Paul Mendes-Flohr: Martin Buber: A Life of Faith and Dissent

Martin Buber: A Life of Faith and Dissent Book Cover Martin Buber: A Life of Faith and Dissent
Jewish Lives
Paul Mendes-Flohr
Yale University Press
Hardback $26.00

Reviewed by: Guilel Treiber (Institute of Philosophy, KU Leuven)

It was a destabilizing experience reading about Martin Buber’s pessimistic predictions of the future of Jewish nationalism while Israel was bombing Gaza (yet again) in the spring of 2021. Mendes-Flohr’s Martin Buber, A Life of Faith and Dissent highlights Buber’s prophetic criticism of what has now become an intractable conflict and a violent domination of the lives of at least 3 million Palestinians. However, Mendes-Flohr’s much anticipated biography falls short of recognizing that Buber’s unique position in the history of Zionism can make him a beacon for contemporary Israelis or even Jews worldwide critical of Israel’s policies and desirous of a just solution in Israel-Palestine. There is something domesticated about his Buber, something almost naïve. I will go back to these points later in this review. For the moment, it is enough to state that Mendes-Flohr’s biography of Martin Buber, a synthetic work that sums up 40 years of research dedicated to Buber’s work, is impressive as it is enjoyable. In about 350 pages, Mendes-Flohr draws lines of continuity and change through the life and thought of one of the most emblematic Jewish intellectuals of the 20th century. If it has any failings, these are centred around the disappointment of making of Buber nothing more than a historical figure. To use Buber’s terms, it is a biography of I-It, one of historical and scholarly acumen, yet one that does not lead to any possible encounter with what Buber was all about, the lived experience of dialogue.

Many of the details of Buber’s life are well known by now. He has left behind many letters exchanged with the leading luminaries of the 20th century, from Einstein to Gandhi, spanning the 60 years of his career. His work has been translated and read in many languages, cultures, and religious contexts. Maurice Friedman, his student and later collaborator, published during the eighties a three-volume biography that meticulously traced every event in Buber’s life. However, no full biography has been published since then. There was an unavoidable necessity to publish a new, more concise biography that deals with the main issues in Buber’s life. Mendes-Flohr has done that with bravado. His biography will become the entry point for every student and lay-reader interested in Buber’s life and work. It traces his contributions to Judaism, philosophy, inter-religious dialogue, politics, his changing relation with Zionism, his critique of nationalism in the aftermath of WWI, and his consistent work towards an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. Indeed, between «faith» and «dissent», Mendes-Flohr shows how Buber was continuously understood as an outsider, as a truth-speaker in the public square (213), as a civil disobedient committed to a life of dialogue and meetings, an «anomalous Jew» (232). Read with the eye of a contemporary reader, Mendes-Flohr succeeds in making Buber attractive and (to some extent) relevant again. He constructs a narrative of an individual who always grasped himself as a representative of the Jewish people (all the while remaining on its margins) and who struggled to live up to the highest demands of that burden.

The book is divided into 11 chapters in addition to an introduction. There is no conclusion. The eleventh chapter ends with the passing of Buber on June 13, 1965, at 87. One can divide the book into three sections: the first four chapters detail Buber’s early life and career, his early interaction with Zionism and Jewish collective existence in Europe; chapters five to eight are structured around the dramatic events in Europe between the two world wars and Buber’s transformation following his friendships with Gustav Landauer and Franz Rosenzweig; chapters nine to eleven begin with the Bubers leaving Europe to Palestine in mid-1938, five years after the Nazis took control of Germany. The last three chapters focus mainly on Buber’s passage to writing and teaching in Hebrew and his interaction with the radical transformation in Jewish collective life that the double events of the destruction of European Jewry (1939-1945) and the establishment of the State of Israel (1948) brought about.

The biography is an intellectual biography; hence, specific life events are sometimes passed over rather quickly: Buber’s absent mother, tense relationship with his father and grandfather, and the fact that he and his wife raised his son’s two daughters. On the other hand, marginal intellectual meetings are somewhat overplayed and not always in a very satisfactory fashion. Two of these were addressed by Mendes-Flohr in independent contributions. However, the main thrust of the biography is not interrupted to allow for a long detour into these issues. I refer here to Buber’s engagement and contributions to early German sociology (44-51) and his ongoing critical reading of Heidegger, which led to a meeting after the war (278-286). It is often time forgotten that Buber was heavily influenced by Dilthey and had a long-standing friendship with Simmel (Mendes-Flohr’s doctoral dissertation focused on the way Buber’s dialogical philosophy was shaped by German sociology). Buber was even part of Simmel’s inner circle (47). However, not much more is given as details in this biography.

In fact, one cannot help but wonder whether the biography is more destined to the lay-reader or early student of Buber or Jewish and Continental Philosophy than to the academic philosopher. From the perspective of a philosopher, I would have liked to read more details concerning Buber’s philosophical thought, about his later formulations of philosophical anthropology, about his Nieztscheanism and critique of Heidegger. All these are present, yet always too quickly and too little, giving the biography an introductory character. To be sure, the biography may certainly contribute to renewing interest in Buber’s work and perhaps even research into his philosophical contributions beyond the disciplinary tag of Jewish Philosophy. However, the reader will not find these fully explored here.

