Wednesday, September 24, 2008

the most interesting thing you'll read during the time you're reading it. i promise.

There has been a great deal of discussion in a number of fields (philosophy of mind, ethics, cognitive science, etc.) about what place things like feelings, emotions, and so-called “non-rational” cognition have in our experiences. While there is certainly a great range of opinion about how separate these sorts of phenomenon are from conscious, calculated reflection, most agree that feelings and emotions are usually more immediate, and sometimes beyond our control to a degree. In philosophy, and in particular the study of ethics, this property has given feelings a 'secondary' sort of status as a guide for appropriate action and interaction. Rational thinking is often understood as a sort of calm, collected mediator to our unruly passions, and those passions, while sometimes reliable, are ‘not to be trusted’ entirely.

While I do think that thought and feeling are distinguishable as different sorts of experiences, I think feeling often informs our thoughts and ideas more than we realize, and that one really can’t exist without the other. This is hardly a revolutionary notion, but I think its application to ethics is an important one to make, and that giving feeling a primary position in our experience paints a more accurate picture of our processes. I would hold that our moral core is analogous to our experience of color, in that it cannot be communicated by reason alone. I certainly don’t discount the value of reason in the process of our judgments, but this premise, that feeling is the foundation on which we base our reason, I think is much more satisfying than that which places a calculator at our core – for calculators have no real meaning, lest we feel the numbers are doing some good in the world.

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