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fallacy vs. logic and reason  RSS feed

 
paul wheaton
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I wrote a quick article on fallacy about ten years ago. 

It seems to me that at the root of most communities is consensus.  And at the root getting consensus to work is being able to discuss stuff.  And if one person uses one fallacy, it can take an hour for the group to unravel it.  But communication today is loaded to the gills with fallacy - it is considered the normal way we speak.  So decision can either be based on fallacy (as opposed to logic and reason) or discussions can be mired forever in fallacy presented by a few. 

And yet, I've never heard of an exploration of fallacy to be used to help a community resolve their stuff.

Perhaps fallacy has been relabeled in some way?

 
jeremiah bailey
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It has... Fallacy is now known as "status quo"
 
paul wheaton
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jeremiah bailey wrote:
It has... Fallacy is now known as "status quo"


I agree.  And it depresses me.

I think it is something that should be taught in school.  Like math.  How can we move forward as a society without this as part of our foundation?


 
Jocelyn Campbell
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So, instead of calling it fallacies, or fallacy versus logic and reason, I've seen it as people using emotional yuck as a diversionary tactic.

Part of my view on this comes from the author and marriage researcher/expert, John Gottman, Ph. D. He's been able to use his research data to accurately predict whether a marriage will succeed or fail.

Okay, I know communities are not marriages, but they are all relationships, and all relationships require communication. And sometimes the real issue has nothing to do with logic and reason, but everything to do with someone's emotions.

I think Gottman's the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalyse," (from Why Marriages Succeed or Fail....and How You Can Make Yours Last, by John Gottman, Ph.D.) are fairly brilliant at describing how people deflect from the real issue, whether it be a fact, or an emotion.

1. Criticism that is an attack of the person or person's character, usually with blame (not a criticism of behavior) - Gottman says complaining is healthy, almost necessary, but in his terms, complaining is more specific about one event or behavior, while criticizing the person is more global and destructive. (Falls under Paul's "proof by abuse" fallacy.)

2. Contempt to Gottman, is the intention to insult and abuse your partner, or the person you're speaking with. (Another "proof by abuse" fallacy.)

3. Defensiveness this encompasses many responses, such as denying responsibility, making excuses, disagreeing, cross-complaining, repeating and - here's a good term: "yes-butting!" (Falls under several of Paul's fallacy categories.)

4. Stonewalling which is basically one person refusing to reply, engage or discuss things. (Paul's proof by termination.)

My point is that sometimes (often?) it's the feelings that need to be addressed and listened to, not necessarily the facts. I suppose one party could say, 'it is a fact that I am angry or hurt,' and the other party cannot deny or dispute that. When emotions get heightened, however, folks tend to use all kinds of diversions to avoid dealing with the emotions. I think, sometimes, even reason (or facts, trying to define facts) can be a diversionary tactic.
 
Emerson White
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paul wheaton wrote:
communication [s] today [/s] is loaded to the gills with fallacy - it is[s] considered [/s]the normal way we speak.


FTFY
 
Fred Morgan
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I think what has been lost in modern society is the ability to communicate. Yes, we use lots of words, but we don't really know how people communicate. I have more than two decades experience in the software / hardware arena before I ditched it to do something else, and though people who program for a living are accustomed to logic, they don't communicate with logic.

People communicate with stories. And that is the problem. Most people are too impatient to listen to the story of someone else. I find when managing people, if I just open up a little time (easy to do while walking to various parts of the plantations) they will start to tell me a story about something that happened recently, or even in the past. The thought that goes through my mind is "why this story now?" This is incredibly important when you are the Patron (Spanish) and they are your worker. You might be doing something they think isn't going to work, but they can't bring themselves to tell you, so they might tell a story about someone they know who failed because they tried something new.

This isn't conscious - but because they have been thinking that you are loco - it comes out in their choice of stories.

When trying to arrive at consensus - the key is to understand what people really want. What they say they want will be shaded by your expectations, peer pressure, etc. But the stories they tell will be generally right on the mark, if you learn to listen to them.

My wife, whose Spanish is superior to mine, has a hard time understand people at times because she just wants them to spit it out.  But since I am a good ole boy at heart and love a good story, I am perfectly happy to just sit down and let someone tell me a story. I have had more than a few people tell me and her that my Spanish is better than her's (drives her nuts!) because I understand what they are getting at.  From a technical point of view, you couldn't be further from the truth (she has 9 years of Spanish in school and edits Spanish books, and I have merely what I have picked up living here for nearly six years) - but since the purpose of language is communication, in a way, they are right.

