Logic and emotion tend to be considered as polar opposites. When someone is empathetic or generally emotional, they are not claimed to be logical. The parts of the brain responsible for logic and empathy are not active at the same time which supports the claim?: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121030161416.htm

Or does it not support the claim? Why is it that some emotions such as some fears are claimed to be "-phobic" or "illogical"? What makes an emotion logical or illogical if emotion and logic are separate from one another?

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    I suspect you are confusing the terms "logical" and "rational". The two are often used interchangeably in common conversation, but on a philosophy site, you should use them more correctly. Jul 1, 2022 at 4:50
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    "Emotions are illogical" is just a shorthand with a loose use of "logical". What is meant is that emotions lead people to "illogical" conclusions and actions based on them, where "illogical" stands for something like unreasonable. Emotions do suppress parts of the brain responsible for deliberative reasoning, they are part of the quick response mechanism that evolved for cases when quick action is required and there is no time to deliberate.
    – Conifold
    Jul 1, 2022 at 6:24
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    it by no means emotional feelings are to be avoided or even avoidable, since only through the false we can taste and prove the true, and often times the stronger your feeling the more your will to seek the truth with reasoning. Contact and separation are the boundaries of feeling. A logic rule perhaps seldom changes, but an emotion always seems coming and going since it's passive and depends through external things. Thus often times one emotion will lead to another predictably, but from above analysis it's not necessary so. Yogacara is all about the subtle interplay of logic and emotion... Jul 2, 2022 at 3:14
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    Disregard comments about "more correctly" uses of vocab. There's nothing wrong with the use of "logical" in this question. Authoritarians have a hard time resisting the temptations of bullying others on how to talk. Logic and emotions obviously co-exist, because humans can't escape either. A scientific explanation for why is to be had in Thinking, Fast and Slow
    – J D
    Jul 4, 2022 at 12:42
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    @ActualCry Pseudophilosophers engage in pedantry of definition instead of focusing in in the actual issue. This is so normal there was a movement called ordinary language philosophy. From a naturalized epistemology, emotions are the brains rules of thumb, and are in-born and legacy from evolution. Logic is an outgrowth of language; our brain relies in a balance. The neuronal systems can complement or compete. A dated but simpler introduction is en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotional_Intelligence?wprov=sfla1
    – J D
    Jul 4, 2022 at 20:27

6 Answers 6


Here's a related discussion, in which my answer points out 'pure reason' cannot provide motivations, or values The illogical nature of want/motivation and its effects on free will

One of the primary roles for emotions is coding memories. Extreme emotiinal states link us to other experiences, and the things we learned there, and put relevant 'shortcuts' to responses up like fight-or-flight. Other subtler emotional states or modes of behaviour or action, similarly help us link to areas of what we know. See the role of the amygdala, and emotion and memory.

I would look to Kahneman's Thinking Fast And Slow to understand emotional responses are often 'good enough' intuitive reactions, until something triggers the need for a slower reflective more resource intensive reaction. I'd say this area is the source of the the different activated areas in the article you link. This is a great book, and his research behind it won him a Nobel in economics. I'd also look at the Dunbar Number and the expansion of the prefrontal cortex for social inhibition of emotions, in relation to our social self. Vs the 'flow state' of loss of self in demanding skillful physical activities like elite sports. The Deafault Mode Network is also related to maintaining this social-self, and the work of understanding the intentiins of others.

AI research is starting to look at programming emotions, like doubt. Because a command like 'get me a cup of coffee as fast as possible' might involve killing people in the way to the coffee, but a human would understand relative weighting of different priorities, and know when to doubt how categorical commands or statements are even if their true meaning can't be deduced.

Another way to reflect on emotions is cognitive bias, and post hoc reasoning. In thisnperspective we develop tools to mitigate our biases, often systematically, and to investigate and correct for assumptions. I'd say this area is the source of the idea of a binary between logic and emotion, because it focuses on tools developed to address problems with our quick 'emotional' reactions. But we may learn to 'trust our gut' or other ways to cultivate intuitive emotional responses, as well responding by analysing.

