The Four Loves – Chapter 2 (“Likings And Loves For The Sub-Human”)

Four Loves 2

Four Loves 2

Continuing my notes on The Four Loves, in this chapter Jack examines the likings/loves we have for things things which are not human (which he calls “subhuman”). In particular, he focuses in on love of nature and love of country. We will not deal with these in this post. Due to the length of the chapter, these will be dealt with in subsequent posts.

Notes and Quotes

1. Before we get to loves, we need to look at likes, which means we need to look at pleasures

…there is a continuity between our elementary likings for things and our loves for people. Since “the highest does not stand without the lowest”* we had better begin at the bottom, with mere likings; and, since to “like” anything means to take some sort of pleasure in it, we must begin with pleasure.

* This is a quotation from “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis

2. We may divide pleasures into two kinds

Now it is a very old discovery that pleasures can be divided into two classes…

(a) Need Pleasures

…those [pleasures] which would not be pleasures at all unless they were preceded by desire… An example… would be a drink of water. This is a pleasure if you are thirsty and a great one if you are very thirsty. But probably no one in the world… ever poured himself out a glass of water and drank it just for the fun of the thing.

(b) Appreciative Pleasures

…[the other kind are] those which are pleasures in their own right and need no such preparation [of desire]. An example… would be the unsought and unexpected pleasures of smell – the breath from a bean-field or a row of sweet-peas meeting you on your morning walk. You were in want of nothing, completely contented, before it; the pleasure, which may be very great, is an unsolicited, super-added gift.

3. There can be complications with dividing up pleasures in this way

(a) You can have both pleasures at the same time

If you are given a coffee or beer where you expect (and would have been satisfied with) water, then of course you get a pleasure of the first kind (allaying of thirst) and one of the second (a nice taste) at the same time.

(b) Addiction can turn pleasure from appreciative-pleasure to need-pleasure

For the temperate man an occasional glass of wine is a treat like the smell of the bean-field. But to the alcoholic…no liquor gives any pleasure except that of relief from an unbearable craving. 

4. There seems to be a relationship between the pleasures and the loves

The resemblance between these Need-pleasures and the “Need-loves” in my first chapter will occur to everyone.

(a) We may experience the opposite tendency regarding the Need-pleasures to those we saw with Need-loves

It would be very easy to spread ourselves in laudation of the Need-pleasures and to frown upon those that are Appreciatives the one so natural…, so necessary, so shielded from excess by their very naturalness, the other unnecessary and opening the door to every kind of luxury and vice.

(b) If we wanted to disparage the Appreciative-pleasures, we could simply turn to the Stoics

…we could turn on the tap by opening the works of the Stoics and it would run till we had a bathful.

(i) There’s no need to treat the pleasures this way

…we must be careful never to adopt prematurely a moral or evaluating attitude. The human mind is generally far more eager to praise and dispraise than to describe and define. It wants to make every distinction a distinction of value…We must do nothing of the sort about the pleasures. 

(ii) We are warned against this by the fact that appreciative-pleasures can degenerate into need-pleasures through addition

We are already warned of this by the fact that Need-pleasure is the state in which Appreciative pleasures end up when they go bad (by addiction). For us at any rate the importance of the two sorts of pleasure lies in the extent to which they foreshadow characteristics in our “loves” (properly so called).

5. We speak about the different pleasures differently

(a) When referring to Need-pleasures, we speak about ourselves in the past tense.

The thirsty man who has just drunk off a tumbler of water may say, “By Jove, I wanted that.” So may the alcoholic who has just had his “nip”. The man who passes the sweet-peas in his morning walk is more likely to say, “How lovely the smell is.” The connoisseur after his first sip of the famous claret, may similarly say, “This is a great wine.” When Need-pleasures are in question we tend to make statements about ourselves in the past tense

(b) When referring to Appreciative-pleasures, we speak about the object in the present tense

…when Appreciative pleasures are in question we tend to make statements about the object in the present tense.

6. The different kinds of pleasures yield different responses from us

…the Need-pleasures loudly proclaim their relativity not only to the human frame but to its momentary condition, and outside that relation have no meaning or interest for us at all. The objects which afford pleasures of appreciation give us the feeling – whether irrational or not – that we somehow owe it to them to savour, to attend to and praise it.

(a) Need-pleasures die quickly

But the most innocent and necessary of Need-pleasures…certainly “die on us” with extraordinary abruptness, and completely.

(i) The scullery tap

The scullery tap and the tumbler are very attractive indeed when we come in parched from mowing the grass; six seconds later they are emptied of all interest.

(ii) Frying food

The smell of frying food is very different before and after breakfast.

(iii) The bathroom

And, if you will forgive me for citing the most extreme instance of all, have there not for most of us been moments (in a strange town) when the sight of the word GENTLEMEN over a door has roused a joy almost worthy of celebration in verse?

(b) Appreciative-pleasures do not merely gratify our senses, but lay claims to appreciation by right

They make us feel that something has not merely gratified our senses in fact but claimed our appreciation by right.

(i) The claret connoisseur

The [claret] connoisseur… feels that here is a wine that deserves his full attention; that justifies all the tradition and skill that have gone to its making and all the years of training that have made his own palate fit to judge it. There is even a glimmering of unselfishness in his attitude. He wants the wine to be preserved and kept in good condition, not entirely for his own sake. Even if he were an his death-bed and was never going to drink wine again, he would be horrified at the thought of this vintage being spilled or spoiled or even drunk by clods (like myself) who can’t tell a good claret from a bad… 

“It would be a sin to set a wine like that before Lewis,” says the expert in claret.

