10 February 2012

Emotional Reason

I’d like to appropriate this from John Hawkins:

4) Make Emotion-Based Arguments: Don't get me wrong: both liberals and conservatives make emotion-based arguments. However, it may be 25% of what conservatives do, while it makes up 98% of liberalism. What so many conservatives don't seem to get is that as a general rule, a powerful emotional argument will usually beat a sound, logical argument. Put another way, you can be right and still lose. It happens all the time. So while conservatives shouldn't discard logic-based arguments, we need to work much harder to tie in emotions. This isn't actually all that hard. Ask yourself whom a program benefits or hurts and explain it in emotional terms. "You support Affirmative Action? Oh, so you believe black Americans are inferior to whites and need a hand up to compete with them? That's disgusting." "You think we should turn a blind eye to illegal immigration? Why do you want to put American workers out of jobs?" "Dry and sciencey" may appeal to think tank wonks and "Big L" Libertarians, but it isn't ultimately going to be enough to move the American people our way.

Hawkins is entirely correct in both his observation and prescription.  Humans are, in fact, emotional creatures who often act solely because their actions make them feel good.  There is no sense ignoring this fact, and plenty to be gained from exploiting it.

Also note that it is not more moral or honest to appeal to emotion instead of or more than reason.  Both are valid reasons for action, and therefore appeals can be made to both.  While it might feel, to some, that it is dishonest to appeal to emotion instead of reason, note that most people prefer to act on emotional, and view emotionally-driven actions to be valid.  If one views emotion-driven actions valid, then it is not in any way unethical or otherwise immoral to appeal to their emotions instead of their intellect.

If one is going to make an emotional appeal, one must have the right balance.  Praise and emphasize those things that are considered good, like freedom and liberty, and ignore those things that are bad, like inequality of outcome.  While some might support, say, smoking bans, you can counter by asking if they want the freedom to do whatever they want.  Argue from there, and always point out the fact that it always and ever is about freedom.  Even if you don’t like what might potentially be banned, wouldn’t you rather be free?

Really, the appeal to emotion seems to be a tool that is often overlooked by libertarians when they make their arguments.  While many libertarians seem rather cerebral, relatively speaking, what many often neglect is to appeal to that visceral part of man that longs to be free.  And this appeal is almost always an appeal to emotion.


  1. What is unfortunate at this time is the assumption that reason and emotion are necessarily... EXCLUSIVE.
    This is a wide spread belief, unfortunately...
    After considerable.. reflexion, I have come to the conclusion that our greatest problem at this time in our civilization is our incapacity to put things TOGETHER, in the both/and way, and not the.. either/or.

  2. @Debra- Well, if the recent neurological research is any indication, conscious emotion and conscious reason are simultaneously exclusive because the brain cannot handle conscious multi-tasking (at best, the brain can only rapidly switch focus from conscious effort to conscious effort, but it never truly consciously multi-tasks). However, one can generally use reason and emotion when talking about a given subject. And one should make all efforts to do so when the subject is sufficiently important, like theology or philosophy.