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Can feelings lead us to truth?

David Ison, Dean of St Paul’s, wrote a curious piece last week on the power of feelings. The piece begins with a straightforward observation about the power of feelings in the debates about Britain’s role in Europe.

The Leave/Remain divide operates at different levels. During the campaign there were many arguments and claims made on both sides (‘the facts that you should know’), the truth of which were disputed; and that argument continues to play out. But underlying such argument, such reasoning and the quest for truth, are the feelings that drove much of the debate and which were very powerful in deciding what people thought.

He then extends this observation to the debate amongst Christians about the role of women, and the current debate in the C of E about sexuality.

We can’t treat these as simply rational matters, problems to be intellectually solved, issues of proclaiming biblical truth or avoiding it. As the practice of Shared Conversations acknowledges, until those on either side (or none) can recognise the power of feelings over what all of us think – and not just over what those on the other side think – we’ll be unable to engage honestly to find an understanding of how to move forward together.

He is quite correct to note that, in both cases, personal feelings and feelings about how we relate to others have shaped our views, and that, on both sides of each debate, many (or even most?) people have not simply been persuaded by rational argument. In fact, powerful feelings might even have made us immune to the actual facts of the matter. So far, so indisputable. But what is less clear is what role Ison thinks feelings should play in discerning the truth in any of these debates. He appears to suggest that, far from feelings obscuring the truth or making us immune to it, they somehow form part of the truth that we need to be shaped by.

Martin Seeley has highlighted the issue of the interpretation of scripture. But this isn’t simply choosing to negotiate on the principles by which we interpret scripture in order to decide what is true. It involves a whole raft of feelings and loyalties, a commitment to a community who see scripture in a particular way, an emotional commitment which is quite independent of intellectual inquiry. We have an emotional investment in what we believe, and we don’t just change it because the opposing argument is good.

The key question here (which I think Ison ducks) is: how do we allow good arguments to both engage with as well as challenge and transform our feelings?


This is a wider question than the particular things under consideration here—and in fact applies to most aspects of Christian ministry. Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology at Yale, has just published Against Empathy, in which he argues, on the basis of both clinical studies as well as careful reasoning, that identifying emotionally with the feelings of others, far from leading to better and more compassionate decisions, is not only highly misleading but actually damaging to people for whom we ought to be caring.

I want to make a case for the value of conscious, deliberative reasoning in everyday life, arguing that we should strive to use our heads rather than our hearts.

Bloom is here not arguing against compassion, nor against the importance of empathetic feelings for enriching our lives. He first clarifies what he means by ‘empathy’, since people use the term in different ways.

By empathy I mean feeling the feelings of other people. So if you’re in pain and I feel your pain — I am feeling empathy toward you. If you’re being anxious, I pick up your anxiety. If you’re sad and I pick up your sadness, I’m being empathetic. And that’s different from compassion. Compassion means I give your concern weight, I value it. I care about you, but I don’t necessarily pick up your feelings.

A lot of people think this is merely a verbal distinction, that it doesn’t matter that much. But actually there’s a lot of evidence in my book that empathy and compassion activate different parts of the brain. But more importantly, they have different consequences. If I have empathy toward you, it will be painful if you’re suffering. It will be exhausting. It will lead me to avoid you and avoid helping. But if I feel compassion for you, I’ll be invigorated. I’ll be happy and I’ll try to make your life better.

He is also aware of how important an emotion empathy is in enriching our lives and making us fully human.

It’s a wonderful source of pleasure, for instance. The joy of fiction would disappear if we couldn’t, on some level, empathize with the characters. A lot of our intimacy would fade. I think empathy is central to sex. It’s great for all sorts of things. In the moral domain, however, empathy leads us astray. We are much better off if we give up on empathy and become rational deliberators motivating by compassion and care for others.

Why does Bloom think that our feelings are so misleading? He sets out five primary reasons.

