Emotion Trumps Reason

“Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them,” said David Hume said in his Treatise of Human Nature.

Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.

David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature

Hume claims that “reason alone can never be a motive to any action of the will,” and that reason alone “can never oppose passion in the direction of the will.”

In the United States, forces on the Left have still not learnt this lesson. They are still trying to fight emotion and irrationality with reason. It’s like trying to coöpt the insane with rationality. It’s not going to happen.

And despite protestations, even the most supposedly logical of us are still motivated by some emotion or passion, as much as we can try to deny it. One can claim to have become an accountant or an engineer or a physicist because it was a calculated, logical thing to do, but in the end, even the brightest of these are driven by passion, by emotion.

As long as we are fighting emotion with reason, the battle is already over before it starts. We need to fight emotion with empathy. This is where the story of the oak and the willow comes in handy. Reason is the oak. Reason is the hare, but emotion is the supple willow of the tenacious tortoise.

Wage this fight and escalating commitment will prevail, as the emotional response will trigger a sort of fight or flight, but your opponent’s reason will form a hard shell to fend off any attacks.

But don’t feel too smug. It’s only your emotions that give you the passion to fight the good fight. Reason has convinced you that this is the logical route.

Emotion-Reason Scaling

I’ve been engaging in an online dialogue on the topic of a scale or continuum of emotion and reason with Landzek through comments on his blog. Since, I am unable of posting images in his comments (AFAIK), I am posting them with commentary here.

He’s got 4 parts of this topic (so far), but, for reference sake, it starts here. Without retreading context you can get on his site, the essence is the notion of a scale, a spectrum between emotion and reason. In part 4, he conveys something I interpret as a time series graphically as image A.

Emotion and reason are a dimension represented on the Y axis, and time is on the X axis.

Prior to this, time was not a factor, so I had been constructing this as a simple continuum as shown in image B.

Here, there is only a X axis, running from emotional to rational, representing reason. Ignoring for the time of the index of the scale and not being concerned if the relationship is even-tempered linear or something else.

Secondarily, is there a quality perspective to the placement? My initial questions are embedded on the graph.

As I don’t feel that the Emotional-Rational scale are opposites, I’ve been thinking through how this scale might work. My first take was along these lines, creating a Cartesian plane.

It this, Irrational and Rational create an X-axis scale and Reserved and Emotional create the Y axis. I’m not sure that the nomenclature opposite of Emotional is, but stoical or reserved are placeholders for now.

Upon further thought, I am not sure irrational is the extreme opposite to rational. I am also not sure what the interplay of rational versus irrational versus non-rational should be, but I created a fourth chart as a basis of discussion.

I am not making a claim that any of these are correct. I am just trying to think this through visually. As I’ve got a day job, I need to get back to, I at least wanted to provide this foundation for conversation.

Admission

I’ve been accused of being hyper-logical and aloof, and I self-identify as a logical intellectual. This noted, for humans—myself included—emotion precedes logic. Every time. Logic is applied to rationalise our emotional response. This ‘logic’ is based somewhat on classical logic and otherwise on environmental factors. This is one reason that rhetorical persuasion is so effective. It doesn’t loose sight of the emotional element—pathos—whilst retaining logical and ethical notions—logos and ethos.

Stoic dude, Marcus Aurelius

I’ve been accused of being a stoic and Star Trek’s Mr Spock—devoid of emotion—, and on one level I don’t feel that I am run by emotions’ but on the other hand, I likely am. It’s just I can rhetorically convince myself to the contrary.

I find that highly illogical

Epistemologically, how can I know this? I can’t. But I think that this fits into Daniel Kahneman’s 2-system approach, and system 1, the heuristic element, is the first responder to all incidences. System 2, the analytical element often isn’t even alerted. For people of my persuasion, we intentionally invoke system 2, but this is always after system 1 has evaluated the situation. I highly recommend Kahneman’s Thinking Fast & Slow as an introduction to these systems and how they deal (and don’t deal) with cognitive biases.

If I had a dollar

This may be why Emotivism makes sense categorically, as Truth is just another notion wrought from emotion. It is also how humans convince themselves that things like justice and fairness can exist.

And, so, does this post have another point to make? Am I going to elaborate? It seems a bit short. By my own admission, nope.

Stephen Hicks’ Strawman

I’ve been reading and listening to Conservative Stephen Hicks’ Explaining Postmodernism. He’s made it free on YouTube and as PDF. It’s important to note that the book is a decent read, but Hicks makes little attempt to remain in a neutral voice. It’s clear that he is critical of it, so his explaining is not to articulate to the generally interested; rather, it’s to impose his worldview on the topic matter. Read or listen, but keep this in mind. If you lean Conservative, you’ll eye-roll in unison with him; if you lean to the Left, the eye-rolls will have a different significance, as he mows down one strawman after another.

In this clip (bookmarked from the full audiobook), he attempts to make the case that postmodernists—which is as motley a crew as a group of atheists—eschew the notion of rationality for the comfort of feelings. Sure, I suppose some postmodernists do make this argument, but it is hardly a universal position. Taking myself as an example, I have no illusion that most people can register let alone understand their feelings.

I recall being in a corporate-sponsored (human resource-sponsored) interpersonal communications class where the instructor made the claim that one should defend your position by invoking feelings:

  • Your loud voice frightened me.
  • I feel sad when you shout at me.
  • I feel anxious when…

My reaction then is about the same as it is as I write: Whilst I may not understand what the other person may be feeling, there is little reason for me to believe that this person has identified and named this feeling. There is also little reason to presume this person is conveying to me a correctly-interpreted feeling in lieu of a more hyperbolic version for maximum effect. Moreover, some people seem to be offended by pretty much anything. And there’s one thing I’ve learnt along the way:

A person looking to be offended is pretty much guaranteed to be offended.

So, absent context, I have no reason to take this person at their word. Call me a curmudgeon, if you please.

Like Jordan Peterson, a personality who promotes Hicks, standing up and knocking down strawmen seems to be their raisons d’être, but this is sloppy philosophy and lacks the integrity these people claim to admire. In any case, forewarned is forearmed. Caveat emptor.

EDIT: The more I read of Hicks, the less I like it. He misunderstands or at least misrepresents postmodernism in a big way. I am not sure whether it is intentional or through ignorance, but a certain expected academic neutrality is absent to the brink of malpractice.

Here is a fuller critique of Hicks’ misrepresentation of Postmodernism.

Is Utilitarianism a thing?

I stumbled across this video this afternoon, and it got me thinking….

I’ve always found all normative ethical foundations to be lacking, from virtue ethics to deontology and consequentialism, each for its own reasons. Utilitarianism falls under consequentialism and is the foundation of much economic theory, the concept that people maximise this notion of pleasure. Aside from the other issues in utility theory, pleasure is not measurable.

But if emotions are also the result of social construction, what would be optimised if we could even maximise in the first place?

Emotions are not what we think they are.