Mendes-Flohr structures the biography around two elements in his subject’s life and thought: the tension between the «supernatural Jew» and the «natural Jew» (xiv). The supernatural Jew is in some respect the Weberian ideal-type Jew «beholden to the timeless religious vocation of the Jewish people as defined by the (divinely revealed) Torah and rabbinic tradition.» The natural Jew is the concrete, individual and collective existence of Jews in a specific historical moment. However, although Mendes-Flohr contends that Buber’s «overarching concern» was to reintegrate the natural and the supernatural Jew, this significant claim is not defended systematically. In fact, after getting mentioned in the introduction it is not brought up again until page 241. Moreover, there are some conceptual issues with this definition since it assumes, indeed as Buber did, that there is some essential core to Judaism that is constantly the same, i.e., the direct, unmediated relationship to God. One may argue that perhaps the structure of a relation to God is a-historical, while the content constantly changes throughout history. Nevertheless, this would be an un-Buberian position, and Mendes-Flohr does not adopt such a critical stance.  It is only when treating Buber’s critique of Gandhi — who suggested to the Jews of Europe that it is better to suffer and die under Nazi rule than engage in a colonialist enterprise in the Middle East even if their lives depended on it — that Mendes-Flohr suddenly brings back the issue. According to Mendes-Flohr, Buber argues against Gandhi that doing what he suggests will amount to a preference for the supernatural Jew over the concrete lives and experiences of millions. Mendes-Flohr’s return to the issue at this moment in Buber’s life is crucial. With the rise of the threat of Nazi persecution from the mid-thirties, Jews found themselves torn between the immediate demands of their empirical existence and the «unremitting calling» of the supernatural Jew (243). Moreover, from this moment onward, Buber would be acutely aware of the tension between these two. In contradistinction to Gandhi, who preferred the supernatural Jew over the natural one, the Zionist movement according to Mendes-Flohr reading of Buber, prefers the natural Jew (259) thus neglecting the moral calling of God for Tikkun Olam, the repairing of the world according to the social vision of the prophets (114). One can understand Buber’s critique of Gandhi and Zionism only when one replaces our commonplace definition of Zionism as a national movement with Buber’s claim that it is more about cultural renewal than national sovereignty, more about social justice than military prowess. For Buber, a bi-national state was completely coherent with his vision of Zionism, far removed from the nationalistic hegemony that many Zionists promulgate today.

Buber was understood by many of his critics and friends alike to be a utopian thinker, undisturbed by the concrete realities of the Jewish people. Indeed, a striking example of this is a series of conferences he gave in Poland on the eve of WWII. Jews had gathered by the thousands to listen to his every word. But instead of giving them hope or encouraging them to resist, Buber choose to talk about Jewish education. He regretted it later (218). It is clear that Buber was not a political realist, but nor was he detached from the political demands of his day. Mendes-Flohr partly recognizes the critical potential of Buber’s thought showing his ability to detect latent threats and problems years before they are actualized (e.g., concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict). Nevertheless, the narrative Mendes-Flohr constructs falls into the trapping of telling the story of a dreamer, endowed with a «prophetic realism» (227) exacerbated by WWII. This may have been true of the Buber of his own time, but it is very far from true concerning a Buber for our own.

It is in our own time that Buber’s critical positions concerning Judaism, Zionism, nationalism, and legalistic religion are most relevant. As stated earlier, Mendes-Flohr renders Buber to be some naïve prophet shouting inertly at the entrance of the city. This is a sad mistake. Focusing more on the contrasting views of David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister and a crucial figure in the establishment of the Hebrew state, and Buber would have shown that it is not Ben Gurion’s political realism but rather Buber’s visionary warnings concerning the dangers of Jewish nationalism that seem to have been correct. As some Israeli Jews engaged in mob violence against Palestinians during May 2021, Buber’s warning that «there can be no peace between Jews and Arabs that is merely a cessation of war; there can only be a peace of genuine cooperation» (255) is timely. Indeed, Buber was among the only Hebrew intellectuals calling for a bi-national state—a vision that avoids what still plagues any effort for peace in the region, the nationalistic logic of majority-minority relations. As Mendes-Flohr writes, Buber found the idea of a binational state in Palestine to be «sounder» than any other solution. It was not an «infallible formula,» but it enabled «thinking beyond the conceptual boxes of ‘majority’ and ‘minority’, political configurations that would inevitably lead to violent conflict between the Jews and the Arabs.» (246)

