A Worldview Guided By Thought

I feel, therefore I think

Pardon my paraphrase of Descartes’ famous realization. Basically, it means we feel a certain way and that, in turn, influences our thinking.

This mentality pervades contemporary American folk philosophy. It leads to such statements as “I have depressed feelings, therefore my life is not worth living” or “I feel unlucky, therefore I know nothing ever works out for me.” I saw it back when I used to teach. “Mr. so-and-so gave me a bad grade (i.e. I felt unworthy), therefore he hates me.”

Such a line of reasoning encourages helplessness and victimization. Feelings, which are by their very nature irrational (I don’t mean expressing feelings, which is rational and good, but that we can’t help how we feel) control our rational side. Consequently, people are held captive by forces ultimately beyond their control and trying to take control often comes in the form of holding in feelings, only to have them explode later.

This is not a way to form a worldview, but it forms more of them than you may think. Take these statements: “A woman hurt me once, therefore I will never trust women” or “I felt mistreated by religion, therefore religion is unequivocally a terrible force for evil.” These are just a few examples.

I think, therefore I feel

In my opinion, this is the far better philosophy. It recognizes that feelings emerge from an intentionally cultivated worldview (or one our parent’s cultivated for us). This kind of thinking is found in phrases like “I know that tragedy is temporary, therefore I’ll bounce back when I’m ready” or “I am an attractive person, therefore I feel confident that one bout of “bad luck” doesn’t hinder me.”

In both cases, a proper way of thinking, leads to positive and genuinely realistic feelings. It allows them to be guided by a rational (I don’t mean coldly rational here), thoughtful, and affirming worldview instead of one created haphazardly from a slew of discrete feelings. It allows for resilience in not only individual lives, but also the world. And, this philosophy allows for change, a difficult one for sure, but at least it’s possible. It’s preferable to succumbing to the fate of feelings.