from The Psychology of Liberty
by Wes Bertrand © 2000, copylefted 2007

Logic For Understanding Emotions And Ideas

One of the most important tasks at hand for our species is to correctly understand the faculties of reason and emotion. By doing so, we can resolve problems that have beleaguered humans for centuries. Since reason is our distinctive tool of survival, a process or method is needed to discover when reason is being utilized properly or improperly. Logic provides for this. It is the central process and method of all proper reasoning.

Ayn Rand defined logic as “the art of non-contradictory identification.”81(p.112) Few, if any, logic courses will assert it so simply and correctly. Unfortunately, this “art” has at times been absent throughout history. Because of a basic lack of understanding of logic, coupled with various emotional disincentives to pursue this understanding, our species has avoided fully addressing various problematic issues.

Logic enables a rational being to arrive at the right conclusions. These conclusions stem from prior identifications and assessments. Reason as a capacity can take place on numerous levels; it can encompass a broad range and depth of identifications. Simple identifications, such as recognizing that one is awake, alive, and not dreaming, or that one is hungry, or that one is reading a book, rest on a whole foundation of concepts acquired from childhood. First-level identifications must be made before more advanced concepts can be formulated and understood.81

By, say, age ten, most of us have integrated the vast majority of concepts needed to sustain ourselves and function on a regular basis. But many issues and ideas arise that get us sidetracked in our reasoning. We can end up—and have vested interests in—avoiding logical clarity in these areas.

A major factor in this avoidance involves unwanted and undesirable feelings. Rather than face various feelings associated with certain issues, we can disown them through denial and repression. The defense mechanism of repression entails the initial denial of a feeling—and the importance of the evaluation attached to it. Denial develops into repression when the habit of eschewing emotional awareness becomes automatized (when it becomes a subconscious response). Yet, since the subconscious is interconnected, many different emotions become repressed—not just the unwanted ones.

Not surprisingly, chronic avoidance of feelings adversely affects the self. The faculty that normally inspects and remedies emotional troubles becomes denigrated. Harmful psychological structures are built around a doubt of one’s ability to address and resolve emotional issues. For instance, one may attend only to issues that do not negatively impact one’s emotional state. Or, one may embrace or strongly defend issues that insulate oneself emotionally—and evade or denounce issues and ideas that seem threatening. Thus, one avoids important aspects of personality and environment that cause feelings of anxiety, fear, guilt, pain, and so forth. Yet the defense mechanism of repression does not work completely: one still experiences the feelings; one is still partially aware of them. Partial awareness of feelings just precludes understanding and rectification of them.

Psychological policies of this nature are usually how the process of logic gets subverted. Such policies can prevent us from realizing our own capability to use reason beneficially. Our own joy can be stifled in the process too.

A minimal awareness of and lack of concern for one’s emotional world is evident in most irrational behavior throughout history. As stated, to identify a feeling is oftentimes a more challenging task than to identify something physical. For primitive people especially, the whole realm of thoughts, images, dreams, and feelings seemed to have a mystical aura. The physically unseen nature (and oftentimes ambiguous properties) of these psychological states contributed to this. Rather than see the mind in a scientific manner, early humans indulged in beliefs about omnipresent spirits and unseen powers; they were oblivious to both logic and contradictions.55 Less knowledge and less inquisitiveness basically inured them to the status quo. Habits of psychological avoidance were almost inevitable, given their conditions.

Psychological practices seem to push us in certain directions. Sometimes, they can be hard to fight against—even though doing so may be in our best interests. We can remain in contexts that do injury to our ability to be aware and to reason logically. We may act and feel with little reflection.

Organisms tend to gravitate towards pleasant (or at least nonpainful) experiences. After all, those that did not respond in this way might soon perish. These experiences provide strong incentives to further the processes of life. The survival benefits of this are obvious, at least for other animals. For humans, this is only a part of the process of achieving happiness.