  1. We naturally find it easier to empathise with people who are more like us, so this will distort our judgement of what matters and who matters.
  2. As a result of this, we fail to see the wood for the trees. We will find it harder to make decisions that affect more people, perhaps at a distance from us and those in the future, because we prioritise the immediate impact of decisions on those close to us.
  3. At a personal level, having our decisions based on feelings of empathy—rather than rationally-informed compassion—can lead to unhealthy asymmetric relationships.
  4. This in turn also makes such relationships emotionally exhausting—which can actually lead to our inability to act with compassion. One of Bloom’s readers bears this out:

I worked for sixteenth months on night shift at one of the country’s top children’s hospitals caring for kids with cancer…Every night, when I came to work, I knew that perhaps two of the seven children I would be caring for would eventually die. Nothing altered those statistics. Some were very young. Some had only a mother who was carrying too great a load. Worst of all, two were dying with no family ever visiting them. Empathy had a role in what I was doing, but only a limited one. I simply couldn’t grasp what it was like to be Eli, two years old and dying with only an emotionally distraught mother for support. Trying to do that would only leave me too distracted to do my job. Instead, I focused on what I needed to do.

5. Empathy can prevent us giving people what they really need—not to feel their feelings, but to be there for them. Bloom recounts the experience of an author who needed treatment:

She met with one doctor who was cold and unsympathetic to her concerns, which caused her pain. But she is grateful to another who kept a reassuring distance and objectivity: “I didn’t need him to be my mother—even for a day—I only needed him to know what he was doing,” she writes. “His calmness didn’t make me feel abandoned, it made me feel secure. . . . I needed to look at him and see the opposite of my fear, not its echo.”

In all of these ways, attending too much to feelings obscures reality and inhibits the making of good decisions. If this is true in everyday life, it is even more clearly so in the debates that Ison mentions. Yes, we need to recognise the importance of people’s emotional response to the Brexit debate—but then surely we need to ask some critical questions about those feelings. Are fears of immigration justified, or not? What are the reasons for the sense of marginalisation that many feel? And will voting in a particular way (in a referendum or a presidential election) actually lead to the changes that we want? Ison is right: we are not merely rational creatures. But we are rational, and our reason can function in a way to allow us to question the often more primitive emotions that grip us.


You can see some of the dynamics that Bloom highlights in the debates in the Church on sexuality as well. Public debates in Synod and elsewhere have often been highly charged, and the emotional contributions are often the ones that have shaped the debate, regardless of whether such emotions stood up to scrutiny. Avoidance of emotional ‘harm’, most often understood as denying people the right to free expression of their impulses, is quickly becoming the unanswerable case that closes down further discussion. Any suggestion that there are wider considerations to be explored is portrayed as callous and unfeeling.

Ison offers a fascinating window into the way focussing on feelings obscures what is really happening. He refers to having ‘changed his mind’ on the issue of sexuality for a range of reasons, and then deploys the emotive language of ‘exclusion’ and ‘expulsion’ from a group who ‘have a different view’. There is in fact no process of ‘expulsion’ from being an evangelical, since it is a loosely-defined term. But if Ison’s view is now different from the majority of evangelicals, why not be honest and admit so? If he has moved, whilst others have not been persuaded to do so, why not simply say that? It might not be any less painful—but it might be a bit more honest.

But the prioritisation of feelings (note Ison’s title ‘The Power of Feeling Over Thinking’) has key theological importance too. The first thing this does is individualise our discussion. If I feel a certain way, then no-one else can tell me how I am feeling, and if feeling is prioritised over thinking, then no-one else is allowed to ask those reflective questions as to whether my feelings offer a true depiction of the world, or whether they arise from misunderstanding, selfishness or anger. This in turn privatises all decision-making. Because feelings, unlike reasons, are internal, then there is no possibility of public exchange, no forum in which things can be assessed, debated and decided. Here Ison is right: in the debates about Brexit, women in leadership, and sexuality in the church, feelings have held sway, and debate has ground to a halt. But the solution to this is not simply to dwell on the feelings; it is to dethrone feelings as the power that has locked us into stalemate, and submit those feelings to scrutiny, on all sides.

At root, what Ison fails to factor in is that we are fallen human beings, and so our feelings too are fallen and often mislead us. Of course, our thinking is also fallen and so can mislead us. But the process of articulating our thinking is inherently public and contestable, so that others can point out things we have missed, assumptions we have made, and unwarranted conclusions we have drawn—so that we are open to correction and to thinking again. The same processes are not available to us if we simply hand over power to feelings. And if we have trouble changing our thinking, it is often because (irrational) feelings give us an attachment to an idea that we should be letting go of.


