Hegel’s Dialectic of Morality – Part 2 “Beautiful Soul to God in the Midst”

We ended the last chapter by describing the arrival on scene of the “Beautiful Soul”, the instantiation of consciousness which maintains purity of conscience by using its own language to judge itself, and which withdraws from the world to avoid conflicts that might put its own transparency and purity of heart into question. By withdrawing, it finds itself vanishing “like a shapeless vapour that dissolves into the air”(658). However, even this conscience, which to itself seems to wither away, must be considered from the standpoint of actuality, in the manifestation of its activity to others – and to others it still appears to be acting. Since as acting in public its language can be contested by others, the unity of its pure heart and action is sundered. Therefore, the next post will deal with “the antithesis of individuality to other individuality, and to the universal”, and expunge and evaluate Hegel’s treatment of “this relationship and its movement”(659). It is this description of a relationship of inter-subjectivity which, I believe, has perhaps the strongest phenomenological content in the Phenomenology of Spirit.

The beautiful soul attempts to avoid the antithesis implicit in public action by retreating into private, but since the only true privation of inter subjectivity is suicide, every living consciousness constantly acts. When conscience acts it expresses the an antithesis in its own being which is recognizable by others. This is because an action always has a specific content which does not itself form the basis of pure duty, and yet action as the action of conscience acts as pure duty devoid of content. The filling of duty with content creates a gap which can be sorted by the beautiful soul by giving reasons in language, but others have no reason to believe these reasons, and others are particularly well disposed to doubt the selfless reasons given by others. Thus the conscience which sees itself holding more firmly to duty, and therefore not acting, recognizes the action of a conscience that does act as evil, and when acting consciousness gives reasons which attempt to align its inner being with universality it is held by judging consciousness to be hypocricy.(660)

To try to grasp the movement Hegel is here describing, try to think of a situation where an action by another person appeared in a context where things were relatively stable, and their action transformed the situation in a way opposed to the way you thought was right, either because you thought a different transformation was necessary, or because you thought things were right the way they were. For example, imagine you come home to a brutally clean house, and that tidying is your chore this week. You might respond with an immediate horror – your housemates have usurped your chance to fulfill your duty, which means the new state of things includes a clean house, but also you feeling guilty and useless. They might tell you “oh, we just had some free time and thought we’d help you out” – but you don’t believe them, you immediately assume they are lying about their inner motivations, and their true intention was to frame you as a non-contributing housemate. You see your own non-actions as pure (“I would have done it tomorrow”), and judge the conscience of the other as evil, and as hypocricy because the reasons they speak publicly appear out of line with your interpretation of their subjective intentions. In this case, they are acting consciousness, you are judging consciousness.

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Hegel’s Dialectic of Morality – Part 1 “Conscience to Beautiful Soul”

Note: This is “Conscience to Beautiful Soul”, part 1 of a multi-part series. The Second part will arrive shortly, and be called “Beautiful Soul to God Manifest in the midst”. The Third part will come some time later, and it will contain an attempt to answer, or at least ask the right questions, about what relevance this section of Hegel might have today.

The emergence of the Beautiful Soul. Acting and judging consciousness. The breaking of the hard heart. God manifested in the midst of those who know themselves. Are these utterances mere Hegelian ramblings, or moments in the deepest thinking through of moral activity and reactivity yet accomplished by the western mind? Or some third thing – perhaps a great leap forward in moral thinking, for the most part still not comprehended but even so superseded by the transformation of history, the death of God, and the spectre of apocalypse? If we take Hegel’s chapter on “Conscience” seriously these are questions which confront us, questions which I’ve spent the last 6 years of my life working through in one way or another, and yet I’ve never written about it. This week I re-read the Conscience section from Phenomenology of Spirit, and I’m going to have a try here at explaining it, and why I believe it to be so central to moral thinking, and why I’m so uncertain of its contemporary status.