Two crucial, highly intellectual, and emotional friendships have shaped Buber’s life. The first, his friendship with Gustav Landauer, the Jewish anarchist who was murdered by German militias in the aftermath of the fall of the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic. While Buber brought Landauer closer to Judaism, Landauer convinced Buber that his early understanding of Jews as a community of blood is erroneous. To some extent, Landauer shaped Buber’s spiritual anarchism which will inform his thought throughout his life and that made him a prescient critic of nationalism and its dangers. Indeed, one of the most significant contributions of this biography is that it highlights the relationship as a formative one for Buber. It attaches, correctly in my view, more importance to Landauer’s influence and the impact of his tragic death on the morrow of WWI in moving Buber definitively to the anarchist, socialist left than to the experience of the harrowing cost of lives due to the war. Mendes-Flohr thus goes against the somewhat simplistic explanation of Buber himself and supported by Friedman that it was a missed meeting with a young man on his way to the front that made Buber realize the dangers of his mystic understanding of the union between community and God (see the story «Conversion» in Buber’s Meetings and Friedman’s introduction to the text). The second relationship, with Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig, ended just as tragically as the first. Rosenzweig died from muscular degeneration (ALS) on December 10, 1929, three days after Buber visited him to work on their translation of the Hebrew Bible to German. His last words were uttered as he was struggling to dictate a letter to Buber. This relation pushed Buber deeper into Jewish philosophy. Rosenzweig was one of the first readers of I and Thou, and their joint translation of the Bible is a landmark work of translation. Yet, each remained relatively firm in their respective beliefs. Buber emphasized Judaism as a lived faith, while for Rosenzweig, it was its legalistic aspects that made it a unique religion. For Rosenzweig, the Law (halakha) and the commandments (mitzvot) were at the basis of a spiritual renewal of Judaism (149). Buber stated in response that revelation is never a direct formulation of the Law, thus rejecting a basic tenet of Judaism. For Buber, it was the meeting between humans and God, i.e., revelation, that led to the formulation of the Law by humans themselves through their «self-contradiction» (153).

Reading Buber’s biography is more than reading about the life of a particular individual, or even a particular Jew (or Jewish individual). Indeed, as the editors of the series in which the book was published, «Jewish Lives,» state, the series aims «to explore the many facets of Jewish identity.» I think of no other Jewish thinker of the 20th century who can give such an englobing and engrossing image of the many facets of this identity. I see no other writer than Paul Mendes-Flohr, who could have done justice to such a complex subject in less than 350 pages of text. As stated, this is a synthetic work, concise as is expected from such a series of books. As such, none of my critical points could have been addressed in the space given to an intellectual life stretching for over 60 years during one of the more tumultuous times in Jewish history. Mendes-Flohr does a wonderful work of introducing Buber to the reader with love and respect, to the great benefit of the general interest in Buber’s life and works. The work may strike scholars who are familiar with Buber’s life and works or with 20th-century Jewish history and thought as somewhat too simple, too introductory. Notwithstanding, it is an enormously enjoyable read that addresses important aspects and raises central issues concerning Buber. I believe it will become the entry point for many future students of Buber and Judaism, and as such, Mendes-Flohr has done an excellent service to both.

Yohanan Friedmann, Christoph Markschies (Eds.): Religious Responses to Modernity, De Gruyer, 2021

Religious Responses to Modernity Book Cover Religious Responses to Modernity
Yohanan Friedmann and Christoph Markschies (Eds.)
De Gruyter
Hardback 77,95 €

Aaron Ben-Ze’ev: The Arc of Love

The Arc of Love: How Our Romantic Lives Change over Time Book Cover The Arc of Love: How Our Romantic Lives Change over Time
Aaron Ben-Ze’ev
University of Chicago Press
Cloth $40.00

Reviewed by: Cecilea Mun (Arizona State University)

In The Arc of Love, Aaron Ben-Ze’ev (2019) aims to convince us of the possibility of enduring romantic love (5), what he also often refers to as long-term, profound love (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 14). Such love is not to be simply equated with enduring love or romantic love, which he also respectively refers to as long-term romantic relationships and profound love, and these two kinds of love can come apart (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 11, 66). Ben-Ze’ev fulfills his aim throughout his book by providing accounts of enduring romantic love which may make those who have yet to experience such love optimistic about its possibility, and those who are in the midst of actualizing such a love more secure in the path they chose. It is also a book that I would highly recommend to those who are still wondering exactly what romantic love is in general regardless of its endurance and how they might achieve it. So, I will not contest Ben-Ze’ev’s claim that enduring romantic love is possible. My concern in this review is with specifying what Ben-Ze’ev believes to be the differentia and the genus of enduring romantic love, along with his claim that love is not a property of nor resides in the connection between a lover and their beloved.

More specifically, I will be concerned with precisifying Ben-Ze’ev’s account of the ontological nature and structure of enduring romantic love, especially in terms of what differentiates enduring romantic love from what Ben-Ze’ev might refer to as acute romantic love and extended romantic love. In other words, I will be concerned with what Ben-Ze’ev regards to be the differentia of enduring romantic love compared to the kind of emotion that a romantic lover might have while observing that way their beloved protected their mother from the rain, which made them fall in love, or during that time when they were jealous of their beloved’s colleague for the time they had together (possible occasions of acute romantic love), and the kind of love that a romantic lover might have while on a date with their beloved or perhaps while recalling their date at the end of the evening, after saying good-bye (possible occasions of extended romantic love). I will also be concerned with what it is about these kinds of experiences, if anything at all, that unify them under the genus of enduring romantic love (i.e., romantic love), and I will argue that in light of my discussion, Ben-Ze’ev ought to reconsider his argument against the dialogue model of love (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 48). My conclusion, however, does not also deny that love is a property of lovers. That love is a property of or resides in the connection between a lover and their beloved can instead entail that love is also a property of lovers as well as their beloved.

