In volume two, Reason and Goodness, of his series on the position of reason in the theory of knowledge and ethics, Brand Blanshard explores the tension between reason and feeling through stoicism, love, objectivism, instrumentalism, and linguistic analysis, among other theories. He ends his discussion by considering the ideal of the rational man and subsequently argues that the rational mind—which he understands as more viable then the feeling and objectivism described above—requires a special temper of intellect, character and feeling.
To set the context for these lectures and this text, at the outset of his project Blanshard explores the tension between reason and feeling in western ethics and says the main ethical question of our time is: Do moral judgments express knowledge or feeling? For Blanshard, the issue is of practical importance and is rooted in an ancient tension in ethics. On the one hand, the Greeks held that knowledge was required for virtue and led to it. On the other hand, however, the Christian emphasis was based not on knowledge but on love. Such love was essentially, but not merely, feeling. While Blanshard thus understands that the Greek and Christian emphases are in sharp contrast, he nevertheless regards both as essential in the appraisal of conduct and begins his own appraisal with stoicism (41).
The Stoic ideal was conformity to reason, which resulted from mastering feeling, thus controlling anger and fear. According to Blanshard, the total suppression of feeling, though, destroys all value and subsequently results in the wreck of the moral life, because feeling is of importance, as attested by Mill. Although feeling is important, through a brief examination of St. Francis’ ‘Supremacy of Felling’, which involves a total surrender to love, Blanshard concludes that love itself, or rather, by itself, is self defeating when it is not implemented by knowledge, which alone can discriminate among its objects.
Having acknowledged the extreme positions of moral judgment as ‘pure’ reason and ‘pure’ love, Blanshard turns in chapters four through ten to delineate the opinions on belief and feeling in moral judgment that reside between such poles. To begin, he discusses the variations of British thought in which a) moral judgments or perceptions of rightness are intellectual because they resemble mathematical ones (Clark), or b) they are related to conceptions of beauty because the organ of apprehension is moral sense (Shaftesbury and Hutcheson), or c) they are related to both reason and feeling (Hume), or, finally, d) moral judgments or rightness is connected with duty and the obligations of prudence, justice, and benevolence (Sidgwick). Next, Blanshard examines Westermark’s challenge to all these doctrines. Westermark’s main argument was from moral diversity, to which he holds that only subjectivism can do justice. The judgment of rightness does not fit into his system, and the judgment of justice has intellectual as well as emotional meaning. Over all, Blanshard finds that subjectivism creates a nest of paradoxes.
From Westermark’s argument for subjectivism, Blanshard turns to deontology, which retorts that rightness may be seen independently of consequences and that obligation has no connection with goodness. Within such thought Blanshard finds that reason rightly assumes a high place in morals. His vast sweep of positions of moral judgment does not end there, though, and he continues to explore the middle ground between stoicism and love through attention to the instrumentalism that was an exponent of Dewey, who held that moral thought arises from the frustration of activity and the problems involved in competing values, which are relative not to enjoyment but to desire. Although Blanshard does concede that instrumentalism holds important elements of truth, he concludes that the resolution of conflict does not, as such, have a moral value, and the racial good, like the personal good, is left vague. Like instrumentalism, Blanshard finds emotivism—the notion that ethical disputes cannot, even in theory, be adjudicated, but must be settled by emotional appeals or by force—at fault because it has proved difficult to practice and is in fact impossible. He also finds linguistic ethics disappointedly sterile (262).
Finally, Blanshard completes his survey of moral judgment through attention to ‘rational man’. For Blanshard, the rational man is an ideal that has never been fully embodied, because he would be governed neither by impulse nor by mere calculation. Rationality, then, is a rarity, and requires a special temper of intellect, character and feeling. While the rational mind will seek understanding for its own sake, unless the heart is engaged, the research will be futile. The rational mind will also be just, which involves not over-rating its own claims, which is rare and difficult achievement. Also, the rational mind will be equable as shown in the method of dealing with anger. Over all, Blanshard asserts that rationality would entail many revaluations.