Tagged: David Hume

Reason can’t fix this

Sitting by the breakfast table reading the news my daughters started asking me questions about Syria.

– How come this is happening Dad? (I tried to answer using my understanding of conflicts and limited knowledge of Syria)

– Why isn’t someone stopping this? (Again, I tried to explain the complexity of international politics, the dilemma of sovereignty etc)

– Dad, all the dead in the pictures seem to be normal people and children, not soldiers, why are they killed? (I related to the sad fact that it’s normal in war, civilians and women and children in particular suffer even more and die in higher numbers than soldiers)

– Dad… they are using gas, isn’t that awful? I mean… it would be sad to die from a bullet but gas… how do you die from gas Dad? (At this point I surrendered, I couldn’t pretend that there were any useful answers or any way to make sense of this and I tried to explain how I felt):


The English 18th century philosopher David Hume once stated that “It’s not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of my finger”. Reason, our intellect and analytical skills are nothing but a calculator, that can do calculus but is completely incapable of attributing value. reason is void of morality. -It is not contrary to reason to gas your own citizens. Killing innocent human beings in the cruelest possible way may make perfect sense if you take respect for mankind out of the equation.

So, what did I tell my children at the breakfast table? Did I tell them that the gasing of innocent children, women and men outside of Damascus all depends on lack of empathy and feelings and ultimately values? No, I think I went wrong at the same point where education many times go wrong: I’m adressing facts and reason when heart of the matter is moral, and therefore ultimately emotional.

And, don’t I tell my children lies when I run out of facts?!

“There are always two sides to a story and the truth lies somewhere in the middle” Well, in fact, that’s a lie. In Syria, in this very moment there are hundreds of thousands of sides to the story and, considering the use of nerve gas, ONE truth.

“You’re allowed to say and think anything as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else” -A risky rule in any situation with shortage of empathy and courage. The whole equation requires ability to feel for others regardless of who they are, without that, it’s a carte blanche for abuse.

Atrocities can be justified and made right or “necessary” when sense triumphs over sensibility. If we felt more and closer we would act and that is not a question of facts, we already know enough but we are unable to relate, hence the lack of action. Sure, we need to know more and action can be spurred by facts but, I’m just wondering… Isn’t “lack of data” often a defense for status quo and “need for more information” a lazy excuse for doing nothing?

Love the kids and the fact that they question beyond facts. We need that more than ever.

Over and out.