I begin with my account of Ben-Ze’ev’s notions of acute, extended, and enduring emotions, focusing on explicating their ontological structure and identifying their differentia. I then discuss the two models of romantic love that Ben-Ze’ev introduces—the care model and the dialogue model—highlighting his argument against the claim that “love is a property of, and in some formulations resides in, the connection between the two lovers” (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 48). Although this claim can be understood in at least one of two ways—as a claim about the essence of the genus romantic love or the essence of the overarching genus, love—I will concentrate on the implication of Ben-Ze’ev’s argument against this claim for his conception of the genus romantic love. I will argue that Ben-Ze’ev’s rejection of the claim that love can be a property of or reside in the connection between two lovers jeopardizes his book’s primary aim: to convince us of the possibility of enduring romantic love. Ben-Ze’ev should, therefore, reconsider his claim that romantic love is not a property of or resides in the connection between two lovers, and accept that it is at least possible.

Before I begin, however, it is important to note two things. First, Ben-Ze’ev employs a prototype framework for conceptualizing experiences of enduring romantic love, which was initially introduced in The Subtlety of Emotions (Ben-Ze’ev 2000, ch. 1). That he does so was also recently conveyed during his author-meets-critics session for the Society for Philosophy of Emotion, at the 2020 American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division conference. As he stated during the session:

I am not in the business of defining, but rather in the more modest task of describing and explaining. I do not work with binary categories, which provide clear criteria constituting sufficient and necessary conditions for membership in the category. I rather use prototypical categories, where membership is determined by an item’s degree of similarity to the best example in the category: the greater the similarity, the higher the degree of membership. The prototypical category has neither clear-cut boundaries nor equal degrees of membership.[1]

Second, although I speak of the “differentia” and the “genus” of enduring romantic love, I do not necessarily apply these terms under the presupposition of a materialistically essentialist framework about emotional categories that reifies emotions as distinct entities in-themselves, independent of the emotional beings that are the subjects of such experiences (read Mun 2016; also read Rorty 1985 and Russell 2009). I am also not presupposing a framework that requires one to give necessary and sufficient conditions for identifying either the differentia or the genus of enduring romantic love. I use these terms to simply speak of the feature or features, if any, that give a specified meaning to the use of the relevant words, such as “enduring romantic love.” I admit that such features, along with the genus of enduring romantic love may be prototypical or fuzzy, but such conceptualizations do not defy giving a definition of some kind, even though such a definition can be regarded to capture only the most typical experiences of the kind in question. So, for prototypical approaches, the concern in this review is about identifying the feature(s) that identify “the best example in the category,” as Ben-Ze’ev put it, of enduring romantic love and its greater genus romantic love.


According to Ben-Ze’ev, “intentionality and feeling are two basic mental dimensions,” and both can be said to describe emotions and moods as types of affective attitudes (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 21). The intentionality of an emotion is therefore distinguished from an emotion’s feeling, although both are regarded to be “mental.” “Intentionality” refers to the aboutness of an emotion, i.e., that emotions are about something (a subject-object relation), and “feeling” refers to what I take to be felt physiological experiences along with what Ben-Ze’ev refers to as “a certain (implicit or explicit) evaluative stance (or concern)” (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 21). This is all also consistent with the view Ben-Ze’ev put forward in Subtlety of Emotions ([2000] 2001). More recently, Ben-Ze’ev, also noted that feelings have a “primitive-level” of intentionality while also denying that they entailed any kind of evaluation. As Ben-Ze’ev stated:

The feeling component. I agree with Mun that one may consider feelings as having a primitive-level intentionality. Since I tend to steer clear of absolute borderlines, the issue is of lesser significance to my view. However, I would certainly not identify feeling with evaluation. [2]

Also according to Ben-Ze’ev, emotions differ from moods to the extent that moods may lack two additional components to their intentionality: a motivational component of a readiness to action and a cognitive component of being about practical implications (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 21). Thus, according to Ben-Ze’ev’s book, in contrast with moods, emotions necessarily involve three major intentional components: cognition, evaluation, and motivation (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 23).