Emotional Intelligence is a way of thinking about, how we use and relate to emotions, can be developed. Things like secure attachment, and a growth mindset, can be understood as bolstering useful healthy emotional responses. Here I make the case that the cultivation of wisdom is basically a kind of cultivation of emotional intelligence, focused on dealing with internal conflicts and contradictions, towards self-knowledge and so better solving dilemmas Wisdom and John Vervaeke's awakening from the meaning crises? It is notable that our modern culture barely mentions wisdom, but puts great stress on intelligence. Wisdom has always been seen as integrating intelligence and emotion, as involved with holistic answers and outcomes, correcting 'pure' or cold intelligence.

  • Thank you for answering my questions. I agree motivation would not be possible without emotions. One could ask: why should we be rational? To which they would be told that "rationality is good!". That's an emotional statement. There would be no reason to be rational if there was no desire to be rational and desires are feelings and emotions themselves
    – ActualCry
    Jul 1, 2022 at 2:07
  • @ActualCry: I would take a more convoluted route. Our core values are in some way unreasoned & like fairness/justice probably arise from how to live together succesfully & replicate our genes. But from them we develop goals, & then particular methodologies that may be better at getting to those (& there may even be feedback towards values that become celebrated). 'Wanting to live' is unreasoned, but modelling cause & effect based on evidence to support that, is objectively better at achieving that goal once taken up.
    – CriglCragl
    Jul 1, 2022 at 10:06

It is possible that emotions, like beliefs, are suspicious entities, where the grounds for holding them suspect are along the lines of eliminative materialism. "Syntactically," we might pair emotions with conative mental features and beliefs with cognitive ones; then the issue is that no cognitive representation can be strictly inferred from a conative one, and vice versa. In that sense emotions and beliefs are not so much opposed as independent on each other, in pure syntactic/inferential space.

Once we attend to the question of belief-formation as a semi-causal process, with inference as such a causal "mechanism," then we might wonder if emotional causal dynamics can interfere with belief-formation, and if this interference is on the inferential level, the accusation assumes the form of, "Emotions can interfere with the making of valid inferences," as by motivated reasoning. On the level of first principles or basic premises or what, though, this accusation is harder to make in a meaningful way, and in ethics, it is a commonplace that (some) premises might be supportable as cognitive reformulations of emotional representations. There would be no strict opposition between fundamental ethical beliefs, and fundamental ethical feelings, then, but rather the beliefs just are the feelings, suitably restated and restructured.

But now whence the interference, anyway? It can take varying amounts of time to go step-by-step from this or that premise-set to one or another conclusion-set. If you're obviously in danger, and if deciding how to respond to the danger requires some deliberation, there's a pragmatic reason to gravitate towards deliberation that is "short, sweet, and to the point." Of course, it's also possible that you're doomed regardless, in which case fidelity to abstract logic is more or less neither here nor there.

Now more broadly, let us use a political example, the use of propaganda based on "horror stories" about the behavior of various and sundry minorities. A propagandist, with entirely ulterior motives, wants to rile up a given demographic base. They know that they can play on the fears of the base to get the base to serve them, if they channel the base's fears towards some other target demographic (minority). Assuming that the propagandist cannot be faulted, purely on logical grounds, for this sociopathic procedure, then the propagandist, in preying on the fears of their incensed base, is not opposing their logic to their feelings. The base, in turn, having been manipulated into thinking they have to use "emergency logic" to fend off the wiles of the "dangerous minority," will go on to reason under the rubric of their fear, hence impelled towards that "short, sweet, and to the point" deliberation style that befits navigable emergencies.

Where, then, is the clash of reason and desire? It is at the intersection of the riled-up base's willingness to assess the evidence that they are in an emergency situation in the first place. But even here, we must be cautious: what social conditions is the riled-up base living in? What mental health issues do they have? Are they being effectively treated? Are they to "blame" for their lack of effective treatment? Do they all really believe the propaganda that is aimed at them, or do they too share some of the broader/deeper desires of the propagandists, and so do they "go with the flow" in the "logical" manner thereafter?

