Sensibility vs Rationality

Much philosophical discussion has happened on these two human qualities or capabilities. Sensibility is the ability to feel or perceive the feelings, that is evoked in me. Rationality is the ability to reason about an experience. Sensibility comes before rationality. It is more primordial. Now let me bring some examples (used by my professor)to drive home the difference.

A mother sees her son/daughter drowning in the river, she responded by jumping into the river. She didn’t know swimming. When I heard this for the first time, my first response was “it is foolish”. Sensibility is not calculative or manipulative, rational does think of consequences and decide. I am showing the difference without making judgements.

The Good Samaritan in the parable of the Bible helped the fellow who was fallen. The priest and Levi didn’t. Good Samaritan didn’t think of the consequences and inconveniences for him. The situation affected him so much that he responded. Every act of a loving mother for her child is with the same sentiment.

To drive a conclusion, we shouldn’t let our sensibilities die as we grow up. Our situations should affect us. In that background, we use our rationality to decide the best option/solution. The danger is the growth of rationality at the expense of sensibility.

The other extreme is also problematic. It is dangerous to be only in the domain of sensibility forgetting the rationality. Thus we become prone to manipulation by people of vested interests. I would put down some examples.

All have our symbols, traditions and sacred spaces. They are dear to us and we do respect them. Now when others show disrespect to them, genuine followers do get offended by that. All these are normal and this is part of their sensibility. They may also react to it. But they should come back to the normal stage, sooner or later. The leaders do play a great role here. The question is whether the leaders would use the sensibilities of the people to achieve a victory for them. This is possible only if the followers have forgotten their rationality or given themselves completely to the instrumental (manipulative) rationality of the leader.

Let us take an example. The members of a community are angry as another community has destroyed one of their symbols. They might give an immediate reaction. (This can be very genuine and is very difficult to control at times. I don’t justify it). Now, after that, it is upto the leaders of both the communities to see how the scenario moves forward. Let’s assume, it has gone into a stage of terrible violence with tremendous loss at both sides. [This is the situation]. These are watched by people belonging to both the communities at other places. They see the wretched conditions of both the community members. Many different possibilities can emerge.

  1. I am affected by the pain of both the sides. I use (or forced to use) my rationality to justify the pain of others and to feel pity only for my group. Many such experiences make me a supporter of exclusivism and hatred.
  2. I am affected by the pain of both sides, and let that sensibilities form my rationality. (I see this as the most important step). Here I become the supporter of inclusivism and peace.
  3. I remain unaffected by any of these.

A Jesuit interested to think and write; Loves philosophy, spirituality, politics…. Believes in God & well-being of all humans… Open to difference & newness..

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