What are the benefits of having emotions and what is their purpose in one’s life? We explore these questions on this blog.
Emotions are a part of human nature. They help us to make quick decisions, and they can be beneficial in many ways. Emotions have been studied by philosophers for centuries, but their rationality has been debated ever since. This article will explore the benefits of emotions, as well as examine some arguments for why emotions are irrational.
Emotions have a poor reputation these days. We’re constantly urged to distrust them, avoid them, and even f**k with them. It may seem that mankind, particularly the male portion, has always seen our emotions as untrustworthy guides — womanly disruptors of our peace and calm.
However, the importance of emotions in the lives of men and women has not always been seen with such skepticism by everyone, at all times; rather, suspicion in feelings grows and wanes in response to the amount of societal uncertainty. People withdraw internally, shut down the hatches, and try to turn themselves into stone when life is uncertain, chaotic, and stressful. It seems too dangerous to reveal one’s genuine sentiments or to allow anything other than cold, hard reasoning guide one’s actions. Emotions, according to this logic, are fundamentally illogical.
However, there have been times and ideologies that saw emotions and intellect as complimentary rather than antagonistic. Feelings have their own intelligence and wisdom, according to thinkers as diverse as Aristotle, Nietzsche, and C.S. Lewis, and are necessary in order to participate in the human experience at its most dynamic and incandescent, and must be intertwined with our rational faculties in order to achieve the good life.
Today, we’ll look at how emotions may be rational in the sense that they have reason in and of themselves, can align with rationality, and can be used for rational goals.
Emotions Are Important Judgments
We believe that our ideas are in charge of themselves. To assess possibilities and make judgments, we employ our brains.
We, on the other hand, see emotions as something that happens to us. They’re visceral, automatic, and if not stupid, they’re certainly lacking in what we consider intellect.
As a result, we see our emotions as obscuring and muddying our ideas — our “true” brains.
If this hypothesis is right, then our decision-making skills would be practically flawless if we could remove emotions from the equation entirely. However, research reveals that when emotions are removed from the decision-making process, individuals struggle to make any decisions at all. According to Robert Solomon, a philosophy professor, in his book True to Our Feelings:
Despite the fact that their other ‘cognitive’ abilities (in other words, what is often termed ‘intelligence’) seem to be working normally, patients with significant emotional deficiencies (due to stroke, tumor, or other lesions) suffer greatly from their inability to make reasonable judgments. They can compute consequences and assess choices, but they have no foundation for making a decision since neither repercussions nor options are important to them.
Emotions serve as vital guides for our decisions – evaluative judgments that are made viscerally, intuitively, and kinesthetically rather than cognitively. David Brooks outlines their involvement in The Second Mountain:
Our emotions give things value and tell us what we should desire. Passions are not the antithesis of reason; they are the basis of reason, and they often hold insight that the analytical brain cannot access.
Our judgements become less rational but more significant as a result of our emotions. Is your wife simply another regular female sex member, or is she the most fantastic, gorgeous lady on the planet? Is the newborn kid merely a bag of neurons and nerves, or is he or she a bundle of pleasure, the most wonderful thing you’ve ever created? Is the night sky a void punctured by flickering gaseous balls, or a tribute to man’s insignificance and the secrets of infinity? Which judgment is “truer”: one made just with the intellect or one made with thinking and emotion?
Nietzsche, who believed that all emotions had a “quantum of reason,” answered the question as follows:
All seeing, as well as all knowing, is basically a matter of perspective. The more emotions we can let to speak in a given issue, the more various eyes we can use to watch a certain spectacle, the more thorough our understanding of it will be, and the better our ‘objectivity.’
Value Is Determined by Emotions
Emotions have the ability to not only assign but also judge importance. They assess not just subjective but also objective merit.
Almost all religions and philosophical traditions hold that the universe has an underlying natural order, and that the most clearly reflects and explains this reality is Truth with a capital T. To believe in this “doctrine of objective worth,” as C.S. Lewis puts it in The Abolition of Man, “some attitudes are really true, and others truly untrue, to the type of thing the cosmos is, and the kind of things we are.”
