The changing face of love

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Each era is defined by what it takes to be the supreme object of love. For a long time in the Western world the romantic lover has been that object. But parental love towards the child is now becoming the archetypal love, argues Simon May.   What we in the Western world, or at least in much of Europe and North America, take to be the supreme object of love has been undergoing a historic change since about the middle of the nineteenth century. For Plato, in one of his voices, it was absolute and eternal beauty— or creation of, and in, beauty; for Aristotle it was the perfect friend; for the Christian world­view that dominated for many centuries it was God; for the troubadours of medieval Europe it was the (usually unattainable) Lady, seen as a repository of virtue; for the seventeenth century philosopher Spinoza it was nature considered as a whole; from the late eight­eenth century it became the romantic-erotic partner — or, more rarely, nature or art; for psychoanalytic thinking, it is…

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