It is fascinating, then, to read in John’s gospel that the love and compassion of God is made known in the person of Jesus, and he is the logos of God—not simply the spoken word of God expressing his will and power in the Old Testament, but the rational principle of the universe from Greek philosophical thinking. This is no cold rationalism; in John’s gospel Jesus is more clearly human than anywhere else in the New Testament, as he hungers, thirsts, is tired and move to tears in grief. But the truth he brings is both public and contestable. The great theme of John’s depiction of Jesus is the trial motif, where the truth about Jesus is demonstrated for all to see, where witnesses testify on either side and where, following the climactic debate with Pilate (‘What is truth?’), judgement is rendered—though it turns out to be judgement on the ‘prince of power of this age’ and on those who thought they were in a position to judge. For John, belief is personal and it is relational, but it is also true. The truth shall set us free (John 8.32) and in order for Jesus’ followers to be one, they must be ‘sanctified in the truth‘ (John 17.17). Although Jesus is warm, feeling and compassionate, John depicts him as bringing the truth of his Father against the irrational feelings of his opponents, trapped as they are in their anger, jealousy and insecurity.

If we are going to move on in our debates, we must acknowledge all the feelings involved—but instead of letting them enslave us, we must allow the truth to set us free.


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30 Responses to Can feelings lead us to truth?

  1. Will Jones April 11, 2017 at 10:34 am #

    In defence of empathy, I would note that compassion surely relies on a healthy dose of empathetic feeling to get it going – my feelings of compassion for your predicament arise in part from my understanding of the fact that you’re suffering and how you’re suffering, and what it feels like and why it matters. Some measure of empathy is also part of solidarity. But yes, beyond that and by itself empathy can be misleading.

    What is the role of feelings in morality? A big one, I would say. Our moral sentiments (which are feelings of how things are supposed to be or relate to one another) are a big part of the raw data for natural moral reasoning. The difficulty is discerning which feelings are offering glimpses into the natural moral order which God has established (the law written on our hearts), and which are the result of sinful and disordered desire. Feelings of national identity and patriotism, for instance, are highly disputed at the moment, as is the feeling of homeliness in the familiar and living among those who are similar to you. The fittingness of women holding leadership positions and of sexual relationships with persons of the same sex are also highly disputed sentiments – is it visceral prejudice or an indicator of moral truth? All these moral ideas also draw on observations about biology and psychology and practical considerations. But who can doubt that there are feelings and sentiments underlying them? At least as Christians we have scripture to bring some clarity to our moral judgements, to help us sort our sentiments.

    By the way, did you see that your January 10 post on the kingdom of God was cited as a representative evangelical perspective on the need for God in the kingdom of God in Crucible this issue? Greg Smith pointed to it in his article on evangelical social action (in an issue on evangelical social ethics).

    • Ian Paul April 11, 2017 at 3:28 pm #

      Thanks Will, but I think I would like to push back a little.

      If I see someone being killed, then it is perfectly possible that I will protest that purely on the basis that I think killing is wrong. I don’t need to have an empathetic feeling for the victim, or for the bereaved, to be spurred into action.

      In fact, one of the articles about Bloom highlights this. Victims statements in the context of sentencing are terrible, leading to injustice and the embedding of prejudice. Bloom explains:

      ‘I’ll give a controversial one and then a less controversial one. The controversial one has to do with the role of empathy in our criminal justice system, specifically victim statements. In many states, not all, there are victim statements, and these victim statements allow people talk about what happened to them and what it was like when their family member died or when they were assaulted; these often determine sentencing.

      I could not imagine a better recipe for bias and unfair sentencing decisions than this. If the victim is an articulate, attractive, white woman, it’s going to be so much more powerful than if the victim is a sullen, African-American man who doesn’t like to talk about his feelings. You suddenly turn the deep questions of how to punish criminals into a question of how much do I feel for this person in front of me? So the bias would be incredibly powerful.’

      (from http://www.vox.com/conversations/2017/1/19/14266230/empathy-morality-ethics-psychology-science-compassion-paul-bloom)

      I have come to hate tributes to victims now. The tragedy of e.g. the policeman being killed outside Parliament is *not* that he was ‘the perfect policeman’ but that he was a human being. Suppose he had been a selfish oaf—would his murder have been any less immoral?

      I think the empathy thing is so embedded in our culture that we don’t even notice it anymore…and it makes our response to tragedies increasingly meaningless.

