Reason should not be silenced

 We can use the Internet to facilitate encounters with opposing views, such as by joining deliberative groups of people whom we would rarely encounter otherwise or by deploying digital tools, such as Reddit's thread called ChangeMyView. The goal is not to get everyone to agree. How boring that would be! Diversity of opinion invigorates and illuminates. Nor is the goal to make us open to all other positions. We should not be willing to move to a new position that is clearly mistaken. Instead, the goal is to remain civil, understand opponents, and learn from them even when they are mistaken. Of course, there is no guarantee that mixed groups who deliberate will arrive at mutual respect, much less the truth or the best policies. Some risk of error is unavoidable. Still, reasoning with opponents gives us more chance of arriving at mutual understanding and respect as well as true beliefs and good policies. If reason should not be silenced, do we have to talk about controversial issues all day long? Excess arguments can create problems of their own. Most of the time we should leave controversies alone and get on with more pleasant parts of our lives. They demand that you keep arguing with them for as long they want you to, even long after you realize that further discussion is pointless. This practice is obnoxious. 

Reason should not be silenced, but it needs to take a vacation sometimes. When we do talk about controversial issues, we do not always have to include opponents in our discussions. Many universities in the United States have set up safe spaces where students can go when they want to talk about intimate and controversial issues without encountering opponents or skeptics. Gay students, for example, get tired of defending their lifestyle in hostile environments, so they can gain personal strength from entering a safe space where they know people will not call them immoral. Such safe spaces are perfectly compatible with my general point that we need to encounter opponents in order to learn from them. There is enough time in life for both. Even when the time is right, what is valuable is not simply talking about controversies. We need to learn to talk to opponents in the right way. In any case, it is important to recognize that speech is not enough. What is needed is the right kind of speech, involving civil communication about reasons. Even good seed cannot grow on infertile soil, so audiences must be receptive before arguments can accomplish anything. To nurture their receptivity, we need many other virtues, including modesty, graciousness, civility, patience, and forgiveness. But if all of that has to be present in advance, what further good can arguments really do that these other virtues have not already done? Many cynics and skeptics will dismiss reasoning right from the start. They deny that reason and argument have as much power as I claim. Sometimes these skeptics deny that reason and argument have any power at all. In their view, reason does nothing, because emotion does it all. [I]n order to pave the way for such a sentiment [or emotion], and give a proper discernment of its object, it is often necessary, we find, that much reasoning should precede, that nice distinctions be made, just conclusions drawn, distant comparisons formed, complicated relations examined, and general facts fixed and ascertained . If reason is a slave, this slave sometimes guides its master. 

One lesson from Hume's passage is that the contrast between reason and emotion is a false dichotomy. Instead, emotion can be guided by reason. Indeed, emotions can be reasons, such as when fear indicates danger, or happiness is evidence of having made a good choice. And strong emotion can be backed by strong reasons, such as when I get very angry that someone raped my friend. Reason does not always require us to remain calm and cold. The rational and emotional aspects of our nature do and should work together as allies in shaping our judgments and decisions. They need not conflict or compete. Hume was analyzing moral and aesthetic judgments, but his point applies as well to personal, political, and religious disputes. They feel their way into their positions instead of reasoning or thinking about facts. Of course, nobody denies or should deny that emotion is crucial to hot issues. Emotion is what makes hot issues hot. Nonetheless, reason and argument also have some role to play. People would not become active and risk alienating others if they did not feel strongly about their personal, political, or religious positions. At the same time, they also might not feel that way if they did not think and reason about the relevant facts in the ways they do. Reason thereby affects actions, because actions are based on motivations and emotions, and those motivations and emotions are shaped by beliefs and reasons. To see this in a personal case, just imagine that an informant tells you that your rival for promotion in your job lied about you to your bosses, and then she got the promotion instead of you. I am going to get back at her! Your emotions are aroused, and they lead you to undermine her career. Your anger leads you to lie about her, but you are caught. Your boss then fires you for undermining her and the group. The fact that your acts were so counterproductive and destructive would lead many to tag your acts as irrational and emotional. Emotions are seen as preventing reasoning that would have stopped you from getting into trouble. You would never act that way toward your rival if you did not have those emotions. Still, you also would never have acted in that way if you had not believed that your rival lied about you and that her lie was why you did not get the promotion. 

You trust your informant, so you reasoned from his report to reach the conclusion that your rival lied about you. Then you assumed that her lie was the best explanation for your failure to get promoted. This reasoning was what led you to feel strong negative emotions toward your rival. If you had not trusted your informant, or if you had not believed that your rival's lie made any difference to your promotion, you would not have been nearly so angry and vengeful. Then you would have kept your job. In this way, reason and emotion together shape behavior. Emotions sometimes arise from aspects of the situation that have little or nothing to do with the relevant facts. However, we usually get mad at people because we believe that they did something wrong. Our anger might then lead us to act in irrational ways, but it arises originally from a belief about the other person, and that belief can be the conclusion of reasoning. If the reasoning is faulty, then the emotion is unjustified and can lead us astray. Even if the reasoning is good, the emotion can become so strong that it prevents reasoning later on. Either way, we need to take account of both reasoning and emotion in order to understand the action.