Reason and Emotion in Education




by

WAYNE C. BOOTH





One often hears it said that we should not be interested in education of the 'mere reason,' that we should instead want to educate the 'whole man,' with special emphasis on the emotions and on moral commitment. 'Mere reason,' it is said, has long since been shown to be inadequate for the solution of man's problems, and we should work at 'educating the emotions.' In a recent seminar on education for n, for example, many participants implied that if we 'merely"

trained the minds of our women students, we would not be doing our jobs, and one speaker explicitly contrasted reason and emotion, suggesting that those of us who work at the intellectual disciplines, those of us who talk of training our students' minds, are somehow overlooking the main point. After all, 'Nobody ever gave his life for a logical proposition.'

Now there is obviously some truth in all this-reason by itself is not enough-but it is only a half-truth, and in some respects a dangerous one. It is especially dangerous in a college founded by a religious society-it is so easy to enlist on one side or the other in the old war between science and religion. It is an old war, but I see no reason why, if we consider reason and emotion carefully, the war should break out again here and now.

1 have been troubled in our debates by the implication that because a particular mental power or faculty can't do everything, it is therefore somehow suspect or inferior. Even if we accept the implicit equation of 'reason' with 'mere logic,'and admit that 'mere logic' can't make me a good or wise man, it still remains true that logical thought is one of the noblest achievements of man. If 'mere logic' can't make me wise or good, neither can 'mere' emotional commitment-as the history of the various isms of this century makes clear. Similarly, if 'mere' logic or cold scientific method cannot make a scientist, it is equally true that there was never an effective scientist or scholar, in any discipline, who had not mastered the logic of that discipline. Even if logic deserves the adjective mere, it is still an obviously essential element in all effective human action, whether painting a picture, testing a hypothesis, or raising a child; although it can't do everything, nothing at all can be done without it.

But why should we accent the equation of reason and logic? Dowe have only two faculties, reason or thinking or logic on the one hand and emotion on the other? Few philosophers or psychologists have been content with such an oversimplification. The term reason has almost always been used to cover an area far larger than is covered by logic. Plato and Aristotle used reason-both logos and nous, I'm told-to refer to the capacity to discover sound first principles, to make assumptions, or to formulate alternative hypotheses, as well as to the capacity to test those principles or hypotheses dialectically and to construct chains of argument from them logically. My knowledge, for example, that a given thing, say Carpenter Hall, cannot both exist and not exist at the same time, though it cannot be proved, is still a rational first principle from which all my other thinking and acting springs. How I discover this knowledge, and why I say that I 'know' it even though it cannot be proved, may be matters for debate, but the process of its discovery can hardly be called either emotional or strictly logical. It is part of my thinking activity, part of what most earlier philosophers would have called my reason. What is more, I can, as Aristotle pointed out, test it rationally, because I can discover that the alternative "Carpenter Hall can both exist and not exist at the same time, even if we maintain the same definition of the term exist"-leads me to consequences which I cannot accept. Further, I discover that if anyone tries to disprove it in argument with me, his arguments depend for their validity on the very principle he is trying to disprove.

It is true, of course, that once I have recognized this principle rationally, I am almost certain to feel an emotional commitment to it, and I may even become angry if anyone denies it. But no amount of emotional training or experience could have taught it to me. Even if we adopt the modern usage and say that I know it 'intuitively,' we should recognize that for most men throughout the history of thought, the word reason has included this kind of sound intuition, and when they have talked of education as the schooling of the reason, they have meant to include the process of learning how to test and compare our various intuitive beliefs, many of which are unsound even when felt as strongly as this one.