      • Will Jones April 11, 2017 at 4:39 pm #

        The death of a good man is more tragic than the death of a bad man, though it is not less immoral to kill a bad man, because killing is contrary to the moral law. While all killing is immoral (applying the usual exceptions e.g. in war), the degree of tragedy in a death (whether killing or by natural causes) differs depending on considerations such as the deceased’s age and potential, their dependents, their contribution to the common good, their backstory, and their moral character.

        It’s an interesting point about victims statements and sentencing. I assume the purpose is to avoid sentences becoming too lenient because the gravity of the offence has not been properly appreciated by the person sentencing when divorced from the impact of the crime. I take the point about relative articulacy. But aside from this, is it not right that the impact of the crime is part of considerations regarding the penalty for the crime? If victims statements help with setting a fitting penalty for an offence then they may be helpful – though I can’t pretend to know much about this.

        I’m not a great fan of empathy either, and think it is all too often misleading, so you won’t get much argument from me on that one. I think feelings (which are a lot broader than empathy of course) play a big role in helping to form our moral ideas, but because they are disordered by the fall they need to be subject to rational moral assessment. Even then, though, it is difficult to avoid making judgements based on what we feel is more important than what, when there is a difficult choice to be made between competing values. Surely, though, how human beings feel about things is some kind of guide to how we are supposed to feel about things, and thus to what is right? (Not as good as scripture, though, obviously.)

    • Ian Paul April 11, 2017 at 3:30 pm #

      And thanks for the heads-up on Crucible. I don’t think I know it. Should I? Do you have a link?

      • Will Jones April 11, 2017 at 4:45 pm #

        That’s the one. Usually a good selection of articles on some aspect of social ethics.

  2. Christopher Shell April 11, 2017 at 11:33 am #

    It is a so-called ‘great’ idea to privatise debate, discussion or discussion or decision-making, because then you can always so-called ‘be’ so-called ‘right’.

    It also means you never have to address counter-arguments. You never even have to be aware of them.

    It also means you can make so-called ‘conclusions’ which precisely fit your personal preferences and ideology.

    You can then put these individualist preferences on a so-called ‘level’ with scholarly research-findings which try to be objective and are painstakingly arrived at. After all, they’re all ‘views’ at the end of the day aren’t they?

    ???

    I think Ian is exactly right in saying that we see the whole picture (as ever) which includes feelings; and that we also let feelings be directed and ruled by truth.

    I am deliberately highlighting this issue as it is the most widespread and unfairest abuse that happens in our culture today. Ideology is actually the enemy and opposite of scholarship. And being emotions-centred (as opposed to showing the appropriate amount of emotion, which may well be high) is adolescent compared to being rational.

  3. Christopher Shell April 11, 2017 at 11:37 am #

    And I must also unfortunately add that Via Media is even worse than Thinking Anglicans in censoring even intelligent, educated contributors who never use swearing or abusive language. In debate, research findings are the very thing that should be most prized. In an environment like Via Media, they are the thing that is most censored and rejected. Is there any other way to deal with this apart from naming and shaming?

    • Ian Paul April 11, 2017 at 3:29 pm #

      Christopher have you been censored there? David Ison has blocked me on Twitter!

      • Christopher Shell April 11, 2017 at 10:20 pm #

        I have been censored there, yes. I feel this point is close to the heart of the so-called culture wars. 1. People of intelligence (who ought to be the first people listened to, not the last) can get censored.
        2. Things that are true and accurate from beginning to end can get censored.
        3. Research data, which is the best kind of truth because its accuracy has been the most diligently looked into, is not only censored but is the first thing to get censored.
        I have suffered this kind of thing for some time, and it does not matter who suffers it, it is utterly shocking. When David Ison plays down the importance of truth and reason, and Rosie Harper plays down the importance of science, they are taking startling stances, but possibly because it is the only way they can even attempt to get out of the hole of so much research (and common sense) being squarely against them.

        Censorship is often seen as bad, but how much worse is censorship of true and/or carefully researched things?

    • James Byron April 12, 2017 at 9:55 pm #

      Great post Ian, and I couldn’t agree more with its rejection of being led by feelings: being disconnected from truth, emotions can, and do, lead us to destruction. Contra Hume, passions must be the slaves of reason.

