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.
Reason, logic, is a tool. It is a means to an end. It is never an end unto itself, never the goal. It is the journey, not the destination. When we use reason, we use it in pursuit of some goal. That goal may be truth, it may be self aggrandizement, or it may be rationalizing an intuitively held opinion.
Our goals come from our instincts, our intuitions, our emotions, from the base programming that evolution has given us. First you feel the motivation, then (maybe) you deploy reason in pursuit of the motivated goal. Reason may have informed your instincts. It might have played a role in the formation of the urge, but it didn’t itself create it.
Without instinct, you wouldn’t get up in the morning. You wouldn’t seek food, or a mate, protect your friends and family, or strive to survive. Reason may help with identifying intermediate goals, such as career ambitions, but the ultimate goals, such as survival, having a family, being famous, come from instinct.
Of course, we have several instincts. Those instincts can often clash, with some being stronger or weaker than others. And the balance can shift depending on our state of mind, with some being stronger when we’re calm, and other being stronger when we’re we’re excited. Some operate over longer periods, while others surge briefly.
We tend to feel that service to ones we feel longest and strongest, in lieu of the weaker or briefer ones, is obvious, “self evident”. Except that not everyone has the same balance between different instincts. And that is often very difficult to remember. Indeed, it is often very difficult to even comprehend.
When we say that someone is rational, what we are usually saying is that they deploy their rationality in pursuit of the same goals that we do. When we call someone irrational, or accuse them of rationalizing, what we often mean is that they’re deploying their rationality toward outcomes we disagree with.
In some ways, Star Trek has done the world a disfavor by implying that the idea of a purely logical being is a coherent one. The Vulcans in Star Trek, when they seek to be logical, are really seeking to be logical in pursuit of higher goals, of higher instincts. When Data in the TNG series seeks to have emotions, he is really seeking human emotions, human programming, instead of the programming he has. But his very desire for human emotion is itself an emotion.
Now, this doesn’t mean that reason is useless. Just because the goal, the things we value, are not themselves the result of reason, doesn’t mean we can’t use reason to figure out the best path to satisfy them. And when we disagree, reasoning can help us understand the real reason for the disagreement, which often boils down to different intuitional frameworks.
But we should understand the limits of what reason can do. The very desire to be reasonable, to be logical, is itself an emotion. If I have an emotional commitment to truth, then reason is useful for seeking it. If I have an emotional commitment to loyalty to the tribe, then my reason will be used for that goal, and I may seem unreasonable to someone with truth as their overriding goal.
This is something we should remember when trying to persuade with reason. Reason will only work if they have the same, or similar, emotional commitments that we have. If our commitment is to scientific accuracy, and their commitment is to emotional comfort, tribal loyalty, or some other impulse, then reason is unlikely to be persuasive.
- Lesson 14: Emotion (tamakisatoblog.wordpress.com)
- How Do I Know That When You Die You Really Are DEAD? (thebuybulljournal.wordpress.com)
- Critical Thinking workshop (osakacriticalthinkers.wordpress.com)
- Emotions Do Count (frizzyhairedmusings.wordpress.com)
- The Tyranny of Reason (thoughtuncommon.wordpress.com)
- Instincts (alanala.wordpress.com)
- The Psychology Behind Motivation (jennieabat.com)