The Relevance of Emotions for Ethical Discourse: A Thesis in Philosophical Anthropology
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In this paper I propose a thesis in philosophical anthropology that aims to explain the relevance of emotions in ethical discourse. I introduce the concept of Gönül which, in Turkish language, stands primarily for the faculty of love and, generally, for that of emotions. In my analysis, I rely on the etymological connections between certain concepts in Turkish so as to understand the relevance of love in particular and emotions in general for ethical discourse. I argue that it is not the faculty of mind but that of Gönül which distinguishes humans from animals. Based on the distinction between “to understand” and “to know” in Turkish and their etymological relations with other concepts, I argue that understanding pertains to subjects, while knowledge pertains to objects. In other words, I claim that although we can understand subjects, we cannot know them, and that although we can know objects, we cannot understand them. Furthermore, given the familiar distinction between mechanical causation and teleological causation, I propose that “to know” is “to know how something works in terms of mechanical reasons” and that “to understand” is “to understand why someone acts in terms of teleological reasons.” Accordingly, based on the distinction between knowledge and understanding, the distinction between mind and Gönül can be rephrased: through mind we know how an object works based on mechanical reasons and through Gönül we understand why a subject acts based on teleological reasons. This means that we can understand a subject’s reasons for action only if we can sympathise with her emotions. I conclude that the realm of ethical discourse involves understanding through emotions, which is the task of the capacity of Gönül. In this sense, Gönül is a higher capacity than mind, for it presupposes the knowledge of objects but also requires understanding through emotions.