Hegel’s chapter named “Conscience. The ‘beautiful soul’, evil and its forgiveness” is the third part of a three part section named “Morality”, which is the first of the three sections that complete the Phenomenology of Spirit. It is one of the final moments, although not the final moment. The following two final moments occur in the sections named “Religion” and “Absolute Knowing”. Since Religion and Absolute Knowing radically transcend individuated experience, it might be said that “Conscience” is the completion of the Phenomenology at the level of personal experience. I don’t think Hegel would say this, because of course Religion, although inherently social, is still active at the level of experience – and even Absolute Knowing is an activity participated in by subjects (by the way, it doesn’t mean you “know everything”, ‘absolute knowing’ is more like the recognition that there is no knowledge which is structurally beyond the possible apprehension of subjects who properly recognize their own relationship to knowledge). But, we can probably safely say that “Conscience” is the resolution that can most straightforwardly be observed and felt at the level of individual inter-subjective consciousness and sociality. Moreover, it is the most emotional of the 3 final sections, both in the relations it describes and in the feelings it wells up in the reader when he or she comes to understand the dynamics at play – this is some of the first philosophy I ever read which immediately changed the way I understood my relations with other people, and even transformed the inter-personal problems I was dealing with at the time of reading and studying this text.

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Review of Edward Said’s “The Question of Palestine”

In world where political analysis and philosophical theory are generally kept apart by institutional forces, Said’s book on Palestine is a breath of fresh and rigorous air. Said’s book covers three basic issues or questions, and does so in a largely conceptual rather than historical manner. Slightly paraphrased for clarity, these questions are: What is Palestine? (Chapter 1), What is Zionism from the Standpoint of its Victims? (Chapter 2) and What are the historical movements and future possibilities for Palestinian Self-Determination?(Chapter 3 and 4). Rather than attempt to be traditionally objective and give “both sides” of each issue, Said confronts the questions from his own perspective as a Palestinian in exile. This does not, however, mean that every issue is dealt with by the assertion of a prejudice – on the contrary, Said is interested in deconstructing prejudices and un-thoughtfulness on every side.  For instance, Said establishes himself not only as a critic of Zionism, but also a critic of a simplistic rejection of Zionism. And, while Said is clearly in favour of the liberation of Palestine and Arab liberation more generally, he expresses a corresponding concern that little concrete thought had been devoted to how Arab societies would be transformed such that they could be free from oppressive patriarchy. “The Question of Palestine” has much to teach any reader, not only about the history of Jewish settler-colonialism in the middle east and its effects on those unlucky enough to live in “the land without a people”, but perhaps more so about how it is possible (and necessary) to remain sharp and self-critical in a situation where the sheer strength of hypocricy on the other side makes it all too easy to believe that one stands invariably on the moral high ground.

The first question this book deals with is, I think, by far the hardest: what is “Palestine” and who are “the Palestinians”? A central part of the answer is simply that the Palestinians are a people on a land, and a people displaced from a land, who are not recognized as legitimately tied to that land. In that sense, they are part of the history of displacement of indigenous peoples by settlers. In a memorandum written by a member of the British Cabinet shortly after the Balfour Declaration we find this sentiment of utter lack of concern for the Arab inhabitants of British Mandate Palestine:

For in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country, though the American Commission has been going through the forms of asking what they are. The four great powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desire and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land. In my opinion that is right.(cited from Said’s “The question of Palestine” p 16-17).

