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.

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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.

Irrationality

I’ve not read nearly at a pace as I’ve done in prior years, and I’ve got a million excuses. I did recently start and stop Quine’s Pursuit of Truth, but I’ve just picked up Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason.

EDIT: I’ve since finished this book and posted a review on Goodreads.

As a former behavioural economist, it’s good to see the expansion of the position that the Enlightenment brought the Western world an Age of Reason, but it failed to see how little capacity most humans have for reason even regarding mundane affairs.

Have you ever stopped to consider that literally half of the population has less than average intelligence?

Some guy

Fundamental attribution bias is clearly at play, as the authors of these Enlightenment works were high-intellect individuals. I respect greatly the likes of Locke, Hume, Montesquieu, Rousseau, and their near contemporaries, but the world they envisaged was based on an invalid premise.

In the realm of governance, one might try to argue that Plato was trying to address this in his admonishment of democracy in favour of The Republic, but he, too, was incorrect, essentially not seeing principle-agent problems as well as predicating a system on the notion of virtue—naive, to say the least.

I’ve been tremendously busy in my day job, so I haven’t been able to contribute here as much as I’d like, but I’ve taken time to jot down this.

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 expectated academic neutrality is absent to the brink of malpractice.

Sam Harris and the Myth of Perfectly Rational Thought