The Beatles captured the world for music almost 50 years ago, but did they capture philosophical truth? The phrase, “all you need is love” needs, to borrow from Socrates, exploration. A hidden assumption to the song’s title is that the rest of the moral virtues are irrelevant. No need for justice if we understand the world as loving harmony and further understand injustice as an inconvenient misunderstanding. No need for forgiveness if there is no injustice.
Let us suppose that we could put a constraint on justice and forgiveness so that they do not exist. They, like injustice, are failed misunderstandings from a primitive past. All we have is love.
Now further suppose that a 14-year old girl comes to you and she has a sprained ankle, two cracked ribs, a swollen face, and a boat-load of resentment and mistrust because two boys accosted her on her way home from school. They laughed at and demeaned her.
Now what? We can bind the ankle, give her pain meds for the ribs and love her. But what do we do about the boat-load of resentment? “All you need is love.”
So, does she start to see what happened as a misunderstanding and to love the bullies, the law-breakers? Well, I suppose we could take a step back and first seek justice. We could call the police, make out a crime report, and stop the brutes so that this does not happen again.
No, wait a minute. In our world of love, there is no justice because there is no injustice.
OK. Sorry about that. Does she then start with forgiving the boys for……Sorry again. There is no forgiveness in our new world. Forgiveness is a mistake our ancestors made when they thought there was injustice in the world.
Our message to our battered friend is the refrain, “All you need is love.” We say to her: Train your mind to see mistakes where you thought there was brutality; train your mind to see your cosmic connection with boys who beat and batter and demean.
We may all be connected in some way, but we are not in harmony. Not by a loving long shot.
Aristotle famously told us over 3,500 years ago that we cannot practice any of the virtues in isolation of the others, for to do so distorts even the one moral virtue we have isolated. For example, try to help a courageous non-swimmer who has no wisdom (one of the virtues) to refrain from jumping in the stormy lake to save a dog. The courage degenerates into reckless bravado. It is no longer courage.
Try to tell the wounded 14-year-old girl that all she needs is love and you condone brutality. Even love, you see, degenerates and is no longer love. It is reduced in our case of the battered girl to patronizing her complaints, her agony to retain a point of view that cannot be defended. We know better than she does. She needs time to advance in her thinking. Condescension is not loving.
Some sing that they won’t live in a world without love. Can we start a new tune, singing that we won’t live in a world where there is only love? I hope it has a good beat and is easy to dance to, so that we can keep it on the charts for awhile, say, until the end of time.