The Great Love Debate: A Platonic Symposium

12 February 2013

What would economists make of the excessive spending on Valentines Day? What can we learn from the French language, love's mother tongue? And is the ephemeral concept of love really felt the same way in all people?

These are just some of the topics up for discussion in a unique 'Ancient Greek-style' symposium at the University of Sydney for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences' Undergraduate Welcome Day on Thursday 28th February.

Moderated by the Dean of the faculty, Professor Duncan Ivison, this lively event will see close to 500 new students assemble at the University's Wallace Theatre and Botany Lawn for a barbeque and barney on all things love.

The debate pays homage to the ancient symposium recorded by the Greek philosopher Plato in 385 BCE, in which friends gathered in Athens to discuss the true nature of the nebulous concept of love.

In a nod to the Classical tradition still strong within the University's founding faculty, the Welcome Day symposium is designed as a way to initiate new students to the broad scope of study areas on offer within the diverse faculty.

A line-up of dynamic scholars will battle it out for disciplinary supremacy, with each speaker having just five minutes to state their case on some wildly different views on love based on their academic specialties.

The event features Professor Colm Harmon, Head of the School of Economics, who challenges colleagues Dr Gaynor Macdonald from the Department of Anthropology, Dr Chris Hartney from the Department of Studies in Religion, Professor David Braddon-Mitchell, Chair of the Department of Philosophy, and Associate Professor Bronwyn Winter from the Department of French Studies.

The winner of the symposium will be determined by the most raucous level of applause, and is awarded both a celebratory wreath and the glory of enticing a new generation of Arts students to learn more about their discipline.

A taste of the arguments

Professor Colm Harmon presents an Economists take on love:

"Economists treat love largely as another market. To us lovely folks, love is... a nonrandom mating pattern where individuals with similar characteristics mate with one another more frequently than what would be expected under a random mating pattern!

"The odds of a high-school graduate marrying someone with a college degree in the US declined by 43 percent between 1940 and the late 1970s. So students are much more likely to meet their life partner at University because of so-called 'transaction costs' - finding someone is easy, you share similar ambitions so you eliminate risk of making a bad choice. And it makes breaking up easier - 'We can say we love each other all we want, but I just can't trust it without the data. And after performing an in-depth cost-benefit analysis of our relationship, I just don't think this is working out' - as Josh Freedman's article on McSweeney's hilariously notes.

"Some of the lessons from applying economics to love would say:

* Tax systems usually create a subsidy for affluent husbands that make working relatively expensive for women; particularly those with children, so don't marry

* An economist/accountant/writer marrying another economist/accountant/writer gets to talk economics (or accounting, or literature) all day, which is far more efficient!

* Don't have kids as kids take ages to do stuff that you can do much more quickly when time is money after all!"

Professor David Braddon-Mitchell on the Philosophy of loving the humanities and social sciences:

"Our minds have two kinds of abilities: believing, and desiring or loving.

"Believing is about modelling how things are. Loving and desiring is about how we want them to be.

"And so the university has two functions. Telling us how things are, and teaching us to find ways to develop our imaginations in learning how we should want them to be.

"The humanities and social sciences are of course in part about learning how things are. But very much in the service of coming to love the right things. By learning about how things are, and developing our imaginative understanding of the human and social world, we are better able to have loves of the right kind - and that is what is needed to be people that act, rather than people that just absorb."


WHAT: 'Loving the Humanities and Social Sciences: An Introductory Symposium', for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences' Undergraduate Welcome Day.

DATE: Thursday 28 February 2013

TIME: 11.30am - 12.30pm

VENUE: Wallace Theatre, Science Road, University of Sydney, followed by a BBQ on Botany Lawn, University of Sydney.

Contact: Emily Jones

Phone: 02 9114 1961

Email: 24463d051c7c2f005e574523351d35562c1f162d023364531245