(ii) The man passing sweet-peas

He does not simply enjoy, he feels that this fragrance somehow deserves to be enjoyed. He would blame himself if he went past unattentive and undelighted. It would be blockish, insensitive. It would be a shame that so fine a thing should have been wasted on him. He will remember the delicious moment years hence. He will be sorry when he hears that the garden past which his walk led him that day has now been swallowed up by cinemas, garages and the new bypass.

7. The different kinds of pleasures foreshodow

(a) Need-pleasures foreshadow Need-loves

How the Need-pleasures foreshadow our Need-loves is obvious enough. In the latter the beloved is seen in relation to our own needs, just as the scullery tap is seen by the thirsty man or the glass of gin by the alcoholic.

(i) It is often not long-lasting

And the Need-love, like the Need-pleasure, will not last longer than the need.

(A) Mothers

That is why the world rings with the complaints of mothers whose grownup children neglect them

(B) Mistresses

…[and] of forsaken mistresses whose lovers’ love was pure need – which they have satisfied.

(ii) Other factors may make it last

This does not, fortunately, mean that all affections which begin in Need-love are transitory.The need itself may be permanent or recurrent. Another kind of love may be grafted on the Need-love. Moral principles (conjugal fidelity, filial piety, gratitude, and the like) may preserve the relationship for a lifetime.

(iii) Our Need-love for God continues because we are always in a position of need in relation to Him

Our Need-love for God is in a different position because our need of Him can never end either in this world or in any other. But our awareness of it can, and then the Need-love dies too.

(b) Appreciative Pleasures show us beauty

 What Appreciative pleasure… is the starting point for our whole experience of beauty.

(i) We cannot easily divide appreciative pleasures into “sensual” and “aesthetic”

It is impossible to draw a line below which such pleasures are “sensual” and above which they are “aesthetic”. The experiences of the expert in claret already contain elements of concentration, judgment and disciplined perceptiveness, which are not sensual; those of the musician still contain elements which are. There is no frontier – there is seamless continuity between the sensuous pleasure of garden smells and an enjoyment of the countryside (or “beauty”) as a whole, or even our enjoyment of the painters and poets who treat it.

(ii) These pleasures show signs of distinterestedness

And, as we have seen, there is in these pleasures from the very beginning a shadow or dawn of, or an invitation to, disinterestedness.

(A) We can be heroically disinterested about Need-pleasures

Of course in one way we can be disinterested or unselfish, and far more heroically so, about the Need-pleasures: it is a cup of water that the wounded Sidney* sacrifices to the dying soldier. But that is not the sort of disinterestedness I now mean.

* The reference to Sidney is a reference to Sir Philip Sidney, Elizabethan poet and knight, who gave a cup of water to a dying soldier.

(B) Appreciative pleasures are more inherently disinterested

…in the Appreciative pleasures, even at their lowest, and more and more as they grow up into the full appreciation of all Beauty, we get something that we can hardly help calling love and hardly help calling disinterested, towards the object itself. It is the feeling which would make a man unwilling to deface a great picture even if he were the last man left alive and himself about to die; which makes us glad of unspoiled forests that we shall never see; which makes us anxious that the garden or bean-field should continue to exist.

8. This reveals to us a third element in love

(a) We can see this because we began at the pleasures

And now our principle of starting at the lowest – without which “the highest does not stand ” – begins to pay a dividend. It has revealed to me a deficiency in our previous classification of the loves into those of Need and those of Gift.

(b) It is foreshadowed in appreciative pleasure

There is a third element in love, no less important than these, which is foreshadowed by our appreciative pleasures. This judgment that the object is very good, this attention (almost homage) offered to it as a kind of debt, this wish that it should be and should continue being what it is even if we were never to enjoy it, can go out not only to things but to persons. When it is offered to a woman we call it admiration; when to a man, hero– worship; when to God, worship simply.

(i) Our different loves speak differently

Need-love cries to God from our poverty; Gift-love longs to serve, or even to suffer for, God; Appreciative love says: “We give thanks to thee for thy great glory.” Need-love says of a woman “I cannot live without her”; Gift-love longs to give her happiness, comfort, protection if possible, wealth. Appreciative love gazes and holds its breath and is silent, rejoices that such a wonder should exist even if not for him, will not be wholly dejected by losing her, would rather have it so than never to have seen her at all.

(ii) These loves mix and succeed one another

We murder to dissect. In actual life, thank God, the three elements of love mix and succeed one another, moment by moment.

(iii) None but perhaps Need-love ever exist alone

Perhaps none of them except Need-love ever exists alone, in “chemical” purity, for more than a few seconds. And perhaps that is because nothing about us except our neediness is, in this life, permanent. 

In the next two posts we will look at Jack’s discussion of the love of nature and love of country


1. What does Jack mean when he talks about “the sub-human”?

2. Lewis divides pleasures into two classes. What are they? Can you think of any examples which he doesn’t give? What warning does he give about dividing pleasures into these two categories?

3. In what way can addiction ruin appreciative-pleasures?

4. Why might we be tempted to praise need-pleasures and disparage appreciative-pleasures?

5. What does Lewis observe about the way people speak when talking about Need-pleasures and Appreciative pleasures? Why does Lewis think this is?

6. How do Need-pleasures and appreciative-pleasures differ when they are satisfied?

7. In what way do Need-pleasures and appreciative-pleasures foreshadow the different kinds of love?

8. What is the third kind of love that Lewis introduces after the study of the pleasures?

9. What kind of love can exist in isolation? Why does Jack say this is?

C.S. Lewis Doodle

No doodle!

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