Reason and Emotions and Human Nature (Oh My!)

Posted in Philosophy at 4:31 pm by Haider

The vast majority of people are divided into two main camps in their understanding of human nature:

The first group regards human beings as rational animals and are characterized by their use of reason. Therefore, emotions are considered to be an obstacle, distraction or disease, to be dismissed, disposed of or cured.

The second group, on the other hand, believes that to be human is to experience and embrace one’s emotions. Reason can cripple one’s emotional experience, and may cloud one’s intuitive judgments.

There is, however, a third understanding of how reason and emotions relate to human nature: since both exist within human beings, both form a part of our nature. We cannot side with reason and disregard our emotions, or judge by our emotions and dismiss reason.

Both reason and emotion are integral parts of what makes us human. However, reason and emotions have different roles to play in our lives. We cannot judge facts with emotions or experience feelings with reason, in the same way that we cannot smell with our ears or listen with our eyes.


  1. Laialy_q8 said,

    July 24, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    First I would have to disagree that people are divided into one of the two “groups” you mentioned. I see that people are on a “spectrum” of the two. But you make a very valid point at the end “We cannot judge facts with emotions or experience feelings with reason” touche

  2. Haider said,

    July 24, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    I agree with your disagreement.

    It’s easier to deal with ideas than it is to categorize people.

  3. teagirl said,

    July 24, 2008 at 11:50 pm

    Ah! the old reason vs emotions debate.. I actually think 80% of people fall in the third group. Most people dont even bother thinking about emotions and raeason, they just exist. As people get more and more educated however they pull towards one or the other. So like when you go to college you decide if you want to be a scientist or an artist. If you want to use rational thought or you want to follow your heart.

    Whats really interesting is why you even brought up this topic.. as if your were trying to “rationalize” human behavior. See, someone emotional on the other hand wouldn’t even be thinking that way..

    I dont care either way.. there are cold people and there are warm people, choose what ever you can live with.

  4. Haider said,

    July 25, 2008 at 11:51 am

    Whether people know that they’re relying on reason or their emotions, they have a mode in which they operate. Like Laialy said, it’s a mixture between the two. People wouldn’t know whether to use reason or emotion, and in which context, if they do not actually think about the issue. And, most likely, they wouldn’t *intellectually* side with reason or emotions if they haven’t given the debate between the two much thought.

    I think the “old reason vs emotions” debate is a debate we should care about, because its conclusions impact our lives enormously.

    It’s not simply a matter of being warm or cold, distant or sociable.

    Reason should be used when trying to understand the world, and emotions should be embraced when they result from correct thinking. For example, depression is an emotional state. You wouldn’t say: I’m depressed because I’m emotional, and leave it at that.

    You could be depressed because you focused your thinking on a negative incident, or have not clarified some matters in your life. To have a better handle on your emotions, you would need to do some thinking, which is where reason comes in.

    Reason and emotions have different roles to play in our lives, and we shouldn’t mix their roles.

  5. teagirl said,

    July 25, 2008 at 3:46 pm

    good point.

  6. carly said,

    July 25, 2008 at 7:30 pm

    True, but emotions are not easily classified or understood. They are often an intuitive or instinctual response or manifestation of something much bigger than intelligence, and therefore should not succinctly be relegated to being an inferior understanding per se.

  7. Haider said,

    July 25, 2008 at 9:05 pm

    Emotions cannot be a starting point to understanding. They are a response based on what we already know and understand, be it correct or incorrect.

    For example, you might feel frightened when you see a foreigner. This feeling of fear isn’t an indication that the foreigner is dangerous, but you might suspect that he is because he isn’t familiar to you. In other words, you cannot say: “because I’m afraid, he must be dangerous.”

    Emotions aren’t an inferior form of understanding. They aren’t even a form of understanding!

    But I will deal with the issue of intuition in a later post 🙂

  8. ralf said,

    July 26, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    agree with haider it maybe an old discussion but it is not outdated at all. There is not a battle between emotions and reason in the first place. They can, and as a matter of fact, they do exist both in our mind. Reason is about honoring the truth and reality. When I feel happy I sure hope I am honoring the truth! If not..i have to rethink my whole life philosophy:-)

  9. Haider said,

    July 26, 2008 at 7:38 pm

    Ralf, I agree with myself as well! 😉

    And thanks for bringing up the issue of rethinking your life philosophy if your emotions are not appropriate to the reality you are living in. I will revisit this issue in a future post…

  10. carly said,

    July 27, 2008 at 12:25 am

    I disagree with you about emotions, although, I completely understand what you are saying and have heard it countless times. I believe emotions can definitely be a mode of understanding.

  11. Haider said,

    July 27, 2008 at 9:07 am

    Carly, I can’t argue with you on that point, since I can’t possibly articulate an argument that’s directed towards your emotions, nor expect you to offer me an “explanation” that stems from your emotions.

    Technically, you can’t prove what you *feel* to be true with reasoning.

    The subjects of reasoning, emotions and human nature are extremely broad, and I will revisit them in many more posts to come so that I can cover more details about them. The posts will be online *very* soon 😉

  12. Ralf said,

    July 27, 2008 at 10:35 am

    Carly has a point. I think we can all think of times where looking back at some decision we made we say something like “if only i would have listened to my feelings or doubts” .
    I think generally in human interactions especially there’s a lot that we understand from other people on a different kind of consciousness.
    Oh..I feel the word consciousness is a better one than reasoning anyway. Consciousness entails reasoning but is more then that.
    I, for one, made quite a lot of mistakes not being conscious enough of my feelings. But I’m sure I am not the only one.

  13. Haider said,

    July 27, 2008 at 11:20 am

    Ralf, I’m intending to write about the role of our emotions in understanding, and the validity of our intuitions very soon…

    Carly, in view of what Ralf mentioned, and my response to your comment, I have to apologise if I seem to have misrepresented what you said. You could have been talking about a specific use for emotions in understanding, but I generalized its use.

    I will deal with this issue further, so you can let me know whether you *still* disagree with me or not 🙂

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