[6.3.1] Marsilio Ficino Ethics of Love

The ethics of Love is an important theme for Marsilio Ficino (1433–99):

  • Ficino defines spirit as quality of the soul
  • Love mediates human beings
  • Love can be true and love and false love.

The following OntoUML diagram shows the main classes in Ficino’s model:

Ficino ethics
HumanBeing“Rational Soul (in which human beings take part), …”
RationalSoul“Ficino’s soul-body dualism was not the same as “mind-body” dualism, nor indeed was it for Plato, for late ancient Platonists, or for medieval thinkers before Ficino (Celenza 2007, 88–89). For Ficino as for his predecessors, the human soul, and [rational] “Soul” in general, could have material effects on the phenomenological world in ways that “mind” could not in the Cartesian tradition.”componentOf HumanBeing; characterizes RationalSoul
SpiritThis for this reason that “spirit,” or spiritus, was so important in Ficino’s thought. Ficino suggests: “Spirit is defined by doctors as a vapor of blood – pure, subtle, hot, and clear. After being generated by the heat of the heart out of the more subtle blood, it flies to the brain; and there the soul uses it continually for the exercise of the interior as well as the exterior senses” 
LovePart of the reason for this “activist” conception of Soul on Ficino’s part had to do with a search to find forces binding human beings to one another. For Ficino, love linked all things together; and love flowed first from God into all existing things, which consequently shared the property of similarity, outwardly different as they might be on the surface. 
 This blurring, to modern eyes, of the metaphysical and the physical, in which the “immaterial” soul can use a vaporous material entity to have effects on the physical world, presents Ficino at his most characteristic. Love between people occurs when the lover’s spirit is exhaled toward the beloved and the beloved returns the gesture reciprocally; unreciprocated love can thus become a kind of homicide, as one human being loses a vital element to another. “When we speak about Love,” Ficino writes (and here he means earthly love), “you should understand this as meaning the desire for beauty. For this is the definition of love among all philosophers.” Ficino goes on: “The purpose of love is the enjoyment of beauty” (Ficino 1576, 1322–23; Kristeller 1988, 282).
mediates HumanBeing with other humans
TrueLoveOnce this attraction [of True Love] has taken place, “… the soul burns with a divine radiance which is reflected in the man of beauty as in a mirror, and … caught up by that radiance secretly as by a hook, he is drawn upwards in order to become God” (ibid.). And God would be a “wicked tyrant” if he implanted in human beings this aspiration without allowing the possibility of its eventual fulfillment (ibid.).subkind of Love
FalseLove“For Ficino, in classic Platonic fashion, it is the manner in which one enjoys beauty which differentiates true from false love. Beauty is “bait” and a “hook” for Ficino: “The splendor of the highest good is refulgent in individual things, and where it blazes the more fittingly, there it especially attracts someone gazing upon it, excites his consideration, seizes and occupies him as he approaches, and compels him both to venerate such splendor as the divinity beyond all others, and to strive for nothing else but to lay aside his former nature and to become that splendor itself”subkind of Love


  • Celenza, Christopher S., “Marsilio Ficino”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

First published: 6/10/2022

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