Allow me to introduce Professor Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins of UBC. Professor Jenkins is an awesome Analytic Metaphysician, and as everyone knows I fell in love with her paper on the prospects about a Metaphysics of Love back in the second issue of JAPA (first post and the second post). The Metaphysics of Love is a project she currently working (more on that below). However, before the start of the interview, I should say some remarks about Professor Jenkins and her amazing accomplishments.
She is a powerhouse in analytic circles. She received her undergraduate and graduate training at Trinity College, Cambridge. She's worked at the University of Nottingham, University of Aberdeen, University of Michigan before settling as a Canadian Research Chair at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC (which I should say is my favorite city I've ever lived...for now, we'll count Burnaby as living in Vancouver).
With all of her amazing accomplishments, she's also in a rock band: 21st Century Monads, and in keeping with the spirit of her work, I'll point you to the really awesome song..."We Can't Stop Doing Metaphysics." Wow. Even that song needs a Jamesian Rejoinder. Ok. Not really, so here we go. She was very nice to give me a few minutes of her time to talk.
Sure. I trained in Cambridge in the 90s and early 00s. I was aware of figures like Russell and Wittgenstein looming pretty large at that time and place, and although I have never found it helpful to characterize my philosophical views or interests by listing the names of other people I certainly found Russell pretty interesting from the outset. (Of course I was only introduced to his work on logic, language, and mathematics; I discovered what he thought about love, sex, and relationships much later and on my own.) As an undergraduate I can remember some stand-out lecture courses in feminist philosophy and empirical psychology. As a grad student my focus narrowed onto the epistemology of arithmetic, which is still one of my intellectual loves. My first job was at the Arché research centre in St Andrews, working with Crispin Wright, where I acquired a whole new range of research interests through osmosis.
The direction of my work on love these days owes a lot to the parts of Russell that never made it onto my syllabi, and to Simone De Beauvoir. Because of my training, analytic metaphysics is something I know how to do. So I try to use its tools to answer questions I have. But I don’t think it’s a tool that functions well in an intellectual vacuum, at least not when it comes to thinking about a subject like love. My working bookshelf at the moment (which is basically the windowsill in my dining room) is full of stuff by economists, sociologists, anthropologists, and philosophers of many persuasions. And there’s a lot of material there that was written for audiences beyond academia, which is one of the things I never learned how to do until now.
We here at Philosophical Percolations like to think of getting philosophy to as many people as possible… So, if I could get you to characterize your work and why this project is important to you. And you understand love in a very particular way in this project, don’t you?
The project is about romantic love in particular, but one of the questions I’m interested in is how to characterize this kind of love, or even is whether there is such a thing. The closest thing I have to a working theory is that romantic love is partly socially constructed (with the social construction helping to characterize the romantic part, not the love part). As for why it’s important to me … well, romantic love seems to be a big deal around me. I’m interested in big deals. More specifically, I have a suspicion that there’s useful work that could be done by applying some of the tools of analytic metaphysics to the topic of romantic love.
With the larger audience in mind, I know you tentatively answered your view on love as constructionist functionalism. Tell us a little about that, or if you’ve amended your view in any way?
The hypothesis I’m working on is definitely a work in progress, but I’ll tell you about the view as it is right now. It’s a functionalist view in the sense that it says romantic love is to be characterized by a particular functional role that it (normatively and frequently) plays. I see this part of the view being particularly promising as a way in to understanding what makes certain kind of love count as romantic. The idea is that romantic love is love that’s (in some sense) ‘supposed’ to play a role in structuring social groups a certain way: channeling things like affection and desire into the formation of (more or less) nuclear family units. And the view is moreover constructionist in that I think the role that characterizes romantic love (the role that tells us what romantic love is) is partly constituted by socially constructed things—things like marriage and nuclear-familyhood.
Does your commitment to a functionalist view invite any metaphysics about functions themselves? (Here I am thinking of Larry Wright closer to a view of proper functions or what a Thomist might be committed to about teleology. I know it’s a side issue, but I was wondering myself how this might fit into the greater scheme of things)
Great question! The functionalist thesis certainly invites further thinking about the metaphysics of functions, although this is not an issue I’m committal on (yet). In some ways, though, the fact that the functional role I’m envisaging for romantic love is part normative (as opposed merely a description of what love in fact does) does suggest a valuable comparison with teleological conceptions of function. The source of the normativity in my picture is social, rather than (say) divine or biological.
So I guess I’m hoping that this sort of normativity will strike philosophers a relatively uncontroversial thing to believe in, and that for the purposes of this project I can get a pass to assume social norms exist en route to developing other ideas. But questions about the metaphysical nature of this kind of normativity are independently fascinating.
What might the future of the metaphysics of love entail at UBC?
I have big plans. UBC is a particularly exciting place to work on romantic love as there are so many interesting people working on related issues across the various disciplines. I’m talking with some already, and planning to reach out to more during this second year of the pilot project. I am currently seeking funding that I hope will enable me to continue pursuing this work beyond the life of the pilot, so keep your fingers crossed …
Are there any new questions that the metaphysics of love have opened up that you didn’t know how to ask prior to this project?
Many of the most interesting questions are ones I didn’t even know to ask until I got going. I wouldn’t have known to ask the question of how to limn the characteristic functional role of romantic love. But now I think that question might be important. And seeing things like this gives me a different perspective on the big motivating question—the ‘Haddaway question’—What is love? Of course that question can be asked without doing any metaphysics of love. But once one starts really drilling down into some of the possible metaphysical answers the Haddaway question takes on a different character.
Thank you so much for allowing us to talk. I wish you well in your work and I'll be interested to see what becomes of the Metaphysics of Love project.
You’re very welcome. Thanks for taking an interest in the project, and for your insightful and thought-provoking posts on my JAPA paper.