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The ways in which emotion might enhance and/or undermine reasoning as a Way of Knowing

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  • Category: Emotions

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Emotions enhance reasoning as a Way of Knowing and lead to a more enlightened knower. I will illustrate how our emotions act daily to provide us with reasons which indicate the best course of action for an individual. 1 Next, I will demonstrate the ways in which emotions enhance our ability to reason by providing us with different perspectives on a situation. 2 Then, I will evaluate the ways in which emotion acts as an aid in our reasoning. Finally, I will provide an analysis of the way in which emotion enhances our reasoning by providing us with an undeniably reality that allows us to reasonably asses our situations

To begin with, emotions provide reason or no reason for action by acting as evaluatives3, negative or positive indicators about our selves and our situations. 4 To reason without emotions one typically uses the Aristotelian practical syllogism5. i Emotions can provide reason in a similar way6. ‘The major premise is expressed as a pro or con attitude towards something that the second or minor premise tells how to attain or avoid’7 For example, a feeling of anger would indicate to a person that they had been wrongly accused or unfairly treated, and may cause this person to try and get revenge.

The anger provides us with a reason for a specific course of action. A problem of knowledge is that emotion may not always cause an individual to take the best possible course of action. Instead, overcome by anger, one might do or say something unreasonable. For example, once, overcome by emotions, I told my mother I hated her. Obviously, quite the opposite is true.

Evidently, in such cases, emotions can lead us astray. In asking the question of whether or not emotions enhance or reduce our ability to eason, we are acknowledging the fact that they have some affect on our decisions. Hence, we can recognize the fact that emotions do effect our decisions and acknowledge when we are being irrational because of our emotions, and by doing so become more informed knowers. Aristotle explained that our emotions are derived from feelings of comfort or discomfort which provides reason or no reason for action. 8 For example, I have a fear of sailing.

If I were to go sailing, I would be fearful that the boat would tip over or that the boom would hit me in the head, and I would experience a discomfort which would provide a reason to try and change my situation, perhaps by jumping out of the boat and swimming ashore. Similarly, if I enjoyed sailing, I would experience a feeling of joy and happiness while sailing and I would have a reason to keep the conditions the same. Clearly, emotion cooperates with reason to make the best decision possible for the agent. Finally, emotion is effective in practical reasoning because of the feelings that it generates.

For example, just like most people, my mom is aware that wine stains easily. Therefore, if someone were to spill wine on her table cloth, a feeling of urgency would cause her to stop even the most exciting of conversations, and attempt to remove the wine before it could permanently damage the table cloth. In this way, we use our emotions to make rational decisions in our everyday lives. Emotions also provide the agent with different perspectives on the same situation that may aid them to rationally assess their situation. For example, if one is jealous they may evaluate why they feel jealous.

Thus, emotions provide a reason to evaluate and judge one’s situation, and results in a more informed knower. Even emotions which may not seem rational contain cognitionsi 9 vital for one’s reasoning. This occurs with empatheticii and anticipatoryiii emotions. 10 For example, I could feel sorry for a friend because he or she was fired. From my perspective, this is not rational because it is not my loss. In this case, simply using reason as a means to evaluate my situation would ultimately destroy my friendship, but with emotion and reason, I would be able to support y depressed friend.

As well, the observation of another’s emotional experience provides a learning experience in that it would enhance one’s ability to reason in a similar situation in the future. By reasonably evaluating our emotions and the judgments that arise from them we become better informed and more reasonable beings. Emotions also provide a subconscious or conscious ‘paradigm scenario’iv which acts as an aid in our reasoning. 11 Subconsciously, a paradigm scenario will result in a reasonable decision because of the force of habit.

Charles Darwinv explained the theory when he wrote The Principle of Serviceable Associated Habits. This book ascertains that ‘certain complex actions are of direct or indirect service under certain states of mind, in order to relieve or gratify certain sensations, desires… ,and whenever the same state of mind is induced,… there is a tendency through the force of habit and association for the same movements to be performed. ’12 For example, in a recent thunderstorm my dogs continually whined and barked and took refuge underneath my bed. A similar scene, a paradigm scenario, occurs every time my dogs appear frightened.

Therefore, as a result of the feeling of fear or perhaps anxiousness, my dogs habitually seek refuge. A problem of knowledge is that it can not be proven whether or not habit is a result of an emotion because habits are performed subconsciously and are therefore they are difficult to evaluate. Also, even if one did discover that their habits were a result of their emotions there would be no way to prove the same for everyone else. Emotions can also provide paradigm scenario’s consciously which, upon evaluation, can lead to a more rational decision. In this way, the emotions of different people act as an aid to each other.

For instance, if one was to feel the need to criticize another person, that person would be forced to respond and evaluate why they are being criticized. Then, from this emotion triggered reasoning, they could determine whether they should defend themselves or not. Therefore, emotion gives reason for evaluation. Emotions are also useful in reasoning because they provide one with an undeniable reality which may at first cloud their reasoning, but ultimately can not lie. For instance, one can not “talk themselves” into a genuinely true emotional state.

As an illustration, we’ll pretend an innocent student was accused of attempting to cheat by a teacher whom he/she highly admired and respected. Although these feelings of admiration and respect might initially make the feelings of hurt and insult overwhelming, ‘clearer heads prevail,’14 and the student would be able to reasonably assess the situation, their emotions, and draw the correct conclusions. The student would know, from his/her feeling of hurt and insult as opposed to guilt, that his/her intentions were never to cheat despite the accusations of the teacher.

These feelings would act rationally in that they would guide the student to seek those who support him/her, and to provide the teacher with the necessary explanations of his/her predicament. Simultaneously, the emotions act rationally and cooperatively within the student as he/she is eventually able to view the situation clearly, and the equitable feelings of innocence and the notion of being mistreated prevails despite the feeling of respect and admiration that the student has for the teacher.

As well, Antonio Damasiovi wrote of emotions as an aid to rationality15 . For example, when studying for my exams the material I remember the best is the material that generates the most interest and emotion in me. Emotions act rationally even in our everyday lives. For example, a couple can not have a loving relationship unless some level of intimacy and honest emotional expression is reached. 16 The feeling would act rationally in that one’s love for the other person would allow them to see past most of their faults thus resulting in a healthier relationship.

Also, the realization that one is loved or admired provides reason to set a good example and feel confident. Similarly, if someone’s loved one was to die, the sadness might be overwhelming. Nonetheless, eventually, emotions would act rationally in that they would provide a realization that the deceased would want them to carry on with their life. Therefore, the realization of the deceased emotions over the living’s emotions provides reason to carry on. A problem of knowledge is that for some people, the sadness may still be too much to overcome.

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