At this point, I want to first call attention to one particular concern I had regarding the way Ben-Ze’ev conceived the nature or structure of emotions in general. In short, given the primitive-level of intentionality that feelings have, according to Ben-Ze’ev, it was a bit unclear from The Arc of Love exactly how he conceived the relationship between feelings and the other three major intentional components of cognition, evaluation, and motivation, which he identified therein. In Subtlety of Emotions, however, Ben-Ze’ev noted that emotions can be divided into four basic components: cognition, evaluation, motivation, and feeling (Ben-Ze’ev [2000] 2001, 49). Cognition, evaluation, and motivation all belong to what Ben-Ze’ev refers to as the intentional dimension of emotions and feelings constitute their own dimensions (the feeling dimension). Both dimensions are also central to an experience of emotion (Ben-Ze’ev [2000] 2001, 50). For, Ben-Ze’ev conceived the intentionality and the feeling dimensions as two aspects of the same mental state. As Ben-Ze’ev noted:

Intentionality and feeling are not two separate mental entities but rather distinct dimensions of a mental state. The typical relation between these dimensions is not that of causality—which prevails between separate entities—but that of accompanying or complementing each other. Since the two dimensions are distinct aspects of the same state, it is conceptually confusing to [speak] about a causal relation between them within this particular state. (Ben-Ze’ev [2000] 2001, 51)

Yet Ben-Ze’ev conceptually distinguishes the feeling dimension apart from the intentional dimension because he does not take feelings to have the adequate kind of intentionality to regard them as components of the intentional dimension. For Ben-Ze’ev the intentional dimension is constituted by mental states that necessarily have some reference to an object and, according to Ben-Ze’ev, feelings lack this kind of intentionality Ben-Ze’ev [2000] 2001, 50).

The intentional dimension, according to Ben-Ze’ev, also involves the emotional complexities of emotional diversity, emotional ambivalence, and behavioral emotional complexity, which respectively correspond to the cognitive, evaluative, and motivational components of emotional experiences (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 23). These three components can also be cashed out in more detail in terms of an emotion’s typical cause by some positive or negative change in the subject’s personal situation; typical focus on the subject’s personal concerns; typical objects of which are other persons; typical comparative meaning, which involves a deliberative emotional weighting of possibilities; and as taking place in affective time, which includes the factors of location, duration, pace, frequency, and meaningful direction (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 20).

These features—respectively, of cause, focus of concern, emotional object, emotional meaning, and affective time—can also help us identify what Ben-Ze’ev refers to as the “major emotional characteristics” of acute emotions: instability, intensity, partiality, and brevity (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 18). The instability of acute emotions differentiate them from extended and enduring emotions in the sense that it indicates the introduction or experience of a novel context, which also characterizes the intensity, partiality, and brevity of acute emotional experiences: they are respectively intense, both cognitively and evaluatively focused on a narrow target, and brief (i.e., almost instantaneous) (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 19). Yet the most notable ontological characteristic of acute emotions is that they are singular or particular in occurrence, and they are the experiences on which both extended and enduring emotions are constructed. They are the atoms of emotional experiences.

Extended emotions are experiences constituted by repetitive experiences of acute emotions that are bounded together by the feeling that they “belong to the same emotion” (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 20). Note here the unifying role that Ben-Ze’ev gives to such a feeling. This also suggests that, in extended emotions, the acute emotions which constitute them share at least the same aspects of affective time (e.g., location, duration, pace, frequency, and meaningful direction). Both acute and extended emotional experiences are, therefore, synchronic, and what significantly differentiates the two is that the first is always occurrent and the second is always that which is constituted by a set of acute emotions that are felt to belong to the same emotion.

In contrast, enduring emotions are constituted by both acute and extended emotions. They are also the most temporally extended of the three kinds of emotional experiences—possibly lasting for a lifetime (21). Enduring emotions are, therefore, diachronic experiences, and may be understood as being in some sense always under construction or as always being discovered by a lover (and it seems that Ben-Ze’ev would agree with both[3]). It is also in this construction or discovery that one can find the dispositional affectivity of “having an inherent (built-in) potential to develop” (22), which distinguishes enduring romantic love from both acute and extended romantic love. As Ben-Ze’ev notes, “This specific sense of ‘dispositional’ is key for our inquiry into the possibility of long-term profound love” (22).


Ben-Ze’ev also offers a discussion of what he takes to be the two most relevant models of romantic love for the topic of enduring romantic love: the care model and the dialogue model of romantic love (45). The care model, according to Ben-Ze’ev, takes love to be centrally about a lover’s concern for their beloved’s well-being. It represents an essentially sacrificial kind of love, especially in its extreme versions (46), which is why it is often more appropriate for loving relationships between unequal partners (45); and although it is necessary for long-term profound love, it is not sufficient for such love (46). This is because, for Ben-Ze’ev, long-term profound love requires a reciprocal concern for the flourishing of the other between the lover and the beloved. Such reciprocity can be found in what Ben-Ze’ev refers to as the dialogue model of love, in which a mutual respect for the other’s autonomy also involves a joint commitment toward shared emotional experiences and activities that lead to the personal growth of both lovers (46-47).

This kind of appreciation for the beloved’s autonomy leads to an emotional complexity in experiences of profound romantic love, including long-term profound love, that involves what Ben-Ze’ev refers to as a kind of holistic diversity, which is the kind of diversity in which the “love is directed at the beloved as a diverse, whole person” (24). As Ben-Ze’ev observes:

Profound romantic love involves a comprehensive attitude that takes into account the rich and complex nature of the beloved. The lover’s comprehensive attitude is complex in the sense that it does not focus on simple narrow aspects of the beloved but considers the beloved as a whole, multifaceted being. Sexual desire or friendship, by contrast, are more limited. In romantic love, we see both the forest and the trees, whereas in sexual desire we often focus on one or several trees. (24)

Such emotional complexity can manifest what Ben-Ze’ev refers to as the emotional diversity—that of “experiencing many different specific emotional states (e.g., anger, shame, and sadness)” (23)—of our emotional experiences in general, as well as the emotional experiences of romantic love.