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Review of “The Lost Revolution: The Official IRA and The Workers’ Party”

While visiting Belfast last year I was for the first time seriously exposed to the history of “The Troubles“. While the troubles are interesting because they actually ended, and because the end involved negotiation with rather than extermination of the terrorists, what immediately interested me were the prospects for peace which emerged in the movement early on, more than 20 years prior to the 1998 Belfast Agreement. One of these events is the failed Sunningdale agreement of 1975, which in many ways is identical to the 1998 agreement, but which was brought down by a protestant/unionist general strike supported by paramilitaries. The other event is the 1969 split in the IRA between traditionalists who favoured a nationalist ideology and emphasized the need for armed struggle against the protestant occupiers of Northern Ireland, and the Marxist politics which developed in the IRA during the 1960s which emphasized the need to include the Protestant working class in a broader socialist project of a 32 county Irish Socialist Republic. However, it is quite difficult to get good information on the split, or on the “Official IRA” (OIRA) which, historically speaking, was much less militarily important than the “provisional IRA” (PIRA), later known simply as “the provos”, who carried on the nationalist terror campaign for 30 years, and which lives on in the still-at-war CIRA (continuity IRA) and RIRA (real IRA).

The Lost Revolution: The story of the Official IRA and the Workers’ Party is the first attempt to write a cohesive and comprehensive history of the Official IRA, it’s role in the early troubles, and its declining role from 1972 onward as the marxist republicans continually emphasized politics and reform over abstentionism and terror. It gives a view of the split altogether different from the story told by the Provisionals, contesting the standard story of 1969 which claims the IRA failed to protect Catholic communities. And it chronicles in a detail which frankly I can not appreciate (but which surely pleases those who know more than I about this history and all its personalities) the progression of “Official Sein Fein”, which became “Sein Fein: The Workers’ Party”, then later simply “The Worker’s Party”, and which eventually split into “The Workers’ Party” and “The Democratic Left“, the latter of which merged with the Labour party of Ireland in 1999. It also delineates the internal conflicts in the Official’s paramilitary wing, which itself split at numerous points when its members became unwilling to play a subservient, defensive and increasingly unrecognized role in the organisation. These splits resulted in formation of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) in 1974, the “Official Republican Movement” (ORM) (1997). In fact, by the time of decommissioning (2009), the OIRA no longer existed and the arms caches belonging to the OIRA were completely under the control of ORM.

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Norman Finkelstein at York, February 16 2011.

Tonight I saw Norman Finkelstein give a lecture at York University to myself and 499 others in a sold out crowd. I expected the atmosphere to be tense. To be honest, I expected a protest outside, many police and security guards, and for the lecture to be interrupted numerous times by angry Israel supporters (this would only be par for the course for such events at York University). However, while there was a significant police presence, the atmosphere was much milder than I expected, and there was no protest or angry interruptions of the talk.

The talk itself consisted 95% of things he’s already said many times – so anyone familiar with watching videos on the internet can easily access the material, and thus I have little reason to give a comprehensive summery. Perhaps it can be summed up with a point he made during the question period: that according to Defending the Holy Land by Israeli historian Zeev Maov, every war Israel has engaged in, with the possible exception of 1948, has been a war of choice. According to Finkelstein the Israeli foreign policy doctrine is: “the arabs only understand force”, and Israel (and since the 70s its partner the United States) has done everything in its power to keep its neighbors weak, stupid and corrupt. What it fears most of all is the spectre of Arab leaders who instill in their populations self respect, because this would restrict Israel’s constant ability to resort to the war option.

According to Finkelstein, the actual reason why Israel is afraid of a revolution in Egypt has nothing to do with the possibility of Egypt attacking Israel, but rather the fact that the revolt is likely to produce a leader who is sensitive to the arab street – whether by will, or by sheer fear of the street. The Arab street is problematic for Israel because it rejects the quarantine of Gaza, and does not wish Egyptian complicity with an Israeli military strike on Iran.

The talk ended on a positive note: Finkelstein’s final point was something like: the Egyptian revolt is a sign that the Arab people are not dead souls, that they do have the capacity to rise up and demand their dignity. If they do this, at some point Israel will have no other option than to give into the Peace offensive and withdraw from the territories. Perhaps I’m not conveying the point exactly as he made it – but perhaps what was more important was the rush of emotion that came over himself, and over the room, when he started to talk about the amount of his life he’s put into this conflict, and the possibility he now sees for it to be resolved. He said defiantly that, to quote Palestinian professor Edward Said, “there is room for all at the rendezvous of victory, so long as you are willing to be reasonable”. “is it reasonable”, he said, “that the children of Gaza go hungry at night”? Israel’s position is there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza because the people are hungry, but not starving (the human rights organizations disagree). But even if you are a Zionist, and you believe everything Israel’s PR office tells you – is it actually reasonable that the children of Gaza go hungry to bed, tonight?

