Love's Virtues

Mike W. Martin

Bonding Eros with virtue is neither unrealistic nor naive, contends Mike Martin. On the contrary, it's practical, even pragmatic. Virtues serve to focus, structure, and even define erotic love. In particular, caring, respect, faithfulness, honesty, fairness, wisdom, and gratitude are central to successful, long-term relationships.

In Love's Virtues, Martin takes a look at why moral values enhance and solidify erotic and marital relationships. In the process, he challenges the widespread cynicism about marriage while remaining sensitive to the innumerable problems confronting couples. His approach to marital love is both traditional and modern. Traditional, by seeking to understand the moral significance of relationships based on long-term and lifelong commitments to love. Modern, by proceeding within a pluralist framework that affirms many kinds of erotic love, depending on the ideals partners embrace and their interpretations (within limits) of love's virtues.

“The author succeeds admirably in stimulating the reader to think more deeply and carefully about the complex internal morality of this vital human good.

—Ethics

“This book brings together a sensitive understanding of love and an unusually careful, even painstaking, analysis of the enormous but often neglected role of morality and the virtues in love. Martin’s discussions of such virtues as caring, courage, fidelity, and honesty are superb, the examples well-chosen, the argument personal but nevertheless rigorous, the prose accessible and enjoyable to read. This is certainly one of the most original and insightful books in this rapidly growing field of philosophical exploration.”

—Robert C. Solomon, author of About Love: Reinventing Romance for Our Time and coeditor of The Philosophy of (Erotic) Love

Marriages, as Martin understands them, are moral relationships that involve sexual desires (at some time during the relationship) and are based on long-term commitment, whether or not those commitments are formally sanctioned by legal or religious authorities. In this sense, marriages are not restricted by the law, religious tenets, or the partners' sexual orientation.

Drawing on literature, psychology, and philosophy—from Plato and Shakespeare to Ingmar Bergman, Robert Bellah, and Carol Gilligan; from Tolstoy and D.H. Lawrence to Erich Fromm, Erica Jong, and Alice Walker—Martin reminds us that virtuous erotic love is a way to morally value another person. Understanding love as a virtue-structured way to appreciate others, he illustrates, is itself a step toward renewing marital faith.