Many of us would find our emotions to play a vital role in our moral and ethical values. Perhaps this is because it is with our emotions that we are able to sense something is wrong, such as in the case of sympathizing for a person who is passing through a hard time due to a bad action which occurred. We know that action is wrong because we empathize and sympathize with the person and as a result associate a negative emotion with that action.
Another example would be feeling anger towards a character in a movie for hurting another. We feel this anger because we sense the action is not good. This association of our negative feelings with that action results in our conclusion that that action cannot be right. However if our emotions were taken out of the picture, we are left only with our reason. Reason as the only source for ethical judgments in many ways can be a rather heartless idea of moral values. Take the example in which a couple just broke up.
One is heartbroken yet the other is perfectly fine. There is, reasonably speaking, nothing wrong with the one who is ok, flaunting a new relationship right in front of the one who is heartbroken, however if our emotions came into play, we would take into account the excess and unnecessary pain one would be causing the other. This will make us come to the conclusion that perhaps that heartless and insensitive act is not good or right even though we cannot explain it through reason alone.
Two ethical theories which believe in using reason alone to determine the nature of an acton are that taught by Immanuel Kant in what is known as Kantian Ethics and in another theory called Utilitarianism which is followed by such philosophers as Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill and Henry Sidgwick. Kantian ethics believes to do good and do what is moral, is to do our duty and our duty is to obey the moral law. Kant argues that we must not let our emotions play a part in our moral decision making process because our emotions may hinder our views on what is good because they are unreasonable. All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason. ” –Immanuel Kant For example, according to Kantian ethics, if a person were about to kill our mother, it would be morally wrong to kill the person first to defend the life of your mother as Kantian ethics is a deontological theory and killing is intrinsically wrong. When evaluating this example it is quite obvious that had that person not been our mother, had we not loved the person we would not feel the need so strongly to intervene.
I am sure even if Kant were to be in this situation he too would let his emotions get the better of him. Now if we were to consider in this example that the person threatening our mother was the president of the country. Similarly it would be wrong to defend our mother and kill the president as a result because as Jeremy Bentham says “It is the greatest good to the greatest number of people which is the measure of right and wrong. ” If we were to kill the president out of our love for our mother this would be morally wrong because it does not provide the greatest happiness for the greatest number.
It simply provides the greatest happiness for the minority considering more people value the president rather than your mother. Therefore as we can see, according to this theory allowing our emotions to play a part in our moral choices might result in doing what is wrong, because we acted out of the emotion love to save our mother rather than doing what reason would tell us, based on the ideas of this theory, is right. Naturally we can easily tell how this way of acting really makes no sense.
In the example given above, in both theories, it seems rather heartless to choose the murder’s life over our own mother’s. I personally cannot say that when reading these examples I think the theory is correct in its ideas on how to be moral because naturally I do not feel right about the action as I am sure any sane person would. How can it be considered right to allow our mother to be killed when there can be something to do? How can an action which seems so heartless and cold be what is right?
Quite simply I think it cannot. Reason alone, as seen above would make us heartless in our decisions. How can this way of thinking be what is right when it naturally feels so wrong? I personally do not think reason alone can be considered an adequate enough moral principle in our ethical judgments for these reasons. Especially including the fact that our emotions are one of the aspects which define us as a human person and as a result differentiate us from all the other animals. We can feel, sympathize, be compassionate.
I find that telling a person to ignore this aspects which would naturally play a part in the choices we make had we not forced them out is in a way unnatural and so theories such as Kantian ethics and utilitarianism as a result, in my opinion are not adequate. Separating our two, most basic human aspects will give us qualities which make us seem callous or overly fervent. If we were to use reason alone in our decision making process we would come to decisions which are heartless such as in the example given above.
However if we were to use emotion alone we would come to decisions which may be too passionate and reckless and as a result also inhumane. For example consider a case where a teenager is fighting with his mother. The mother refuses to let her son do something out of her love and better judgment yet her son cannot understand and wants to do what he wants. As a result he gets angry. Such a situation I am sure has happened at least once to every mother and child. However if the son did not have reason, such a strong emotion such as anger might make him do something rash.
He might hurt his mother and this is not good. With reason his anger would be in check; controlled. He would realize that such an action is wrong even if he feels like doing it. Therefore from this we can see that when making choices we must consider both our emotions and our reason entwined to come to the best moral decision. This is not to say we must equally use both. Sometimes more of our reason must be used to make a decision however our emotions are always in the very least considered (and vice versa). This I find will result in best moral decisions possible.