Reason and Emotion

Today I wish to spotlight the issue of emotional verses rational thinking. At the time of Socrates, the individual was second to culture and country. The idea of subjective knowledge was literally foreign to the Greeks of that day. Oracles provided answers to questions not specifically embodied in custom, tradition, or law. The subjective experience had no place or value until Socrates, with his irony, began to question the sophists and others. Through the use of irony Socrates placed value on the subjective and today we understand this through his admonishment, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”


During the nineteenth century the German romantics took this idea of subjective experience to the extreme, literally attacking all customary traditions. For the romantics, feeling and emotion trumped all else. Philosophers like Kierkegaard and Hegel responded by treating the romantics as scoundrels.

It would appear that today we live in a world where both extremes abide. There are those who elevate objective facts above all else and those who cling to the subjective as the only way we can really know anything. So the question enters, when is the process of ratiocination more important than our emotional leanings—or is it ever the case?

Emotion Trumping Reason

I can feel very strongly about a subject regardless of what my intellect may instruct. Instantiated in this feeling is some level of certainty that the so-called facts must be wrong. I think we can all call to memory a time when our feelings ran contrary to our intellect. Indeed, this is not uncommon when it comes to sex or love. For example, I think about my relationship with Ravinder and remember considering all of the reasons it simply would never work. She was too different from myself to ever expect a positive outcome. Not only did she come from a background I did not understand, one of arranged marriages, caste systems, and the like, but she was in many ways the antithesis of myself. Now, almost 30 years later those concerns seem trivial. So is that to say, allowing my emotions to trump my rational thinking is the right course of action?

Sometimes you get lucky and I believe that is the case with Rav, for today I am convinced that allowing our emotional biases to rule is the perfect path to unwanted results. That said, where Ravinder is concerned, eventually my reason pointed out how empty life would be without her.

Our subjective feelings are important and in many ways define us. However, where Kant was convinced that the only way we could know an object was through our perception and therefore perception was more important than the object, this is not the case with objective reasoning per se’.

Emotion Supported by Reason

Our emotional life should be somewhat supported by reason. This should be obvious for when we ask someone why he or she did something, or liked something, they are quick to provide a reason. Albeit, the fact is we often make up reasons for what we fail to understand.

I have discussed the notion of freewill on many occasions and today there is little dissent about the realization that if we have freewill at all—it is limited. Our every thought is given us by the subconscious and so, in that sense, is our every choice. We fail to make many good choices because a better alternative is not offered up to us. The only way we gain additional options is through study and reason. The study of ourselves and the world around us leads us to options and alternatives we might not otherwise have any clue about. Reason is the gift that sets us apart from the rest of the animal world and that alone should inform us of where our priorities lie.

My thoughts anyway.

Eldon Taylor

Eldon Taylor

Eldon Taylor
Provocative Enlightenment
NY Time Bestselling Author of Choices and Illusions