Assortments of Thought

Emotion and Logic

Posted on: August 5th, 2009

There seems to be a general sense that emotion is inferior to logic, that the results of being emotional are never any better than okay while those of being logical are never any worse. The thinking, presumably, is that logic can always be used to find good, reasonable courses of action, yet the best emotion can do is not derail them, or in other words, not prevent someone from thinking logically. In the end, it’s thought, being emotional just means being too irrational and impulsive for it to be as good and helpful as being logical. Yet logic is far from being infallible, and emotion serves positive functions that logic simply doesn’t and never will. So while being too emotional can indeed be problematic, so can being logical without being emotional enough. In short, without emotion, logic doesn’t enable true enjoyment of things; it doesn’t always lead to good moral decisions; and it can’t give full conclusions. Hence, far from being inferior to logic, emotion is its necessary counterpart, adding meaning and morality to life that otherwise wouldn’t exist even while making logic itself possible.

Of course, emotion can indeed be problematic when it comes to someone being too emotional, or acting without logical thought. At an everyday level, for instance, this can take the form of someone acting impulsively and later realizing they shouldn’t have done what they did, or conversely, of not acting at all when they should’ve. Or, it can mean handling relationships wrong, of either trusting or forgiving people when it isn’t warranted, or else avoiding them when it isn’t warranted. Likewise, at a grander level, it can mean someone misgauging the seriousness or trivialness of events in their life, perhaps leading them at an extreme to feel that their whole life isn’t worthwhile, or even worth living. Or, it can mean someone interpreting their whole life and even basing major decisions in it on things beyond their perception or proof, potentially to their detriment or that of others. And, perhaps worst of all, emotion can lead to prejudice of and, at an extreme, hatred toward other people merely because they’re different, leading to suffering and potentially even death. Clearly then, the common conception that emotion without logic is often bad isn’t wrong at all, but quite correct, as the aforementioned cases as well as any number of others illustrate.

Nonetheless, perhaps contrary to common conception, when it comes to someone being too logical, or acting without emotional feeling, then logic can be problematic as well, perhaps even equally so. Without emotion, for instance, logic doesn’t enable true enjoyment of things. Consider time spent on entertainment, hobbies, or recreation, or with friends, family, and lovers. Logically, these things are mostly inefficient or unproductive uses of time, even the little moments truly being just that, little moments of little significance. Even the magic of a true love is logically nonexistent, since logically, couples are only drawn together because evolution has instilled an instinct for it, given the importance of reproduction for the perpetuation of the species. Hence, it’s only with emotion that anything in life can ever be truly enjoyed, whether it’s as simple as a good song or as grand as an enduring love.

Logic without emotion doesn’t always lead to good moral decisions either. Consider, for instance, everyday life and the actions someone takes in support of other people’s lives. Logically, such actions could be considered mistakes, assuming people can act totally selfishly and yet prosper and avoid personal repercussions. Or, consider the grander decisions authoritative and ruling groups make to acknowledge the rights of individuals apart from the group. Even the quality of life that freedom and respect of individuality so often give could be considered illogical, considering all the costs, wastes, and inefficiencies involved. Hence, it’s often only with emotion that good moral decisions can be made, whether they mean reaching out to and helping fellow people, or else not throwing everyone’s rights or even lives away for the group.

Without emotion, logic can’t even give full conclusions. Consider the process of selecting claims, based on evidence, to argue for a certain conclusion. Even if all the evidence required for a thorough analysis were available, where competing claims exist, each has to be weighted in importance relative to the others. Without emotion, such weighting can’t be done, because evaluating the relative importance of one claim to another requires making a value judgment, which in turn requires assigning emotional significance. Most fundamental of all, emotion will always be needed to approve the initial claims of any argument, because no claims exist which are logically self-supportive. In other words, as Ronald Munson and Andrew Black allude to in their book The Elements of Reasoning, p. 188, it’s always possible to argue backward from claim to previous claim indefinitely, so to construct any argument consisting of a finite number of claims, initial claims simply have to be accepted as reasonable. Such judgment of claims as reasonable or self-evident, I believe, must be made through emotion. Hence, it’s only with emotion that logic can even give full conclusions, meaning that logic itself requires emotion to operate.

Emotion is thus the necessary counterpart to logic. By enabling true enjoyment of things, supporting good moral decisions, and even making logic itself possible, it adds meaning and morality to life that otherwise wouldn’t exist. Maybe none of this is really surprising though. Being emotional and being logical clearly aren’t two ends of a continuum, because being more of one doesn’t necessarily mean being less of the other. Even so, the capacities for emotion and logic both are so fundamental that in everyday life, any decision made is motivated and conducted by some mix of both. Such a mix is essential, yet it’s likely hard to see that it exists, so people go on thinking some decisions are clearly emotional while others are clearly logical, assuming logic is always okay while emotion is often bad. The final message then, perhaps, is simply that that’s not the case, that even decisions of logic are to some degree decisions of emotion as well, and vice versa, and that emotion and logic both are essential for good living. For though it’s said there’s no logic in emotion, implying there’s no emotion in logic either, clearly, there’s always some of both in either, and neither is much good without the other.


Black, A. & Munson, R: The Elements of Reasoning, 5th Ed, ©2007
(ISBN #978-0-495-00698-5).

©2009, D.S. Applemin. All rights reserved.


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