You can reason with people all you want, but until you get down to what they really think, you are addressing a strawman.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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paul wheaton wrote:I think it is something that should be taught in school.  Like math.  How can we move forward as a society without this as part of our foundation?


I think you've hit the nail on the head: people who can spot logical fallacies are able to move society.

If public schools taught rhetoric and logic, it would be difficult for politicians to get re-elected. If for-profit schools taught rhetoric and logic, it would be difficult for them to bring new customers in the door via advertising. If home schooling included instruction in rhetoric and logic, it would be difficult to ensure a continuity of worldview between parent and child. Other types of school might suffer, similarly, from the effects of free-thinking students.

I think this is a general problem across all sorts of school: the control systems that sustain a school would be undermined if that school empowered students with an understanding of how those control systems are constructed. I think this effect has exerted a selection pressure against the inclusion of retoric and logic in any school curriculum, except perhaps in a closely circumscribed form, such as symbolic logic or postmodernist theory.

I recently heard from a graduate of a non-profit school that does an excellent job of fostering independent thought. That school can't get alumni to donate much at all, and successful alumni don't evangelize for the school. I'm not sure this is a coincidence.

Incidentally, it's a rare school that really teaches math: most are content to teach calculation. It's amazing how much effort has been spent trying to reduce all mathematics to calculation: poor Russell and Whitehead wasted so many years...it reminds me of the effort to reduce science to the handling of facts, or agriculture to a process of manufacturing.
 
Emerson White
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I actually got lessons in logic in elementary school. I'm a fairly [s]level headed[/s] even tempered person and will sit through personal attacks in arguments, but when people distort my arguments in order to score points I tend to get quite mad about it. Having a wrong position is one thing, distorting mine so it appears that mine is just as wrong as yours in another.
Read this blog post by Dr. Steven Novella to see some really good information on how to argue well.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Thanks!

I am also annoyed by that effect, but I don't usually blame the person I'm arguing with. I try to blame whoever chose the framework within which my argument was misinterpreted.

For example, when I mention my involvement with science, and people interpret that involvement as a condemnation of spiritual beliefs, I blame people like Ken Ham and Richard Dawkins.

Edit: I'm not sure I agree with Dr. Novella.

In math 1+1 must =2. If there is a disagreement about this, it can be resolved objectively and definitively.


That just isn't so.

I'm sure he's familiar with Boolean arithmetic, wherein 1+1=1. A dispute between a person using classical arithmetic and another using Boolean arithmetic would, in my opinion, have to be resolved subjectively: one person would have to realize that the other is working within a system that interprets these symbols differently, and draws different conclusions from them.

While there may be people who assert 1+1=1 because they simply can't count any higher, or due to a random error that they would correct if anyone pointed it out, I think most of the important arguments are between people who care about a common topic, but frame that topic very differently.

More generally, while I agree with Dr. Novella that we share an objective world, which operates by rules that we do not make, I would have to disagree with him that a person can ever make a statement about a bare fact. In order for the statement to form around that fact, some process of interpretation must bring that fact out of the objective sphere of existence, and into the person's understanding of the world. Any human statement of fact is contingent upon interpretation, and can't be fully objective.
 
Emerson White
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To an extent I see the point, but I think an apt analogy might be blaming an auto manufacturer when your dog gets run over. Sure if the breaks went out it might be the fault of the manufacturer but if the person swerved to hit your dog then it is not.

If someone legitimately mistakes your opinion for someone else's because of the way the issue has been framed then there is also a lot of internal framing at work, if you discount their internal misframing then you have to discount Hamm and Dawkins for their own internal misframing and you get nowhere. Anger is a tool for affecting the behavior of ourselves and others, outside of that context it is entirely useless.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Emerson White wrote:Anger is a tool for affecting the behavior of ourselves and others, outside of that context it is entirely useless.


I'm not sure much good comes of anger in the long term...but that's my own ideology.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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One last thing:

I'm really getting a lot out of his list of logical fallacies, but it's bizarre to see tautology listed as one of them.

The structure of such arguments is A=B therefore A=B, although the premise and conclusion might be formulated differently so it is not immediately apparent as such.