Conservative values? Anarchism.

The more I hear arguments for conservative values, the more I’m an anarchist. By “conservatism”, I mean the political analysis of Jordan Peterson, who takes such conservative positions as: poor people are largely poor because they lack motivation and intelligence, absolute poverty does not cause violence or unethical behaviour, (sorry, this next one is quite offensive) non western “primitive” societies tend to have high rates of male on male homicide. While each one of these points, for Peterson, are reasons for us to appreciate the genocidal and barbarous “civilization” that we live in, they can all easily be turned into critiques of that society’s sustainability and ability to transform to face new challenges and threats.

Take the idea that poverty can largely be explained on the basis of motivation and intelligence. To an anarchist this seems offensive – poverty is caused by systemic oppression, don’t blame the victim! But, the radical liberal John Rawls pointed out that while people should be allowed to benefit from their skills and aptitudes, they fact that someone was born with less skill is not a justification for them being less well off than they might have been in a society where skill and aptitudes are not rewarded. And the kicker is – for Rawls, motivation, insofar as it can be explained biochemically, is a skill. And, Peterson is obsessed with explaining motivation biochemically. So, for Rawlsians, the fact that poverty can be explained social-darwanistically is no justification for it to exist: if society could exist without poverty at the expense of the rich then we have no moral choice but to abolish it.

I’ve always believed Rawls’ motivation for an egalitarian justification for society was motivated out of a fear of the Hegelian rabble – the dirt poor who see their good over against society rather than in harmony with it. This actually is in harmony with Peterson’s next idea – that violence and ethical degeneration in society is not caused by poverty, but by relative poverty, or as he likes to call it, the slope of the dominance curve. If the dominance curve is very steep (those at the top have everything, and those at the bottom have nothing), your society will not be stable because there will be many men who can not find a mate or a job, and thus will have little to lose by becoming pathological and murderous. It’s hard to understand how Peterson maintains such a conservative stance when we actually live in a society where the dominance curve has been steadily steepening since the 70s – and even mainstream liberals are getting concerned that America will become like a 3rd world country if the existing trends continue. My anarchist response here is to say the social fabric of our lived world depends on mutual recognition, cooperation, and everyone benefitting enough from the involvements to justify their continued contributions. Sure you can motivate people will the fear of starvation and the carrot of capitalist success, but you’re playing a game which a certain number of people are destined to lose. Society should be a hard game – everyone should work to achieve their own potential and make meaningful contributions. But I see no reason that the only or primary motivations which can be used towards this end are the current capitalist ones, and the presence of very low positions on the dominance chain. Why should someone have authority over others which can’t be justified in terms of the benefit and consent of those under command? Why should we think that that kind of authority will even produce the best results from those dominated – doesn’t it simply privilege a very specific kind of obedience? Is that form of obedience actually something which serves society when those who have it rise up the corporate ladders?

The last point I mentioned above is by far the hardest to deal with, and most offensive. First – I don’t believe that it is true. That’s not to say I don’t believe there are non-western, non-technological societies which have/had high rates of male on male homicide. However, simply to point out this “fact” is deceptive – the rates of male on male homicide, in any rate, skyrockets in war, and war or genocide for the sake of conquest is the normal form of confrontation between “civilized” and “non civilized” people. Moreover, there are indigenous societies which have lived in relative harmony with their ecosystems for thousands upon thousands of years (also, there are many which didn’t, and collapsed as a result). Perhaps the kind of stability we value (peacefulness, the conditions that permit progress) are only stable and good from a short term perspective. Kind of like a dictatorship – everything appears stable, but only because you don’t consider the violence on the periphery and the long-term instability of such regimes. Like a dictatorship, western society only appears peaceful because you look at particular parts of it, and because you ignore the violence on the globalized periphery, both against people and against the ecosystem – who’s ability to sustain us is deeply threatened. What makes our society “better” than one which, not developing a “state” (in the Deleuzian sense of an institution) and not developing advanced forms of technology, manages not to make a deep enough impact on its environment as to cause the collapse of the society, culture, way of life.