Given the kind of emotional complexity involved in enduring romantic love, Ben-Ze’ev takes the dialogue model to be more suitable for an explanation of this kind of love, although he also rejects the aspect of the dialogue model which identifies love as a property of or as residing in the connection between two lovers. Ben-Ze’ev’s primary reason for this rejection is his belief that doing so would also deny that various features, including feelings, can be a psychological property of lovers. As Ben-Ze’ev argues:

[F]eelings such as pain or enjoyment, which are essential to love, are not a property of the connection between two lovers. Love is a psychological property of a lover. Accordingly, we would expect that some features of love, such as feelings, evaluations, and action tendencies, are properties of the lover, whereas other features, such as compatibility, resonance, and harmony, are properties of the connection. (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 48-49)

This criticism of the dialogue model of love can be understood in at least one of two ways: it can be understood as a claim about the essence of the genus of enduring romantic love (i.e., romantic love) or the essence of the overarching genus (i.e., love). Assuming that Ben-Ze’ev is speaking of romantic love, one central question is what Ben-Ze’ev believes to be the features that unify experiences of acute romantic love, extended romantic love, and enduring romantic love under the genus romantic love, albeit from a prototypical perspective. In section four, I will address this question by focusing on the implications of Ben-Ze’ev’s criticism against the dialogue model of love for his conception of romantic love. I will argue that one consequence of such a criticism is that it presents Ben-Ze’ev with a problem of unification. Before doing so, I will first address another central question, which will also involve identifying the differentia of acute romantic love and extended romantic love: the question of how the components of an emotional experience and the notion of dispositional affectivity, according to Ben-Ze’ev, can help us identify the differentia of enduring romantic love.


By “profound romantic love” in the first quote cited in the previous section, I take Ben-Ze’ev to be referring to the genus of acute, extended, and enduring romantic love, the essence of which involves the holistic diversity that leads a lover to take a comprehensive attitude toward their beloved. Earlier, I referred to this as the genus romantic love. Given Ben-Ze’ev’s account of acute, extended, and enduring emotions, and his account of both the care and the dialogue model as capturing at least some of the necessary conditions of romantic love, we can propose the following accounts as possible accounts of Ben-Ze’ev’s notion of acute romantic love in contrast with extended romantic love and enduring romantic love.

Experiences of acute romantic love are typically those brief, unstable, occurrent experiences of love in which the emotional experience is focused on the reciprocal well-being of the lover and the beloved, and the meaning of this experience gains its significance from a comparative contrast with the contents of experiences of non-romantic love. The object of the experience is the beloved taken as a whole, autonomous individual. Thus, the experience of what a lover might simply call love when they observed that way their beloved protected their mother from the rain might be something Ben-Ze’ev would refer to as an experience of acute romantic love. An experience of extended romantic love would be constituted by similar components compared to an experience of acute romantic love except that these experiences would be temporally extended and unified by the feeling that the discrete experiences belong to the same emotion of love. Furthermore, one might question whether or not it may also be possible, given the emotional complexity involved in romantic love, for an acute emotional experience of some other kind (e.g., jealousy) to be an experience of acute romantic love. Although one can have an experience of jealousy that is not an experience of acute romantic love—for example, I can be jealous of my siblings for the attention given to them by my mother—consider a case in which I am jealous of my partner’s colleague because they get to spend so much time with my partner. Would this experience of jealousy be an experience of acute romantic love?

If so, I would refer to such an emotional experience as a meta-emotional experience, which is an emotional experience that explains another emotional experience (cf. Katz, Gottman, and Hooven 1996, along with relevant associated articles; also cf. Miceli and Castelfranchi 2019). Although Ben-Ze’ev denies the need to speak of such meta-emotions,[4] I believe doing so is quite instructive. Given the notion of a meta-emotional experience introduced here, I suggest that we can contrast both the experiences of extended romantic love and enduring romantic love with experiences of acute romantic love by noting that there is no question that the first two can be meta-emotional experiences.

The question then is how experiences of extended romantic love can be differentiated from experiences of enduring romantic love? We can answer this question by focusing on the question of how an experience of extended romantic love and an experience of enduring romantic love can play their role as meta-emotional experiences since that which binds the various components of extended romantic love or enduring romantic love (e.g., the various acute emotions that at least partially constitute these experiences) would be essential to such an explanation. Given what is stated in The Arc of Love, Ben-Ze’ev might conclude that the feeling that a series of acute emotions belong to the same emotion is the unifying element of extended romantic love. So, for example, the feeling that the experiences of acute surprise, anger, and contempt may all be bound by the feeling that such experiences are all components of the same extended emotion of shame, and in this way the experience of shame explains the experience of acute surprise, anger, and contempt. Ben-Ze’ev, however, also noted that such a feeling is only “one unifying element,” and that “there should also be a similarity in the nature of the experience.”[5] Yet it is the nature of the experience that is in question.

