Big Thinking lecture series: "Reason versus passion in politics"



Tuesday, February 11, 2014, 7:30 - 8:45


Parliamentary Restaurant, Centre Block


While Pierre Trudeau may have entered politics with “reason over passion” as his personal slogan, a few years in government were enough to disabuse him of that notion. After a particularly raucous debate over language politics, he decided that the “rational” approach was not working: “If they want blood and guts,” he said, “I’ll give them blood and guts.”

Today this basic sentiment has become the conventional wisdom in the corridors of power: It's not about what you say, it's about how you make people feel. At the same time, contemporary research in cognitive science has generated a much deeper understanding of these two styles of thinking: the rational and the intuitive. We understand more clearly why appeals to intuitions, or feelings, are more powerful than appeals to reason. Yet we also understand more clearly the limitations of this approach. As a result, we are able to state with greater precision what we are sacrificing when we allow our political system to be dominated by appeals to passion rather than reason.

Joseph Heath is Director of the Centre for Ethics at the University of Toronto, as well as Professor in the School of Public Policy and Governance and the Department of Philosophy. He is a fellow of the Trudeau Foundation and of the Royal Society of Canada. He is the author of several books, including The Efficient Society: Why Canada is as Close to Utopia as it Gets, and Filthy Lucre: Economics for People who Hate Capitalism.