A Logic of Feelings

This week’s question hanging out in the back of my mind is why thoughts are a valid form of evidence1 but emotions are not. Basically, this came up because someone mentioned that I was implying that a person had only feelings about a topic, rather than arguments or thoughts about it.2 The implication was that if a person has only feelings about something rather than logical arguments, that person’s assertion is invalid. Wants and desires based in emotion are invalid, and logical arguments are worth hearing out/engaging with.

The question, then, is why exactly that’s true. I mean, it sounds true. I’m not sure it should be true. So now I’m reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on emotions and branching out from there, basically.

But even right from where I’m standing, knowing very little about this topic, my speculative question on this is if the question is in the logic of the system of emotions, or in the subjectivity of the system of emotions. If we all had the exact same (or very similar) emotional system, even if the logic were entirely internal and not productive in any way, would we still treat emotional arguments as inherently invalid? Languages, for example, do not produce additional truths the same way that science or logic does. But we can say that something is correct or incorrect, grammatical or ungrammatical. So basically the issue with emotions is that we all speak different languages, and one person’s grammatical emotion is completely ungrammatical to another, even if we use the same words to describe the resulting feeling.

I’m also curious about the ways in which emotions are sometimes viewed as entirely illogical–“it’s just hormones” to excuse teenage angst–and sometimes as indicators of a deeper logic inaccessible to the person who experiences those feelings.3 When I feel but cannot argue that eating animals is wrong, people generally accept that there’s a deeper logic there. Or maybe that’s just in the protected circle of beliefs about which no logic is required in polite society.

I’m also curious about the difference between emotions and feelings, though this is sometimes just a semantic smooshy mess.4 Emotion as sensation is kind of complicated, because it is both felt and generated by the self.

So, that’s what I’m musing about nowadays.

  1. I don’t think “evidence” is actually the word I’m looking for here, but “argument” seems to carry an inherent logical quality to it. What I mean is a unit of interpersonal communication designed to create an effect in another person…I think. But that’s even less clear.
  2. I wasn’t. For the record.
  3. My husband points to Adam Smith’s moral sentiments. I point to anthropology as a whole.
  4. It’s annoying when there are so many common words used with such technical meanings and then you have to switch between those meanings depending on what you’re reading…much sigh.