How far the production of ethical premises can be divorced from the mere function of restructured emotional (conative) representations, will play into our attempts to resolve our sense of these issues. I will leave it as an exercise for the OP to read through the SEP article on moral luck, to check how belief in a culpable reason-vs.-passion dichotomy will or will not prove viable/meaningful as a category of social assessment.


Can emotions be logical?

Emotions may be predictable via logic. They might emerge in predictable ways. For example:

  1. John is usually saddened by suffering, particularly by the suffering of people he loves.
  2. John loves his wife.
  3. John's wife is suffering from post-stroke symptoms.
  4. John is likely sad.

However, emotions aren't logical, because logic - as far as we know - is a mental construct humans employ to make sense of the world. Emotions are mental products. They are not phenomena - again, as far as we know - capable of employing a concept such as logic.

Why is it that some emotions such as some fears are claimed to be "phobic" or "illogical"? What makes an emotion logical or illogical if emotion and logic are separate from one another?

If - as user David Gudeman suggests in the comments - you are conflating logical with something like 'rational', it might be useful to consider that emotions are responses to experience, and that they often emerge independently of, or prior to, rational thought.

For example, if a human being has grown up in a relatively healthy environment and developed something akin to what most people would consider a healthy (socially-beneficial?) degree of empathy, then that person will likely become distressed by the sight of an innocent person being shot. This emotion would likely arise without the person needing to work through a series of logical or rational processes.

If we consider cases in which a person's emotional response is determined inappropriate by another person, it is not necessarily clear that an emotion is ever inappropriate, in that it is always the product of the state of a mind, and often of pre-existing attitudes and beliefs. It may however be deemed inappropriate in the sense in that it is 'unhealthy' or based upon beliefs/assumptions which most people in a relevant community believe are unhealthy, or arising from a cognitive state which we deem as pathological or 'sick'.

To use a topical example, the overturning of Roe vs Wade recently might provoke an emotional response in one person that is completely at odds with that of another person, even if both responses are actually 'healthy' given the beliefs from which they originate. Both parties might assess the emotional response of their counterpart as irrational, inappropriate and/or naive.

In this way, we can also see how the emotional response of mirth/laughter is often deemed rational or healthy by one group and simultaneously as phobic or cruel by another. Laughter can often result from an ignorance of how cruel and/or harmful a joke is and may therefore be deemed as inappropriate and/or unacceptable even if, given the cognitive state of the laugher, no cruelty has occurred, or has occurred and was somehow justified.

Phobias are actually often rational, because they often arise in response to a combination of stimuli and belief. Take the response of the arachnophobe to the sight of a harmless spider. The arachnophobe's sensitivity to the perceived danger presented by the spider has been heightened to such an extent that their survival instincts treat all spiders, regardless of actual danger, as dangerous. Why? Because it is safer (barring the injury of emotional distress) to do so.

This phenomena is not perhaps all that dissimilar to that of the person who has grown up in a very sheltered and/or conservative environment who is shocked by the sight of a man in a beard wearing a dress and behaving in feminine ways. To such a person, an emotional reaction of laughter, surprise, confusion and/or even distress may be perfectly rational, even if a less conservative person deems those reactions as 'phobic' or harmful. (I am making no value judgements here; merely pointing out how various emotional responses may emerge from different contexts). The reactions of the conservative person are merely consistent with their life experience to date. Whether or not they are desirable reactions is a different question, as evidenced by some of the current debate surrounding transgender lifestyles.

An emotion can of course also arise in response to a deliberate logical or rational process. For example, a logical argument might be presented to a person which elicits an emotional response of empathy (for non-human sentient animals) sufficient to convince them (rightly or wrongly) to change from being a carnivore to a vegan. The emotion might simultaneously be appropriate and rational in the context of the convert's new beliefs whilst inappropriate and irrational to a person unswayed by the same argument.



