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Are Reason and the Intellect our Ultimate
Authority, or Certain Feelings and Emotions?

One can never fathom an emotion or divine its dictates by standing outside of it. From within it, however, all incomprehensibilities are solved, and what was so enigmatic from without becomes transparently obvious. Each emotion obeys a logic of its own, and makes deductions which no other logic can draw. Piety and charity live in a different universe from worldly appetites and ambitions, and form another centre of energy altogether. A supreme love may turn sacrifices into joys; a supreme trust may render normal precautions despicable; and in certain transports of generosity it may appear unspeakably mean to retain hold of personal possessions.

William James

[We often hear] about the necessity of keeping all emotion out of our intellectual processes—“you can’t think straight unless you are cool.” But then neither can you think deep if you are. I suppose one must try every problem in both states. You remember that the ancient Persians debated everything twice: once when they were drunk and once when they were sober.

C. S. Lewis

A great intensity of aesthetic response is common in adolescence and youth, but much less common thereafter: many adults, from whose real experience “the glory and the dream” has long departed, feel socially and psychologically obliged to pretend that it hasn’t, that they are still ploughed up by poems and paintings and plays and the rest, as most of us were in fact ploughed up by such things during the brief personal Renaissance that normally follows upon the completion of puberty. In fact, such things now leave them almost completely cold. Frank enquiry, among your more candid friends, will make it clear that these generalizations are amply justified.

Christopher Derrick

The following anecdote from Bertrand Russell’s autobiography concerns Crompton Llewelyn Davies, a friend he acquired during his first term at Cambridge: ‘One of my earliest memories of Crompton is of meeting him in the darkest part of a winding College staircase and his suddenly quoting, without any previous word, the whole of ‘Tiger, Tiger, burning bright.’ I had never, till that moment, heard of Blake, and the poem affected me so much that I became dizzy and had to lean against the wall.’

It is notorious that facts are compatible with opposite emotional responses, since the same fact will inspire entirely different feelings in different people, and at different times in the same person; and there is no rationally deducible connection between any outer fact and the sentiments it may happen to provoke. These have their source in another sphere of existence altogether, in the animal and spiritual region of the subject’s being. Conceive yourself, if possible, suddenly stripped of all the emotion with which your world now inspires you, and try to imagine it as it exists, purely by itself, without your favourable or unfavourable, hopeful or apprehensive response. It will be almost impossible for you to realize such a condition of negativity and deadness.

William James

The search for an outside meaning that can compel an inner response must always be disappointed: all ‘meaning’ must be at bottom related to our primary desires, and when they are extinct no miracle can restore to the world the value which they reflected upon it.

Bertrand Russell

Feeling is private and dumb, and unable to give an account of itself. It allows that its results are mysteries and enigmas, declines to justify them rationally, and on occasion is willing that they shall even pass for paradoxical and absurd. Philosophy takes just the opposite attitude. Her aspiration is to reclaim from mystery and paradox whatever territory she touches. To find an escape from obscure and wayward personal persuasion to truth objectively valid for all thinking men has ever been the intellect’s most cherished ideal.

William James

Feeling can’t be directly conveyed by words at all.

Northrop Frye

Thoughts about Emotions & Feelings

Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.

Dale Carnegie

To wrestle with a bad feeling only pins our attention on it, and keeps it still fastened in the mind; whereas if we act as if from some better feeling, the old bad feeling soon folds its tent and silently steals away.

William James

Anyone who says he’s not emotional is not getting what he should out of life.

The logician, like every other man on earth, must have sentiment and romance in his existence; in every man’s life, indeed, which can be called a life at all, sentiment is the most solid thing.

G. K. Chesterton

Detached intellectualism is (in the exact sense of a popular phrase) all moonshine; for it is light without heat, and it is secondary light, reflected from a dead world.

G. K. Chesterton

The practically real world for each of us, the effective world of the individual, is the compound world, the physical facts and emotional values in indistinguishable combination. Withdraw or pervert either factor of this complex resultant, and the kind of experience we call pathological ensues.

William James

Desire is the very essence of man.


If we resist our passions, it is more because of their weakness than because of our strength.

La Rochefoucauld

Half our mistakes in life arise from feeling where we ought to think, and thinking where we ought to feel.

J. Churton Collins

All violent feelings produce in us a falseness in all our impressions of external things.

John Ruskin

It takes time to process our feelings.

It is so many years before one can believe enough in what one feels even to know what the feeling is.

W. B Yeats

Man is not a rational animal, but an animal capable of reason.

Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence.

G. K. Chesterton

Most emotion originates on the level of sense experience.

I have heard with admiring submission the experience of the lady who declared that the sense of being well-dressed gives a feeling of inward tranquillity which religion is powerless to bestow.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

No emotion is, in itself, a judgement: in that sense all emotions and sentiments are alogical.

C. S. Lewis

Nothing is serious except passion. The intellect is an instrument on which one plays, that is all.

Oscar Wilde

I would rather end the day having had one clear thought than one strong feeling.

Thomas Mallon

Our emotional energy is meant to flow in a certain direction, and if we impede that flow or try to redirect it unhappiness and dissatisfaction are sure to follow.

Speaking of the family parties of his boyhood, C. S. Lewis wrote, ‘My party manner, a deliberate concealment of all that I really thought and felt under a sort of feeble jocularity and enthusiasm, was assumed as consciously as an actor assumes his role, sustained with unspeakable weariness, and dropped with a groan of relief the moment my brother and I at last tumbled into our cab for the drive home.’

Our persistent emotional response is first and foremost a fact to be accepted and not a phenomenon to be explained.

Emotional experience is confusing, not because it’s vague but because it’s cyclical. Our emotional response often goes back and forth like a pendulum; for example, it may swing from not liking to not minding, and then back to not liking again.

Passion and prejudice govern the world; only under the name of reason.

John Wesley

Human beings are creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.

Dale Carnegie

People don’t ask for facts in making up their minds. They would rather have one good, soul-satisfying emotion than a dozen facts.

Robert Keith Leavitt

If you can engage people’s pride, love, pity, ambition (or whatever is their prevailing passion), on your side, you need not fear what their reason can do against you.

Lord Chesterfield

People who haven’t received much emotionally usually can’t give much emotionally.

Some people have great intellectual gifts, but are emotionally deprived, just as the opposite may be the case. According to George Bernard Shaw’s biographer, Michael Holroyd, ‘[Shaw’s] own mind was astonishingly fast, but emotionally he was lame. The result was that women found themselves continually out of step with him.’

Sentimentality is only sentiment that rubs you (up) the wrong way.

Sommerset Maugham

Any sentiment will seem incredible (and often repellant) to the person who stands outside it.

The heart has its reasons which reason does not understand.


Thinking should come before feeling. It may be that the heart has reasons of which the head knows nothing, but why should the reasons of the heart, which lead so many people into the wrong bed, necessarily lead anybody to the right conclusions.

Arnold Lunn

This is the greatest paradox: the emotions cannot be trusted, yet it is they that tell us the greatest truths.

Don Herold

All the settlement and sane government of life consists in coming to the conclusion that some instincts, impulses or inspirations have authority, and others do not.

G. K. Chesterton

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