Our Special Talent

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“No situation is so harsh that a dispassionate mind cannot find some consolation in it.”  Seneca.

I wrote in my first post that reason must be brought to bear over emotion in order to achieve tranquility. Reason centers Stoic thought.  Only through reason is it possible to quell negative and excessive emotions, realize what things in life are subject to control, overcome the lure of nostalgia and regret and the torment of hoping.  In order to explain or justify any proposed solution of a metaphysical nature, such as this one proposing reason as the key, one must finally have recourse to either god or nature.  I have no use for gods, so that leaves nature—which makes sense to me and also is the Stoic view.  Therefore, to explain the central role of reason, one need only look to nature.  In the natural world of animals, of which humans are a part, there is only one feature that humans alone possess, the ability to reason.  It is not only singular but also a special talent. Other animals have strength, speed, wings, endurance and any number of qualities greater than those of a human being, but humans have reason. Emotional reactions of various sorts are shared by all animals. The idea is that if we have a special talent, we should use it. If I have natural musical talent, should I not play an instrument? Birds that have wings suitable for flying should not spend time trying to walk.  Even if the ability to reason is our special talent as humans, is it correct to attribute to that ability sufficient power to control our emotions?  There are limitations, I believe, and practice helps.  The age-old conflict of head over heart is at work, and there would be no reason to favor one rather than the other except the heart will make us unhappy and undermine the tranquil life.  When Lear rages “Oh reason not the need,” he is miserable in a way that he would not be if he really stopped to consider that he did not need a cohort of armed guards in his retirement, or if he reasoned that he did indeed need them because retirement was not so appealing after all.  Our negative and excessive emotions are not doing us any favors and it would only benefit us in the greatest way, to call upon our special talent to curb or eliminate them. How do we do this?  Tomorrow I will explore using reason to corral negative and excessive emotions and to realize what things in life are subject to control.

2 thoughts on “Our Special Talent

  1. I love what you’ve said and it is true. I think that once people realize they are not above nature, they reach a very important point in the long journey of understanding the world. Our ability to reason is just that: an ability. Just as a bird exercises its ability to fly, so should we exercise our ability to reason. I think certain beliefs make a virtue of not reasoning but, just as a musician who is out of practice, those people lose their strength in reasoning.

  2. Hi MIke, Thanks for the comment. It is hard to imagine a situation where reason would not be the best course to take. One would have to be suspicious of any system that advised not thinking, but just accepting something as true just because someone else said so.

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