Rebirth of Reason

The Free Radical

Reason and Passion
by Joseph Rowlands

I'm going to convey a story I found disturbing. A friend of mine was having a conversation with a lady friend of his, and they started to discuss friendships. During this chat, he explained why he believed that friendships were an important part of life. He explained how they fulfill an important need, and how they benefit your life. In short, he explained why they are in your rational self-interest.

As the discussion proceeded, the young lady became agitated. She attacked his reasoning, tried to dismiss it as nonsense. As he worked to explain himself and his ideas, she became angrier. The more he fleshed out his ideas, the worse it became. The conversation didn't end very well.

Bewildered, he told me about it, wondering what exactly had happened. It seemed the better he was able to argue his point, the worse off he was. The more lucid he was, the less she agreed with him. His virtues were turned against him. This was the result of the belief that reason and passion are incompatible: the reason/passion dichotomy.

She believed that because he could identify his reasons for appreciating friendships, he must not really value them. As he went into more details, it began looking like he was only in the friendship because he thought it to be in his rational self-interest. Meaning, he was in the friendship because he thought he should be, and not because he wanted to be. Meaning, he wasn't in the friendship because it made him happy and his life more fulfilling, but because it satisfied some logically calculated need.

The belief in the reason/passion dichotomy has a number of causes. The first is the belief that to be truly objective, you must be impartial and not influenced by emotion. If you feel strongly about an issue, it is taken as a sign that you cannot be rational about it. If this were true, it would be enough to sever reason and passion. Fortunately, reason need not be sacrificed to emotion And emotion need not conflict with reality.

A second cause of the reason/passion dichotomy stems from the mind/body one. It is the belief that the physical and mental world are separate and opposite. People consider passion as very worldly. It shows an emphasis on our lives and the world around us. It screams, "This is important!" Passion is powerful. We use it for emotions that are based on value-judgments. Whether it's love or hate, joy or anger, we experience it in response to what is important in our lives.

Reason, on the other hand, is often considered abstract. As with the Scholastics arguing about angels dancing on the head of a pin, it is seen as interesting, but not particularly relevant. It is seen as "other worldly" and more of a form of amusement than anything practical. Philosophers through history have encouraged this belief by making a life out of pointless "reasoning", all the while achieving nothing and not even practicing what they preach.

Reason and passion are not opposites though. In fact, they are complementary and properly go together. An emotion is a programmed, automated response to a particular value-judgment. The value-judgment is determined by reason. Properly, reason and passion align and mutually reinforce each other. A solid reasoning provides increased strength to the passion, removing any subconscious doubts. A strong passion provides perspective on what is important, and allows a more focused reasoning. It keeps you focused on what's really important.

Passion without reason is a flight of fancy. It has no support from the mind, which leaves lingering doubts. An emotion can never be as strong when it defies reason. Reason fights against it, dissolving it over time. Those who claim they feel passion without reason are merely claiming that they are impervious to the effects of reason.

Reason without passion is equally implausible. If one really has acquired an understanding of something important, the passion should follow from the reasoning. Only when the "reason" is rationalistic, non-integrated and undigested can it be devoid of emotion. If someone claims that something is crucial to your life and well-being, but can't get excited about it, it is a sign that he doesn't actually grasp the idea.

Let's take an example. Love is an area where most people have some experience in, and it illustrates the point well. An example of passion without reason is when you feel love towards someone you know or strongly suspect is wrong for you. In this case, reason and emotion are battling each other. Often people try to ignore their reasoning in order to try to make the relationship work. It can't be done, though. Whatever passion there might have been at first dies out. Even if the emotion remains, it is twisted and contradictory. The result is a love/hate relationship.

When passion and reason combine, though, the emotion of love is amplified. They work together, increasing the feeling. This is partly why infatuation is so strong at first. Since you don't know much about the other person, you fill in the gaps with your own preferences. Until the illusion is shattered, your mind will encourage the emotion, as it interprets new information to correspond with your preferences.

Even this doesn't compare to the intensity when reason and passion really align. This is what people mean when they talk about true love. Love that is intense, and has no doubts. This is how reason and passion should always be. Working together to promote happiness.

Due to the lack of understanding of the roles of reason and passion, people have chosen a side at the expense of the other. The men of reason have opted for cold, dry logic in an attempt to show their objectivity and seriousness. The defenders of reason have surrendered passion to the irrational. It's time to reclaim it.

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