Tautology is, IMOO, the only option other than a logical fallacy. If conclusions logically follow from premises, then premises and conclusions are logically equivalent. The whole reason for formal logic is to build tools for distinguishing tautology from logical fallacy; any good proof within formal logic has a last line that either resembles "A=A, QED" or "A=~A, therefore we must reject the straw-man premises I've been arguing against all along."

When someone calls out a tautology, I think that really amounts to an unwillingness on one or both sides to address the tautologist's premises.

...saying that therapeutic touch works because it manipulates the life force is a tautology because the definition of therapeutic touch is the alleged manipulation (without touching) of the life force.


This argument is logically valid, but the premises sound questionable (unless by "life force" they mean something like the Western notion of "mind," in which case I'll happily stipulate that therapeutic touch works because the practitioner manipulates the patient's mind...).
 
Emerson White
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That kind of tautological argument comes up all the time. I think perhaps you are confusing a valid argument with a sound argument.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Emerson White wrote:
That kind of tautological argument comes up all the time. I think perhaps you are confusing a valid argument with a sound argument.


Hm. I think in the above example, the argument isn't sound (because its premises may be false), even though the logic is valid (the conclusions follow from the premises).

I was trying to call out Dr. Novella for taking a variety of unsound argument, and calling it an invalid argument: trying to point out his confusion. But it's possible that the confusion is actually mine...are you used to those two terms being used differently?
 
Emerson White
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Oh, I see where you are going. Yes, technically tautology is not fallacy, a true premise plus a tautology makes a valid argument. However it is used fallaciously all the time, because of the unstated logical operators. People use that "valid argument" as a means of establishing the truth of a premise (which it can't hope to do) and then act as if that premise is true, that is the non-sequiter, and all informal fallacies are technically non-sequiters in formal logic. I think argumentum at absurdum is on of the fallacies on his list too, and that is not a fallacy technically, it's a valid argument, it's just abused frequently so as to make it often fallacious.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Emerson White wrote:argumentum at absurdum is on of the fallacies on his list too, and that is not a fallacy technically, it's a valid argument, it's just abused frequently so as to make it often fallacious.


Yes, I didn't bring that up because he was good about saying this explicitly in the article.
 
travis laduke
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Hey Paul,

I think it is admirable to stand firmly on your own ground and to not suggest that any person on permies has a position that is anything less than perfect. 

(didn't want to derail the thread this was posted in)

I think you're going to run afoul of the law of non-contradiction... 

But yes, we should be nice to each other [s]even[/s] especially when we correct each other. 
 
paul wheaton
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It might help to realize that a fallacious argument is not merely a deceptive one (it might not even be a deceptive one) but rather is an invalid argument form, specifically a named invalid argument form.

This makes it more clear why tautology, which might or might not be deceptive, is certainly not fallacious.

While it is popular to rely upon emotional appeals, and other fallacies, I can see no good coming from accepting those as identical in value to reasoned approaches. Ignoring the fallacies means ignoring the evidence and reason itself. In a recent thread this was made clear when it was implied that "feeling" something is not true (or valid) is identical to it being true (or valid.)  Surely we must be able to differentiate between false belief and true belief, for if we cannot then there is necessarily no knowledge, and no way to improve any thing at all.

What is often missed by many, and this is not a new phenomenom, is that refuting an argument or a position, is not itself rude or any attack on the person. Sadly those who rely upon fallacious reasoning often employ emotional bullying tactics (like calling someone a jerk for daring to use reason and evidence) so that most of us who are familiar with the basics of sound reasoning join in the quieting of reasoned refutation, to the detriment of us all as well as to the detriment of the body of knowledge.

Socrates ran into this problem and cautioned us not to treat our ideas as if they were our children. The solution then and now is the same: We do not chide others for offering reasoned refutations, but do chide those who use fallacies, emotional bullying, and other anti-reason tactics to try to "win" an argument.

An honest, civil, intellectual discussion is not a situation in which one "beats" the other person, but rather a joint effort where truth and understanding are the shared objectives. It is only the choice of one or the other (or both) to grasp onto their position emotionally and to deny reason its proper role, that leads to the battle mentality and thus negative emotional reactions. Sadly that is almost never the person who is then blamed, rather it is the person who is being reasoned and reasonable who is accused of doing harm.

