The Humean Age

by F.

Emotion is the idea in the air these days, it seems to me. I don’t know how many books I’ve seen on the topic. Marketeers should engage emotion, says Seth Godin; Tony Robbins adjures us to focus on our emotions and feelings about what we want; Malcolm Gladwell and his epigones tell us about going with our gut feelings. Reason, we see, is not as Descartes and Plato before him characterized it: an unalloyed good. And emotion is not the base admixture of sex and death described by Freud, pushing us to fuck our mothers and fathers and eat other human beings—only capable of being stopped by a healthy, Teutonic superego. And so, it seems to me, this is really the age of Hume: “Reason is, and ought to be, the slave of the passions and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” That sentence was published 267 years ago in 1739.