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For most of us it is obvious that the world is full of love, we are born into a loving community and our characters are shaped by the love on which our life depends in our infancy. But Anglophone philosophy is apt to create visions of the world where love has no place in reality. In this post I will focus on the simple question: are there facts about love? To answer this question I will examine propositions in which the term “love” appears, calling them “love-propositions”. I will focus on three examples:
1: We ought to love those near to us as much as we love ourselves.
2: I love Jenny.
3: Jenny loves me.
Supposing these three love propositions to be true, are they facts? Or are they even truth apt?
What are facts? Facts are propositions that are mind independently and objectively true and justifiable either by evidence or by logical proof at least in principle. The major contrast group is opinion. An opinion may be one of two things; it may be a belief about a fact that is not sufficiently justified in order to be accepted as fact. Or it may be a religious, or political point of view; or a matter of taste. This understanding of what facts are is intended to be a characterisation of the way “fact” is used in public discourse, but I also argue that it is metaphysically loaded and the fact/opinion dichotomy is metaphysically substantive.
There is a group of related philosophies that I will saucily call “anti-love metaphysics” that arguably exclude love propositions from the realm of the real. These are materialism, logical positivism, scientism and naturalism. These isms need no introduction from me but they provide the framework for some clearly anti-love philosophical positions, namely eliminative materialism, reductionism, ethical anti-realism, projectionism and emotivism.
These anti-love metaphysical theories have attendant epistemologies that arguably dominate Anglophone philosophy. In particular many contemporary epistemologists hold the view that knowledge is factive. This has the consequence that if love-propositions aren’t facts then they cannot be known. Furthermore, a sizable movement in epistemology is called “evidentialism”, which holds that only evidence can justify beliefs. This doctrine again excludes any love-propositions that cannot be justified by evidence from being known.
The common theme of anti-love metaphysics is that they see love as being a relatively late and contingent entry to the catalogue of things that exist. There was no love in the big bang, and so there is no love now; what we call love must be reducible to something more “fundamental”. In this picture, fundamental particles are irreducibly objective. Much late 20th Century Philosophy of Mind has been a struggle to fit consciousness into this ontologically cold physical universe. The most problematic for Physicalism has been the subjectivity of conscious thought. Choices, desires, beliefs and experiences of all kinds necessitate the existence of a subject that has those experiences. But there does not seem to be such a thing as a subject in a complete physical description of everything that is. Love is essentially subjective and doubly so. Real love is intersubjective, in that one can only genuinely and properly love a subject of experiences, someone who can choose and feel and believe and love you in return. The most basic love-proposition, “I love you”, is essentially and irrevocably subjective, and doubly so.
But particular love propositions like “I love Jenny” do seem to operate like facts. They do seem to hint at an objective reality that could, at least in principle, be reduced to physical descriptions, or at least supervene on the physical. It seems perfectly possible that I could believe I loved Jenny without actually loving her. It also seems possible that I could actually love her without believing that I did. This gap between belief and truth implies the existence of a fact. It also seems to imply the possibility of reasons to believe. Suppose I sincerely say to Jenny “I love you!” what is this? Am I reporting a fact? How do I know this fact? It is often said that you should never tell someone that you love them unless you are certain. What kinds of justifications are needed to be certain of such a statement? One idea is that such statements are performative, they are enactments of promises or declarations of commitment, rather than reports of private psychological states. The commitment I propose is an alignment of interests, it is a promise to treat Jenny’s interests as being intrinsically important. It is a commitment to Jenny’s flourishing. If this is right, then a justification for such a commitment can be a practical one rather than a purely evidential one. Considerations such as “I feel happy in your presence” “I like the idea of spending my life with you” “I want to have children with you” will give weight to my decision to make a commitment to align my interests with Jenny’s, not because they give evidential support to the existence of a psychological state, but because they give practical incentives to make such a commitment.
A reason to suspect that love-propositions are “metaphysically queer” is that you can’t derive and “ought” from an “is” according the Hume, but that you seemingly can derive an “ought” from a love-proposition. If it is a fact that I love Jenny, then all sorts of obligations seem to follow. Love is by its nature compelling, binding and the stuff of promises and commitments. The idea that this is metaphysically queer is the crown of anti-love metaphysics. But to go with it, perhaps love does not exist, perhaps love-propositions aren’t facts at all, but merely promises and attitudes of preference, commitments and obligations. In any case this dilemma seems clear: either my love for Jenny does not exist, or that which ought to be can be derived from that which is.
The obligation inherent in love seems a lot more necessary in the case of self- love. The Christian commandment “Love thy neighbour as thyself” assumes, at least on the surface, that self-love is a given. I propose that to love someone carries with it an obligation to promote their interests. The nature of this obligation is such that, when you fail to meet it, then either you will suffer emotionally, or it is simply not true that you love. But what if you refuse to act in your own interests? It seems almost logically necessary that you act in your own interests, but there are cases where people fail to meet this basic obligation. The most dramatic example is suicide, but there are also cases of severe negligence in self-care in those who suffer depression. What makes people who are suicidal or self- negligent difficult to deal with is that without any self-love, there doesn’t seem any foundation with which to reason practically. What is the nature of the obligation? If you do not meet the obligation to love yourself, you will inevitably suffer and die. That seems as high a punishment as nature has at her command. But unless you do love yourself, then this is no punishment at all. We can extend this to the love of others, if you fail to love other people, then they will be less likely to flourish. If they are your infant children and you are a single parent they will inevitably die. But then, if you do not love them, it does not matter to you whether they flourish.
So to return to the question; love-propositions are not facts because 1. They contain imperative force. 2. They are inherently subjective. 3. They cannot be known because they cannot be justified by evidence alone. All three of these things exclude them from the world of facts according to various popular Anglophone metaphysical systems. But this can only be a reductio argument against these metaphysical systems. Because love is a fact and love is a sustaining force throughout nature and I know this to be true. Without love, there would be no metaphysics, there would be no science and there would be no “facts”.