For those interested, perhaps the best introduction to the world of ideas, including that of the basics of sound reasoning, and intellectual discussion Wendy McElroy has a wonderful book called The Reasonable Woman: A Guide to Intellectual Survival. This is an easy read, and is not directed at academics, though they too can benefit, but rather at the average intelligent lay person. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

 
Lonicera McCoy
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regarding tautology, it is an informal fallacy but not a formal fallacy.  In a formal fallacy, the conclusion of the argument does not follow from the premises.  It is an incorrectly formed argument where even if the premises and conclusion are true, the conclusion is not guaranteed by the premises.  As an informal fallacy tautology assumes something is a given when it actually needs to be proven.  Sometimes it is called circular logic, because some variation of the conclusion appears in one of the premises. 
 
                              
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Tautology is not a fallacy at all, after all it is does not create an invalid argument form at all. All fallacies are first invalid argument forms, and secondarily named versions. Tautologies may be uninformative (but not always) and of course prevent soundness in arguments, but they are in a very peculiar case of valid arguments which in and of themselves cannot be sound arguments, but not a fallacy.

 
C Shobe
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I feel like a big part of the problem is that people are becoming more and more based in fear.  Rather than being honest, straightforward and unafraid when dealing with others, people are increasingly fearful of what reaction they might get, what others might think of them, etc.  Fear is the biggest problem in the world today.

Most relationships are based on fear - people trying to play a part that is not natural for them because they feel that is what the other person wants.  Maybe it is what the other person wants, but in that case the best thing for them to do is to cause let it go and move on.  But people are for the most part fearful of losing any relationship they have, so they suppress their own natures in order to sustain something based on fallacy.

What people fail to realize is that living in fear breeds a whole lot of unhappiness, anguish, guilt, etc.  By suppressing their own true natures they become unhappy and it is impossible to live correctly in this fashion.  Eventually that negative effect builds up and the things that were being artificially sustained end up being lost anyways as a result.

IMHO what needs to change is people learning the habit of basing their actions on fear.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Raptelan wrote:Fear is the biggest problem in the world today....IMHO what needs to change is people learning the habit of basing their actions on fear.


I see your point, and agree that there's a lot of truth in what you say, but I've learned the hard way that emotions have their own sort of validity. They don't operate in the realm of reason, and using reason to discredit a person's emotions can be just as destructive as using emotions to support one's reasoning.

I agree more, the more your language talks about the decision of whether or not to base one's actions in fear. Perhaps equally important is the decision of whether or not to base one's beliefs in fear. I think that recognizing and validating fear is a good step toward dealing with it in a healthy way: deciding whether it is actionable, or whether it is reasonable, requires that we first acknowledge its existence. Frank Herbert on this topic:

I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.


Earlier parts of that litany are, in my opinion, wrong-headed and counter-productive. The part I quoted, though, makes all sorts of sense to me.
 
                              
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I fear that the fear is but a symptom.

Appeals to emotion rule the day. Emotional bullying is the norm, so that if you do not agree with the bully, you are (enter evil label here). Socialists say that you have no compassion if you don't enslave people.. Rabid conservatives hold that you are "god hating" or "immoral" if you don't support rigid controls on the personal lives of innocents. The religious threaten you with labels like "immoral" or banishment to "hell." Some elites will accuse you of being ignorant, or lowly if you don't accept their position.. Statists tell you that you are responsible for all evils if you don't actively support their evil..

Of course all such accusation are without merit, often the direct opposite of what is true.

The response from many of us is as you say, to fear those labels, those accusation. And to a large degree I agree that we should all stand up to such bullies, yet we should also recognize that the primary problem is the bullying itself.

So yes we need to stand up for what is right and true, and of course we need to place reason and truth above all personal desires, while spreading that self-same message.

 
                              
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Joel,

Emotions of course have their place, but let's not confuse the matter by invoking the very precise terms of reason to try to add weight to them. Emotional conclusion are necessarily invalid, no matter how much we might feel them. I can feel that the earth is flat, and the center of the universe all day long, but that emotional conclusion is not a part of any valid argument.

Validity is not merely that which is not inherently false, it is a I noted a very specific condition. A valid argument is one in which if the premises are true the conclusion must be true, or put another way the premises necessitate the conclusion. With emotion literally anything goes. Premises may have no relation whatsoever to the conclusion, which is in part why appeal to emotion is a fallacy.

That said, of course you are right that we should leave for the most part decisions about love, for instance, to the emotions, as long a we also realize that all issues of truth and knowledge are the realm of reason. Reason can advise the heart, but the heart is not a reliable advisor of the mind..

An aside, perhaps strangely compassion and reason tend to share more areas than any other emotion in my experience..
 
