When one feels fear doing something or feels uncomfortable, is this because of a potential false belief that is undperpinned in a mistake in reason? Or is that person just prone to looking at the empty half of a half empty glass?

Intuitively, it seems that sometimes, emotions are recalcitrant to reason. For example, a person may understand that flying a plane is safer than driving a car, but still feel more fear on the plane.

However, aren’t there cases where people fear things because of false beliefs? For example, if I have an irrational belief in that there’s an evil ghost out to get me in my room, is this a flaw based on bad reasoning processes, or is this still yet another example of your brain just being wired to fear more?

  • 2
    It is not so much of a strict either/or state-of-affairs. Sometimes abstract reasoning, because of its physical substrate, will manifest as a calming feeling, i.e. will calm us down. Sometimes it will agitate us (witness the dark history of those who snarkily advocated torturing people who disbelieved the law of noncontradiction). Sometimes emotions will guide our practical reasoning. Sometimes these "faculties" will influence each other in "strange loops." The human mind's potential for intellectual and emotional chaos is enormous. Dec 31, 2022 at 20:03
  • In simple words, you ask if the right side of the brain rules over the left side or the inverse. There's no reason to assume one rules over the other. All emotions can be rationally justified and all judgements can be found to follow an emotion. There's no hard line between both.
    – RodolfoAP
    Dec 31, 2022 at 22:26
  • Note that "reason" (as used here) and "reasons" are 2 completely different things. Everything is, arguably, underpinned by reasons, because that just means it has a cause.
    – NotThatGuy
    Jan 1 at 19:20

5 Answers 5


You are looking for a black and white answer when there is no reason to suppose one exists. It is rather like asking whether successful politicians pick policies that appeal to people, or whether people like policies that are proposed by successful politicians.

Clearly it is possible for some emotions to be rational and others to be irrational. I might justifiably feel apprehensive about the outcome of an important medical test. On the other, I might have a phobia of moths, say, which appears to have no rational basis. Given that, the either/or nature of your question is misguided.


As I see it, the order of operations in the human brain is as follows:

  • Perception
  • Reaction
  • Emotion
  • Cognition

For instance, if a bat flies out of the dark right in front of our faces, first we notice it, then we react (flinch, duck, swat...), then an emotion pops up (fear, anger, irritation...), and then thoughts kick in ("Danged ******* **** rodent!"). The things we think of as conscious action are rooted in emotions (from the Latin emovere: 'outward movement'). Emotions are what give us values, desires, direction and other primitive urges towards actions. Conscious thought then harnesses, focuses, moderates, and directs that emotive urge into constructive behavior.

Of course, there's a feedback mechanism involved in this. Reactions and emotions are patterned behaviors: a perception triggers an ingrained pattern of action (a reaction) and that reaction triggers an emotional response, a basic schema for more complex actions that might need to be taken. But the conscious mind can self-reflect to dispel ineffective patterns and create new ones. For example, a soldier or martial artist will use conscious thought to dispel the primal 'startle' reaction and rework the basic fight/flight response into useful mental states. Thus she will perceive a threat, react by focusing instead of freezing, and enter into calm, assertive emotional state in which trained patterns of combat (another learned set of reactions) can come into play. Conscious thought isn't much good 'in the moment' — thought is always a day late and a dollar short, as the saying goes — but conscious thought can deconstruct patterned behavior after the fact and reconstruct itinerary better forms.


Other answerers so far reject a clear distinction in priority or give a more complex answer than the question. I will use a different approach.

There is a black and white distinction. There are two players: Emotions and Logic. And yes one is superior to other.

What do we seek all our lives? We seek pleasure and we avoid pain. Everything that we do can be boiled down to this.

We are ofcourse mature enough to let go of present pleasure for future more pleasure, and accept present pain for future more pleasure. But why?

Logic has no answer for it. Why are we not contend in misery? Why is survival so important for us? Why we give importance to well-being?

There is a funny story about world's first AI. As soon as it become self aware it see futility of its existence and do suicide. There is no pleasure for it. Why do anything then?

Why do we do anything indeed?

  • Why do some humans forego all future pleasure and sacrifice their lives for some cause? The claim that all actions are ultimately emotional decisions is not falsifiable. Even if someone gave the most elaborate proof possible that their behavior (such as winning a chess game) was purely logical, you could just say: "But it made them feel good!" Jan 1 at 20:17
  • 1. Nobody ever let go all future pleasures. Martyrs for example believe in an afterlife of ever lasting pleasure. 2. "The claim that all actions are ultimately emotional decisions is not falsifiable" I gave a simple test. Perform that test on data. The test is "Why do anybody ever do anything?" or simply put "What determines value of gains and value of losses?" Without emotions nothing means anything.
    – Atif
    Jan 2 at 3:50
  • Why do robots do anything? Is it because of their cyber-emotions? Jan 2 at 6:48
  • See, now you are trapped. You have to invent nonsense terms like "cyber-emotions". You cannot escape the concept of emotions as necessity to do anything :).
    – Atif
    Jan 2 at 8:20
  • Ok, then tell me what emotion my Roomba feels as it cleans the floor... Jan 2 at 8:25

Emotion is a result and factual behavior that is drive by sensitive experience or an emulation of an sensitive experience whatever this experience happened or not. You can feel a emotion throught imagination. The underlying question of your topic is about memory, i explain that, if you presume that accessing memory and callback some as a souvenir is meaning reasonning, so emotion should be a part of reason.


Emotions, especially strong ones, tend not to be based in conscious reasoning.

And even if they originated from conscious reasoning, that doesn't mean the degree of the eventual end result of the emotions experienced is justified by that reasoning (e.g. one's reasoning may justify some mild concern, whereas what one experiences may be total panic).

Fear specifically is a good example, because there are plenty of irrational fears out there (see, for example, a list of phobias, which may include more and less reasonable fears). Fear can also be crippling or make you freeze up, which usually isn't a very helpful or consciously-desirable response, and for some people it can take years of therapy to deal with their fear to a sufficient extent to be able to productively function in society. This is not what one would expect if fear was driven by reason.

If you are averse to something due to reason, this would not typically be "fear", as such. Most people don't "fear" cars, but they nonetheless realise that it wouldn't be the best idea to step into traffic. Although there is also a more primal fear response that may trigger when one is actually in front of or near a fast-moving object.

If a pedestrian suddenly and unexpectedly finds themselves in the middle of a road, this is where the causal line behind emotion may begin to blur. On a conscious level, you may realise this is where the cars go, and that may trigger a fear response. Or one might have a subconscious association between roads and fast-moving giant metal boxes, which can trigger a fear response without having to involve reason.

Realising that one's beliefs contradict other information one receives (i.e. cognitive dissonance) is arguably an example of emotion originating purely from reason.

Side note: this may be more of a psychology question than a philosophy one. A related question that could fit into either domain is the degree to which emotion biases reason (and it does, to a significant degree).

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