Reason and Emotion

A Summary by Michael Edwards                     
Working Copy: 1964 reprint of 1962 second edition published by Faber and Faber. (First published by Faber 1935).
(An edition with a new introduction by John E. Costello S.J. was published by Humanities Press, U.S.A., 1992.)

·   Contents
·   Preface to Second Edition
·   Preface to First Edition
1. Reason in the Emotional Life I
2. Reason in the Emotional Life II
3. Reason in the Emotional Life III
4. Education of the Emotions
5. The Early Discipline of Personality
6. The Personal Life
7. The Virtue of Chastity
8. Art and the Future
9. Science and Religion
10. Reason and Religion
11. Religious Reality
12. The Maturity of Religion I
13. The Maturity of Religion II
14. The Conservation of Personality
·   Index

Among students of Macmurray whom I have met this book is the one which produces the most divided response. To one group it is the Macmurrian shot which first hit them between wind and water; the one which first excited them and led them to look deeper into Macmurray. To the other group it is the book over which they require most guidance in studying; they find it difficult to know what to make of it. I suspect that the reason for this difference in response lies in the book’s structure and origins. It does not have the carefully crafted unity of Interpreting the Universe; nor does it have its origin in a single series of lectures like The Boundaries of Science, Religion, Art and Science or The Form of the Personal. There is, therefore, no gradually developed argument building up to a climax. It is much more of a ragbag. The book is a collection of pieces, some of them written specially for particular occasions e.g. the Presidential Address of the Froebel Society, the Drew Lecture on Immortality.

I suspect that the division between readers, referred to above, is not between the intelligent and the less intelligent, but between those readers who are academically and philosophically inclined and those who are not. The latter welcome the Reader’s Digest-length articles which quickly get to the point and give them something they can take away back into their practical everyday lives. This book is certainly much better suited to bedtime reading than The Form of the Personal! To the other group I would point out that there is a common theme running through most of the pieces, namely, that the opposition that our culture sets up between reason and emotion is a false one. The proper contrast is between intellect and emotion. Reason expresses itself in both. I would strongly advise this group of readers not to skip Macmurray’s Prefaces. The 1935 preface states that the pieces in the book arose through invitations to clear up difficulties experienced by people who had heard Macmurray’s broadcast talks which were published in 1932 as Freedom in the Modern World. Although Reason and Emotion will stand on its own, systematic students could find it a good idea to read Freedom in the Modern World first.

Although I earlier characterised the book as ‘more of a ragbag’, there is a systematic arrangement of the essays. Macmurray first instructs us in the correct relationship of intellect and emotion, and leads us out of false dualisms. He then directs our attention to the hierarchical structure of our experience of the world: material, organic, personal — presenting the personal as the over-arching one which includes the others. He then exhibits the hierarchy of the forms of human reflection which this structure calls forth: science, art, religion — religion being the fullest form from which the others are derived by abstraction. Then we are led on to the application of these insights to the fields of education and our personal and sexual lives. And finally we are made aware of how the concepts of immaturity and maturity can be applied to these forms of human reflection. This leads Macmurray to pronounce that we have, after a struggle, achieved maturity in science but not in art or religion; and that we will not enjoy a benign exploitation of our mature science until we have a mature religion to tell it what we want. In the later chapters Macmurray attempts to sketch what we might expect in and from a mature religion.

As this is a collection of separate essays there is inevitably some overlapping of material. But this is no bad thing. At the beginning Macmurray lays down the conditions necessary for a successful enquiry. In the main, this is the need to overcome our egocentricity, not to be interested in the world only insofar as it affects our own individual happiness. Rather, we should be asking ‘What is God doing through us in his world?’. Macmurray states, at one point, ‘We must remember particularly that the desire to improve our individual lives is just as self-interested as any other form of egocentricity…. he that would save his life shall lose it’. And that, I think, bears saying in our increasingly individualistic age as much as, or more than, it did in his.