Reason to love: David Braddon-Mitchell's philosophy of passion

25 May 2014

Speaking at the Sydney Writers' Festival's Bloomberg Stage, David Braddon-Mitchell told us "writing and storytelling will help us find what we have reason to love."

Philosopher, writer and Honorary Fellow in Philosophy at the University of Melbourne, Damon Young, introduced Braddon-Mitchell, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Sydney.

Braddon-Mitchell clarified as he began, that he was not talking about love - about high romance - but about "small 'l' love." Passions and desires on a small scale were the topic of the lecture.

Braddon-Mitchell was a lively, animated and passionate speaker, immediately ploughing into the heady, conceptual content of his lecture. Like most philosophical concepts, Braddon-Mitchell's dissection of love was more than a little mind-bending.

He asked us to imagine two views of the world contained in all of our minds - the world as it is and the world as we want it to be. We are constantly trying to reconcile these two visions of the world, Braddon-Mitchell says.

But Braddon-Mitchell begged the question: how do we know what it is that we desire from the world? What is it that informs our desires?

Braddon-Mitchell knew perfectly how to capture an audience's attention. He hurled expensive Italian chocolates in the crowd, and then before their lucky recipients could eat them, plainly stated that his dog had done something unspeakable to them.

With a cheeky glint in his eye, Braddon-Mitchell asked those poised over the dubious chocolate treats, "do you really want to eat it?"

"On Love", despite its admittedly slightly "fraudulent" (in the words of the lecturer) title, was perfectly rousing given the context of the flurry of ideas and stories of the Sydney Writers' Festival. Braddon-Mitchell spoke of a better-informed potential self that we all have, one that knows precisely what we desire.

This future self is, Braddon-Mitchell explained, informed by putting ourselves in the positions of others, learning about people in other cultures, other times and other walks of life so we may better understand what is out there on which we may set our sights.

The more complicated of the metaphysical leanings of "On Love" were sure to be missed by many of the attendees, but at the centre of the lecture was one simple message, about the power of imagination and knowledge to make us happier.