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Satisfaction of the apparently innate desire for intimate romantic relationships has long been thought by philosophers to be an essential component of what ancient Greek thinkers such as Aristotle called eudaimonia -- the flourishing or meaningful life. The essays in Dating: Flirting with Big Ideas -- the latest entry in the Philosophy for Everyone series, which has, to date, examined the philosophical implications of everything from gardening to beer -- offer a fresh perspective on this distinctively human mating ritual from a variety of disciplines and philosophical perspectives.
The editors devote roughly equal space to questions both abstract (How should we define flirting? What is love, anyway?) and applied (How "pushy" am I allowed to be when pursuing a reticent potential mate?). The tone of the essays ranges from playful (Johua Heter's "Against Matchmaking", which "mathematically" plots the inversely proportional relationship between your family's degree of enthusiasm over a potential blind match-up and your justified skepticism) to poker-faced (Mark Colyvan's "Mating, Dating, and Mathematics", a game-theoretic explanation of monogamy in terms of rational self-interest).
A number of the selections cast a critical eye on the art of romantic enticement. Christopher Brown and David Tien's "Morality, Spontaneity, and the Art of Getting (Truly) Lucky on the First Date," for instance, offers a Daoist-inspired approach to abandoning crippling anxieties about dating and creating an atmosphere of "cultivated spontaneity" with a new potential mate. Likewise, Hichem Naar and Alberto Masala's "Evolutionary Psychology and Seduction Strategies" insightfully explores the morality of applying lessons gleaned from Darwinian biology to the luring of the opposite sex.
Two especially noteworthy contributions offer incisive criticisms of recent best-selling dating bibles: Kyla Reid and Tinashe Dune's "Buy My Love" compellingly argues that the rigid guidelines for courtship laid down by the marriage-minded authors of the controversial 2008 best-seller The Rules: Time Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right effectively blur the distinction between dating and prostitution. Richard Hamilton's "Hitting the Bar with Aristotle," on the other hand, contends that the prima facie morally dubious behavior of the modern day lotharios in Neil Strauss's The Game is potentially virtuous, as it often mimics that of Aristotle's "magnanimous" or "great-souled" man.
The collection is rounded out by timely reflections on the vagaries of romance in an era in which an estimated one in five relationships begin online: Dan Silber's "How to Be Yourself in an Online World" explores delicate questions of authenticity in online self-portrayal, and Bo Brinkman's "Dating and Play in Virtual Worlds" is a fascinating inquiry into whether it is possible for participants in multiplayer online games such as Second Life to date -- and, hence, to potentially cheat on their real life partners -- despite having never met in the flesh.
Dating is an entertaining and highly accessible compendium which offers a unique introduction to some of the time honored questions of social philosophy as well as to the philosophical method itself. As such it presents an excellent invitation to participation in that highest of philosophical ideals: the examined life.
© 2011 Fletcher Maumus
Fletcher Maumus holds an M. Phil in Philosophy from the CUNY Graduate Center. He is a lecturer in the Department of Philosophy, Brooklyn College. His interests include the Philosophy of Natural Language and Scientific Realism.
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