An Amazonian Philosophy of Love

What we can learn about love, community and softness from the indigenous Enxet people of Paraguay.

Will Buckingham
Mar 9 · 7 min read
Image of the Paraguayan Gran Chaco region, home to the indigenous Enxet people. Photo by Ilosuna, Creative Commons 1.0 Generic license via Wikimedia Commons.

Philosophy and human malleability

As a philosopher, I’m fascinated by life’s big questions. What does it mean to live well? What does it mean to love or to hate? What does it mean to form friendships? What does it mean to act virtuously? What does it mean to die?

Love in the Amazon

In one particularly powerful chapter, the anthropologist Stephen W. Kidd explores the social philosophy of the indigenous Enxet people of Paraguay. And I think that the Enxet give an account of love from which we can learn a lot.

A sketch of an Enxet theory of love

This talk about the wáxok may seem unfamiliar. It is not, after all, a term you usually find in philosophy textbooks. But it gives us an alternative way of thinking about the philosophy of love. If we take an Enxet view on love, this is what a theory of love might look like:

  1. Love involves our bodies, our emotions, and our thinking (because the wáxok is where thinking and feeling happen as well).
  2. Love is about our built-in sociality: it is both innate and also learned through our relationships with others.
  3. And finally — perhaps most importantly — our capacity to love is rooted in our susceptibility to others and the extent to which we can be affected by them. Love needs softness. If we are over-inflated and hard, we cannot love, and we cannot live successfully in society with others.

Love and community

One reason this is such a powerful account is that it sees love as something that is rooted, first and foremost, in the idea of community.

Learning and relearning what it means to love

Ever since reading about the Enxet theory of love, my own sense of what love is has shifted a little. One of the ways you can tell if there is something worth exploring in a philosophical idea is the way that it continues to resonate, giving rise to new ideas and new thoughts.

Notes

[1] Joanna Overing and Alan Passes (editors), The Anthropology of Love and Anger: the aesthetics of conviviality in Native Amazonia (Routledge 2000)

Looking for Wisdom

Philosophy for the insatiably curious

Will Buckingham

Written by

Writes nonfiction & fiction. PhD in philosophy. Next book “Hello, Stranger” (Granta 2021). www.willbuckingham.com www.lookingforwisdom.com.

Looking for Wisdom

Philosophy for insatiably curious: the greatest philosophers and the most intriguing philosophies from across the world.

Will Buckingham

Written by

Writes nonfiction & fiction. PhD in philosophy. Next book “Hello, Stranger” (Granta 2021). www.willbuckingham.com www.lookingforwisdom.com.

Looking for Wisdom

Philosophy for insatiably curious: the greatest philosophers and the most intriguing philosophies from across the world.

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