      While I disagree on marriage equality, I do so because I believe that the arguments against it don’t withstand scrutiny, not out of an emotive desire to prevent harm. I of course do want to prevent harm if at all possible, but that’s an ethical position, and I accept there’s times when harm is necessary, such as imprisoning violent felons and so on.

      Also agree about empathy, which appears to’ve become a tin god. Empathy is, as noted, selective and unfair. We empathize with those like us, which leads to injustice.

      This is, at heart, a disagreement about human nature: those who prioritize feelings believe that we’re fundamentally good, and our goodness just needs bringing out; others, myself included, believe that we’re fundamentally flawed, and our flaws need constant and conscious remedy.

      Many say, indignantly, “I’m a good person!” Well, that may be so, and if it is, I envy you the ease, but I’m sure that I’m not: I must work to be good, and that work isn’t driven by the passions.

  4. Mat Sheffield April 11, 2017 at 1:08 pm #

    I think there is more overlap between Compassion and Empathy than is implied above. I agree they are distinct, yes, but they work mutually together and are hard to separate cleanly. Empathy leads to compassion (or triggers it, as Will says) and compassion guides and focuses, or provides purpose for, our empathy. The book sounds very interesting.

    As a slight aside I find it interesting that we use the language of heat/temperature to describe the emotive tone of a conversation or debate. We say it is ‘hot’, or ‘heated’, when feelings come to the fore, and we say it is ‘cold’ or ‘icy’ when we feel emotion has been removed, or is being deliberately withheld… I personally feel that either extreme can be counter-productive (though, before Mr Shell rebukes me, there is certainly a necessary and vital place for both!) and what we should be aiming for, at the very least in public commentary on the subject, is the ‘warmth’ of balance, in which feelings have their place, but are respected, discussed and challenged; seen as valuable and nessecary, but not authoritative.

    The discussions in the comments section on Psephizo that are most valuable are the ones that capture this.

    • Ian Paul April 11, 2017 at 3:38 pm #

      But here’s the question, Mat: Bloom shows you can have feelings of empathy and actually act without proper compassion. Is it not possible to act compassionately without have strong feelings of empathy? We might not often, but it seems to me that it is perfectly possible.

      • Mat Sheffield April 11, 2017 at 4:21 pm #

        “Is it not possible to act compassionately without have strong feelings of empathy?”

        Well, yes. My point is that it’s usually harder and not the norm. Perhaps I’m misreading, but the implication from Bloom’s quotes are that it perhaps should be? I certainly think you can put those things aside for a time (as in the example of child cancer patients he gives), but the empathetic reaction is not absent, just delayed.

        You see it a lot with ED doctors and paramedics; the first response is one driven by pragmatism, where empathy takes a backseat to the practical need to save someone. Later, when time is taken to relax and reflect, that delayed empathy can surge back and be overwhelming. A better, but far more niche example, is that of the Vulcan race in TV’s Star Trek. Vulcans are compassionate, but their inability/unwillingness to feel empathy puts them at odds with their ‘human’ counterparts. It is, of course, only when they work together that the best result is achieved.

      • Penelope Cowell Doe April 11, 2017 at 10:50 pm #

        Compassion means ‘suffer with’. Empathy is a synonym, not a distinct emotion and response. We are asked to suffer with Jesus during Holy Week, not merely to have pity on him.

        • Ian Paul April 11, 2017 at 10:55 pm #

          It is the ‘genetic fallacy’ to suppose that etymology determines the meanings of words. We need to look at usage.

          And who is asking us to ‘suffer with’ Jesus at Easter? The current prayer in CW DP ‘share the weight of the cross’ looks like a heresy to me.

          • Penelope Cowell Doe April 12, 2017 at 9:27 am #

            Looks pretty Pauline to me. But I think the problem with citing Bloom is that sympathy or pity works only if the people you are concerned about need ‘our’ help to become well. The sick, for example. It doesn’t work with LGBTI people or disabled people or BAME people because they don’t need ‘our’ pity, but ‘they’ do need empathy so that we can understand what it is like to be perceived as ‘other’, as transgressive, as abnormal. Or, at least, something of what it is like.

