Proletarian Science: Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages

I find it remarkable how a conceptual system as empirically reliable as Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages has not been adopted into mainstream pedagogy. I can only appeal to my own experience (as well as the many case studies by Chapman), and for the purposes of this essay take its empirical validity as a premise. In doing so, I hope to explain the significance of this theory, to explain how it is distinguished from other intellectual theories, and to call such correct but ‘unproved’ conceptual systems ‘proletarian science’.

Dr. Chapman is not a typical intellectual. Rather than working in academia, he developed his conceptual system on the field during his practice of marriage counselling (in a situation similar to that of Freud), in order to explain the goings-on and oft-repeated explanations of why a spouse felt that their partner no longer loved them. Chapman eventually discovered a limited number of categories for a person’s manner of expressing affection, and found that each person tended toward one (sometimes two: ‘bilingualism’) of these categories at the exclusion of the others. However, because the predominant category became entrenched in each spouse’s behaviour (and because this choice was entirely unconscious), many spouses did not know how to extend their methods of expressing affection so as to address the other person’s category. Thus, marriage problems resulted: the behaviours which had once occurred naturally during courtship (e.g. buying flowers, taking walks) no longer occurred, and each spouse felt that the other no longer loved them.

The five ‘love languages‘ are as follows (in no particular order):

  • Quality Time – Spending unconstrained time together; often correlated to conversation.
  • Receiving Gifts – Even trifling gifts succeed in making the spouse feel loved.
  • Words of Affirmation – Kind words meant sincerely: compliments, etc.
  • Acts of Service – Having chores and favors being performed for oneself.
  • Physical Touch – Not necessarily correlated to sex, but can be. Many men at first guess that this is their ‘language’, but there may be another which is more important for them.

Chapman’s website has a quiz that determines one’s primary love language. Often the remaining languages can be arranged hierarchically for each person.

Chapman frequently delivers seminars, often to a working class audience, and his writings are meant to be as accessible as possible. In fact, his book, alluded to above, is so facile that any reader can notice these patterns through observation after memorizing these categories and applying them to friends and acquaintances.

After seeing that Chapman’s methods work so well, one becomes tempted to posit these categories as universal. (I am not aware of any studies of obscure cultures or ‘deviant’ individuals through Chapman, but Chapman would likely hypothesize that his categories would still be valid.) The main problem for the social scientist, however, draws its analogy from mathematics: given a formula that empirically works, the next step is to develop a more abstract, more comprehensive proof for this initial formula, i.e. to explain why it works. I have never heard of any such effort being made. While I wish I could develop such proof myself, despite my being aware of the issue for some time, it’s still quite unclear to me what such a proof would even look like.

As an explanation of why this theory remains relatively unpopular, I attribute the following reasons: 1) humanism: theories based upon ‘commonsensical’ categories tend to be judged as lacking theoretical accuracy, as resting upon the cloudiness of ‘commonsensical’ (read: mythical, in the sense of urban legends) concepts; 2) lack of causality: there is still no explanation for why one ‘language’ is selected over another, though Chapman states that preference displays itself in early childhood; 3) universality: this theory does not account for differences of upbringing, constitution, culture, or any sort of individual differences; rather, this small set of categories is posited to be universal, existing in and of themselves.

Compared to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which is taught to every student of business and psychology, Chapman’s theory is far more empirically reliable, non-judgmental, and practicable.[1] The difference in institutional acceptance, sad to say, can only be attributed to politics. Chapman, at the time that he developed his theory, was an unknown marriage counselor; Maslow was a professor at Brandeis University, achieved a score of 195 on Thorndyke’s IQ test, and was elected president of the American Psychological Association in 1967-8 (Fadiman & Frager, 1984).

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Chapman’s theory, however (as opposed to that of Maslow) is that Chapman himself is not naturally an intellectual. He displays none of the characteristics commonly associated with intellectuality (eccentricity, rebelliousness against doctrine, reductionism, etc.). According to another, quite reliable conceptual system known as the Enneagram (to be dealt with in a later post), Chapman has absolutely no connection to the type of person (the Five) who naturally tends toward intellectuality. Rather, Chapman is simply a normal fellow (in Enneagram terms, a 2-1, as far as the author can tell) who has developed a heuristic conceptual system in order to explain a collection of phenomena (problems in marriage counselling) within the prevailing ideology of his era/culture/ socioeconomic class. Chapman asks for no revolutions in thought, overturns no fallacious beliefs, but simply asks us to extend his system into the realm of common sense. His motives are altruistic and practical, and could feasibly be accepted into the doctrine of common sense at any time. But they have not been greeted with any institutional acceptance, except perhaps in the case of marginal management consulting firms (which often tend toward ‘outlandish’ theories in a bid to seem avant-garde). And why is this? Because Chapman’s theory is not ‘scientific’.

Such empirically valid yet ‘unscientific’ conceptual systems I propose be called (in a somewhat playful manner) ‘proletarian science’. I intend this to correspond more to Mao’s distinction between ‘proletarian nations’ and ‘bourgeois nations’, rather than the spurious denials of ‘bourgeois science’ (e.g. Einstein’s relativity) displayed by the more parochial of the Soviets during communism. Similar to Barthes’ distinction between the “real” and “reality” as “what is demonstrated but not seen” and “what is seen but not demonstrated,” respectively (The Pleasure of the Text, pg. 46), ‘bourgeois science’ may perhaps be said to correspond to the former, as ‘proletarian science’ to the latter. ‘Science’ sans epithet, or that which has been incorporated into canonical knowledge[2] may perhaps be said to encompass that which is both seen and demonstrated.

