marriage). Only after she got cancer did he make it a “Christian marriage,” which is confusing, considering all his traditional-values essays.

    Bertrand Russell was not able to make personal sacrifices necessary to a lasting relationship (numerous affairs, three marriages, boredom). So, again, keen mind, poor family man/example as father.

    I like Earl Nightingale, who is of my dad’s generation. I have no idea what his relationship with his kids was like.

    Wayne Dyer seems to have a good relationship with his kids. I like some of his stuff, though he’s a bit too much of a touchy-feely hippie for me. 🙂

    Hmm. This is harder than it should be. Let me know if you find anyone. 🙂

  2. Well, I have a list of female philosophers from wikipedia


    I was going to go through and find out their biographies. I don’t know most of them…save for Ayn Rand (and I don’t think she married), and one other name that sounded familiar. I clicked on Mary Wollstonecraft.

    I found out something fascinating. Mary Wollstonecraft was a female feminist philosopher. She wrote Vindications on the Rights of Man and Vindications on the Rights of Women and some other things.

    According to Wiki she wrote 2 fiction novels

    Mary: A Fiction and Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman

    “Both of Wollstonecraft’s novels criticize what she viewed as the patriarchal institution of marriage and its deleterious effects on women. In her first novel, Mary: A Fiction (1788), the eponymous heroine is forced into a loveless marriage for economic reasons; she fulfils her desire for love and affection outside of marriage with two passionate romantic friendships, one with a woman and one with a man.

    Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman (1798), an unfinished novel published posthumously and often considered Wollstonecraft’s most radical feminist work,[89] revolves around the story of a woman imprisoned in an insane asylum by her husband; like Mary, Maria also finds fulfilment outside of marriage, in an affair with a fellow inmate and a friendship with one of her keepers. Neither of Wollstonecraft’s novels depict successful marriages, although she posits such relationships in the Rights of Woman. At the end of Mary, the heroine believes she is going “to that world where there is neither marrying, nor giving in marriage,”presumably a positive state of affairs.”


    She later ended up trying to commit suicide twice. She pursued an American adventurer in France named Gilbert Imlay, had a daughter with him out of wedlock. He eventually left her. But she had the baby and continued to write and published A Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution when her daughter was only 6 months old.

    She tried to seek Imlay out but he rejected her, she tried to commit suicide twice. Once by laudanum and once by jumping in the river Thames. But she was rescued both times and went on to marry William Godwin, who “advocated the abolition of marriage in his philosophical treatise Political Justice.” Of course he got criticized for getting married after having written that. But the two of them lived in adjoining separate houses and communicated by letter. Interesting arrangement.

    “By all accounts, theirs was a happy and stable, though tragically brief, relationship.” Maybe that’s why it was happy and stable…because it was a six months long and they lived separately?

    She died a couple days after the birth of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, who went on to marry Percy Bysshe Shelley and write Frankenstein.

    Wow, how crazy is that? So…I guess it’s not just male philosophers that have relationship issues 😉

    • Rick says:

      I think relationships are hard, period. Relationships between people who have so many other priorities and interests may be damn near impossible.

      I am trying a new approach for 2011: I am shooting for “average.”

      It was a chapter I read in a book I’ve skimmed many times, but haven’t applied consistently (Feeling Good, a cognitive behavioral therapy workbook by David Burns). It just resonated with me on a quiet late morning last week, and I’ve been mulling it over.

      The basic idea is that smart, creative people will end up doing good work, IF they release the pressure of being perfect all the damn time. 🙂

      We’ll see how long this lasts…

  3. Pingback: Anais Nin – a divided woman | The Sprightly Writer

  4. Hey – my CBT therapist (that I had for all of three sessions) recommended Feeling Good by David Burns. I have it (picked it up at a resale shop for a buck). Have never read it yet. Not sure I am going to either.

    Here’s my take on CBT therapy and smart, creative people – I don’t think they should use it. CBT tackles problems and compartmentalizes the process. In fact MOST therapy is a problem-focused (got problem areas? let’s logically go through them one by one with WORKSHEETS, no less, to figure out what your problem is and by the way…on a scale of 1-10, how sucky is your life?) solution-based (let’s get the person quickly to normal functioning again even if it means stuffing you with medications). So let’s remove ALL the problems that keep you stuck, but in the process, remove all the things that actually promote your development if you just work through them through intense self-analysis and some bibliotherapy.

    I have a novel approach to personality development and creativity. Well, I don’t, Kazmirez Dabrowski does.

    Would you like to read something mind-blowing? It’s free.


    Yes, it’s on a Polish website, but that article is in English.

    “He saw development as a progression from the level of primary integration characterized by rigid, automatic and instinctual egocentrism to conscious altruism based on empathy, compassion and self-awareness, expressed the fullest at the highest level of development, the level of secondary integration.

    This growth takes place through the process of positive disintegration, which is the loosening and partial, or sometimes global, dismantling of the initial character structure during the course of one’s life and replacing it by consciously created personality – the goal of life-long development.

    Positive disintegration results from and is expressive of multilevel inner conflicts – conflicts between one’s ideals and values (what ought to be) and the existing reality of one’s internal and external life (what is), which falls short of those ideals and values.

    Those who most readily experience multilevel conflicts are individuals possessing high developmental potential – high and broad, multisided intelligence, special talents and abilities, various global forms of overexcitability and the need and desire for inner transformation – for transcending one’s psychological type and constraints of psychobiological maturation process.

    The need and desire for inner transformation is an expression of what Dabrowski called the third factor – the drive behind autonomous, self-conscious, self-chosen and self-determined efforts at guiding one’s development.

    Most people experience symptoms of disintegration that are related to stages of biological development — such as adolescence, old age, or menopause — or difficult life events. These symptoms are temporary and disappear without causing major changes in a person’s functioning.

    Conflicts, traumas and frustrations, although often cause psychological imbalance in average individuals, do not lead to efforts at self-transformation and further development. However, in individuals with high developmental potential, difficult experiences awaken and/or intensify the need for psychological growth.”

    What’s more…persons with high developmental potential do a disservice to themselves when they seek to make themselves happy or numb. Being miserable, being in conflict does suck, BUT leads to more positive growth once the person moves past it.

    Rick…I encourage you to read up on his theory. In fact, I’ll email you a pdf of it and I’d encourage you to print it out and keep it at home.

    I’ve contacted Bill Tiller in hopes of getting some information as to Dabrowski’s “autotherapy”. Dabrowski stressed the importance of self-education and self-therapy. I would like to find out if I can get some free resources.

    “And because Dabrowski equated development through positive disintegration with mental health, this allowed him to reframe the various psychological states commonly considered pathological, such as anxiety, neurosis, and depression, as not only largely positive, but, in fact, necessary for personality growth.”

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