C Shobe
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Storm wrote:
I fear that the fear is but a symptom.

Appeals to emotion rule the day. Emotional bullying is the norm, so that if you do not agree with the bully, you are (enter evil label here). Socialists say that you have no compassion if you don't enslave people.. Rabid conservatives hold that you are "god hating" or "immoral" if you don't support rigid controls on the personal lives of innocents. The religious threaten you with labels like "immoral" or banishment to "hell." Some elites will accuse you of being ignorant, or lowly if you don't accept their position.. Statists tell you that you are responsible for all evils if you don't actively support their evil..


Indeed!  I was thinking to myself after getting off the computer before, that I should have written more about how society, religion, most parenting and schooling, etc. teaches people to fear.  It ingrains living in fear into everyone.  So to overcome that, we must challenge our fears, take risks, burn bridges, and other things that involve pain and uncertainty, which to one living in fear, seems outright impossible!

I don't know how to cure everyone who is stuck in the fear rut, but you do certainly have a very good point - more important than treating the symptom is treating the cause(s).  So yes, stop the bullying - raise the next generation better, etc.  But if we can't fix the symptoms that exist in a widespread manner, they will just keep carrying on as well!  Ahh, what a dilemma!

So yes we need to stand up for what is right and true, and of course we need to place reason and truth above all personal desires, while spreading that self-same message.


I agree wholeheartedly.  But spreading this message is quite difficult. :\
 
C Shobe
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Joel Hollingsworth wrote:
I see your point, and agree that there's a lot of truth in what you say, but I've learned the hard way that emotions have their own sort of validity. They don't operate in the realm of reason, and using reason to discredit a person's emotions can be just as destructive as using emotions to support one's reasoning.


I could sort of say that I've also learned the hard way, but I'm really too darn stubborn.  I recognize that emotions exist, they are valid, and they have their function.  But my perspective is that they are always controllable.  Be aware of your emotions, heed their advice, but don't let them rule you.  And so, I don't always deal well with those who are ruled by emotion, as I place this same expectation on them.  They in turn get distressed because it seems I'm too detached, and flail even more wildly sometimes.

Perhaps equally important is the decision of whether or not to base one's beliefs in fear. I think that recognizing and validating fear is a good step toward dealing with it in a healthy way: deciding whether it is actionable, or whether it is reasonable, requires that we first acknowledge its existence.


I agree!  As I said about emotions, acknowledge it's existence, but don't let it run the ship.
 
                              
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Indeed. Most people really believe that others control their own personal emotions. "He made me mad" is a familiar refrain, when in truth it is each of us who chooses to get mad or not. As I point out to those who claim that others are responsible for their emotions, when I was helping rape victims, if I could have forced them to be happier, less afraid, more confident, etc. I would have, but the fact is that I could not control their emotions, because no one but the person choosing them can choose the emotion that they will have.

You'd think in honest intellectual discussions people would be safe enough to allow ideas and reason to play their proper role, but sadly too often they allow their emotions to rule their behavior.
 
                                          
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this is a timely discussion heading into the holiday season.

i very basically disagree that humans (on the aggragate) have control over their emotions.  humans overwhelmingly lack the ability for true insight, evaluation of internal dialogue, and an evaluation of basic motivations and values.

if this were a regularly occuring process amongst the general population, techniques that seek to expand rational perception while checking one's internal diagnostics and automatic assumptions (like cognitive behavior therapy) would not be such sensationally efficacious treatments for depression, anxiety disorders, traumatic stress, etc.

i truly believe that humans are far more instinctual in our emotions and behavior than we are willing to admit.  we are thinking animals, but our ability for in-the-moment self-examination and planning is virtually non-existant without lifetime practice starting as infants.

people dont't want conversation and intellectual enlightenment.  they want to be seen as competent, having their view points accepted unconditionally by others, and to crush dissent.  Collaboration and concsensus are antithetical to a person's pursuit of power, whether that be at the dinner table with friends or in the halls of Congress.

to put things another way, humans only marginally progress past id dominance.  i think the moral development theories of lawrence kohlberg are of great relation to this topic.
 
                              
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People certainly have the ability to choose their emotions. We prove this every day (the same comment from two different people can elicit two different responses, thus proving that it is not the comment which causes the emotion, but rather a choice by the individual).

Most folks would rather not accept that responsibility, preferring to hide behind false claims that others control their emotional choices.

