Zoe (from the blog, Zoe's Wings) has put up a short, powerful post dealing with the frequent charge, leveled at atheists, that they left Christianity for "emotional reasons". Zoe counters that charge by pointing out that her decision to accept Christ as a thirteen year old was at least as emotional as her decision to leave Christianity. Consequently, she implies, you cannot have it both ways. Either it is legitimate to make a decision on an emotional basis or it is not. But it cannot be that it is legitimate to make a decision for Christ on an emotional basis, while it is not legitimate to make a decision to leave Christianity on an emotional basis.
By coincidence, Hausdorff (from the blog, Hausdorff's Bible Blog) put up a post on much the same topic and on the same day as Zoe. In his post, Hausdorff points out that he got started on leaving Christianity because of emotional reasons, but that his final reasons for leaving were nevertheless grounded in logic and evidence.
Both Zoe and Hausdorff strike me as raising the broader question of what is the relationship between thought and emotion?
Now, I do not pretend to have a thorough answer to that question, but please allow me to begin my approach to it by referencing yet another blogger. Sabio Lantz (at Triangulations) sometimes points out that the Western dichotomy between thought and emotion is baseless. That is, the two are not dichotomous, but inextricably wound up together.
If Sabio is right -- and I think he is -- then we cannot reason without there being some emotional component to our reasoning.
In the first place, emotions can, and often enough do, motivate us to think. This seems to be especially true if we do not immediately act on our emotions.
In the second place, many -- perhaps all -- emotions are not merely feelings, but are also perspectives. For instance, they might broadly focus on certain aspects of our environment. Or they might focus us on a certain line of reasoning. If I feel fear I become acutely aware of the object, if any, of my fear. If I feel love, I become just as acutely aware of the object, if any, of my love. And, if my fear or love has no immediately identifiable object, then I am likely to go in mental search of one.
In either case, emotions have focused my perception. They have created, as it were, a perspective. Because of my emotions, I am now paying attention to certain things and not to some other things.
Of course that perspective is a two edged sword. On the one hand, I am focused on something that's going on -- the better to deal with it. On the other hand, I am more inclined to ignore the rest of what's going on -- and I may miss something that's important to me.
I think it is the latter edge of the sword that gives emotions their bad rap. For example, because of my negative experiences of, say, Christianity, I might overlook positive aspects of the religion. I think, when many of say that we, or someone else, is being "too emotional" we are intuitively pointing out that we, or they, are in danger of overlooking something of importance.
Because emotions can mislead us by focusing us too narrowly on one thing, or on one aspect of something, we should be cautious about thinking they are sure and certain guides to the truth of a matter. But that does not mean we can live without them.
A few years back, some California based scientists conducted a study of people who had been in accidents that left them with a certain kind of brain injury. Specifically, the injury was to a part of their brains that allowed them to feel emotions. Consequently, these people were about as close to what anyone of us will ever get to being Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame. That is, they were able to reason just as well as they ever could, but they were not able to feel emotions.
What the scientists discovered was illuminating. The people in the study could not prioritize. And because they could not prioritize, they often enough had laborious difficulty making decisions.
For instance, one of the subjects had significant money invested in the stock market. One day, the market plummeted. As it happened, he had a choice that day between getting his stocks out of the market and going to lunch. But he couldn't decide which was more important to him. He couldn't prioritize.
What the scientists called "prioritizing" I have called "creating a perspective". But regardless of what you term it, at least one function of emotions seems to be to allow us to focus on certain things while disregarding or back-burnering the rest.
I would submit that capability seems vital, not just to prioritizing actions, but also to focusing our thoughts.
At least, that's my take on it. There seems much more to it than what I've laid out here. So, what do you think is the relationship between emotion and thought?