I wrote this column for the Freethinker. In it I take issue with the idea that emotion is the opposite of reason.
I don’t mean that people arguing or writing articles about moral or social issues should be in a heightened emotional state themselves; I mean they should not pretend the subject is a matter of pure logic or number-crunching or engineering.
Above all, what we should not do is claim that our argument is Pure Reason while that of our opponent is nothing but emotion. It won’t work, for a start, and it’s not likely to be true, and it’s toe-curlingly arrogant. It helps to remember that we all have enormous built-in cognitive flaws, and that it’s never safe to assume we’ve managed to correct or avoid all of them at any given time.
In any case it’s pointless to pretend we can think and talk about moral or political issues with emotion neatly extracted, because the reason we want to argue about them in the first place is because we care about them. They matter to us. We don’t bother to argue about things that don’t matter to us. Morality is rooted in feelings – we want some things and want to avoid other things. Morality comes in when we extend that to other people –
And then things get complicated.