Can emotions be logical? And can logic and emotions co-exist?


This question is more likely part of epistemology. The emotion must bear some rational relationship to a perceived threat or its perceived absence. The logical connection is the easy part. If someone believes, sincerely, that an audience will do them harm, then glossophobia (fear of speaking before an audience) becomes rational. It is not, of course, but that is where the facts take the glossophobic person.

  • If the facts take the glossophobic there then it is rational. The tricky part is when the facts take the glossophobic to accept that there is indeed no harm coming from the audience, idk hand picked audience, script is known and well received and so on. But when faced with the situation the feeling of anxiety still leads to rejecting everything you know and rationalized in favor of fight or flight. Is that irrational because it rejects all reason, without being able to explain it or is it rational to drop everything and run if you fear for your life, which it could be if true.
    – haxor789
    Jul 5, 2022 at 10:06

I mean as human tend to explain the brain in terms of their most powerful or overhyped tool at the time. Let's explain it by artificial neural networks.

Essentially your body is full of sensors that are triggered by external stimuli and transmit that impulses to the central processing unit. Stuff that fires at the same time is coupled by connectors and physical proximity. That way you account for correlation.

Now correlation can be positive or negative and correlation doesn't necessarily mean causation but it's a necessary first step for causation. So if idk darkness and coldness happen at the same time it's likely that you might combine them forming a concept such as night (not calling it that way, but a synapse which fires if it's both cold and dark). So the more you combine them and use them as input for the next synapse the more you can abstract and form more complex constructs.

And if you don't just fire in one direction but loop, around you might be able to form feedback loops. Like make prediction, run experiment, check prediction, adjust prediction and so on. So you might be able to develop models of reality and run simulations of "what if". And those simulations would then lead you to logic.

On the other way around you can also send signals to the muscles, again loops and neural pathways. Though speaking to one neuron is complicated so instead you're building neural networks within your body parts which abstract their actions, so that you're not thinking in terms of singular cell actions but rather action patterns.

Now logic is a high level of abstraction and emotions are rather a lower level of abstraction that is closer tied to the perception.

So without the lower levels there likely would be no higher level of abstraction, because it relies on that input. Likewise if your simulation takes up to much capacity, if your sensors tell you that the system is in danger or if you don't come to a conclusion on what to do, then it is vitally important that you act and so emotions can often either bypass the simulation or at least increase their priority.

Like how mild pain might be ignored but strong pain can knock you unconscious. However while emotions are vital for your survival and are invaluable in many cases, they can also lead to inefficient solutions. Like the classic example of the reaction to stress in an exam. Like fear and anxiety make you ready to fight and flight and reduce your capacity to think, unfortunately the source of the stress is not one you can outpunch and outrun. So you kinda have to learn to make the exception for that kind of emotion in that kind of circumstance.

Or if your body tells you that you should rest because you're exhausted but your other senses tell you that it's not a safe place to rest. So sometimes it's good if the logical circuits override the emotions and sometimes it's vital that the emotions override the logical circuits.


I think you're not really talking about someone being "emotional" vs "logical", but about a person who's lashing it out vs keeping it to themselves. Yeah, we often label the former as "emotional" but it's a misnomer, like your "polar opposites" assumption.

That has nothing to do with "emotion vs logic". Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory is low on emotion and high on logic, and yet he still "lashes it out" on other people openly stating they're dumber than him. Saying such things is neither empathetic (you feel that would hurt their feelings) nor logical (you anticipate they might be less cooperative in the future).

Emotions are just pre-computed, canned logic. If we compare "logic" to Taylor series for calculating arbitrarily precise value of sine, "emotions" are look-up table. Your brain finds the most similar (but not exact) input and blurts out the according output. It's not perfect, but it's very fast, definite and mostly good enough. We create new "emotions" constantly, conditioning is the most striking example.
"Different parts of the brain" goes well with this analogy - look up table is stored on SDD, while polynomials are computed on the CPU.

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