“Objects [do] not only receive, but [may] earn our acceptance or disapproval, our veneration or our disdain,” if objective worth is acknowledged. This is to imply that some things should provoke certain emotions: a towering mountain should elicit wonder; a brave warrior’s narrative should attract adoration; a friend’s father’s death should elicit empathy; being unfaithful should elicit guilt; and a good gesture should elicit appreciation.
Emotions may be reasonable or irrational, depending on whether the object of the emotion deserves the response, according to this viewpoint. It is sensible to feel what you should feel; nevertheless, it is irrational to feel something you shouldn’t feel or not feel something you should.
Witnessing an injustice and being unaffected is not an outstanding act of self-control for a philosopher like Aristotle, but a pitiful display of irrationality. Injustice should make people angry. This is why, according to Solomon, the philosopher “insisted, in line with the Homeric heroes, that there are times when one would be a fool not to get angry, not only because the situation demands it but also because one degrades oneself as less than a fully functioning human being if one does not get angry.” A rock may be resistant to what is happening around it, but it is not a logical mind.
Similarly, the loss of a loved one should be met with grief – even if it is profound, terrible, and incapacitating. So, whereas a Stoic philosopher would argue that mourning over the death of one’s own kid is illogical since death is natural and uncontrollable, Aristotle would argue that not grieving a loved one is unreasonable because the loss justifies it.
Of course, we instinctively understand this concept. As Solomon points out:
Bereavement is a moral feeling… As a result, grieving is not only anticipated as an acceptable response to the death of a loved one, but it is also, in a way, required. When a person displays no indications of grieving following a very personal loss, we are not shocked. We are ethically horrified by such behavior and denounce such a person.
This would be unintelligible if grieving were merely a negative response to a loss, or even a physical disease that (as has been pointed out) fulfills the description of a mental disorder, a medical ailment. Such a person would be deemed lucky, similar to an athlete with a high pain tolerance or a bold risk-taker who stays unfazed in situations that would frighten most others.
Even a true believer in the Stoic philosophy would find it unseemly rather than praiseworthy to witness a friend who had tragically lost his wife accept the loss with full calmness, and was therefore ready to date again the day after the burial. This is because we feel that if a husband really loved and appreciated his wife, the loss of that love should logically cause enormous pain.
Emotions Can Be Trained
When emotions arrive at the appropriate moment, for the right cause, and in the correct quantity — when they are on target and the object of feeling warrants the degree of response — Aristotle would call them reasonable. This is how Solomon describes the standard:
We get enraged about someone or something. As a result, the key issue is whether the anger is directed correctly, if it has targeted the correct object (the offender), and whether the anger is justified by the circumstances. (The individual targeted may be the perpetrator, but the infraction is small enough that the wrath is unnecessary.) The indignation is logical and reasonable if both the object and the gravity of the charge are justified.
Emotions, of course, do not always match these requirements, and the decisions they make are not always sound. In situations when our emotions should be awakened, we may experience excessive concern, fear, or fury, or we may experience apathetic apathy.
One of the main arguments against emotions’ rationality is that they might miss the target, yet this argument is based on the concept that emotions are basically involuntary — evolutionary instincts and reflexive neurological and hormonal reactions. If our sentiments merely come to us, whether they hit the target or not is mostly a question of luck, and the only control we have over them is how we express them.
While emotions are not subject to the same volitional control as ideas and are difficult to control in the heat of the moment, we may influence the kind and degree of emotions we feel by what we do and think before and after they occur. Emotions may be learned, developed, rehearsed, and fine-tuned.
To be more in line with objective truth and reality, one’s feelings must be actively educated. While this kind of training was deemed essential to a man’s growth throughout antiquity, it’s a notion we’ve lost sight of in current times, as Lewis points out.
What is the process of emotional education? The “curriculum” is divided into three sections:
The first focuses on initially coming into touch with the whole spectrum of human emotions and being able to access, as well as allowing oneself to access, the complete range of their intensity.
