O.P.A.R. – Chapter 5: Reason

“Objectivism is not against emotions, but emotionalism. Ayn Rand’s concern is not to uphold stoicism or abet repression, but to identify a division of mental labor. There is nothing wrong with feeling that follows from an act of thought; this is the natural and proper human pattern. There is everything wrong with feeling that seeks to replace thought, by usurping its function.”
Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, page 162.
(Do you really think you should kill a cockroach and pity the cats on the streets? Do you really think you do so because you have reasoned through all the facts? You kill a cockroach because it evokes a bad feeling. Nothing more. What else do you kill — or let die — based on your feelings? In the end, it’s all about philosophy — or the lack of it.)

“Follow Reason”. If objectivity is adhering to reality, reason is the faculty of man that allows him to do so. It is the faculty that processes data coming from reality — percepts — into the human form of cognition — concepts — through the human method of cognition — logic. Yet man would rather be guided by his feelings than by reason. And then he wonders why the world is as it is.

What man can not see is that emotions (here, used as synonymous of feelings) are consequences generated by intellectual conclusions previously internalized. They are not independent of man’s mind. A sensation, on the contrary, is an experience transmitted by purely physical means; it is independent of ideas. Heat, cold, body contact, pain are automatic sensations. Happiness, sadness, love, fear, in turn, are emotions that follow a chain of intervening ideas and value judgments.

First, we perceive or imagine something. We open our eyes or evoke a memory. We see a white body stretched out on a dark surface. Secondly, we identify the objects of perception. We have already acquired a vocabulary of conceptual knowledge about the world that allows us to automatically understand what we see. There’s a dead cat on the street. Third, we evaluate the objects. Now, this is crucial: we have also automated a myriad of value judgments throughout our lives, which are now present in our subconscious. Our visions of man, life, and reality, be them explicit or implicit, whole or just partial, formed after identifying facts or by mere implication, all constitute the fundamental programming of our subconscious, the true value judgments operative in our minds — even if we do not realize it. You like cats — probably just because they’re furry and have beautiful eyes, the same reason you do not like cockroaches — so you evaluate what you see as sad. Fourth, these value judgments generate a response. You pity the cat, but not enough to check if it is really dead, and you move on. Ultimately, it is our philosophical view of the world — malformed, perverted as it may be — that shapes our emotions.

Reason is a volitional faculty of consciousness. In contrast, emotion is a faculty of mere reaction to our perceptions. It has no power of observation and no means of independent access to reality. It has no way of guiding her own course or monitoring her relationship with the facts. When a man has a certain feeling, it just means that somehow, at some point he has come to a certain idea that is now stored in his subconscious. This idea has not necessarily any relation to the truth.

Claims based on emotion are arbitrary. True is what reflects reality, as verified by a body of evidence. It is said to be “true” because it can be integrated without contradiction in the total context. The arbitrary, however, has no relation to evidence or context. The terms “true” or “false” do not apply. He who accepts an arbitrary idea does so not because he evaluates its underlying logic, but rather because he evaluates its congeniality. Therefore, emotions do not provide evidence for a rational conclusion — they are not tools of cognition.

Emotion is essential to man’s life — it is his prize for living a rational life — but its role is not the discovery of reality. Reason’s is. You need to consult more than your feelings to assess whether you should kill a cockroach, a cat or a man.

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