Monday, 16 April 2012

Back to Russel and "The Emotions of the Heart"

Been having an email correspondence and a discussion of this statement of Bertrand Russel's came up (it's my favorite one):

There are two objections to the practice of basing beliefs as to objective fact upon the emotions of the heart. One is that there is no reason whatever to suppose that such beliefs will be true; the other is, that the resulting beliefs will be private, since the heart says different things to different people.

Let me explain:

Russel's point about the heart speaking different things to different people is that it cannot serve as a source of objectivity. A Christian thinks that Jesus was an incarnation of God because this is what his heart tells him and a Jew believes he was not ALSO because his heart tells him. Therefore one cannot establish an objective answer to the question was Jesus an incarnation of God, or any other religious question for that matter based on one's heart. 

As to Russel's second point. The difference between Maths and logic on the one hand and "the heart" on the other hand is we DO have reason to to suppose that such beliefs will be true. What is this reason - you may ask. The answer, i believe is twofold:

1. Maths and logic have accomplished concrete things. Ultimately all fields of science derive from certain assumptions about logic and math, and these assumptions have led to the creation of rocketships, medicines, cars and all sorts of things - thus demonstrating that these fields have some basis in reality. The ability of Maths and logic to manipulate what we perceive as reality is evidence to its own reality. The dictates of the heart, on the other hand, have never been used to manipulate reality effectively.

2. Maths and logic are universally accepted. No one argues that 1 and 1 make two and that half of a circle is less than a square. It is this universal acceptance that gives these fields validity beyond the human heart. The dictates of the heart, however, are not universally accepted as attested to by the stunning proliferation of countless variegated faiths. 

That is my פירוש of Russel. 


Mikey said...

I think one could argue that
there is a somewhat universal intuition that the world has/should have a
meaning or purpose which is obviously disconnected from any particular
religion.  This intuition is something that
should be taken seriously be it only for its ubiquity.  You interpret Russell as appealing
to pragmatics in his happiness with taking maths and logic as universal and
important intuitions.  Russell however
thought maths and logic were more deeply ground than that; they are built into
the nature of reality, just take a look at his logical atomism.  Also, pragmatism can get quite slippery and
can potentially lead to relavism—I am not saying it is thus false—just that it
is certainly not what Russell and other such die-hard fans logic and
rationality would be happy with.  You
would end up having to say that if religion did ‘work’ and produce
superior society then it should be accepted as true (take murder as a classic
pragmatist example).  I, for one, don’t
think that pragmatism is the right answer here; we should take this intuition of
meaning seriously regardless.  So, Russell is right that you
shouldn’t base things upon emotions of the heart; you should check your
intuitions versus the rest of mankind. 
In the case of religion, this does not get you very far.  In the case of the intuition I mentioned at
the beginning, I think there is something to be said. 

Meiravraham said...

You compare math and logic on the one hand to emotions of the heart on the other. So anything that isn't logic is emotions of the heart and you believe that we have no reason to trust anything but math and logic.
In that case, most things we do are based on the heart and we have every reason to trust our hearts, even if sometimes our hearts are wrong.

Judges, writers, artists, sportsmen, doctors, cooks, etc. all use emotions of the heart.
When you interpret a verse in the Bible to mean X, you're using your heart.
When you believe the Documentary Hypothesis you are using your heart.

The fact that two people's hearts tell them different things does not mean the "heart" cannot be trusted. Two judges might come to a different conclusion on a judgement. Two commentators may explain a verse differently. This does not mean that the judges or commentators are using the wrong faculty of their brains to reach their conclusions.

GarnelIronheart1 said...

> The dictates of the heart, on the other hand, have never been used to manipulate reality effectively

I don't think that's true.  The dictates of the hearts have created wars, inspired architecture and poetry and changed the course of history innumerable times. 

In addition, your Jew vs Chrisian comment is also incomplete.  A Chrisian may have an emotional tie to religion but when presented with the Jewish challenge to his basic beliefs he will have to respond with some kind of logic.  Maybe nothing based in science but logic based in philosophy.  Religion is far more complex than just something based in "the heart."

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