When passions rule

David Hume, one of my favourite philosophers, once said, “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” This one sentence has been much debated and the focus of many a thesis. When he uses the word “passions” he means emotions as fuel to our thought processes; in short, we are emotional beings.

We pride our selves on being rational and logical on a level even a Vulcan would admire, but we are not Vulcans (which do have passionate emotions, they are just really disciplined at controlling them). Rather, we are very emotional beings and more times than not we act through our heart and not our head. There is nothing wrong with this per se, unless we let our passions override all reason.

The idea of people being passionate is something political and philosophical thinkers have been acutely aware of in Western thought. The aftermath of the French Revolution is a perfect example of people’s passions running wild. In the United States, the authors of the Constitution were intent on creating checks and balances on just such a thing; people, Kings and Queens should be bound by the rule of law and not be bound to the whims of fleeting emotions.

The aftermath of the EU referendum has shown people letting their emotions get the better of them (not to the extent of overriding reason fortunately, not yet anyway). You can even argue people voted with their hearts and not their heads, but this does not undue the results. Nor should the results be viewed as an end to the debate. On the contrary, as I have maintained, the results were too close for either side to declare a mandate. This means we need plenty of debate and compromise going forward to get the best for both the UK and the EU.


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