Countering emotion with logic is often not effective

Massimo Pigliucci posted yesterday: Rationally Speaking: Irrationality, a personal study, his personal frustration in a conversation with a relative who, despite being a fairly rational person, had an emotional aversion to gay marriage.  Massimo lamented the difficulty in convincing people to approach things rationally.

I think trying to counter emotional positions with logic is a tricky proposition.  As many people have said, you can’t reason someone out of a position that they never reasoned themselves into to begin with.  In my experience, one option is to counter their emotional position with an emotional appeal.  This is the approach often used by salesmen and politicians.  It may work, but it doesn’t further the goal of having people think more rationally.

Another option is to try to instill in the person an emotional commitment to truth.  While much harder, it’s basically the foundation of what most of us would call thinking rationally.  If you don’t have this commitment, then your logic will simply be deployed to justifying the position you took intuitively.

In discussions, it also pays to remember that virtually no one ever changes their mind on an emotional stance immediately.  Often, the best we can hope to do is plant a seed that may grow.  The chance of that seed growing is stronger if we can manage to avoid having the discussion become acrimonious.

3 thoughts on “Countering emotion with logic is often not effective

  1. I was going to write how rationality serves emotions, but you beautifully subsumed that and gave a fascinating way forward with your next-to-last paragraph.

    Take a strong view of truth: What is true is not just propositions, but what confronts us in any moment, the already-done-thus-unchanging past and uncertain future. Now develop an emotional commitment to that; how could our lives be transformed?

    The path of mindfulness, presence and letting go would all flow from that, and the commitment to truth would give a powerful foundation for mindfulness (confronting things) instead of fleeing them.


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