Reason and Emotion

By Socrates

A recent dialogue with a good friend brought to light the question of the role emotion plays in reasoning. It is a worthy question. Does emotion play a role, or should it be ignored.

During our dialogue, I considered an example in which emotion was a priority factor in the making of a decision. A young person, who was terrified of flying, missed the opportunity of an overseas trip. She refused to get on the plane. Was she reasoning? Or was she acting on emotional impulse? I think she was reasoning, but her reasoning was emotional. Her emotional reasoning can be represented as premises and conclusion. It went like this:

P1. Because airplanes sometimes crash, if I fly in one my life is at risk
P2. Because I don’t want to die, I should avoid putting my life at risk
C. Therefore, I will not get on that plane (accompanied with feelings of extreme fear)

The emotion set up a fight or flight response which kept her safe, on the ground, away from the plane. When I look at the emotional reasoning, I see that it is valid. However, careful analysis reveals missing information. There are no statistics included. It turns out that the likelihood of being involved in a plane crash is incredibly low. Now, if the young person included a premise which stated the probability of a plane crash, she might be able to rework the argument and realize that flying is a rationally acceptable risk. And her feeling of fear may be reduced as a result.

Acting on one’s initial emotional reasoning may lead one to miss opportunities. So, it seems to me that a rational examination of our emotional reasoning can help us live a better life. After all, the unexamined life is not worth living.

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