Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Sentimentality and Its Uses

Sentimentality has received much praise and blame when it comes to philosophical inquiries. Many rationalist thinkers claim that philosophy is no place for feelings and emotions. On the other hand, proponents of the care ethics movement, mostly led by feminist philosophers, believe that sentimentality must be used in order to come to a broader understanding of the world. In this post, I just wanted to make some comments involving this idea of sentimentality.

By sentimentality, as might be deduced from my previous elaboration, I mean the implementation of emotions and feelings into something. My interest in this topic was propagated when reading Hegel in my lecture. Specifically, this passage stood out: "If [consciousness] wishes to remain in a state of unthinking inertia, then thought troubles its thoughtlessness, and its own unrest disturbs its inertia. Or, if it trenches itself in sentimentality, which assures us that it finds everything to be good in its kind, then this assurance likewise suffers violence at the hand of Reason, for, precisely in so far as something is merely a kind, Reason finds it not to be good" (Phenomenology of Spirit).
Hegel implies that there are some people who practice a type of sentimentality that remains radically optimistic at all times. This sort of naive emotional stance is detrimental to human dignity. There are simply things within this world - numerous things - that are harmful and detrimental to human capacities. It would be absurd to remain constantly sentimental in this way.

However, sentimentality seems to be required in many relationships. Emotional bonds connect people to one another, especially in monogamous situations. This is an area where sentimentality is condoned by most western societies. And, I must admit, there is a certain euphoria that comes with the ability to express such feelings and emotions. Here, love acts as an intoxication, and what a wonderful inebriation it is.

But in arenas that require sober reasoning, I would argue that sentimentality is damaging to many endeavors. Where would science be if the scientists have so much sentimental investment in their experiments? Bias would reproduce tenfold and would unavoidably lead to botched conclusions. The same problem seems to exist within analytical philosophy; feelings and emotions might sway the thinker into making rash and irresponsible claims.   

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