Are Reason And Emotion Equally Necessary In Justifying Moral Decisions
Whether reason or emotion is equally necessary in justifying moral decisions is a highly controversial topic. In order to come to a conclusion I am going to analyse and evaluate two important approaches from Immanuel Kant and Jeremy Bentham. I will partially focus on these two important figures, as one presents good will as the only thing that is capable of producing morally justified decisions, if that will conforms to practical reasoning. The other one states that a moral decision is a decision that increases the “Greatest Pleasure for the Greatest Number of People” thereby focusing on the importance of an emotional state of happiness for making morally justified decisions. In order to come to a conclusion of whether Kant’s or Bentham’s idea of reason and emotion in moral decisions are justified, I will focus on the building blocks on which their theories are built. The origin of their theories is nature itself, I will analyse certain characteristics of nature, indicating whether Kant’s theory supports the significance of reasoning or Bentham’s theory supporting the importance of emotions is completely in accordance with nature itself or whether certain limitations can be found.
Immanuel Kant states that the only moral good, that in itself is good in this world is good will, every other characteristic a human being can possess are not initially good in themselves. For example, characteristics such as intelligence, courage are characteristics that are not good in themselves because if the will itself is bad, these characteristics will be used for a bad purpose as well. Kant states that a decision is only morally justified when it is good in itself, regardless of its consequences and so a good will is necessary.
Kant believes that a good will conforms to practical reasoning. This is due to the fact that if we all have the same reasoning, the outcome might be good for some and bad for others, For example, If a child gets beaten when he is young and another doesn’t, the child that did get beaten in his childhood may say that it was a good thing as he learnt a lot from it, where as the other may have a bad opinion about it. In order to make moral laws apply to everyone, it has to be independent of both experiences and knowledge. We can understand in terms of a priori, which is independent of any experiences, which would mean reasoning would then be the same for everyone. A prior to experience such as mathematics, e.g. 1+1=2. Showing that in order to decide what is right and wrong we have to decide with reasoning that is based on knowledge. If we make our will conform to a priori we act in harmony with nature itself. So if we act without any emotions, basing all our decisions on commands of reasoning that are independent to experience, we are acting according to the ‘categorical imperative’, a decision based on pure reasoning. The formula to arrive at the categorical imperative is “Act only in accordance to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” Showing that as result, all our actions are morally justified, are free of subjective experiences and make a universal decision that will affect each and everyone in the same way. If there’s a man about to murder two thousand babies, you have the chance to stop him by killing him, but then you know if you kill him his followers would kill 2 million other people, then what decision would you make? Here we can see that we can only make the right decision if we know the situation perfectly and by looking at everyone who makes this decision the maxim must be true in every case.
An example from my TOK course that might indicate that there is such a thinking, which is independent to any experiences and not dependent on subjective experiences, is deductive thinking, reasoning where we come to a conclusion. For example; ‘Parents are illogical beings. Someone who is not able to use deductive reasoning to arrive at a conclusion is naÃ¯ve. Everyone who is naÃ¯ve is illogical. Therefore parents cannot arrive at conclusions through inductive reasoning.’ If we look at each sentence and link them we can see the first sentence links to the third, which then links to the second and therefore we come to the conclusion in the forth sentence; ‘Therefore parents cannot arrive at conclusions through inductive reasoning.’
I found Kant’s approach also reduces the significance of perceptions, as perception is responsible for either misleading or influencing our reasoning, which makes it very difficult to come up with moral decisions that are subjective independent.
Kant’s argument for good will is based on the characteristics of nature. He says that every part of nature has its own purpose and is perfect in fulfilling that purpose and has perfectly adapted to its situation. I think humans are perfect examples of that; every part of human nature fulfils its task perfectly e.g. organs such as the liver and heart. Therefore nature itself seems to be perfect. As a result of a perfect nature, in order to make morally justified decisions to act according to nature the answer to why reasoning and a good will is the only good that can provide morally justified decisions lies in nature itself. So if only happiness and survival were nature’s purposes then instincts alone could have been enough to achieve those aims. Nevertheless nature has provided us with reasoning and we have to make use of it. Through the detailed studies I have done in my psychology course concerning Darwinism, I realised the enormous change nature has undergone during the process of evolution and that we have perfectly adapted to our current situations. I think that the process of natural selection for humans has partially stopped in developed countries. This is a result of modern medicine, for example; the Immune system, tablets now allow us to stay in good health acting against nature. They allow the weak to survive for longer and allow them to give birth to more weak children. It is this along with modern medical care and external help that I feel natural selection not as effective.
On the other side of the argument is Jeremy Bentham, stating that a decision is only morally justified when it increases the “the Greatest pleasure for the Greatest Number of People.” Pleasure being and emotion that also seems to have advanced through evolution. Bentham’s argument is based on the characteristics of nature itself. According to Bentham, ‘nature gives us two basic principles; the ability to experience
pleasure and pain.’ These principles are important in determining all our actions. Every action has an underlying meaning, to increase our pleasure or reduce the pain. Therefore a decision is then morally justified when it increases the experience of pleasure that nature has provided for us. From my own experiences I do confirm that, most actions are in accordance with the principle utility. From the society in which we live, it is noticeable that people drink alcohol, in order to increase their ‘pleasure’ but also don’t drink in order to prevent ‘pain’.
According to Kant, if nature’s real purpose would be survival and augment of happiness only, there would be no need for rationality, as other beings without reasoning are equally able to perceive happiness or survive through their instincts. So reasoning itself could be seen as an imperfect gift of nature that has no task or is unable to fulfil its task. Every single organ is perfectly adapted for its purpose, so seems that nature itself is perfect. Every attempt to change it would lead to imperfectness. It seems reasonable that our rationality also has a real purpose as all our other organs have. For example, trying to use reasoning in order to change external events, for the purpose of having an effect on our organs such as the brain, to cause an increase in happiness would change the already perfectly adapted organ. Therefore using reasoning in order to make decisions as a means to increase our happiness are not morally justified positions as they change the perfectness of our nature. As a result ‘a morally justified reasonable decision is one that has no means but is good by itself and not for another purpose’ The limitations of such an approach are that if a decision is only morally justified as a result of practical reasoning it automatically suppresses our instincts for desires and the influence of subjective perceptions in making decisions. As these instincts are the result of thousand of years of adaptation, a decision that ignores the adapted perfectiveness of our nature is therefore a decision that is not in harmony with nature itself. Even as Kant’s theory that a good will is in conformity with practical reasoning does not seem to totally harmonise with nature. If we would conform our will to objective reasoning as well as subjective reasoning, our actions might be in harmony with our own nature, but our moral decisions might then not be in harmony with others, as different people have different subjective experiences. Therefore, the only way to make a decision that is in harmony with each human being and can be applied as a universal law for each being is a decision or action that is the result of a good will that conforms to practical reasoning on its own and not to subjective experiences including emotions.