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Why are there love languages?

Happy valentines day! I have recently been studying about the five love languages; a concept that marriage councilor and author Gary Chapman discovered through surveying people that he worked with. In his survey he asked people what they would do to show love to others, and how they would expect others to show love to them.

He categorized the results of his survey into the following five love languages:

  1. Physical Touch

  2. Giving Gifts

  3. Quality Time

  4. Acts of Service

  5. Words of Affirmation

After I learned about these categories I really wanted to know: Is there a reason for these five categories of love, or was he just biased about his survey results?

Fortunately I am creating a philosophical model which explains how intelligence works, and I think I found the answer using its ethical system.

Love and Ethics

The model of neurological intelligence states that there are two slightly opposing ethical systems. The one which explains what love is comes from the idea that morality comes from the relationships we have with others, it is an extension of contractarian ethics.

The sixth and final relationship ethic in the theory is the mercy ethic, which states that you must show mercy to people who are being unjustly treated by society. One way of being merciful is to love others.

But how are you supposed to know how another person needs to be loved? You use the first five relationship ethics. Each one reveals a way in which you could help someone to be treated in a more ethical manner. And that is where the five love languages come in. Each love language corresponds with an ethical code. They are ways of saying that you are going above and beyond normal ethical behavior, by treating one person as extra special.

However you may be motivated by the identity ethics. With these ethics in mind you could end up doing all of the same actions that the other love languages would have you do, but for all the wrong reasons. If you do this you risk coming across as insincere.

So lets look at them in a little more detail:

Language 1: Physical Touch

Physical touch is a form of love that stems from the social contracts ethic. The social contract ethic states that you are vulnerable to the predation of others, and it is only through social contracts that you can be kept from hurting each other. Physical touch is a physical representation of the social contract you have with those you love. Physical intimacy shows that you trust a person enough to be vulnerable to them.

That this form of love stems from a social contract says a lot about how it should be expressed. Physical touch should be consensual, and it should reflect the type of your relationship.

Contrast this to the values ethic, which states that all ethical action stems from your own values. You may want to start touching someone just because you thought you should, or just because you wanted to, but if they did not have the same thing in mind, this would at best be a breach of personal space, and at worst sexual assault.

Language 2: Giving and Receiving Gifts

Gift giving comes from the common good ethic. The common good ethic states that you need to make sacrifices in order to play your part in society. A gift can be thought of as a sacrifice because you are giving it away to help someone else.

To make your gift the most meaningful it should be something that was actually a sacrifice to give up. Maybe it took a lot of effort to make, or you had to put some thought into it, or it was expensive. Your gift should also benefit the receiver, so it should be something that they want, or need, or that they would probably want.

Gifts are a way of communicating appreciation for someone. It could be a way of saying thank you because you needed their help in the past, or it could be a way of saying that you want to help them because you expect your relationship with them will be beneficial in the future.

The corresponding identity ethic is the virtue signaling ethic. If you gave someone a gift as a form of virtue signaling, then you did it in order to look good. For example if your friends are all giving someone a gift you might bring them one yourself just so that you don't look bad. Or you might give someone a gift, but with the expectation that they are nice to you, or give you something in return. All these approaches will make you seem insincere.

Language 3: Quality Time

The next love language is quality time, which comes from the negotiation ethic. The negotiation ethic states that you should change your social contracts in order to best help everyone involved in them. You can figure out the best way of doing this through negotiation. When you spend quality time with someone you get to know them, listen to their concerns, hardships, hopes, dreams, etc. All of these things help you to know how best to accommodate for them in your life, and it lets them feel like their voice is heard.

Spending quality time with your loved one is a symbol that you are willing to go out of your way to have them as a part of your life and build your relationship together. It is like saying that you want to have their best interests in mind when you make decisions.

The corresponding identity ethic is the autonomy ethic, which states that you have to change your own values in order to best promote your identity. If your "quality time" looks one sided where you are trying to dominate every aspect of your time together, then you are probably following this identity ethic instead. As a result the person you are with will not feel heard or loved from your time with them. More likely they will be annoyed or belittled.

Language 4: Acts of Service

The next love language is Acts of Service. It comes from the responsibility ethic, which states that you should adjust your social contracts in order to best help those that rely on you. By serving others you show them that you want to help them, and that they can rely on you.

Your service will seem especially loving if it is something that you wouldn't normally do, or if it is clear that you had to go out of your way to do it. You should also do something that they really need to get done, or that would really help them out. For instance if someone did not have a lawn mower you could mow their lawn for them.

The corresponding identity ethic is the branding ethic, which states that you should change your values or priorities in order to align yourself better with the things you represent. If you serve someone by cutting their grass, and then leave a sign for your lawn care company in front of their house and tell them to write a good review on your company's social media account; that was not an act of love. Instead it was a business transaction.

Language 5: Words of Affirmation

The last love language is words of affirmation. This comes from the accountability ethic, which states that we must all keep each other accountable for the things that we do so that we can make sure we are all doing the right things. When you help someone to see that their actions are making a difference, maybe by complementing them, you are letting them know that they are doing what is right, that they should keep it up, and that they are appreciated. According to this ethic you could also lovingly correct someone who needs it. You just need to make sure that your intent is to help them to be their best selves.

What you don't want is to be motivated by the self-assessment ethic. Which states that you need to assess your own values to make sure you are doing what is right. Under this ethic you could find that you are assessing other people's actions harshly, so that you can feel better about your own. If you point out their flaws in order to make them look bad this is not the right way of affirming their actions. You risk hurting their feelings.

Closing thoughts

So yes, there is a good reason for having five different love languages. Using ethical systems we can see where the they come from, and how to properly express them. Unfortunately this post was not able to share a justification for the ethical systems I used, so they might have seemed a little arbitrary themselves. If you would like to learn more about them you can visit my post titled Meta-Ethics.

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