Indigenous societies which are sustainable collapse as well – they collapse when they encounter genocidal Europeans who take the land and wreak havoc on the societal norms and structures they find, calling them “pagan”, and introducing all maners of chaos (mostly in ways they don’t understand) into communities, and in the larger picture into histories. The moral question to ask here is – when a culture fails due to environmental forces, unless those environmental effects were pre known and ignored, that is a tragedy. But when humans inflict chaos on one another, that is evil. This distinction, I should point out, I’ve borrowed from Jordan Peterson’s lecture on Evil – and I think it’s adequate. It emphasizes the degenerative forces in a society as the anachronisms, the unwillingness to confront the need to change, and the unwillingness to confront the reality of one’s own crimes and other shortcomings, as evil – and that must be distinguished from the merely tragic – when bad things happen, but no one is positively or negatively at fault.

We live in a society of conservative anachronisms – where the need to transform is and has been on the surface for 40 years (perhaps more – Milan is free to correct me on this), and where the hypocricy about war and genocide is rampant. It is not enough simply to “raise awareness”. We must do something else – something I don’t understand.

The closer we move towards the danger, perhaps the more we must try to strengthen the moral fiber of our local communities, so as to try to avoid murderous pathological chaos if/when the supply chains that sustain our fragile, plastic existence, begin to break down.


On Community level activism

Milan has recently argued, quite effectively I think, that the insular community-first aspect of local environmental organization is a bad thing. The argument is demonstrated nicely through this analogy:

It reminds me of a person wandering in the middle of a battlefield, looking for their glasses. They realize one problem – that their glasses have been dropped – and they are working diligently at solving it by scrutinizing the ground. At the same time, bullets are flying all around them. They see the small problem, miss the big one, and focus their efforts in the wrong way as a consequence.

On the other hand, of course, community is an essential part of being a whole person, so if local environmental activism is blind to the real problem of the environment, what forms of local activism are appropriate given the real circumstances in which we live? Another friend of mind is becoming heavily involved in health-care activism – fighting against the withering away of our nationalized health care system, fighting for health care access for migrant workers, fighting essentially for the recognition of the validity of human persons and their right to life, and to live a good life.

Health care activism is interesting in relation to climate change – because perhaps the largest destabilizing product of CC will be migration – something nation states have a problem with (sometimes more so than the porous empires which preceded them). We live in policed-states, you have a status, and you have a “right” to be here, or we’ll deport you. That works fine so long as states can sustain themselves, so long as food supplies don’t dry up – but it won’t work so well when the food production of latin america dries up and America is pressured to close and arm the border. It’s hard not to foresee a racial conflict between Latin Americans and “white” Americans as Mexicans and other Latin Americans attempt to migrate north to where the food is. In the face of this, perhaps the most important thing we can work on locally is not protecting our local environments, but protecting our local sense of humanity, sense that a person has a right to exist, eat, and live, simply because they exist. In essence – the rights of a refugee. Without strong refugee rights, this century could easily become one of greater racial (or other forms of xenophobic) conflict and genocide than the one which preceded it.

It’s quite common for people to accuse those involved in global struggles of being “too abstract”, “not acting locally”. This is misplaced if they mean something like “why do you want to help millions or billions in the future when there are hundreds or thousands suffering right now” – the utilitarian answer to this is clear. But, it is not misplaced if it means something like “if you don’t strive to ensure the humanity of your own community, what crimes might they commit when confronted with chaos?” – that is true. And to see why it’s true, you just have to look at the standard examples, used commonly by Western imperial ideologies, of the moral degeneration of communities in the face of chaos and rapid change – i.e. the liquidation of the kulaks, the three million killed in Cambodia, or dozens of other radicalized conflicts in the face of real challenges to a society.

