Given the fundamental importance of relatedness for our health, our wellbeing and as a factor that makes life worth living, any worries that talk of relationships or attachment will be taken to be inconsequential, or trivial should seem strange. Such concerns, however, are evidenced by the editors of a book on psychological attachment theory. In their introduction to the volume, Sebastian Kraemer and Jane Roberts write that “there is a serious risk that some readers will recoil from the argument,[1] as if it were merely an invitation to ‘love thy neighbor.’” The writers also take pains to distinguish their work from  “an appeal to sentiment” stressing that it is “quite the reverse.” Attachment theory makes a “serious contribution” they contend and is “hard headed stuff” adding that “if the notion of attachment means anything at all to the general reader it tends to conjure up a rather syrupy picture of loving contentment, such as a mother and baby enjoying each other’s company.” (1996, 6 emphasis added). It would appear that writers are anxious to position their work within the “hard” sciences as opposed to being perceived as champions of soft and syrupy sentiment, talk of which, or so it would appear, holds no rightful place in serious discourse.

This is not to suggest however, that Kraemer and Roberts’ have no reason to address what might be construed as a bias against discussions of interpersonal relationships or affect. As psychologist Harry Harlow noted in 1958 “[t]he little we know about love does not transcend simple observation, and the little we write about it has been written better by poets and novelists. But of greater concern is the fact that psychologists tend to give progressively less attention to a motive which pervades our entire lives. Psychologists, at least psychologists who write textbooks, not only show no interest in the origin and development of love or affection, but they seem to be unaware of its very existence” (Harlow, 673).

Western thought in general, moreover, has a long tradition of marginalizing talk of relationships and emotions from the realm of “serious” discourse. Socrates provides us with a good example of this dismissive attitude when he sends away his wife “crying out and beating herself” on the eve of his execution. As Phaedo reports it, Socrates’ had Xanthippe escorted home after she “uttered a cry and said, as women will: ‘O Socrates, this is the last time that either you will converse with your friends, or they with you.’” Xanthippe’s desire to engage in relational talk, “as women will” is entirely ignored in this context, while her overt emotional displays are viewed largely as an intrusion upon the more weighty and important discussions that will follow. [2] If we wish to move from philosophy to science, we can see that Socrates’ attitude here is not so dissimilar from that displayed by Robert Boyle’s some 2000 years later when he effectively barred women from attending his public demonstrations. This occurred after one demonstration during which several highborn ladies cried out to rescue small birds being suffocated to death while displayed in a chamber. At the time Boyle was demonstrating the efficacy of his newly invented air pump. Rather than entertain the legitimacy of the women’s care for the birds, however, Boyle merely responded by holding future demonstrations well past the hour when any reputable and well-bred lady would venture out into public.

[1] In a nutshell, attachment theory holds that attachment patterns developed in infancy and childhood profoundly affect adult behaviour. The book in question explores the political and social consequences of this theory.

[2] It is only once she is gone moreover, that a rational discussion on the immorality of suicide can emerge. That this behavior is seen primarily as intrusive is revealed in a comment made by Socrates. After drinking his hemlock at which point the men with Socrates start to cry. One even “broke out in a loud and passionate cry which made cowards of us all,” Phaedo says. Readers are further informed that “Socrates alone retained his calmness: What is this strange outcry? he said. I sent away the women mainly in order that they might not misbehave in this way, for I have been told that a man should die in peace.”