What we feed into our life has to do with what we think, who we hang out with, and how we focus our attention. The vivid details we uncover as we delve deeper into and truly contemplate various aspects of life elicit strong and varied emotions: when we realize the scope of an injustice, we become angrier; when we keep a gratitude journal, we feel more grateful; when we take the time to talk with and look into the eyes of a grieving friend, we feel more empathy. The circumstances in which we find ourselves have a significant impact on the width of our emotional range. We become more sensitive and conscious of our emotions when we immerse ourselves in literature, music, and art that stirs and heightens our emotions. The culture of the organizations to which we belong does as well. Men weep over spiritual things all the time at the church where I go, for example, and boys grow up with the idea that their sentiments about religion are strong and that it’s normal to express them.
Emotions should not be seen as one-time, knee-jerk responses, but rather as long-term states that may endure days, months, or even years. As Solomon explains using the example of a love relationship, its nurturing requires a level of proactiveness that is frequently overlooked:
Falling in love entails entertaining thoughts of the beloved, rehearsing upcoming conversations and remembering, fondly or with distress, past meetings, reaffirming one’s love for the beloved, and thinking in terms of the word ‘love.’
After we’ve been acquainted with the whole range of emotions, the next step in their education is to learn how to experience them in response to the appropriate stimuli. Our emotional responses to objects are determined by our capacity to assess their value and importance, which is determined by how we define and assign meaning, which is determined by our own values. How closely do our values match those of Nature and Truth? The more we care about the impoverished, the more touched we are by their predicament; the more we value loyalty, the more embarrassed we feel when we let a friend down; and the more we respect honesty, the more outraged we are when we learn someone has cheated. “Even before we learn to understand it,” Solomon writes, “we feel our emotions as deeply suggestive of the kind of person we are.”
One desires to experience feelings for the right things in the appropriate proportions at the right moment, not only for the right things. As a result, the capacity to regulate one’s sentiments in a healthy manner is the third prong of training one’s feelings. Emotions aren’t necessarily proportionate to the actual reality that triggered them; we might underreact or overreact. After that, we may reflect on how and why our emotions were off-kilter, and we can think about how to improve them so that the next time a similar circumstance comes, our emotional response will be more in tune with it.
Our ideas are often the result of the things we concentrate on, the media we consume, and the people with whom we associate, but they are often the result of the things we focus on, the media we consume, and the people with whom we associate. Similarly, we occasionally have inappropriate emotions that come on suddenly, but most of the time they are the product of all the purposeful decisions that lead up to that point, and those choices decide whether our sentiments are sensible or not. Emotions, like thinking, may be easily taught.
Though we are rational actors in the development of our sentiments, Solomon says that we prefer to reject this truth, insisting instead that we are passive victims of their inherent irrationality: the typical impulse to evade responsibility and create excuses. We might excuse ourselves for not being “us” when our emotions go haywire by labeling them as “out of our control,” yet in reality, our sentiments represent and convey the deepest currents of how we spend our time, what we value, and who we are at our core.
Emotions are the driving forces behind action.
Emotions are often seen as passive, self-contained energies. Passivity, on the other hand, is bred by extremely rigorous emotional control, a retreat to an inner fortress.
Emotions are, after all, our fundamental mode of interaction with the environment. Emotions are internal, yet they are triggered by an external object; as a result, they take us outside of ourselves, causing us to engage and get involved in circumstances and relationships. They constitute the “fundamental way we orient and attune ourselves to the world and to one another,” according to Solomon.
“The feeling urge to do something” is an element of “almost every emotion,” he says. Emotions are therefore the catalysts for action, urging and pressing us to take action.
In the abstract, we want to think that we can and should behave only on the basis of intellect and discipline — that we will confront injustice, do the right thing, or simply pursue our objectives because we know it’s the moral thing to do, or the thing we consciously want to do. However, this is a concept that works better in theory than in practice. We are wired in such a way that we need emotion to motivate us to take action.
