I was also reassured that despite the practical or clinical need in some cases not to ask people about their bad experiences - and hence wording questionnaires only positively - that in general the affective character of loneliness was often directly investigated. My worry had been that asking about social connections and support might mistakenly assume that happy loners are lonely. But even here it seems to me that there are difficulties if one investigates loneliness in other terms even if affective. I might, for example, think that I do not have enough friends on some cultural standard, or even think that I might like having more, without actually feeling lonely. Surely those young people who want more Facebook friends for reasons of apparent status may feel disappointed or inadequate. But not lonely?
If on the other hand, what it is to feel lonely is to be disposed to use that very word of oneself, then how does one police the use of that word, especially with the young? Luc Goossens, from Belgium, reassured me that there is evidence that pre-school onwards children say they are 'sad because they have no friends' and slowly learn more sophisticated understanding. I guess that this example is no more mysterious than any other case in which from apparently patchy reinforcement in the face of all sorts of Kripkean possibilities, speakers converge on the same understanding.
Towards the end of the day, however, Mark Atkinson, University of Exeter, raised a point which seemed to me quite crucial. Apparently, the scaling dimension in the UCLA loneliness scale is frequency. There is no measure of intensity. There was some discussion about whether this mattered, whether anything would turn out empirically different if an attempt were made to add intensity to the scales and hence to the research. The mood of the group was that it probably wouldn't matter. I am less sanguine about this. It suggests to me that what is being measured isn't loneliness as an emotion or state but particular expressions of loneliness. And the frequency of such expressions might not correlate very well with the strength of the emotion itself. The frequency of particular expressions, particular feelings, might depend on contextual factors, for example, and hence be a measure of the presence of those prompting factors. But the most obvious feature of loneliness seems to me to be intensity. There is all the difference in the world with the bitter-sweet loneliness I feel when I go for a walk in the Lake District and the sense of loneliness when stuck in Paris a few years ago. How often did I feel lonely? All the time! Once!
I asked whether there was an articulation of the concept of loneliness within psychology which the scales then attempted to be measures of. There might be an analysis of loneliness in the way that there are competing philosophical models of emotions more generally which focus on different - cognitive and affective - elements. But it seems that there is only the operationalisations. That suggets, if I understood, that there is no theoretical mediation between the folk concept and scales which seems rather bald.