The following is based on notes taken during the August 5, 2009 meeting of the Kaukauna Philosophy Club. I have written other essays on the philosophy of love (concerning Plato, Stendhal and Russell), some of which I fear may have been lost over time, with the others available online.
What is chivalry?
The word “chivalry” traces back to the 13th century, and merely means acting as a knight would act. Chivalry is the nature of a chevalier, a French knight. The word chevalier today can be used to mean a chivalrous man. Interestingly, the English equivalent of chevalier is cavalier, a word that means not only (as a noun) a “knight”, but (as an adjective) an attitude of not of dismissal or not caring, quite the opposite of what would be seen as chivalry. The word cavalier ultimately traces back to the Italian word cavallo, meaning “horse”, due to the knight’s being a horseman. This is also where we get the need of the modern military horseback riders, the cavalry. (On a completely unrelated note, it may be interesting to point out that the German word for knight, ritter, also derives from the idea of a horseman — ritter is literally a “rider”.)
Chivalry is seen as the knightly virtues of honor and courtly love. Chivalry’s origins are allegedly in the veneration of the Virgin Mary, and the importance of women as a whole.
Chivalry presupposes the superiority of men in society, where treating women as “people” or deserving of respect is a duty. Women are, or have been, seen as in need of protection. This still persists somewhat; women are still not seen as equal in the military, for example. Women have no converse duty towards men, at least not with any particular name. Chivalry, therefore is treating women as more than property, but less than a true equal.
Is chivalry to “impress” women? Men often do not attract women on appearance alone, so must resort to secondary tactics such as humor or wealth. Kindness could be a tactic, whether innocent or not. Do women impress men, or do they simply have to look nice?
If part of chivalry is keeping clean, and women want this, is chivalry merely being practical or acting out of necessity? Can you have chivalry without the motivation of trying to pick up a woman? Is it attractive to see someone as serving you, even if they are not seen as inferior?
What sort of acts constitute chivalry?
Opening doors. Helping old women, or perhaps even men, cross the street. Preserving honor. Being a gentleman. Public service.
How has the rise of feminism impacted the status of chivalry?
Has acting chivalrous towards women become passe? Will it now result in the cold shoulder or suspicion that a man wants something? Certain women may take offense to a man opening the door for her. Which then creates the question: should this act continue and the man risk scorn from some, or stop opening doors altogether?
If feminism is right, women are equal to men and do not need men, at least not more than women need other women or men need other men. If women have moved to not need men, have men moved to not need women (if they ever did)?
Feminism or equality now presents the opportunity for both men and women to act chivalrously — or courteously — towards each other. If we accept that serving is attractive (see above), attraction grows by having both parties make sacrifices to the other.
How has the modern age of internet dating, reality dating shows, fashion magazines etc. eroded the integrity and virtue behind chivalry and romantic love?
Until relatively recently, romantic love did not exist ubiquitously. If it is eroding, is this a downward trend, or merely the end of a phase, era or stage?
Is the youth of America getting their idea of love from MTV or the media? Is life imitating art or art imitating love in this respect? Is the “Bachelor” polygamy until the end? Does trashy TV make the viewers trashy? We can “sleep with people” but “see” others… when did dating go from “going steady” to this? Good or bad, the structural integrity of traditional love is fractured.
Is Everlasting Love Possible?
Some would say everlasting love certainly exists, at least as long as “ever” exists. Is it necessary? Can a bromance be forever?
What is the chemical difference between Platonic friend love and sexual love? Is sexual love merely sex, or a deeper connection beyond that? Sex seems to be a motivation early on, but what of long-term relationships where sex dwindles but the relationship continues? Does this become merely functional or an obligation or comfort, or does something deeper remain?
Is there love at first sight? If there is, it is temporary and not properly called love. Stendhal, of course, would disagree. How long does it take before a connection or infatuation becomes love?
If the connection between parent and child is chemical, is this love? Is love anything more than chemicals?
Is love a projection of our self into another? Not unlike Hegel’s idea that personality is attained through projecting will into property, likewise our will is projected into another person, where our friends or loves define us as a person, and the loss of a relationship or person may lead to a death of a fragment of the self.
Are human beings meant for monogamous relationships? Should it be a societal standard, or a matter of personal preference?
Whether meant or not, it is clear that people are capable of loving more than one person, either at the same time or consecutively. Or loving one person while being sexually involved with multiple people, or any variety in between. This varies from person to person and couple to couple — some couple may be able to be in “open” relationships, and others not. This would depend on the psychology of those involved, though this raises the question of where is the exclusive nature of a relationship if sex is open? What remains exclusive?
Have people historically been monogamous? Primitives, for example. Is monogamy a human trait or an innate desire or instinct rather than a necessity for societal preservation?
Does the thrill of romantic love ever take a back seat to necessity?
Clearly it does, as marriages become routine, but should it be this way? In this sense, is love a choice or decision to keep things going, and can the spark be saved by creativity? Love can be seen as a commitment beyond the mere chemicals or emotions. Yet, if the chemicals fade away but the bond remains, why stay together? Is this practical or healthy? The idea of ten-year renewals may not be a bad idea. Sure, the bond can strengthen the dedication to choice, and a choice to stay strengthens the bond, but is this simply a prison or the pinnacle of love?
How do we reconcile the thrill of love with the hustle and bustle of everyday life, starting a family, maintaining a career, etc…
Ultimately, is marriage a good idea?