“Love is always patient and kind; it is never jealous; love is never boastful or conceited; it is never rude or selfish; it does not take offense, and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people’s sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes. Love does not come to an end”. (Corinthians 13:4-8)
Mostly people shrug their cynical shoulders at these words. “Look at the divorce rates,” they’d say. People get married, divorced and remarried just as frequently as they change their shirts. Some may even take greater care in choosing their shirts! Lovers are often jealous, easily take offense, especially when jealous. It’s just plain false, or fanciful, if you like, to believe in such nonsense. It just doesn’t fit with the facts.
Yet others, the romantics amongst us, might scornfully retort that the cynic has not had the good fortune to experience true love. Perhaps it is the sign of our times. Perhaps, we’re all too wrapped up in our glorified individual lives that we no longer know how to invest in a love relation. Maybe we have grown accustom to immediate gratification. Maybe we bore easily. Maybe our amoralistic attitudes have dumbed our sensibilities. Maybe we’ve confused the genre of sex and pathos with true love.
A philosopher might step in here and argue that the romantic is guilty of fallacious reasoning. Prone to irrational sentiments, it is no wonder, says the mindful flat-liner. But let’s be clear. Consider the simple illustration of the Scotsman fallacy:
Person A: No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.
Person B: I am Scottish, and I put sugar on my porridge.
Person A: Well, no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.
Person A is making a swooping universal claim, so that when Person B steps up and argues that he is a living counter-example, instead of denying the truth of the counter-example (say, for instance, it wasn’t actually porridge he was eating) or the universal claim, the original universal assertion is made conditional. A good academically minded philosopher will also be careful to point out that it was Antony Flew who first identified this fallacy. His example ran as follows: A Scotsman, sitting down to his morning paper reads about a series of sex crimes committed by someone in Brighton and declares “No Scotsman would do such a thing”. The next day he sits down to his morning paper once again, but to his dismay reads of an Aberdeen (Scotland) man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. Rather than revisit his original claim regarding Scotsmen, he claims, “No true Scotsman would do such a thing”.
Okay we’re getting off track now. Suffice it to say that this is a logical mishap which philosophers, especially within the analytic tradition, would be attentive to in their philosophical address of the narrative. Language is broken down into a series of propositional claims and organized syllogistic-like to reveal the structure of the argument. Sigh. Yawn. Thump.
Let Elizabeth Barrett step in. Allow her sonnet “How do I love Thee” to speak to us about her love.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
Meaning wanes before truth in the modern man’s imagination. The meaningfulness of Barrett’s narrative defines not what Love is, but how it is lived. Language forges communication, which it simultaneously is a constituent of. Language orients those already conversant in a dialect. Phrases in cross narratives don’t always refer to alternate states of affairs but import experiential, existential perhaps, modes of relationality incorporated in the dialect.
So, for instance, a scientist’s rendition of what Love Is would speak of neurochemical processes that respond to a host of olfactory and visual stimuli, which are culturally acquired, while a psychologist might say love is constituted of attachment, caring and intimacy. Of course, anthropologists, biologists and other-ists could furnish the conversation with their own rendition, and in each case the term is situated within a context of meanings shared amongst those conversant in their common dialect. How do I Love Thee falls on deaf ears for those not conversant in the dialect of poetic verse. It is not necessarily the case that the scientist has not experienced love – nor sti
ll that his hyper chemical analysis refers to a different state of affairs – but that the linguistic play on words is incomprehensible to her because the context of meanings encrypted in this form of indirect literary speech is absent. She literally knows not of what Barrett speaks!