I certainly do not advocate the ‘expropriation‘ of bourgeois science, but rather hope that this distinction will highlight the marginalization of heuristic formulas which work in practice, but are rejected by institutional science as uncouth and groundless; and I hope to remind readers that in practice (if not in theory), the value of a scientific theory is measured by its ability to demonstrate its own validity by predicting future events and/or the result of changes in phenomena (e.g. the result of mixing bleach with ammonia, or of adding trillions of dollars ex nihil to an economy). Bourgeois science, then, requires demonstration in reality in order to be relegated to the realm of Science/Canon, and proletarian science requires a precise analytical ‘proof’ through advanced concepts (“the real”) to become accepted as canonical Science.

Dr. Gary Chapman

For some of my own observations through Chapman’s system, it is interesting to note that many intellectuals prefer Quality Time (particularly its subtype of quality conversation) as their language of expressing affection. This can likely explain the focus on discourse in much contemporary theory in the humanities since the ‘linguistic turn’, as well as the explicit fascination with time of Mumford, Debord, Deleuze, Bergson, Husserl, and so on. Exceptions to the primacy of ‘Quality Time’-language among intellectuals include Marcel Mauss, who was reportedly ‘obsessive’ about gifts, which eventually led to his well-known Essay On The Gift; Bernard Mandeville, author of The Fable of the Bees, who discourses at length upon man’s pride, which is most manifest in his desire for praise; and perhaps Wilhelm Reich, who used massage & exercise techniques to treat the material symptoms of neurosis (the ‘body armor’ of muscle configurations brought about by emotional tendencies, e.g. perpetually constricted abdominal muscles resulting from a tendency to hold one’s breath out of anxiety). Not that directing one’s research toward one’s tendency of affection is a bad thing, of course, but it may likely lead to reductionism. Indeed, perhaps the freedom from such reductionism is what allowed Maslow to say that only individuals who felt loved and respected were able to self-actualize, developing original thoughts that were not merely an expression of their desire for love.

I am somewhat embarrassed to be discussing at length the importance of people’s desire for love. Nevertheless, if a method works, I won’t ignore it, and if it is practical I have no scruples about using it. Nonetheless, it is precisely the ‘nonscientific’ nature of the concepts from which it is formed that owe it its ‘proletarian’ nature, and which, perhaps, afford a sense of awe that ‘mere’ commonsensical concepts can afford such precision.


[1]: This is not, of course, to say that Maslow’s theory is not useful. In fact, a quotation from Friere regarding the effect of his poverty on his childhood education amply illustrates Maslow’s importance: ““I didn’t understand anything because of my hunger. I wasn’t dumb. It wasn’t lack of interest. My social condition didn’t allow me to have an education. Experience showed me once again the relationship between social class and knowledge” (Freire as quoted in Stevens, 2002 [as quoted in Wikipedia]).

[2]: I here distinguish between canonical knowledge (i.e. that which is accepted by a society as valid, even if most of its members do not know about it in detail) and commonsensical concepts, even though both can be said to be aspects of the larger realm of ‘Common Sense’ (other aspects include more contingent factors such as taste preferences, norms, and taboos). ‘Commonsensical concepts’ consist of imprecise concepts (e.g. love, respect, virtue, justice, normalcy, intelligence) which are used by most members of a society in everyday life, and which can include watered-down versions of the concepts of canonical knowledge, just as a host of canonical concepts (particularly in such disciplines as psychology) are merely more exact terms which can fit into a commonsensical concept.



  • Gary Chapman divides the different ways of expressing affection into 5 types. He call these the five love languages. (See chart above)
  • Every person has a love language which they favor over all the others. However, because not everyone’s love language is the same, ‘communication’ problems result: two people express love in their own languages, but each does not understand the love language of the other, and because their own love language is unaddressed, both feel unloved.
  • Remarkably, Chapman’s categories always work in real life, but they haven’t been integrated into mainstream knowledge.
  • What is particularly interesting about Dr. Chapman is that he is not the type of person who naturally tends toward being an intellectual. His theories lack the ‘fixed ideas’ which can be found in the work of most intellectuals.
  • Proletarian Science consists of theories (like Chapman’s) which work in real life, but have no intricate explanation (as in a mathematical proof) of why they work.
  • Bourgeois Science consists of theories which have intricate explanations of why they are true (like Quantum Physics), but cannot be seen in daily life.
  • Canonical Science consists of theories which have intricate explanations of why they are true and are demonstrated in daily life.
  • Chapman’s love languages can be found in intellectual works, e.g. the focus on discourse correlates to the love of conversation for those whose love language is Quality Time. If an intellectual realizes that he/she tends toward studying subjects that express his/her desire for love, he/she is able to counterbalance this by broadening his/her focus.
  • Even if we do not personally like the concepts used in a ‘proletarian’ theory, if the theory works, it is worth paying attention to.

**Note: I am aware of Chapman’s recent work on the 5 languages of apology, but neglect it here due to its less easy applicability to daily life (ideal for a marriage and for close friends, but difficult to identify in someone that one does not know well). This conceptual system would certainly fit the bill of ‘proletarian science’, however, and would equally benefit from a formal ‘proof’.


About Graham Joncas

We are a way for capital to know itself.

Posted on July 12, 2011, in Review and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. An interesting read, thank you.

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