Nation e-Edition

The heart over the head

By Charles Knighton

| Tue, November 13, 2012 - 12:01 AM

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Mere days before the presidential election in the United States, polls had indicated that just under half of Americans approved of President Barack Obama’s job performance in general, while 54 per cent of respondents felt the economy and the country as a whole were headed in the wrong direction.

Mitt Romney, in private business, as head of the Utah Olympic Games and as governor of Massachusetts, demonstrated a marked proclivity in successfully handling such economic issues as those now besetting America. Thus logically, the election’s outcome should have been a no-brainer, right? Well, yes and no.

One other poll, showing President Obama’s “likeability” at 63 per cent compared to Romney’s at 38 per cent was, in my opinion, key to Obama’s re-election.

The head and the heart have often been portrayed as two organs in constant battle. In Plato’s Phaedrus, intellect is a charioteer, pulled by one horse of noble passion as he tries to whip his unruly companion into line. The philosopher David Hume would have thought the charioteer a self-deluded fool, for, in reality, it’s the horses that decide on the chariot’s direction: “reason is and ought only to be the slave of passions”.

While there is some truth in both models, where they mislead is in suggesting that the head and heart work against each other. In fact, unless they work in tandem, both would be unrecognizable. Often, if not always, we would not feel the way we do unless we thought the way we do.

Rather than a charioteer, perhaps Plato should have conjured up images of a horse whisperer, who calms an agitated steed by reasoning with it, not beating it.

Hume comes closer to the truth, recognizing that the head needs the heart even more than the heart needs the head, since there is nothing in pure rationality that can provide us with any motivation. Without any input from emotion or feeling, reason is merely

a cold, mechanical method of calculation.

In short, reason alone gives us no reason to do anything. The heart and the head both have their reasons, but they share as many as they keep from each other.

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