Emotions, Knowledge, Logic

Steve Witham (sw@tiac.net)
Wed, 30 Oct 1996 23:04:13 -0400

Ira Brodsky writes, responding to me:

>> Logic is, and by rights ought to be, slave to the emotions.
>> --Bertrand Russell
>You falsely divide the world into "logic" and "emotion." What about knowledge?
>Yes, "with logic alone you can [only] calculate outcomes from premises."
>Likewise, with emotion alone you can only react.
>The real question is: where do we get our premises? You are clearly better
>off if your premises come from understanding, not emotion. The same goes
>for values.
>Poor Bertrand Russell. It is too late for him to disown such a foolish
>statement. <g>

Okay, with logic and knowledge you can calculate outcomes.
But what lets you say one outcome is "better" than another? This isn't
really "knowledge," it's prejudice, bias, *value*.

If you encode values as well as knowledge into your premises, you're
effectively programming them into a computer. If it works, then what
you've done is program emotions. As I said, emotions are the logic of

Values cannot come from understanding. Only knowledge does
(except if you are talking about understanding values you already had).
You can't get values except from having them already, explicitly, implicitly,
tacitly, or built into your structure. As they say, you can't derive
"ought" from "is." But if you have values, and you're doing any thinking
or information-processing in light of them, that's emotion. That's all
emotion is.

When people say that emotions are bad sources of information,
what I understand to be going on is this: one part of their value system
is telling me it doesn't like the urgings of other parts. The person
is saying that they have conflicts within their value system. The fact
that some emotions claim not to be emotions is the result of a lot of
terrible ideas from our past.

An example of an emotion pretending not to be an emotion is when you said:
"You are clearly better off if your premises come from understanding,
not emotion. The same goes for values."

What is "better off," if not a value, an emotion? Without emotion you
don't care whether your premises lead to prosperity or ruin. Without
emotion there is no "better."

So I hope I've restored the peaceful smile on Bertrand Russell's face. :-)

Ira later responds to queenMUSE:

>I think what you are really saying is that, contrary to Bertrand Russell,
>emotions can be a good thing *if* they are tamed by reason and
>In that case, we agree.

I would sort of agree. Only in my view, reason is a *tool* that different
emotions *use* to work out ways of peacefully coexisting. Same between
different people: reason is the negotiating method. Saying that reason
"tames" emotion is like saying the internet "makes people friends".

Natasha says:

>Perhaps what we are after is a sensibility towards _refined emotions_.
>Refined emotions are developed through exercising careful thinking. [...]

Freud talks about "sublimation," and for years I thought the "sub" meant
under, as in pushing under a socially acceptable cover. But no, it means
*making sublime*, as in the sublimation of dry ice--turning into something
lighter or higher.

My belief is that most emotions are perfectly
sane, clear, beautiful, useful, etc., in their original states, but that
they become nasty when treated badly. The nasty emotions that everyone
seems to be afraid of are just urges that have been given a hard
time and none of the positive attention they deserved, and end up not
knowing any approved ways of expressing themselves or fitting in.
As Neitzsche says, believing in evil is what *makes* evil.

This is why even "managed emotions" sounds problematical to me, since it's
management that creates emotional problems in the first place. We have
to get out of the implicit belief in (or desire for) a place *outside of*
emotions, from which to manage, refine, tame or control them. Instead say
I am a bag of emotions in partial conflict but also seeking harmony with
each other.

--Steve, who turned 40 about a month ago

sw@tiac.net http://www.tiac.net/users/sw
"See, you think you're on a cruise ship but someone's moving the ocean."
--Patricia S. Sullivan