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The Primacy of Feelings, and The Force

We are constantly railing against the passions; we ascribe to them all of man’s afflictions, and we forget that they are also the source of all his pleasures … But what provokes me is that only their adverse side is considered … and yet only passions, and great passions, can raise the soul to great things. Without them there is no sublimity, either in morals or in creativity. Art returns to infancy, and virtue becomes small-minded. – Denis Diderot, Philosophical Thoughts

It seems that, for liberals, feelings themselves are a sacred object.

I say that purely descriptively, with no normative judgement pro or con. It’s a strong sense I get from my day-to-day, one-on-one, interactions with liberals.

Primacy of feelings is not always, or only, a cognitive distortion like in The Coddling of the American Mind. It is sometimes something more, something other, than just a natural consequence of the one-foundation matrix, or of intuition comes first, or of morality blinds, or any of that.

It seems more like a sense of respect for the dignity of the individual. It’s a real thing, not to be dismissed only as the fruit of a coddled mind.

One of my pet peeves as a conservative is being characterized as something I’m not (i.e., mean, selfish, uncaring, etc., etc., etc.) and then demonized for being that something.

Is it possible we do the same sort of thing to liberals by suggesting that primacy of feelings is little more than cognitively distorted thinking, or something that’s in the Social Justice camp and NOT in the Truth camp?

The Force:

Near the end of the original Star Wars Luke turns off his targeting computer and places his trust in The Force.

Aren’t moral foundations and intuitions (e.g. as described in books like, The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence and Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking) the real-life version of The Force?

Isn’t reason our targeting computer, that we sometimes too eagerly allow to override The Force, to our own detriment (e.g., as in The Rationalist Delusion)?

What if we were to describe moral foundations as The Force; gifts from our genetic ancestors, paid for through the brutal gauntlet of natural selection, and tools through which we can better understand and connect with one another?

What if we were to teach, and give examples, of how each foundation can be, and has been, used for good (The Light Side) and for harm (The Dark side)?

What if we encouraged, taught, people to “get in touch with their feelings” and “use The Force” of moral foundations and intuitions in positive ways, and how to avoid their negative uses?

We’re still deeply entrenched in the “two hundred year tangent” of the rationalist delusion in which Oakeshott’s practical knowledge (aka half or more of the “ancient wisdom” of all mankind, aka “The Force” of intuition, aka Diderot’s sentiment) is derided as irrational faith in unfounded magic.

The result is that the “social animal” has such an extremely poor understanding of itself that a fundamental foundational truth upon which most debate rests is that reason comes first and sacred values follow. And THAT, in a nutshell, created today’s hyper partisanship and vitriol. Our WEIRDness is our downfall.

Intuitions are tools which, like any other tool, can be used to help AND to harm. But 99% of us aren’t even aware they exist, or what they are (roughly the moral foundations), or how each one can help OR harm.

I honestly, truly, deeply, believe that a clear eyed understanding OF the social animal BY the social animal would not only “drain some of the anger” from social discourse but would also increase the general level of empathy and compassion.

The elephant can’t be persuaded, but it can be trained. What if it were trained to better understand itself?

Think of it!! Imagine a world in which the three principles of moral psychology and all the moral foundations were taught from an early age and became common knowledge, and the foundation from which debates started. The mind reels at how different, for the better, the world might be!

It would be impossible NOT to have more empathy for one another. The rising tide (of greater understanding, i.e. Truth) really would lift all boats (of empathy and compassion).

The telos of Truth, in this way, through my education program, can, and would, achieve far more, and better, social justice than the telos of social justice ever could.

This should be an easy sell even, or especially, to the left-dominated academy.

There’s no reason we can’t do this and every reason we should.



  1. Pingback: The Psychological Components of Ideology and Morality | The Independent Whig - January 20, 2017

  2. Pingback: The School of Athens | The Independent Whig - October 29, 2016

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