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Emotivism and justified beliefs

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  • Emotivism and justified beliefs

    I've been reading through Jonathan Haidt's The Coddling of the American Mind. He argues that the origin of safe spaces, trigger warnings, no platforming, etc. on college campuses can trace its origin to the prevalent thought patterns governed by emotional reasoning of Generation Z, the first generation to mature into adolescence alongside social media's rise to universal accessibility. He invokes relevant psychological research to buttress his claims.
    It has made me question how often people's beliefs are justified via emotional reasoning instead of sound premises. I definitely see this in the political realm, and am all too familiar with it within the context of a college campus. A person's initial subjective reaction to something is becoming increasingly regarded as sacrosanct--many potentially fruitful discussions end with, "and that's just your opinion! " I recently witnessed a conversation about the ethical stature of transgender surgery end with "well we all have different feelings on things, and that's okay. "

    I came across a quote from CS Lewis' The Great Divorce where he lays out this common thought pattern of trying to justify and rationalize our initial emotional reactions in the face of contrary evidence:

    ​"Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one's first feeling, 'Thank God, even they aren't quite so bad as that,' or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything -- God and our friends and ourselves included -- as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred."

    What would be the best way to curb this thinking in ourselves and others?

  • #2
    Hm. These days I see fewer appeals to feeling or opinion to validate both sides of a debate, though I see more appeals to feeling or opinion to validate the speaker's side to the exclusion of the other. Generally speaking tolerance seems to be on the outs.

    I don't think there's any magic bullet. If someone is not guided by reason, then there need be no way to rationally persuade that person of anything. That is why the political problem is a moral as opposed to merely intellectual problem, and why some sort of pathos is necessary even if a different sort of pathos is the source of what ails us.


    • #3
      Personally, these days I'm happy with getting a 'Well, that's your opinion and that's fine'. It sure beats the rage-machine.


      • #4
        I think what the OP describes is really a complex of related problems. Many decisions the average person makes are based on feelings, but I'm not sure how much that influences genuine debate between people. People in our society (America) are also taught to think that, in general, having an opinion is better than not, even if you are uninformed. Additionally, if you learn how to argue from the internet, theres a very good possibility that you never encounter the principle of charity in action, and so arguments become something to win, not a collaborative endeavor towards the truth. There's also the simple fact that being wrong isn't pleasant. No one genuinely likes the feeling when it seems to be the result of an attack. I think shame, especially for the young, is a strong motivation to change belief and behavior. But shame is only effective when it comes from love. Like when your parents are ashamed of you. When a random political opponent says your beliefs make you a piece of shit, it brings up strong defence mechanisms.

        One way to overcome this is by being selective with whom you debate. Stick to people you know or to "safe spaces" (pun intended) like a decent forum. That doesn't solve the problem, but it makes it more pleasant on your end.