Off the Pulpit

Reason and Passion

The Spanish existentialist philosopher Miguel De Unamuno once explained the difference between conventional philosophy and existentialism by reworking the classical syllogism. Students in logic are taught that Socrates is a man; all men are mortal; therefore Socrates is mortal. But the existentialist says: I am a man; all men are mortal. Therefore, I will die.

The first is a conclusion of logic. The second is of ultimate concern to me.

Of course how we reason is not separate from how we feel. Yet the abstract analysis of problems does not always address the single, haunted cry of the individual in all her anguish, need and passion. The Torah teaches that the human being was created singly; each of us sees the world through our own eyes. We can use logic and technology to do remarkable things, to go to space and fashion machines that transform the world. But we would do well to remember Unamuno’s caution and the Torah’s teaching — the wizardry of the mind will not save us if we forsake the urgencies of the heart.