Questions to Ponder: Why is Logic Always the Bad Guy?

This guy? Probably a jerk.

You hear it all the time in fiction: listen to heart, not your head. Go with your gut, trust your intuition. People who are overly logical are robots, or will use logic to go against morality. Clearly, in the eyes of fiction, logic is quite often the villain and emotion the hero. This is even true in science fiction. Just look at Star Trek, where human emotions are always shown to be infinitely superior to Vulcan or robot logic. Where did this come from? Logic, more than anything else, is what separated humans from other animals and has led to just about every aspect of our society and our evolution. So why do we distrust it so? Naturally, I have a few ideas on the matter.

First of all, it’s easy. Not to get elitist here, but I think there’s an element of populism involved. Logic is tricky, and has a number of paths down which it can wind. The perception is that one’s ability to be logical and use logic for various ends is based almost directly on intellect, or at least formal training. Emotions are easy. Everyone has them, and everyone understands them. Therefore, logic can be seen as something that aristocrats and snobs use against regular folks. The thing is, logic isn’t just a weapon of complexity. It’s actually rather simple. The idea that one thing leads to another and nothing happens without a cause is not esoteric. It’s also not elitist to ask ourselves why we (or others) do things, or to demand answers.

There is also the idea that logic is often seen as a philosophy that does not take reason into account whatsoever. Star Trek, though I love it, is particularly bad about this, and Vulcans are the poster children for it. In fact, aside from Spock, the Vulcans as a whole have been portrayed as heartless jerks for quite some time. One would think a race of pacifists devoted to logic and reason would be amazingly kind, egalitarian, and scholarly, but far more often than not, Vulcans are portrayed as snippy, contemptuous, and very convinced of their own superiority. This is mainly the result of people using logic badly, and others, in reaction to this, assuming that logic is the problem, rather than just a weapon in the hands of bad people. Being logical and being “heartless” are not the same thing. Basing one’s decisions on facts and figures rather than impulses does not mean a person has to disregard emotion altogether. In fact, it makes far more sense to consider one’s emotions as part of a logical process.

To clarify: Let’s say you’re trying to pick a career for yourself. The logical thing to do is to choose something that will be safe and make you lots of money, correct? But assuming one has feelings and acknowledges them, should that not also be considered? If you know you would be unhappy in some career that would be safe and profitable, would it not be more logical to take your emotions into account and pick something you wouldn’t hate? Perhaps it makes even more sense to know that you would be even more motivated to do something that actually makes you happy as well. The point is, emotions are a fact of life, and ignoring that is actually illogical.

There is also the idea that logic and morality are incompatible. Look at how many stories involve robots who gain self-awareness and instantly decide that humanity is inferior and must be destroyed.

I think, therefore I destroy!

This is based on the idea that robots are pure logic and have no feelings, but if you ask me, this is a massive leap of logic and makes little sense. Perhaps one could make the argument that it would be logical to destroy a competitor for space, or something that is a threat, but I would also say it’s just as logical to attempt to befriend another sentient race and attempt to learn from them, or to form a symbiotic relationship, as the species could each do things the others could not. It is true that logic can be used to defend immoral actions, but that is largely because logic is a tool. Tools can be used for good or ill, but this does not in and of itself make logic bad any more than using a car to run people over makes cars innately bad.

While logic can be used to go against decency, it doesn’t have to. Indeed, logic is the basis of all humanistic moral systems! The reason it works that way is because logic is consistent and fair. While emotions can lead people to be kind, they can also lead to cruelty, and they are not based on anything other than themselves. As such, emotional morals will be capricious and quite unfair. If morals are based in logic, however, they will be fair, because the reasons behind them are always the same, and will be applied for the same reasons.

For all this, I’m not saying feelings and emotions are irrelevant, or that in every story or life event, the logical thing is what everyone should do. In truth, I believe that reason and emotion are not enemies, but two halves of a whole which comprise human thought. Without either, we would lose a significant portion of who we are as people, and rather than falling to extremes, we should have balance between them.