As mentioned, a pleasant or nonpainful emotional world is not something that is built into our system. We can seek pleasurable experiences in order to escape from those that are emotionally unpleasant, but nonetheless important. By not examining the areas of conflict that evidence themselves emotionally, we can retard the growth of our faculty of awareness and our capacity to experience joyful emotions. In a sense, we are the only organisms capable of creating or destroying our own happiness; we are the only living things in charge of how we feel.

Because our emotional world is tied to our rational faculty, we need to discover this world—to identify it. As Ayn Rand ingeniously stated, “Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification.”75(p.125) For other animals, consciousness is basically perception. To be sure, they may recognize and learn all kinds of things, but not in the abstract sense. We, as humans, must go an immeasurable step further if we are to actualize the full potential of our minds. This is our responsibility.

If we were emotionally similar to other animals, we could save ourselves the tasks of rational identification and integration. Though that may sound comfortable, our life should be less about comfort and contentment and more about challenge and discovery. Every step forward in human thought is a challenge in its own right. Historically, the emotional world of the typical human was a signal for it to look inside, to inspect.

We are confronted with a series of facts, one being that we have important emotions and feelings tied to how we think. These emotions and feelings may drive us away from ourselves, or they may draw us toward greater self-discovery and self-enjoyment. The choice is ultimately our own. The questions, “Why do we have unwanted and undesirable emotions, and what is their possible survival value?” have been answered by showing that we can evaluate and assess aspects of reality mistakenly. Our rational faculty tells us that we may have done so—thereby enabling us to correct ourselves and fix problem areas.

Instead of running from or ignoring our emotional world, we can decide to stop and inspect it, just like we would do with anything that arouses our curiosity. But we may have trouble being curious about something that is uncomfortable or even painful. So, we can divert our attention. We can slip into a routine or engage in an activity that never demands emotional inquiry.

Repressing feelings and evading conflicts nonetheless diminishes our self-respect. Such a policy puts our humanity and respect for others in jeopardy as well. Much of the brutal and barbaric history of humans attests to this. People kept repeating the same behavior, making mistakes over and over, never discovering how emotions were driving them.

Actions taken solely based on one’s feelings sometimes do not yield a good outcome. Of course, the type of feelings and the context have a major bearing. For instance, if we feel ecstatic about some event in our life, we may do exciting or salutary things. On the other hand, if we are angry about something, we may proceed to act on that anger without asking ourselves if it is right to do so. Or, if we feel anxious about doing something (e.g., asserting ourselves appropriately) we may learn to avoid such anxiety-provoking situations, instead of challenging our evaluations of them. Or, we may be irritated and unnerved by another’s argument that contests our belief system and, instead of asking why we feel so upset, we proceed to dismiss the argument and maybe even disrespect the person.

Emotions are tied to our sense of self. By examining and working to remedy a sometimes-confusing emotional world, we discover more of who we are. But, to act on certain unexamined emotions is to avoid knowledge of self. To cover up what one is truly feeling leads to further self-estrangement. This sort of concealment can influence thoughts and actions in many ways. Nathaniel Branden made note of this:

Few of the irrationalities people commit——the destructive behavior they unleash against themselves and against others——would be possible to them if they did not first cut themselves off from their own deepest feelings. Paradoxically, the person we sometimes describe as ‘ruled by his feelings’——the irresponsible, impulsive ‘whim-worshipper’——is as dissociated from his inner emotional life as the most inhibited ‘intellectualizer.’ The difference in personality is more of form than of essence.9(p.24)

Recognition of emotions and regulation of action accordingly are tasks for a volitional consciousness. These practices are best undertaken with the method of logic. Logic is the only method that can tell us if our feelings and actions are based on contradictions.

Logic reveals that contradictions cannot exist in objective reality.81 Therefore, when certain emotions defy reasonable justification, they expose contradictions within oneself—that is, self-created and self-maintained contradictions.

