huh?: David Brooks on Hayek & “Emotion” vs. “Reason”

In a recent column NY Times writer David Brooks writes the following:

Right-leaning thinkers from Edmund Burke to Friedrich Hayek understood that emotion is prone to overshadow reason. They understood that emotion can be a wise guide in some circumstances and a dangerous deceiver in others. It’s not whether judges rely on emotion and empathy, it’s how they educate their sentiments within the discipline of manners and morals, tradition and practice.

I’ve never found Brooks to be very reliable as “second hand dealer in ideas” and this passage strikes me as typically muddled and mistaken.  Hayek talks about “reason” or “rational behavior” as itself as  a thing educated “within the discipline of manners and morals, tradition and practice” (see F. A. Hayek, Law, Legislation and Liberty).  In any case, this language of  “emotion” vs. “reason” is the language of Hume and the positivists, and it’s not the language of Hayek.  Hayek doesn’t write about the emotions much at all, not even in his brain book, The Sensory Order (neuroscientists Gerald Edelman has done much more to bring emotion into global brain theory).  And Hayek fought against the simple 20th century emotion / reason contrast in the field of morals and behavior “science” (see Hayek’s lecture “The Three Sources of Human Values” collected in volume 3 of Law, Legislation and Liberty).

My question for readers is, have I forgotten or overlooked Hayek’s discussion of the education of the emotions and the emotion / reason distinction?  Brooks’ account of “Hayek” seems un-Hayekian.  Is it?

UPDATE:  Here’s a representative quote from Hayek’s essay “The Three Sources of Human Values”:

That cultural evolution is not the result of human reason consciously building institutions, but a process in which culture and reason developed concurrently is, perhaps, beginning to be more widely understood.  It is probably no more justified to claim that thinking man has created culture than that culture created his reason.

UPDATE II:  George Lakoff — an important writer on metaphor but a garden variety leftist hack as a “political theorist” — weighs in on Brooks and the “emotion” / “reason” dichotomy.

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One Response to huh?: David Brooks on Hayek & “Emotion” vs. “Reason”

  1. HH says:

    I agree with you, though it took me awhile.

    I’ve always found David Brooks to be a total hack, especially when he goes all neuro on things, but the passage you quoted actually sounded reasonable after a quick first reading (it must be this quality of his writing that consistently gets him on the most-emailed list). You’re right that Hayek rarely if ever uses the word “emotion”, which surprised me because it was only after reading Road to Serfdom that I started thinking of “appeal to emotion” as a type of logical fallacy. I think I got this idea because of Hayek’s argument about propaganda: it appeals to instincts and undermines morals. So I would be sympathetic if someone else came away conflating the morals-instinct dichotomy with the reason-emotion dichotomy.

    However, this still doesn’t justify the Brooks passage as the propaganda argument was about planners deliberately getting support from people for whom instinct trumps morals, not planners who are themselves overcome with instinct and therefore make immoral decisions. Even after you replace morals and instinct with reason and emotions, the Brooks passage doesn’t have much to do with Hayek at all.

    Well, Brooks never disappoints as an unreliable “second-hand dealer in ideas”.

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