Why do we believe it’s sensible to attempt to take on other obligations with a purely cognitive approach? Almost no one would commit to a marriage if they didn’t have strong sentiments of love, so why do we think it’s good to try to take on other responsibilities with a strictly cognitive approach?
Of course, the desire that comes with emotion may lead to both bad and illogical behaviors, as well as good and sensible ones. They may be directed towards the latter goals, fortunately, since they are not only trainable…
Emotions Have a Plan
“Rationality” is defined as “maximizing (or, collectively, optimizing) our well-being,” according to Solomon. “Our emotions are reasonable when they contribute to our communal and personal well-being, but irrational when they detract from or degrade it.”
Another way to put it is that emotions are reasonable or irrational in the sense that they help or hinder our short- and long-term goals.
Emotions, according to this description, are unreasonable since they allegedly break your tranquillity and cause you to deviate from your particular goals.
Feelings may undoubtedly lead us wrong, causing us to overeat ice cream, insult someone in anger, or worry so much that we become immobilized by dread. As a result, most psychology and personal development advice focuses on approaches that aim to reduce the impact of hot, “irrational” emotions while increasing the impact of cold, calculating intellect. And, on occasion, clenching your teeth and relying on willpower and reasoning may be helpful. However, as anybody who has tried it knows, it generally fails. Willpower is exhausting, and relying on it frequently leads to giving up.
Fortunately, we don’t have to rely just on discipline as a strategic tool. While certain emotions might destroy our objectives, others can assist us in achieving them; while emotions can weaken our self-control in some situations, they can increase it in others.
Professor of psychology David DeSteno repeated the classic marshmallow experiment using adults instead of children and money instead of marshmallows as an illustration of this dynamic. The more money the research participants walked away with, the longer they were able to avoid accepting the money. DeSteno discovered that participants who had been emotionally primed to feel grateful before the experiment were able to hold out longer and were more prepared to wait for a bigger payoff than those who hadn’t. They were also able to postpone satisfaction without exerting too much effort.
According to other studies, the feeling of compassion improves our capacity to make choices that are in accordance with our objectives. Students who reacted to scholastic losses with compassion for themselves, for example, improved their study time by 30% compared to students who flogged themselves to be more disciplined, according to one research.
Self-control, persistence, and goal achievement are all boosted when you feel genuine pride. Participants in a DeSteno research were invited to take a test that assessed visuospatial competence. When compared to persons who weren’t primed to feel proud, participants who were acknowledged by the experimenters for their work increased the amount of time committed to the exam by 40%.
Pride is simply a drive for status, and although this ambition to accomplish and succeed is sometimes maligned, it can be a powerful source of inspiration. When it comes to life’s contests, a Stoic might suggest that you should merely do your best and then leave the result to chance, lest you get so emotionally engaged in winning that losing would upset your equilibrium. This is another concept that sounds beautiful and mature in theory but seems to be unhelpful in practice. One has to question what proportion of Olympic competitors are motivated to practice for hours every day for years on end only to achieve their personal best. Is it truly what motivates them to get out of bed in the morning and gives them thumotic energy when it’s time to compete? Surely, the most of them are motivated by an insatiable desire to win. It is this desire, this all-consuming drive, that breaks their hearts if they fail, but it is also this want, this all-consuming drive, that drives them even harder and allows them to succeed.
Anger, which has the worst reputation among the emotions for contributing to bad decision-making, may also work in our advantage on occasion. Individuals who are furious are more inclined to take chances, are more positive about the result, and feel more in control of the situation than people who are scared, according to research. While such degree of assurance might lead to going in over one’s head, it can also pay dividends in certain instances. According to another research, those who are furious do better in confrontational activities and in persuading others to comply with their requests. “Anger doesn’t fix anything” isn’t always accurate; sometimes a little edge is precisely what’s needed to overcome fear and finish the task.