For example, I once 'knew,' with absolute conviction, that I was number one in the universe; like Saint Augustine, and like everyone else, I discovered early in life, long before I was aware of conscious reason, that everyone else should bow to my will. My emotional commitment to my own absolute primacy was great indeed. But it was in conflict with certain other beliefs about which I have gradually become aware: 'Other men feel the same way about themselves,' and 'I have a strong sense of guilt whenever I violate, in the name of my own quite obvious primacy, the equal but less obvious primacy of any other ' These beliefs about 'the brotherhood of man' did not, and do not, automatically subdue the forceful belief about my own centrality; one spends a lifetime of what I would call rational schooling consciously and unconsciously comparing the impulses that spring from the one misleading 'first principle' with those that come from others. Put in simpler terms, I feel a sense of duty to myself, but I also feel or come to feel a sense of duty to others. I think that most men have these two feelings in a strongly developed form. But only by reasoning about them, only by examining the impulses which each one produces and by comparing the consequences of each can one discover, first of all, that one's self-centredness must often be subordinated to one's sense of brotherhood, and secondly, that there is after all no ultimate conflict, since to learn to lose one's life-one's absolute self-centredness-is the only way to find one's true life.

Further reasoning can lead me to reassess even this belief of the unique importance of men as brothers by comparing it with further principles discovered intuitively: for example, the sense we all share, at first in an extremely vague form, that there is 'something bigger than any of us.' The whole of the existentialist movement, it seems to me, is an unavoidable attempt to reason through the contradictions revealed by comparing our sense of man's importance with our discovery that God or the universe often seem to treat man as of no importance whatever. Against such a contradiction, it is perhaps not surprising that many existentialists have decided to surrender reason rather than surrender either man's importance or the existence of God. Men are always discovering that particular contradictions between seeming first principles force them to give up belief in reason and a rational universe. But they are also always rediscovering that the contradictions can be resolved either by rejecting one belief or by discovering that both beliefs are really reconciled in a higher one.

In any case, whether we choose to accept all this talk about reason or not-and I know that to some of you the term, though not the process, is distasteful-I think it is important in our discussions to recognize that when we talk of educating men to reason we mean something more than 'mere logic.' Right or wrong, we think we are talking about something so inclusive that it covers a good deal of what we ordinarily mean by intuition and 'emotion.'

While we may disagree about the dangers of 'mere reason,' I suppose none of us are in disagreement about the dangers of "mere emotion," We are all too aware of what some emotions, unchecked, can lead to. Indeed, to talk at all of 'educating the emotions' always implies that some emotions are better than others, regardless of which axis of values we are operating on; the very notion of education presupposes the notion of improvement according to some scale. Gandhi was emotionally committed; so was Hitler. The campus heroes who defended us against that most awful of fates, loss of 'school spirit,' were emotionally committed; so were those who brought them to task.* Obviously what we are all after is the good kind rather than the bad, whichever side we are on.'There is nothing that distresses me so much in our faculty discussions as the frequent suggestion that the defenders of liberal education in the more 'academic' sense are not interested in schooling the emotions, and do not care whether men are good or bad, whether they become hoodlums or productive members of society. We all desire, I believe, graduates who are committed emotionally to whatever way of life they think is best. We are all thus interested, in one sense or another, in educating the emotions, just as we are all interested in an education that is practical-according to our own definition of what is practical. What we seem to disagree about is the method most appropriate to a college, or, in other terms, the degree to which a college can profitably deal with the emotions in emotional terms without too great a cost.

There are clearly many methods, more or less effective depending on the practitioners, for schooling the emotions. One method, highly effective in the hands of a Christ or Gandhi, a Billy Graham or a Joseph Smith, is that of direct personal conversion. Psychic revolutions are obviously of great importance to mankind-when they are in the cause of truth and right. Whenever they are not, according to our standards, we start using names like 'holy roller' or 'propagandist' or 'rabble-rouser ' or 'fascist' or 'Communist.'The direct emotional appeal of a personality and his deeply felt message seems, unfortunately, to work as well in the hands of a Hitler inciting his followers to viciousness as it does in the hands of a Gandhi leading his followers to a great nonviolent revolution. I don't suppose that any of us thinks that the two kinds of personal conversion are of equal value; we would all agree that Gandhi is, in a sense, 'educating the emotions'of his followers, while Hitler is rabble-rousing. But how do we decide that this is so? If we answer that we decide on the basis of our feeling that it is so, then our educational task becomes, I suppose, that of 'converting as many people as we can, by emotional appeals, to feel the way we do. There seems to be no reason against our doing so, and we can easily discover 'reasons' for employing Madison Avenue to fight Madison Avenue, as it were; the more TV preachers and the more roadside signs proclaiming our cause, the better chance we will have.