  5. Alan Darley April 11, 2017 at 1:35 pm #

    David Ison seems to agree with David Hume who said: ‘Reason is and ought always to be the slave of the passions.’ But this is a counsel of despair since it divorces reason from truth. Strictly speaking there are no ‘true’ feelings; passions/feelings are neither true nor false, only propositions can be true or false depending on whether or not they correspond to reality. But for the Christian our whole nature, including feelings and reason are fallen and we need God’s revelation to reorientate our minds towards truth. We also need Christ to redeem us from sin and its deceptive effects on our whole person.

  6. Don Benson April 11, 2017 at 9:35 pm #

    The feelings we have are an internal commentary on what we are experiencing; and we can of course choose whether or not to express them outwardly. Why do we have them or, better, why did God give us feelings? Perhaps the pain and pleasure we derive from our feelings are a gift which raises us from mere biological machines to a richness of being which more closely resembles that of our Creator. Without them how could we have the kind of relationships with each other and with Him that give us meaning and purpose?

    So our feelings are precious, and a first necessity with things that are precious is to learn how to handle them and to preserve them fit for the purpose for which they are designed. Something outside of our feelings has to control them, for, if it fails to do so we are entirely at the mercy of what happens to us and the emotions that are consequently engendered within our consciousness. We all know that this is partly a learned process during our childhood, and if it doesn’t happen we emerge as immature adults who have ongoing difficulty navigating the ups and downs of adult life. Clearly, then, our rational mind has to control our feelings – there is nothing else that can – which is not to say that it always has to quench them, but that it has to know when they are appropriate and when they must be reigned in for our own good.

    But I don’t think feelings are designed or capable of ‘leading us to truth’ – they are passive reactors to events and social interactions rather than intellectual processors of reason based on observation and assimilation of facts. To put feelings either as equal to, or a ruler over, your intellectual reasoning has to be the pathway to chaotic living, both for individuals, organisations and whole societies – and that can bring nothing but misery.

    It interests me that we hear little talk at present of the will and the power it can exert over the human mind (and body). But of course any such notion renders the current ‘victim’ narratives more than a little limp, if not wholly misleading, and there’s a mighty big agenda resting on them.

    • Will Jones April 11, 2017 at 10:45 pm #

      I agree with this – except that I would say that intellectual reasoning in moral matters is informed by a moral sense (or intuition or conscience) which responds to scenarios and causes us to feel certain ways about different things of moral import. Where this sense is well-trained and refined (and healed by the Holy Spirit) it is a guide to right and wrong. Aside from scripture, it is the only guide we human beings have to moral truth. And it acts on us by causing us to feel certain ways about things – making them feel wrong, or noble, or significant, or worthy, or dignified. It can certainly err, and it can be trained and improved (and enlightened by God), but this is the sense in which I understand feelings rightly to impinge upon our intellectual reasoning. It’s also why ethics isn’t a science.

  7. BrianG April 11, 2017 at 10:52 pm #

    Is the incarnation the greatest example, experience and expression of empathy or compassion?

  8. David Murrow April 12, 2017 at 12:12 am #

    The word “judgment” has but one “e”

    • Christopher Shell April 12, 2017 at 12:47 pm #

      I thought the dictionary accepted both spellings.

  9. Alan Darley April 12, 2017 at 6:09 pm #

    In preparing a lesson today on William James and Religious Experience, I noticed that James (and the Phenomenology of Religion approach which he helped pioneer) also assert the primacy of feeling over reason and this is the legacy we still live with today:

    ‘I do believe that feeling is the deeper source of religion, and that philosophic and theological formulas are secondary products, like translations of a text in another tongue.’ (William James, ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience’ lecture 18).

    On this view, the beliefs and teachings of religion are secondary to the essence of religion which consists of feelings. There is a common core of feelings in all the religions behind the often contradictory teachings and what James calls ‘over-beliefs’.

    James’ faith in the traditional, rational proofs for God’s existence had been eroded by Kant and Darwin, so, like Schleiermacher before him he turns with the Romantics to experience for a new basis for faith. Reinhold Niebuhr however points out in his introduction to ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience’ that in light of what followed in the form of two world wars and the nuclear threat, James optimism in human nature was naïve. His mysticism is also overly- individualistic and neglects collective responsibilities in our place in history.

    Above all, in following Kant, William James has thrown out any possibility of revelation. This is because causation including God ‘causing’ a revelation of Himself is a priori ruled out as nothing more than a category in the human mind. It is not simply a question then of reason versus feeling, but the question of has God spoken and what has he said? This is the true basis for the systematic theology which James and his modern followers disdain with all its ethical consequences.