Many of society’s collective injustices would likely never have been addressed without a feeling of righteous wrath, apart from attempting to remedy one’s own personal difficulties. And it’s possible that you won’t be able to summon enough action-inducing rage for the major things if you don’t maintain a little amount of non-thought-inducing rage fueled over minor irritations. Feeling a tinge of underlying rage may be a strategic tool as well as something you like. “Anger is not just a technique of influencing the other person, but also a great way of manipulating oneself,” Solomon says. As a result, individuals may appreciate their anger not just because it energizes them, but also because it changes the fundamental character of their worldview.”
The gravitational pull toward the path of least resistance is so powerful that “thought” alone will not be enough to overcome it. Instead of battling fire with stone, you should occasionally fight fire with fire while seeking the Good. “No justification of virtue can allow a man to be virtuous,” C.S. Lewis says. The intellect is weak against the animal organism without the help of educated emotions.”
Meaning is created by emotions.
Emotional control is desirable because it is based on the belief that emotions disrupt our calm, and that tranquility is where people find ultimate pleasure.
But what if serenity isn’t the only path to happiness? What if our passions, even “bad” ones, provide texture, intrigue, and liveliness to our lives? What if, instead of being consistently flat, we’d want our lives’ terrain to be undulating, with greater highs compensating for lower lows? What if all we desire is to be awake, to experience, even though those sensations are uncomfortable at times?
Pride, pleasure, appreciation, anticipation, and love are examples of “good” feelings that brighten our days and fill our evenings with psychological pyrotechnics. Even while we have an unquestioned conviction that what we most want is calm and pleasure, there are peculiar, sometimes unnoticed pleasures in our experience of the “darker” emotions as well. It feels great to be engulfed in an invigorating wrath. As a relationship breaks down, there’s a weirdly bittersweet pleasure in listening to a really mournful break-up music. We go to horror movies specifically to enjoy the “pleasure” of being scared. A good weep may be therapeutic, whether it’s for the true loss of a loved one or for the death of a cherished character in a novel you’re reading.
Emotions give existence weight, connect us to the world, and make us seem like there’s a there there. Would you rather be like the weather, which is alternately cooked and soaked and bears all of these changes with stolid indifference, or the rock, which is alternately baked and drenched and bears all of these changes with stolid indifference?
The allure, the solace, of living a life of deep emotions is explained by Solomon:
Many people like this vision of happiness, yet few intellectuals promote it. Many philosophers have preached about happiness and the virtues, but all too often, the picture of happiness that develops is very tame and has mostly to do with being a decent citizen, a pleasant person, and having peace of mind (ataraxia), as well as a lack of passionate volatility (apatheia). The passionate existence, on the other hand, is distinguished by often ferocious emotions, fervent involvement, ardent quests, big but fruitless aims, and encompassing attachments.
The passionate existence is often described in terms of frenzy, vaulting ambition, basically unquenchable aspirations, and unattainable attachments (for example, by Goethe in Faust and by Kierkegaard and Nietzsche). It’s what Nietzsche called a ‘Dionysian’ temper, a way of existence represented in dynamic rather than static metaphors, concepts like ‘energy,’ ‘enthusiasm,’ ‘charisma,’ and even madness. The image of the suffering but sometimes manic artist is embraced by the passionate life, which embraces Romanticism’s principles and the image of the suffering but occasionally manic artist. It may be weighed down by sorrow and weltschmertz at times, but it will almost certainly be boosted by pleasure and excitement as well. In opposition to regular morality and ‘being a decent person,’ as well as a life of plain comfort and fulfillment, I wish to create way for such ‘perverse’ concepts of the ideal life.
Happiness isn’t always synonymous with moderation and peace of mind. Like Nietzsche, I believe that one may make a compelling argument either that happiness is not incompatible with, but even relies on, turbulence, suffering, and sadness, or that pleasure as we have been taught is not the most essential thing in life.
If emotions are logical to the degree that they help us achieve our ultimate goals, and virtually everyone wants a life with meaning, then choosing to embrace your emotions — even those that are “irrational” in intensity — may be the most rational choice you can make.
Emotions are a powerful tool that can help us to understand the world and make decisions. Emotional thinking is often seen as irrational, but there are many benefits of emotional thinking. Reference: emotional vs rational thinking.
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