As astonishing as it may sound, a man who wrote comprehensibly about logic and contradictions lived over two millennia ago. Aristotle astutely stated what “the starting point of all the other axioms” is: “It is impossible for the same attribute at once to belong and not to belong to the same thing and in the same relation;”.(IV.iii.9) This was basically his formulation of the Law of Non-Contradiction. He continued this line of thinking as follows:

And if it is impossible for contrary attributes to belong at the same time to the same subject...and an opinion which contradicts another is contrary to it, then clearly it is impossible for the same man to suppose at the same time that the same thing is and is not; for the man who made this error would entertain two contrary opinions at the same time....(IV.iii.11)

[If contradictory statements are] predicated at the same time....the result is the dictum of Anaxagoras, ‘all things mixed together’; so that nothing truly exists. It seems, then, that they are speaking of the Indeterminate.... (IV.iv.27)2

So a contradiction is mistaken reasoning, reasoning that involves premises or assumptions that are untrue. Therefore, such premises or assumptions are in opposition to the facts of reality (or, derivatively, to prior valid reasoning based on such facts). The facts of reality are determined from demonstrable or observable phenomena. Logically, valid reasoning involves identifications that follow from proof and evidence, which follow from the three fundamental axioms.

Axiomatic concepts include existence, consciousness, and identity. In the words of Ayn Rand:

An axiomatic concept is the identification of a primary fact of reality, which cannot be analyzed, i.e., reduced to other facts or broken into component parts. It is implicit in all facts and in all knowledge. It is the fundamentally given and directly perceived or experienced, which requires no proof or explanation, but on which all proofs and explanations rest.81(p.55)

Rand made an additional series of central points:

Since axiomatic concepts refer to facts of reality and are not a matter of ‘faith’ or of man’s arbitrary choice, there is a way to ascertain whether a given concept is axiomatic or not: one ascertains it by observing the fact that an axiomatic concept cannot be escaped, that it is implicit in all knowledge, that it has to be accepted and used even in the process of any attempt to deny it.

For instance, when modern philosophers declare that axioms are a matter of arbitrary choice, and proceed to choose complex, derivative concepts as the alleged axioms of their alleged reasoning, one can observe that their statements imply and depend on ‘existence,’ ‘consciousness,’ ‘identity,’ which they profess to negate, but which are smuggled into their arguments in the form of unacknowledged, ‘stolen’ concepts.81(p.59)

Any line of reasoning that involves stolen concepts is necessarily invalid and therefore contradictory. Mistaken reasoning can have all sorts of forms. Usually it is based on other mistaken reasoning, that is, reasoning which contradicts itself. As mentioned, contradictory reasoning is based on falsehood; it does not follow from the facts of reality (or prior valid reasoning).

The Latin term non sequitur describes a line of reasoning that does not follow from the stated premises or evidence provided. Notice that a non sequitur may or may not imply valid premises. For instance, one could hold a certain ideological position (either logical or illogical) and make statements supposedly in support of this position but which actually are not.

Yet, an untrue argument that has an “internal logic” (i.e., one in opposition to facts, but that has a certain conceptual consistency to it) is still a contradictory argument. Logic must be used as a fact/axiom-based method of understanding reality conceptually—not to relate floating abstractions or fantasy concepts to each other in a however consistent fashion.

Contradictions are revealed when we take statements and ideas to their eventual, necessary, conceptual outcomes. We must form connections between concepts and their referents in reality—in order to see how they relate to the facts of reality and to other concepts. These processes require us to make further identifications and distinctions, which normally entail the processes of induction and deduction. We reason from particulars to a general principles and from general principles to particular instances. By applying the method of logic, noncontradictory identification, we leave no relevant epistemological stones unturned.

Logic enables us to effectively prove, to ourselves or others, the veracity of any identification or evaluation. It is the only way for a conceptual organism to reach the truth on any issue—in order to know what one knows, and be certain of it. Otherwise, one perpetuates two bad conditions for a rational consciousness: confusion and incomprehensibility. As Aristotle stated many, many centuries ago:

And if all men are equally right and wrong, an exponent of this view can neither speak nor mean anything, since at the same time he says both ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ And if he forms no judgment, but ‘thinks’ and ‘thinks not’ indifferently, what difference will there be between him and the vegetables?2(IV.iv.39)

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