We should not mistake the lack of willingness to take responsibility for our own choices for an inability to make those choices.
 
                                          
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Storm wrote:
People certainly have the ability to choose their emotions. We prove this every day (the same comment from two different people can elicit two different responses, thus proving that it is not the comment which causes the emotion, but rather a choice by the individual).

Most folks would rather not accept that responsibility, preferring to hide behind false claims that others control their emotional choices.

We should not mistake the lack of willingness to take responsibility for our own choices for an inability to make those choices.


i would accept your point at face value if and only if humans beings lacked variation in socialization, intellectual capacity, and ethical development. 

statistically, half of all humans have below average IQ's.  are you suggesting that these people have the same ability for self-regulation as those with higher IQ's?  similarly, if person A is socialized in a culture in which personal responsibility is disfavored while collective responsibility is preferred, in comparison with person B with the reversed qualities of socialization, would person A truly have the capacity for self-regulation? 

clearly, people’s abilities vary.  would it not be the case that people with varying abilities would have varying degrees of self-control?  clearly, an autistic child has little capacity for autonomously reducing self-stimulating rocking and little control over tantrum like behaviors.  likewise, a person with bipolar disorder or an axis 2 personality disorder lacks the ability for regulation of mood and behavior; the former due to neurochemical reasons and the latter due to developmentally significant trauma/lack of parental bond.

i think that your premise fits appropriately with high functioning people.  certainly I can remove myself from an argument with my uncle this thanksgiving rather than argue with him.  certainly those of a certain ability have the capacity for overriding an emotional wave with rational thought and logic, but even in those of exceptional ability exhibit processing errors in conversation and other things that limit understanding and rational perception.

it’s a truly noble notion to believe that people truly control their own destinies, but one that i think lacks merit.
 
C Shobe
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hobbssamuelj wrote:
i very basically disagree that humans (on the aggragate) have control over their emotions.  humans overwhelmingly lack the ability for true insight, evaluation of internal dialogue, and an evaluation of basic motivations and values.

if this were a regularly occuring process amongst the general population, techniques that seek to expand rational perception while checking one's internal diagnostics and automatic assumptions (like cognitive behavior therapy) would not be such sensationally efficacious treatments for depression, anxiety disorders, traumatic stress, etc.


I agree that most humans have not bothered to learn to exert control over their emotions.  But control over emotions is something that anyone can learn - it is not much different from learning to control any other instinct.  You may feel hunger, but you have the choice whether or not to satisfy your hunger.  Same with any emotion.  No, humans cannot turn emotions off entirely, but they can choose to ignore them, or better, use them as input for logical reasoning.  If something makes me feel a sad or angry emotion, most likely I will avoid the same thing in the future.  But that should be a logical choice, not a flailing away caused by emotion taking over.

Ongoing victims of abuse allow their emotions to rule them.  They flail away from pain, then flail back from fear and loneliness.  To overcome that cycle, they must learn to face their emotions.  Of course they will still feel those emotions, but to act on them is another thing.

i truly believe that humans are far more instinctual in our emotions and behavior than we are willing to admit.  we are thinking animals, but our ability for in-the-moment self-examination and planning is virtually non-existant without lifetime practice starting as infants.


I never had any practice until sometime in my twenties when I decided to try as the result of studying hinduism.  One doesn't *have* to learn from infancy - but it would certainly increase the overall percentage of people who do if that were the case.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Storm wrote:in truth it is each of us who chooses to get mad or not.


I would say that our emotions are internal to ourselves, but I would not agree that our own volition is prior to any emotion we experience.

We do not choose, and then become angry. Rather, we become angry (or not), and then choose how to respond to whatever anger we experience: emotions are not a choice, but a given.

Storm wrote:most humans have not bothered to learn to exert control over their emotions.


From the rest of your quote, I think you're right, but the way you phrase it here strikes me as misleading. People really don't control emotions themselves: at best, we control the thoughts and circumstances that inspire emotions, and can limit the intensity or direct the course of our responses to emotions.

It's not like people just haven't bothered to learn: true control of emotions qua such demands extreme measures like lobotomy or heavy sedation. What we haven't bothered to control is our behavior, our thoughts, our circumstances. Part of why we haven't bothered to do so, in cases like my own, is that we've been attempting to control the wrong thing.
 
                              
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Being able to choose our emotions is not dependent upon socialization, culture, or any other external factor. The knowledge and practice of this might be, but the ability is inherent. We can learn to choose to actively control our emotions rather than passively (and irresponsibly) choose to react however.

