Ethical Emotional Equilibrium? (review)

27 Jun
Truth without enthusiasm, morality without emotion, ritual without soul, are things Christ unsparingly condemned. Destitute of fire, they are nothing more than a godless philosophy, an ethical system, and a superstition.– Samuel Chadwick

Until now there were numerous attempts to provide reliable and proper moral orientation within one complete ethical system. Movie makers from Hollywood came up with one more. In this review I will start with brief introduction of the plot in the movie. Then I will acquaint you with some general definitions and conceptions connected to emotions. Further on I will try to offer a taste of a world in which ethics work without feelings and thereafter I will lead you through a deeper analysis in which I aim to show, why there is no conceivable ethical system or environment without emotions. At last, the Biblical perspective on this question will be put forth in a condensed manner.

John PrestonThe Plot

            The story takes place in the apocalyptic period after third world war in which people traced emotions to be the prime source of all evil. All the jealousy, rage and hatred are the very root of every activity that leads to murder and at last war. On that account a “cure” for this “disease” was invented called Prozium, which eliminates any emotion. To secure a widespread use of this drug a special force is trained that persecutes anyone who violates the law by not using it and thereby is feeling. 

        What I would like to focus on in this review are the moral issues that come forth in case we completely remove emotions out of the picture. But first of all it is important to specify what emotion is. Throughout the whole paper I will use terms emotions and feelings interchangeably under following definition: “a conscious mental reaction (as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body[1]” 
Emotions in their foundation can be divided in two groups:      
     1.  Positive emotions (Love, Happiness, Sympathy…)  
     2.  Negative emotions (Anger, Grief, Envy…)

Secondly, the forming process of emotions consists of two steps:      
     1. External input experienced by an agent 
     2. Agents own (subjective) evaluation of the experienced input.
RESULT: Either positive or negative emotion.

While we have no control whatsoever over external inputs we can to some degree control our evaluation processes and thereby direct the emotion making process towards desirable conclusion.

Aristotle & Hume
 Aristotle saw education of the emotions essentially important for moral education, as according to him emotions play crucial part in ethical behavior in one’s life.[2] Hume brought this matter even further by parceling out higher and lower class of emotions. Former are “altruistic” emotions that directed on morally relevant traits and latter are mere “personal feelings” aimed rather on non-moral traits. At this point it is needful to say that foregoing ideas ought not to be assigned to moral system known as emotivism.

Emotivism must view emotions as raw facts inaccessible to evaluation that hold value according to which we can know what is right. Yet the problem lies in the place of origin, for the emotion occurs in the object and because of that “what is moral” is being decided not on the targets behalf but in the interest of an object. In other words when emotivist says that “murder is wrong” he is not in fact asserting anything about the act itself for what he really is saying is this: “I don’t like murder”. This is also called the object-target issue.[3]

Emotionless necessity
In a world with no emotions there are several principles that are significant to be pointed out. First of all if love is not present then there can be no friendship, nor relationship in intimate personal sense of the word. Where it is not possible to like someone, the closest possible relation between two agents is to become acquainted. Feeling of trust is then reduced to a mere rational assumption based on slowly increasing probability for continual beneficial behavior observed earlier in life of our acquaintance which can easily cease in a first major alternation of circumstances. Absenting compassion or empathy, there is no ground on which one should think of others as ends in themselves, for in this case other people can rationally serve only as means to add to his wellbeing. 
 Missing emotions therefore entail a self-centered worldview. If the foundation or motive for an ethical system is always cold-hearted egoism then a number of over history invented ethical systems are out of the question e.g. Golden Rule[4] coming out of Kant’s Categorical Imperative as well as Fletchers love based system[5]. In such conditions the only feasible ethical system available is some kind of an emotionless utilitarianism.

Originally utilitarianism was formulated by Jeremy Bentham as “the greatest good for the greatest number[6]  in which good stands for the utility sense of the word. For our cause maybe also the negative wording of its wording is interesting – “the least amount of evil or harm to prevent the greatest amount of suffering for the greatest number.” However utilitarianism itself is facing several objections to be regarded as an infallible ethical system.       
1.  Ethical fallacy of teleology.
Since utilitarianism is teleological system, it determines morality by the end result. “End justifies the means” mentality (also mentioned above) cannot justify Holocaust only because the result would be pure human race. Secondly in light of utilitarianism it would be right to kill a terminally ill patient and dispense his organs to others so greatest utility is provided or greatest suffering is prevented.

       2.  Ethical fallacy of omniscience.

Right from the birth emotions are available to us despite our nearly zero amount of knowledge. Later some of them (e.g. sympathy) help us in making certain decisions. Without them we are fully dependent on our rationality, moreover on our knowledge. In order to decide whether action is right or wrong we would need to be omniscient to take a stand, since we are not we can only assume the beneficial end. Any such lack of information could lead to an immoral decision, because if in the end of the day the outcome was not utile the act would be wrong. For instance let’s take a person that is to rescue a drowning child from a river but he does not know that the current is too strong for him to get there in time, so child would drown before he reached it. Since negative result was produced his action had to be immoral. I hope we can all see there is something wrong with this assumption.
             3. Ethical fallacy of a motive.
Now since all the action is based on cold-hearted egoism previous example would most likely never happen, for under such circumstances a person would save this child only under two conditions. Not only it would have to be profitable for the rescuer to save a child, but a rescuer would also have to have the knowledge of that it is profitable for him to save it. There three conditions to access moral debate are  freedom of action, right motives and “doing what is morally right.” If a person acts merely out of the interest in his own profit while the action goes hand in hand with acting morally according to Kant motive is the decisive element. If the motive is other than right (helping a drowning child to survive) we cannot speak about moral conduct at all for everything such person is doing is acting wise.

Insensate Bible
God is love who loves us unconditionally giving his own son to carry out selfless redemptive sacrifice on the cross; this is the central message of Bible. We do not have to go any further than saying that without emotions there is no way we can comprehend this truth. It is not possible to have a personal relationship with our Savior without loving him (Mark 12:28-31) with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. For our matter it means that when a person is unable to love himself he is unable to love people around him. Therefore without feelings Bible would be only an absurd book which we cannot possibly understand nor build a system of ethical values and duties from. 
I have demonstrated that without emotions there is no option of a satisfactory ethical system. On that account we should embrace our emotions and learn how to control them. Bible implicitly says we are responsible for our feelings (Pr. 4,23; 14,29; Matt. 6,25) so there is a clear calling for developing our emotion evaluation processes for the purpose of getting appropriate emotions at the right time. Since there are other ethical systems I did not concentrate in this work in detail, an open place for further discussion is unquestionable. 
Aristotle, one of the most important figures in secular philosophy said this: “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence”. I believe that the ultimate meaning and purpose of a Christian life can be narrowed down to “making God known and glorified in this world”. Ergo neither one of these meanings of life makes sense if we decide to take away, what was either developed over years of evolution or was ingeniously created by our loving Father, our God.  

[1] Merriam-Webster, I. (2003). Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. (Eleventh ed.). Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, Inc.
[2] De Sousa, Ronald, (1990). The Rationality of Emotion. USA, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. p. 305 
[3] Feinberg, J. S., Feinberg, P. D., & Huxley, A. (1996). Ethics for a Brave new world. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books. p.5 
[4] everyone should act as they would wish everyone else to act
[5] Law of love claims that moral conduct is founded in doing what brings greatest love to greatest amount of people.
[6] Kerby Anderson, (2005). Christian ethics in plain language. Nashville, Thomas Nelson, Inc. p.15

written by Peter Makovíni
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Posted by on June 27, 2011 in Ethics


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