The newest piece by David Brooks of The New York Times makes note of a “new humanism” taking shape, informing how we view societies and understand human behavior. In contrast to the French Enlightenment’s ideal of a purely rational man driven only by reason (which apparently posited that man is split into a “rational” part and an “emotional” part that must be quarantined and overcome; or similarly, the duality of “mind” and “body” where the mind is upheld and the body discounted) scholars are increasingly coming to understand the roles of biology, emotion and relationships in defining our lives.
“When we raise our kids, we focus on the traits measured by grades and SAT scores. But when it comes to the most important things like character and how to build relationships, we often have nothing to say. Many of our public policies are proposed by experts who are comfortable only with correlations that can be measured, appropriated and quantified, and ignore everything else.
Yet while we are trapped within this amputated view of human nature, a richer and deeper view is coming back into view. It is being brought to us by researchers across an array of diverse fields: neuroscience, psychology, sociology, behavioral economics and so on.
This growing, dispersed body of research reminds us of a few key insights. First, the unconscious parts of the mind are most of the mind, where many of the most impressive feats of thinking take place. Second, emotion is not opposed to reason; our emotions assign value to things and are the basis of reason. Finally, we are not individuals who form relationships. We are social animals, deeply interpenetrated with one another, who emerge out of relationships.”
I think that’s something Confucians would say they’ve recognized all along. ^ ^ After all, we are born into and live out our lives not in isolation, but surrounded by many different kinds of familial and social relationships; and those relationships and norms play an important role in informing who we are.
It’s an account of humanity that is more holistic, recognizing that emotions and sentiments can be useful drivers of identity and virtue. They are not necessarily the enemy of reason or sound policy — just another crucial aspect of the human experience to be studied and taken into account.