There is no such thing as destiny, so I certainly was not arguing that anyone has the ability to control it (which would prove it was not a destiny as well of course)

I do agree that there are exceptional cases, such as the autism instance you mention, but these cannot be our guide to what is possible, particularly with regard to emotion.

As for Joel's argument that emotion precedes thought, this assumes itself as a conclusion, but this of course means that choosing your emotion is impossible. Therefore even a single example of someone choosing their emotional reaction proves that this claim is false. Now, since most of us at some point or another do actively choose our emotional reaction, that is more than sufficient to disprove the universal. Certainly I know that I regularly choose the emotion rather than simply mindlessly reacting.

We should not mistake the lack of taking responsibility for the choice of how to react, for the non-existence of the choice.

There is a real difference between merely controling the behavior and actively choosing your emotional reaction. I can choose to be angry or not, THEN I can choose how I will act. I can be angry and not act, or I can be angry and act. The choice of emotion and the choice of action are separate choices.

 
Tyler Ludens
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Storm wrote:
Now, since most of us at some point or another do actively choose our emotional reaction, that is more than sufficient to disprove the universal.


I'm not convinced it can be proven that most of us choose our emotional reactions.  I do know that some people can learn to control emotions once they are being experienced, but I'm not sure everyone can learn to not have an emotion before an emotion is experienced. 
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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I didn't mean to claim a universal, and I'm sorry if what I wrote reads that way. I was talking about the typical circumstance, similar to a claim like "plants don't eat".

Of course there are people who choose to be angry, and seek out that experience by joining a discussion or turning on a television show that has reliably made them angry in the past. All I meant to say, is that a typical experience of anger is not immediately the result of a conscious decision to experience anger.
 
                              
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Consider the emotions chosen from an insult. To keep everything relevant constant, and to demonstrate that it is not the words causing the emotion, consider the same insult from three people:

1. Your best friend
2. Someone you respect
3. Someone you don't know or don't respect

In the first case, the insult may well not be taken as an insult at all, but as an opportunity for a laugh (I have a good friend with whom I trade off insults at times, and I've known this to be true for many other people)

2. This may be on opportunity where you choose to feel hurt, because you value the opinion of this person.

3. This is an opportunity to not even invoke any emotion at all, but rather if anything simply be puzzled or confused.

If our emotions were indeed controlled by others, all three of these would result in the same emotion instead of three different emotional states.

If our emotions were merely automatic a similar outcome would be expected. Then also there would never be any instance of anyone choosing an emotion, and we know beyond any hint of any doubt does in fact happen (Again, I do this regularly, and I am certainly not unique in this regard).

The difference in reaction is by our choice. Many folks may not take the time to think "Well this is my friend so he/she is joking, and so my proper reaction is laughter" but rather respond by default. This does not mean that are not choosing, only that they are not considering the choice.

We can look at examples across time a well. Consider someone with whom you are no longer in a relationship. Their words and actions, even the ones similar or identical to the actions while in the relationship lead to a different choice of emotion on your part. The person is the same person, the remarks or actions the same actions, but only the response is different. That difference is due to different perceived state of affairs (mental state) and so the response cannot be merely some automatic aspect of say the nervous system, but rather is coming from the mind, aka choice.
 
                              
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Joel,

I agree that most people don't bother with making the decision consciously. That is the very problem I would like to see fixed. If people would take responsibility for their actions and choices, even the choice of emotion or deciding by default, I believe that we'd see a lot less animosity and difficulty.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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I understand that you see a choice being made.

I also agree that other people are not in control of our emotions.

I would begin to disagree if you asserted that the only explanation for what you observe, is that we all decide what emotions we experience. Where you see a choice, I see an alternative explanation.

I think that the relationships we participate in shape our perceptions tremendously. While the development and maintenance of relationships can be influenced by whoever participates in them, this does not, to my understanding, amount to true and direct control of any emotions that arise from those relationships.

I have very little control over whom I respect, or feel attracted to, although I'm able to behave more-or-less appropriately on both counts. I have virtually no control over what experiences inspire fear in me, although I make an effort to work through any unreasonable fight-or-flight responses over time, ideally by repeatedly experiencing them in ways that don't reinforce a sense of danger. I don't decide that a joke is funny and then find myself laughing at it: the best I can do to control my sense of humor would be to stifle laughter, or fake it.
 
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