    • Philip Almond April 14, 2017 at 9:23 am #

      ‘It is not simply a question then of reason versus feeling, but the question of has God spoken and what has he said? This is the true basis for the systematic theology which James and his modern followers disdain with all its ethical consequences’

      That is very true and gets to the heart of the debate.

      Phil Almond

  10. Simon April 12, 2017 at 7:47 pm #

    Good post Ian. I’m glad Jesus didn’t give into his feelings at Gethsemane, instead praying “not my will but Your’s be done”. This week in prepping for my Easter Sunday sermon I have been musing over how Luke repeatedly emphasises “things”. His gospel begins with saying how he has carefully researched the “things” and it draws to a close telling the Apostles to be witnesses of these “things”. Throughout he puts the importance of “things” on the lips of the Shepherds, Mary, the women witnesses to the resurrection and repeatedly on the lips of Jesus. Dr Luke, a scientist of his day it might be said, is not interested in feelings or emotions but facts, events, happenings. The Emmaus road pair talk about “the things” that have been taking place in Jerusalem, and Jesus presses them “what things?” and says they are ignorant of God’s Word because he had to suffer these “things”. I suspect their feelings blinded them to the fact of Jesus risen. This Easter I ‘feel’ joyful, excited, hopeful – but these are a response to the matter of facts of God’s acts.

  11. Will Jones April 13, 2017 at 11:46 am #

    The natural law has typically been taken to be grounded in natural inclinations (which are feelings of course which incline us to certain actions). This is in line with scripture speaking of the law written on our hearts, and of the sinfulness of unnatural behaviours. Observations of natural inclinations inform our rational assessment of the good and the moral.

    Here is an illustrative excerpt from Aquinas:

    ‘Since, however, good has the nature of an end, and evil, the nature of a contrary, hence it is that all those things to which man has a natural inclination, are naturally apprehended by reason as being good, and consequently as objects of pursuit, and their contraries as evil, and objects of avoidance. Wherefore according to the order of natural inclinations, is the order of the precepts of the natural law. Because in man there is first of all an inclination to good in accordance with the nature which he has in common with all substances: inasmuch as every substance seeks the preservation of its own being, according to its nature: and by reason of this inclination, whatever is a means of preserving human life, and of warding off its obstacles, belongs to the natural law. Secondly, there is in man an inclination to things that pertain to him more specially, according to that nature which he has in common with other animals: and in virtue of this inclination, those things are said to belong to the natural law, “which nature has taught to all animals”, such as sexual intercourse, education of offspring and so forth. Thirdly, there is in man an inclination to good, according to the nature of his reason, which nature is proper to him: thus man has a natural inclination to know the truth about God, and to live in society: and in this respect, whatever pertains to this inclination belongs to the natural law; for instance, to shun ignorance, to avoid offending those among whom one has to live, and other such things regarding the above inclination.’

  12. Mac April 15, 2017 at 11:48 am #

    There is an interesting trending piece on the BBC News site about Fake News which has a connection with the “feeling” debate. It is to do with research commissioned by the American TV Channel CBS to investigate who was reading and sharing fake news online. They wanted to find out which segments of the population were more liable to read and share fake news. You can see it on http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-trending-39592010
    The connection lies in what Claire Wardle, research director of First Draft, said in declaring that the appetite for sharing news stems from so-called confirmation bias. “People like to share information that makes them feel good” she said. On the political side over the water she said, “Many people on the left right now are feeling overwhelmed and fearful and unsure of what’s going to happen next. While they’re scrolling through their information feeds at speed on small mobile phones their critical functions are not kicking in, and they’re seeing information that makes them feel immediately connected with other people who think similarly to them. And without doing the usual checks that they would do, they’re sharing and very quickly passing on similarly false and problematic content that we were seeing before the election.”
    Also Brooke Binkowski, managing editor at the fact-checking Snopes website added to beware of the emotions we feel when consuming content.
    “If you are a newsreader or someone who likes reading news but you don’t know immediately what may or may not be fake, ask yourself by reading the headline, what emotions do I feel? Am I really angry, scared, frustrated, do I want to share this to tell everybody what’s going on? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then check your sources.”
    This is a useful check on what is feeding our emotional drive.

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