Being in love: A narrative account

  • Pilar Lopez Cantero

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis defines a feature of romantic love: what being in love is. My claim is that being in love is a defining trait of the narrative self-concept, which articulates a person's understanding of herself and the world. In chapter 1, I start from a plausible answer to what being in love is: a specific kind of caring about someone. I show that the caring view, exemplified by Frankfurt (1998, 2004) and Helm (2010a), does not accommodate cases of non-harmonic love. Hence, I suggest a change of direction. Instead of focusing on the attitude that the lover has towards the loved person -caring- I propose to focus on the fact that being in love entails a change for the lover. Being in love entails a change in the lover’s identity: that is the starting point for my view. In chapter 2, I situate the view at the level of the self-concept and put forward narrative theory as the appropriate framework for my purposes. I distinguish between two formulations of narrative theory: Strong and Minimal Narrativism. I present the anti-narrativist challenge set by Strawson (2004) and argue that a plausible narrative theory of the self-concept can only be formulated within Minimal Narrativism. In chapter 3, I give my account of the narrative self-concept. From Hutto's (2016) and Goldie's (2012) views, I establish that narrative is a route for 'maximal understanding' of reasons for action. I show that there is a missing piece in Minimal Narrativism: salience. Salience solves both problems and grounds the feedback loop between self-concept and action: people's beliefs about themselves shape what they do, which in turn influences these beliefs. This feedback loop is diachronic, given that current self-concepts are partly constituted by past self-concepts. In chapter 4, I draw from Cocking and Kennet (1998), Rorty (2016) and Nehamas (2010) to define the 'mutual shaping' view. According to the mutual shaping view, love requires openness to have one's self-concept shaped by the loved person. This process is what Jones (2008) calls trajectory-dependent, i.e., a narrative. In the mutual shaping and the trajectory views, however, love seems to justify itself. This problem is solved by introducing self-concept consistency as a defeasible reason. In chapter 5, I offer my account: the trait view of being in love. This approach accommodates the best intuitions of the views I discuss throughout the thesis: it explains the change in the lover's self-concept while giving the loved person an important role in the lover's conception of a life worth living. I argue that what 'being in love' is will vary between individuals, and thus is agent-dependent. Finally, I briefly deal with the objection of whether this account explains what being in love is for self-proclaimed non-narratives, who do not have narrative self-understanding. Non-narratives, I argue, can be in love; but they can never acquire maximal understanding as to what is, for them, to be in love.
Date of Award1 Aug 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorThomas Smith (Supervisor) & Joel Smith (Supervisor)


  • narrative
  • self-concept
  • mutual shaping
  • moral psychology
  • ethics
  • emotions
  • philosophy
  • love

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