The question would seem to be, however, whether it is the main job of a college to enter into this particular kind of battle for souls. I doubt that many of' us would stay in business for very long if we thought that it was. A college by its very nature presupposes that there is something more to men's commitments than a battle of personalities and of' propaganda devices. We might, of course, by reorganizing ourselves and hiring a new staff obtain a higher percentage of commanding personalities who could effect conversions. But conversions to what? However we answer that question, we all believe that the answer has a somewhat more firm basis than a mere personal opinion that our position 'feels' better than the alternative position. We all believe, in short, that there is a meaningful choice possible between a passionate commitment to a Hitler and a passionate commitment to any of the world's genuine prophets. We believe, that there are reasons why some things are better than some other things, why true propositions are truer than false ones, beautiful objects more beautiful than ugly ones, good actions better than bad ones. The 'dialogue' of a college differs from the dialogue of the church or market place, important as they are, in that we are committed to exploring and clarifying the genuine reasons which make human choice meaningful rather than meaningless. All choice has emotional concomitants. All choice can be rationalized. But only some choices-whether of action, thought, or feeling-are reasonable. Unless we want to reduce ourselves simply to the level of' being one propagandistic organization among others-the victory to go to the best propagandist or the strongest personality-we must sooner or later be willing to test our reasons. A college is first of all a testing ground of rational choice. Whatever

else it is or does should be 'udged according to whether it assists or hinders this unique function.

All of this certainly does not mean that we should refuse to deal directly with students' emotional problems. We should have trained counsellors-I think more of them-to work with the student's emotional life directly; we will always have some students whose emotions are so tangled that only direct manipulation, through individual or group therapy, can free them to the point of being able to listen to the 'dialogue'-to a reason when they encounter one. Nor does it mean that we should actively avoid making personal 'conversions,' whether to our favourite form of marriage or our favourite philosopher, so long as we are sure that the kind of conversion we are likely to make can withstand the light of reason in the broad sense in which I am trying to use the term. But we cannot set up a psychoanalytic institute any more than we can set up a college of saints and prophets. Within the limits of our finances and abilities, we are qualified to deal with the emotions primarily in one way: we are, or pretend to be, qualified to teach people how to use their minds, how to solve problems, how to compare motives and preferences and insights and emotional commitments and to choose those which can stand the light of day. In Plato's terms, we are, or ought to be, qualified to give help to the charioteer, reason, as he attempts to guide those two wayward steeds, the emotions and the desires.

We do, I suppose, have a duty to help provide a wider range of emotional experiences than our students know when they come to us. Bach and Elvis Presley can't be compared effectively by a student who knows only Elvis; the rewards and consequences of a Quaker religious experience and an old-fashioned revival can hardly be compared by the student who knows only the revival; the comparative value of Arthur Miller's tragedies and Li'l Orphan Annie will never be recognized by a student who knows only the comic strip. But it will be noticed that in each of these instances, one is not simply providing one emotional experience in place of another, but rather one is providing an experience in which emotion and reason are so deeply interfused that the experience can withstand the most rigorous of rational criticism. I would seriously doubt that a college could ever afford to spend very much of its energies dealing with the emotions except in such rationally defensible forms.

15 For the most part our students seem to me pretty well set in their basic natures when they come to us. They are the products of their homes and churches and peer groups. If a time ever comes when we receive each year a freshman class made up of a job-lot of Hitlers, nothing we can ever do will change them much in four years. But so long as society sends us, as is fortunately the case, a group of thoroughly confused but well-meaning young people who want to find a good life, who have a vague longing for education but very little notion of how to work for it, we can hope to help them in clearing up their confusions and finding their own way. In short, we can cultivate their reasoning powers in such a way as to aid them in finding direction through the circumstances and problems of a future we cannot predict. If we don't do this, nobody else will. And if we fall to do this because we are too busy meddling with matters about which we really know very little and over which we have very little control anyway, we are committing a kind of irrational crime of our own-though with best of intentions and the firmest of emotional commitments.