With regard to enduring romantic love, given the unifying element of extended emotions that Ben-Ze’ev identifies in his book, I initially concluded that such a feeling would also be the binding element for Ben-Ze’ev’s conception of enduring romantic love. According to Ben-Ze’ev’s recent comments, however, this is not the case. As Ben-Ze’ev states:

What does unify the emotion of enduring romantic love? In addressing this question, one should not focus on one feature, but rather on various features relating to our personality and circumstances. Thus, I disagree with Mun’s claim that the unifying factor is the feeling of belonging to the same emotion. This is indeed a typical subjective characteristic of extended emotions involving constant repetitions. Enduring emotions, like long-term love, are more complex, and such a feeling is of little relevance; in any case, it cannot be the unifying factor of enduring romantic love.[6]

Here then, we have to some extent Ben-Ze’ev’s answer to what unifies the components of enduring romantic love into experiences of enduring romantic love in contrast with experiences of extended romantic love: “various features relating to our personality and circumstances” for experiences of enduring romantic love and the feeling of belonging to the same emotion for experiences of extended romantic love. Yet there is a question as to whether or not what unifies experiences of enduring romantic love is enough for Ben-Ze’ev to fulfill his aim to convince us of the possibility of enduring romantic love. One might supplement this response with the notion of dispositional affectivity, which Ben-Ze’ev identifies as the key to our inquiry into enduring romantic love. For example, Ben-Ze’ev might suggest that such a dispositional affectivity lies in at least some feature of our personality, and given certain circumstances, the disposition to have experiences of enduring romantic love are actualized. Yet this supplement still leaves one wanting.

The main problem with this response is that it does not consider the implications of the compositional relations between experiences of acute, extended, and enduring romantic love, which unfold within a temporal sequence. Note that various experiences of acute emotions (e.g., jealousy, followed by rage, followed by shame, or joy, followed by appreciation, followed by admiration), each of which might also be regard by some as an experience of acute romantic love, may all be unified as an experience of extended romantic love, even in prototypical cases. They can, therefore, be identified as components of an experience of extended romantic love. Furthermore, these same components, as well as the experience of extended romantic love under which they are unified in virtue of a feeling, can also be components of an experience of enduring romantic love. Given this, Ben-Ze’ev may suggest that a certain kind of dispositional affectivity is what unites all the components of an experience of enduring romantic love, but if that is the case, then the same dispositional affectivity must also be involved in each experience of acute romantic love as well as the experience of extended romantic love even if such components never in fact become components of an experience of enduring romantic love.

In some sense, it is always in hindsight that one experiences their romantic love as an experience of enduring romantic love, and some may never have such an experience although they may have experiences of its components. These components must, therefore, be rooted in the same dispositional affectivity as that of the experience of enduring romantic love if such an affectivity is to unify these components in such a way so as to allow for the possibility, and actuality in hindsight, of enduring romantic love. Thus, neither the dispositional affectivity nor the personality and circumstances to which Ben-Ze’ev appeals can help him unify the components of enduring romantic love so as to differentiate such experiences from experiences of extended romantic love or acute romantic love. It may, however, help Ben-Ze’ev unify these experiences under the genus romantic love, and I will turn to this possibility in the final section of this review. Ben-Ze’ev can and does, however, differentiate experiences of acute, extended, and enduring romantic love in accordance with their temporal characteristic: respectively, occurrent, extended, and potentially lasting for a lifetime.


With the foregoing arguments in mind, Ben-Ze’ev’s claim that romantic love is not a property of or resides in the connection between lovers may also challenge his aim to convince us of the possibility of enduring romantic love by challenging the possibility of its genus: romantic love. For, assuming that one’s personality and circumstances are what unify the components of enduring romantic love, especially in virtue of a certain kind of dispositional affectivity as suggested in the previous section, it may not be possible to unify acute, extended, and enduring romantic love under the genus of romantic love without presupposing that love can also reside in the relation (i.e., the connection) that exists between the lover and the beloved. Ben-Ze’ev, himself, notes that, “At the heart of romantic love lies the connection between the lovers” (82). Furthermore, he notes that, “As the tie between two lovers lies at the heart of romantic love, how they interact with each other is one of the building blocks of such love” (58). Ben-Ze’ev, therefore, imagines the connection involved in romantic love as a connection that informs the interaction between two lovers, and it is only through this connection that the diversity of emotional experiences that are possible in experiences of romantic love can be identified as experiences of romantic love. Yet he denies that the love in experiences of romantic love can lie in the connection between the lover and the beloved. As he recently reiterated:

The ontological status of love. After describing the two models, I briefly mention in the book the ontological issue of love’s location. There, I suggest that while I accept the central tenet of the dialogue approach that mutual shared interactions are essential for enduring profound love, I reject its ontological assumption that love resides in these shared interactions, which are located between the lovers.