Our society will face challenges in the next hundred years. Gwynn Dyer argues effectively that Climate Change will mean mass migration, and how we respond to that migration will determine whether this century is less violent and genocidal than the last. Health activism (but also groups like No One is Illegal) work towards humanizing society, strengthening the narratives that keep us from falling into easy patterns of nationalist exclusion and the violence that results.



In support of Bill C-389

Below is a short letter I’ve written to my BC member of parliament, Russ Hiebert. (While I live in Ontario, I maintain my BC residency)


Dear Russ,
Sexuality is a fundamental part of human experience and identity within a cultural situation. Decent cultures allow people to manifest their identity in accord with their own experience of the world. Tyrannical, totalitarian cultures force people to fit in certain boxes because others can’t deal with the complexity of someone a little too different from themselves. Liberal values, and specifically charter values in Canada, suggest an anti-totalitarian direction: we should make our society, as much as we can, open to different forms of expression. A decent society should carefully distinguish between those forms of expression which are actually harmful to society (such as violence), from those which merely appear to be harmful (such as sexuality outside traditional patriarchal norms).
For these reasons, and also reasons of basic human kindness towards those who have a different and perhaps more difficult time navigating our cultural milieu than yourself, please pass this bill explicitly according charter anti-discrimination rights to transsexual and transgendered Canadians.
Tristan Laing
PhD Student in Philosophy, York University

(Resident of Cloverdale, British Columbia)

Announcing a Photographer’s club: the Critique Collective

I propose the formation of a photography club for the purpose of improving the skills of its members at critiquing their own work, and ultimately to become more effective photographers, which means to be more able to convey a feeling by way of an image.

The club will function like this: all the members will donate allotments of time, which through a central organizer (myself), will be directed to spending time critiquing the work of other photographers. In exchange for working on the work of other photographers, other photographers will work on their work, comment on it, in a way which ideally will help them understand what in their work speaks to people, and what falls on deaf ears.

The advantage of doing this critique in a collective, as opposed to exchanging work with one other photographer, is that ideally through numbers photographers will get a good idea of what people in general, or at least photographers in general, feel about their work – e.g. if a lot of people respond strongly to one of your images, there is probably something to that.

I predict this will work something like this: if you commit an hour of your time, the central organizer will divide that up amongst the portfolios of various photographers. So, you’ll get an email saying “please spend 15 minutes on this portfolio, 15 minutes on this other one, and 30 minutes on these 3 folders from this photographer”, complete will all relevant links of course. (This means there is no need to all be on the same photo site – you can submit your work with links to facebook, flickr, photo.net, picasa,- anything so long as there is public access and a way to leave comments). Photographers can decide whether they want the comments left on the photosite, or whether they would rather have them privately emailed.

The guidelines for critique will be as follows: Be specific – feel free to make general comments about someone’s photography, but concentrate on trying to articulate what works and what doesn’t work for you about specific images. If you like a photo, try to say why – how does it make you feel? Why is it of particular interest? Is there something about you that makes you particularly disposed to care about this? Or, for photos that don’t work – what doesn’t work about it? Is it a technical problem? Or is it just dull – and what is dull about it? Explain!

Of course, everything above is subject to re-evaluation as things proceed. For now, please email tristan.laing@gmail.com with your interest in participation, including how much time you would be willing to commit for the first round of critique, and links to the photo albums that you would like worked on. Also, if you have suggestions for a better name for the club, please let me know.

What is thinking?

