Reasoning? Essay, Research Paper
Can Feelings Play A Role In Moral Reasoning?
The discussion of how feelings affect morality is quite prevalent in both David Hume and Immanuel Kant’s works. While each philosopher touches on the topic of feelings, both men differ in their outlook on the role feelings play in our moral lives. While David Hume, seemed to feel that the human mind was nothing more then a series of sensations and feelings, Immanuel Kant argued that there exists more to our minds than just these feelings.
David Hume based his whole ideology on a pleasure vs. pain scale. According to Hume, in order to make a moral decision, we must look at the given situation, and decide which solution would give us the highest level of pleasure. If the pleasure of said solution would outweigh the pain caused by it, then we would be achieving morality. He says that we need to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
Hume was an empiricist. He felt that knowledge began with the senses. Hume thought that a person could know nothing outside of experience. Experience is based on one’s subjective perceptions and never provides true knowledge of reality. For example, even the law of cause and effect was an unjustified belief. If a person drops an apple, he cannot be certain that it will fall to the ground. It is only possible, through past experience, that certain pairs of events, dropping an apple, and then the apple hitting the ground, have always accompanied one another.
Hume’s empiricism led him to the conclusion that we simply have feelings as to what is right and wrong. Reason would have nothing to do with morality, because we can not know what we have not experienced, and we can not reason what we do not know.
At first glance, we can see that Hume has a point. But his pleasure vs. pain scale is quite flawed in design. If we were to look at modern day examples of this pleasure vs. pain scale being utilized, we can easily see these flaws. Adolf Hitler is a prime example of this. When Hitler became dictator of Germany in 1933, he was aware that his country was in shambles. There was an economic depression resulting from World War I, and an absolute lack of national pride in his people. Hitler, and most of the German people, had a strong hatred of Jews. So in order to restore nationalism, Hitler decided that the pleasure of nationalism outweighed the pain of killing six million Jews, homosexuals, and gypsies. Even though his idea was able to bring back Germany’s economy and nationalism was stronger than ever; can we call this a moral decision? For years, Adolf Hitler has been regarded as an evil man, but on closer inspection, it seems that all he was doing was following David Hume’s ideology.
Immanuel Kant’s ideas completely and soundly dispute Hume’s thesis. Kant suggests that there exist three parts to the human mind, feelings, reason, and will. His theory was that reason should govern will. Feelings, are ? posteriori reactions to a given situation. Being as how Kant’s Copernican Revolution theory tells us that our minds process, and shape our experiences, we must not act on feelings without first reasoning them. In order to explain the methods of reasoning Kant introduces the Categorical Imperative.
Categorical imperatives are a set of commands to direct our will. These apply to all people and commands conduct immediately, without having any other purpose or conditions. It is categorical because of its application to all rational beings and imperative because it’s the principle by which one should act. It simply states, “I am never to act otherwise than so that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law” (Kant p. 27).
In order to be a moral being, we as rational creatures must take our feelings towards a given situation, and apply reason and logic. We should not let experience decide what is morally correct for us, but rather ask ourselves, “What if this everyone else was supposed to act this way?” This is because, as was stated earlier, our minds shape experience. We have expectations as to the outcome of a situation, based on experience. Gravity, for example is one of these experiences. If we drop the apple, we would expect the apple to fall. If the apple were dropped in space, our first reaction would be for the apple to fall. We would quickly learn that our reflexes are fooled by previous experience.
By following the Categorical Imperative, we do not have to deal with the consequences of inclination because universal law is similar to the laws of science. No one person can decide whether water will boil when heated, just as no one person can decide what is best for all. Experiences produce inclinations to act a certain way, even if at first it seems like the “right” thing to do. But reason might soon point actions in the opposite direction.
If a man does not make enough money to support his family, he might feel the need to steal in order to feed his children. Before this man goes out and steals a loaf of bread, he must stop and reason this action. If every person was stealing to get what he or she needed, then there would be no one manufacturing the goods they needed to steal. So in trying to help his family, he would be committing an immoral act.
On examination of both David Hume and Immanuel Kant’s moral philosophies, we can see that only Kant’s could hold up in practical application. This being true, we would have to say that feelings should only play a role in morality if strong reasoning is involved. We must stop and think about our actions before we make them, making sure not to trust feelings and inclinations without reasoning, because experience can easily taint our minds.