The rival view, which is compatible with the care model and which assumes that love is a property of the lover, seems to be intuitively true, as love is similar in this regard to other personal attitudes. We attribute to the lover not merely emotions, but other attitudes, such as moods, character traits, and political attitudes. Thus, it is implausible to argue that the love for a child, or the love for a country, is located somewhere between the agent and the child or the country.[7]

Ben-Ze’ev cites Martin Buber and Angela Krebs as proponents of the dialogue model of love, yet what he seems to find problematic about the dialogical model of love—that love is located somewhere between the lover and the beloved—can be attributed to Martin Buber (Krebs 2014, 7). The problem with Ben-Ze’ev’s criticism is that it is based on an uncharitable ontological interpretation of Buber’s claim that “love is between I and Thou” (Buber [1923] 1937, 14-15). In I and Thou, Buber ([1923] 1937) observes that the world of human beings is twofold: there is the world of relations, which is implied by the use of the primary word I-Thou and the other is the world of objectification implied by the use of the primary word I-It (Buber [1923] 1937, 3). So, in suggesting that love is between the I and the Thou, Buber is suggesting that love involves the lover relating to the beloved as a subject and denies any objectification of the beloved by the lover. The “between” is the relation in the relating, which does not involve an experience of the beloved but rather taking one’s stand in relation to the beloved ([1923] 1937, 3-6).

In consideration of Ben-Ze’ev’s account, the relation in which romantic love lies can be understood as that which is captured by the dispositional affectivity, which Ben-Ze’ev regarded to be the key to his inquiry into enduring romantic love, or the features of a lover’s personality and circumstances that Ben-Ze’ev takes as the unifying element of enduring romantic love. For the kinds of relations that are relevant in the philosophy of emotion, such as the relations of emotional intentionality, are products of psychological dispositions or features of one’s personality which relate one to their external circumstances.

I also argued in the previous section that such a dispositional affectivity, or features of a lover’s personality and circumstances, would be better suited to make sense of how the categories of acute, extended, and enduring romantic love can be unified under the genus romantic love. Granting this, to say that romantic love is “located” in the relation between the lover and the beloved would be to say that this kind of love is an aspect of a lover relating to their beloved as a subject, and this kind of relating can be taken to be a product of a kind of dispositional affectivity or a feature of the lover’s personality. Ben-Ze’ev would speak of such relating as a lover relating to their beloved as a “diverse, whole person” (24), which Ben-Ze’ev believes to be a necessary condition for romantic love.

In conclusion, by dispensing with Buber’s claim that love is a relation between the lover and the beloved, Ben-Ze’ev can be understood as discarding what he could take as the key to unifying his categories of acute, extended, and enduring romantic love under the genus romantic love or what he takes to be a necessary condition of romantic love. Ben-Ze’ev would, therefore, also be foregoing the possibility of fulfilling his aim to convince us of the possibility of enduring romantic love by rejecting that which could make his category of romantic love a unified and therefore a possible category. Accordingly, I recommend that Ben-Ze’ev ought to reconsider his claim and accept that it is at least possible for romantic love to also lie in or reside in the connection between a lover and their beloved.[8]


Ben-Ze’ev, Aaron. The Subtlety of Emotions. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, (2000) 2001.

______. The Arc of Love. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2019.

Buber, Martin. I and Thou. Translated by Ronald George Smith. Edinburgh and London, UK: Morrison and Gibb, (1923) 1937.

Krebs, Angelika. “Between I and Thou—On the Dialogical Nature of Love.” In Love and Its Objects, edited by C. Maurer, T. Milligan, and K. Pacovská, 7-24. London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Miceli, Maria, and Cristiano Castelfranchi. “Meta-Emotions and the Complexity of Human Emotional Experience.” New Ideas in Psychology 55 (2019): 42-49.

Mun, Cecilea. “The Rationalities of Emotion.” Phenomenology and Mind 11 (2016): 48-57. DOI: 10.13128/Phe_Mi-20105.

Rorty, Amélie O. “Varieties of Rationality, Varieties of Emotion,” Social Science Information 24, no. 2 (1985): 343-353.

Russell, James A. “Emotion, Core Affect, and Psychological Construction.” Cognition and Emotion 23, no. 7 (2009): 1259-1283.

Aknowledgement: I’d like to thank Aaron Ben-Ze’ev for his comments in response to my review. I have, and I am sure the readers of this review will also greatly benefit from them. Thank you!

[1] Aaron Ben-Ze’ev, “Author’s Response” (Presentation, Author Meets Critics: Aaron Ben-Ze’ev, The Arc of Love, Society for Philosophy of Emotion Affiliated Group Session, American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division Conference, Philadelphia, PA, January 2020).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Aaron Ben-Ze’ev, emailed comments, January 26, 2020.

[6] Ben-Ze’ev, “Author’s Response.”

[7] Ibid.

[8] And, as Ben-Ze’ev noted in his correspondence with me on January 26, 2020, “If ‘in between’ is just an agent’s attitude toward the beloved, I have no problem with this, except for saying that it is extremely odd to use this expression in this context.”

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