In the western tradition, thinking is paradigmatically characterized as propositional thinking. Propositional thinking’s fundamental unit is the statement, and many statements gathered together become logic – ideally deductive logic. A statement (Logos Apophantikos) is the alignment of a subject and a predicate can be called “true” or “false”. Which is to say, in effect, that its meaning can be completely divorced from the particularity of the context of utterance. There is nothing more divorced from feeling than such thinking.

But is this paradigmatic mould of thinking identical with the essence of thinking? Where does thinking come from? Is perhaps propositional thinking merely an aspect of something wider; a species of the wider genus of language, or is there even thought beyond language?

These questions are not simple. But, I can suggest a simple way of starting to answer them: a statement, the unit of propositional thought, is a peculiar kind of utterance. Most utterances (even silent utterances to ourselves) are expressions, orders, prayers. I say “give me that”, or “Ouch”. These are not propositions, and yet they mean something. However, they cannot become part of a deductive argument because their meaning can not be immediately extracted from their context of utterance – the meaning of “ouch” in embedded in the situation in which it arises as an expression of feeling. Of course I can translate “ouch” into a propositional statement: “That hurt”, or more precisely, “The ball that fell on my foot at time X aroused a feeling of pain in me at time Y”. This statement can be true or false – we might even think of a way it can be evaluated by some kind of science. In other words, its meaning becomes disassociable from the specificity of its context of utterance by including the relevant information about that context in the proposition itself. I believe that this process – the abstracting of particular expressions of feeling into context-irrelevant statements, in principle evaluable by anyone, is in fact the technology of thinking which privileges propositional, deductive thought. And yet, it’s clear that propositional thought is not the essence of thought at all, but a particular version of it – a particular deviation of something wider and less specific.

If something like this is true, we can think about thinking in a radically different way than to which we are habituated: thinking is a technology of feeling. Initially we feel, and we express those feelings in context-dependant utterances. Then, we figure out how we can make those context-dependant utterances into context-independent statements. But still, what’s being expressed is feeling; it is simply being expressed in a way that enables us to consider the truth of the feeling-statement in abstraction from any particular qualitative knowledge about the feeling being expressed.

To make this clearer, I’ll give a more difficult example. Consider the utterance “this coffee is from Brazil”. Immediately, it seems insane to claim that this statement is somehow the conveyance of a feeling – it is the articulation of a fact! But, of course, how do we recognize facts? First we have to look – and when we look we have feelings about what we are looking at. When I see the box of coffee which says “made in brazil”, I don’t first simply absorb the proposition “made in brazil” as if it is an interest-neutral fact; rather, I first respond to the idea of it being made in brazil emotionally. If I happen to feel strongly about Brazil, or specifically about coffee production practices there, or the quality of coffee that comes from there, I am going to experience an emotional response to word “Brazil”, specifically in the context of the sentence “made in”, and appearing on the box of coffee.

Just because emotions or feelings are in a sense prior to propositional statements, however, does not mean they are fully contained in them. Of course, the complex emotional orientation of the person who labelled the coffee “made in Brazil” towards the idea of coffee being made in brazil is not fully communicated by the label. And that’s a good thing, because our emotions are too complex to be expressing to each other all the time. We need ways to simplify our communication for it to be feasible for incredibly complex beings to live together peacefully. So in that sense, it’s good that propositional thinking seems “emotionless”. But of course, it isn’t – the fact that we chose to utter certain facts rather than others is already an expression of value, and also the way we utter statements expresses feeling and valuation, even political orientation (imagine two people saying the term “this is fair trade coffee”, one a devout environmentalist committed to social justice, another pro-business student who dismisses any attempt to interfere in the free market – you’ll more than likely be able to read their politics off the tone of their voice).

So, rather than thinking about “thinking” as opposed to “feeling”, maybe we should think of thinking as something that feeling creates to simplify itself, for the sake of living with others. Thinking remains an expression of feeling, but a simplified one, which purposely strips off most information in order to leave the information that is the most useful for others. However, this stripping-off of emotional expression is never total; it remains there in thinking, muted, but present to anyone who cares to listen in the right way.