S. Joel Garver


On What the Little Prince Learned:
Emotions and Belief


"I am a fox," the fox said.

"Come and play with me," proposed the little prince. "I am so unhappy."

"I cannot play with you," the fox said. "I am not tamed."

* * * *

"Men," said the fox. "They have guns, and they hunt. It is very disturbing. They also raise chickens. These are their only interests. Are you looking for chickens?"

"No," said the little prince. "I am looking for friends. What does that mean--'tame'?"

"It is an act too often neglected," said the fox. "It means to establish ties."

"'To establish ties'?"

"Just that," said the fox. "To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other, To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world..."

* * * *

The fox gazed at the little prince, for a long time.

"Please--tame me!" he said.

"I want to, very much," the little prince replied. "But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand."

"One only understands the things that one tames," said the fox...

* * * *

And he went back to meet the fox.

"Goodbye," he said.

"Goodbye," said the fox. "And now here is my secret, a very simple secret. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."

"What is essential is invisible to the eye," the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember...

"Men have forgotten this truth," said the fox. "But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed..."

Antoine de Saint-Exupery
The Little Prince

We are all familiar, I suspect, with the ways in which the passions and emotions can negatively affect belief-formation, leading to hasty conclusions, poorly supported beliefs, suppression of what is obvious, and the like. After all, the overly scientific model of cool, objective, detached rationality is still held up as a epistemic ideal in many quarters. But, according to what the fox said to the little prince, certain kinds of knowledge and understanding are accessible only by means of "taming"--establishing ties suffused with emotion and passion, seeing with the heart rather than just the mind.

Our common educational practices actually betray the fact that our view of knowledge and learning is closer to that of the fox than it is to the "scientific" model. As James Ross provocatively asks:

Why do we have to train feeling as well as understanding? Why sensitize young people with pets, poets, painting, architecture, theater, novels, decoration, decorum, dance, argumentation, law, wilderness, and zoos? And why teach them the critical appraisal of some or all? (1995:784)

It is not, he suggests, just to teach them to appreciate or enjoy such things. Rather it is to make each of them into person of "taste":

...a person who habitually tells the good from the bad, the excellent from the rest and finds enjoyment in the best. A person of refinement enjoys the excellent by second nature, by the quality of his/her feelings, and is able to transfer such judgment broadly among human activities. (1995:784)

Feelings, emotions, and passions all serve to shape our experiences so that we make sense of them and to reveal features of things to us so that we can recognize them.

Philosophers, despite our penchant for intellectualization, ought to recognize this. What else is Ockham's razor, as employed in actual practice, but data configured by feelings into a conviction: "The resulting ontology is too bloated" or "Panpsychism may have some explanatory value but don't all those extra mental properties just seem excessive"? Why else do most people reject David Lewis' interpretation of possible worlds, despite his relentless logic and the view's explanatory power, except that it's not the sort of view in which most of us can find "cognitive rest"? How else do we recognize mistakes in arguments except through cognitive dissonance or feelings of unease that make us take a closer look? Couldn't the quasi-scientific rigor of analytic philosophy have as much to do with feelings--an ingrained passion for truth, a heartfelt desire for neatness and solidity, a neurotic compulsion to settle particular arguments once and for all, and a certain satisfaction with intricate formulas--as it does with actual success?

In this chapter I will outline and examine some remarks made by Michael Stocker concerning the role of the emotions in knowing, especially knowledge of value. I shall try to connect up this discussion with our earlier sketches of quasi-inference and discursive formations. One might think, however, that like inherited social forms, emotions are largely beyond our direct voluntary control and, therefore, beyond the pale of responsibility. To answer this claim I will present an account of the emotions and how they can be, in fact, widely subject to responsible control. In this task, I will be drawing largely upon some essays by Robert Roberts.

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