Saturday, January 21, 2017

Love Requires a Predicate

Trees in Love
Lake Erie sunrise, Sterling State Park

"S loves p." As in: John loves Linda." A 'subject' loves a 'predicate'; in this example, a subject loves a person.

Love is other-centered. The lover desires the beloved

At its best and purest a lover loves the beloved in such a way that the beloved experiences being-loved. Real love is for the sake of the other, not for one's own self. Love serves the beloved. Where there is love, the beloved's well-being is paramount.

Love gives. Love describes a relationship in which the predicate benefits at the expense of the subject. The subject spends itself on the predicate. When it's the other way around, when the subject "loves" for the sake of benefiting at the expense of the predicate, the predicate loses their personhood and becomes an object. "loves p" gets reduced to, simply, "S." The identity of the beloved is wallowed up in the narcissism of the lover. 

This is the loopy logic of self-love, of "love" for the sake of one's self. The predicate is the subject. A strange self-reflexive reaction forms. This is "love" that is never satisfied. This is "love" that leads to adulterous affairs, serial monogamy, and other forms of non-investment.

Thomas Merton writes: "The one love that always grows weary of its object and is never satisfied with anything and is always looking for something different and new is the love of ourselves. It is the source of all boredom and all restlessness and all unqiet and all misery and all unhappiness - ultimately, it is hell." (The Waters of Siloe) Object-predicates fail to satisfy the greedy "subject" because the subject has become an all-absorbing thing, consuming love-objects like dogs devour chunks of meat.

"S loves p" could be construed not as a subject-predicate statement ,but as a subject-object statement. What, precisely, in "S is in love with p," is predicated of S? Isn't p to be understood as the "object" of S's love, and not a predicate ascribing something to the subject? No and yes. 

No: p is not best understood as an object of S's love. Subject-object language implies relational distance. Love has nothing to do with that. Love is a connected-relational thing. Love speaks of oneness and unity, not two-ness and distance. Two lovers "become one flesh." "One flesh" language resists the Cartesian dichotomy between a knowing subject and an object which is to be known. Love is a unitive thing.

Yes: because if love were an ontological union between the lover and the beloved both would disappear. Or, perhaps, the beloved would be absorbed into the lover. In this case "S loves _____" would become, simply, S. There is always a distance between lover and beloved, but not a Cartesian metaphysical distance whereby one eventually wonders if the beloved exists. 

Subject-predicate language better explains the love-relationship than does subject-object language. In the statement "The chalk is white," "whiteness" is predicated as an attribute of "chalk," telling us something about a certain piece of chalk. Analogously, to say "S loves p" (or "S loves ____") tells us something about the being of S, instead of simply objectifying p.

The noetic framework that best accounts for the nature of real love as predicate-centered is Christian Trinitarian theism. The Christian idea of God as a "trinity" of Persons conceptually explains the idea that God is love. God, in his being, is love. Because we have a God who is a three-personed being sharing one essence, the love of God is not self-love. In the idea of God-as-Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit love one another throughout eternity. God's love is "predicative" and relational, rather than objectifying in the sense of Descartes and the influential Cartesian tradition.

In John 14-17 Jesus extends an invitation to enter Trinitarian love. The love that ultimately satisfies, the love that provides the foundation of all earthly loves, the very source of love itself as other-centered, becomes ours, in reality and by experience. Love requires a predicate because the God who is love is, in his essence, a lover of others. God is the author of the subject-predicate love that defines his very being.

My recent book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.