Emotions as ways of knowing
It is the traditional view claims, the emotions are more of an obstacle than a source of knowledge, we still need to look at them and consider how to guard their disruptive influence. It could, however, be argued that the emotions ,play a more positive role in our mental lives and that without them we would be unable to make sense of the world. We also need to take a closer look, at the nature of intuition. For some of our most fundamental beliefs seem to be more emotional matters of the heart than rational matters of the head. This gives us an agenda for the rest of this chapter. In the next three sections, we look at: 1.
emotions as an obstacle to knowledge
emotions as a source of knowledge
Emotions as an obstacle to knowledge
Since emotions are an integral part of our mental lives, they are likely to influence the way we see and think about the world. Strong emotions can sometimes distort the three other ways of knowing. Perception Our perception of things can be coloured by strong emotions, and there is doubtless truth in sayings like 'love is blind; and 'fear has many eyes’. Such emotional colouring can make us aware of sonic aspects of reality to the exclusion of others. If, for example, you are in love with someone you are to be blind to their faults; whereas if you loathe them you are likely to see their faults. Reason Reason can also be negatively affected by our emotions, and if you hold your beliefs with too much passion, this can prevent you being open-minded and lead to a 'my theory right or wrong' kind of attitude. Language A person in the grip of a powerful emotion is likely to use slanted and emotive language. You can find many examples in everyday life of the way in which emotions can undermine our ability to think clearly. At some time or other, you have probably been in a ‘rational discussion' with someone which degenerated into a slanging match. When our emotions are aroused, it is all too easy to stop listening to the person we are arguing with and to start trading insults rather than reasons.
When we are in the grip of strong emotions, we tend not to reason in an objective way but to rationalise our pre-existing prejudices. To clarify the difference between reasons and rationalisations, consider the following story by Aesop (sixth century BCE?), the legendary writer of Greek fables.
A famished fox saw some clusters of ripe black grapes hanging from a trellised vine. She resorted to all her tricks to get at them, but wearied herself in vain, for she could not reach them. At last she turned away, hiding her disappointment and saying: 'The grapes are sour, and not ripe as I thought.'
This story suggests that if we have a particular emotional attitude about something, we may manufacture bad reasons in order to justify it. According to psychologist, this kind of behaviour is quite common. We tend to rationalise when there is a conflict between two or more of our beliefs. For example, a cigarette smoker who is familiar with the evidence that smoking is bad for her health may try to explain away the evidence as follows:
At the limit, the tendency to rationalise can lead a person to develop an illusory but self-confirming belief system. The diagram below shows how this can happen.
To illustrate, imagine that Henry has an emotional prejudice against immigrants. His prejudice will probably lead to the following: 1 Biased perception He notices only lazy immigrants and overlooks hardworking ones. 2 Fallacious reasoning He makes hasty generalisations from his own limited experience. 3 Emotive language He concludes that immigrants are 'bone idle' and 'don't know the meaning of hard work'. The above factors will reinforce the original prejudice and make it difficult for Henry to be objective. He can escape from such a vicious circle only if he is willing to question his prejudiced assumptions and actively...
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