Humanities Day 2012: Humans can be reasonable without logic

Philosophy Professor Candace Vogler discusses the nature of human reasoning.

By Janey Lee

Reason and the unconscious are not necessarily as opposed as many have made them out to be, philosophy Professor Candace Vogler argued in her talk during Humanities Day on Saturday.

Vogler, the David B. and Clara E. Stern professor of philosophy, began her talk discussing the unique ability of human beings to reason.

“Reason sets human beings apart from other animals,” she said. Whereas animals’ decisions and behavior are mostly guided by impulse and instinct, humans have the ability to think logically and coherently about their actions and conduct, she said.

According to Vogler, many philosophers believe that reason is perpetually at odds with animalistic impulses and “unconscious” thinking. Vogler argued that standard view of human reason is too narrow.

The mind’s associations do not always follow the pathways traced by philosophers, according to Vogler, but often make reasonable sense despite the fact that they are not results of critical and logical thought.

To illustrate her point, she used Sigmund Freud’s case study of Little Hans, a 5-year-old boy with a phobia of horses. To understand the boy’s phobia, Freud also studied the boy’s anxiety. He concluded that the boy’s anxiety regarding his family, particularly his father, was transposed onto the horses he saw in the street. The seemingly nonsensical phobia was the result of unexpected yet not wholly irrational connections, Vogler said.