Although our feelings about this and that are probably not as resistant to changes and significant alterations as our established tastes are, they are probably a good deal less mutable than many of us are prone to believe. And where they are subject to significant change they are likely to be superficial and not rooted very deeply in us.
Feelings, when they do have some depth to them, it is not always easy to make them objectively conscious. In my own case, I have had to work very diligently at making my deeper feelings (say, about the persons close to me or about things going on in my everyday life) fully conscious. Being naturally disposed to approach my experiences (and even my relationships) primarily by way of the thinking function, my feelings have tended, for many years, to remain in the background of my awareness and—relative to thoughts and intuitions—rather deemphasized. Having lately come to realize more clearly the undesirability of such a biased outlook (and in-look) from the standpoint of psychological wholeness, I have begun, slowly but surely, to look deeper into these feelings, and to register them more completely than I used to.
The results of these efforts have been quite interesting—and I am sure there is much more to learn by continuing in the direction I’ve been going in. For one thing, I have found that when my thinking un-tethers itself from my deeper feelings, an illusory sense of freedom is produced. The sense of liberty is (or used to be) real enough, but it is purchased at a considerable price. The neglected or ignored feeling contents are neglected and ignored ‘for good reason’ from the abstract thinker’s standpoint, of course. Why? Because they tend to weigh down and ‘ground’ the ‘light aircraft’ in which the abstract thinker darts and flits about upon the mental plane. By throwing such heavy cargo overboard, his little vessel can rise and maneuver much more easily in the air—its proper element. Of course, another big part of what gets jettisoned—in addition to the heavy water of feeling—is the dense earth of sensation, which binds me to the cumbersome world of ‘hard’ and stubborn facts, but I will confine my attentions to feeling for the moment.
I began by claiming that feelings—or at least our deeper ones—exhibit a natural resistance to change or alteration. They are inherently conservative insofar as they succeed in grounding our personalities in more or less stable soil. I would further suggest that this grounding and anchoring function is performed by our deeper feelings, whether or not we have managed to make those feelings conscious. It is perhaps for this reason that, for those who tend to be most oblivious to these deeper feelings and affective grounds of their personalities, it is only during times of crisis or intense psychological conflict that they become aware of these root-feelings that invisibly shape and govern their lives, their personalities. The crisis or the inner conflict achieves this precisely by pulling our attention away from the comparatively shallow, surface-level of consciousness—and down to where what really matters (what we really want, what really hurts or bothers us about another person or a situation, etc.) is to be found. Here is where the fundamental feelings about who and what genuinely matters, what possesses authentic importance to our lives, are at last confronted. These acknowledged feelings tend, of course, to have a very sobering effect upon us—allowing us to review and reassess our priorities, the values and goals we’ve been oriented by. Much of what the ‘freedom-loving’ abstract thinker has been preoccupied with suddenly seems rather less important—perhaps even frivolous, hollow, or sterile. Like Icarus, who ventured with his wax-and-feather wings too close to the white-hot sun, we plummet, feelingly, earthwards into the sea below us.
It is practically impossible not to notice how deep feelings and affects of the sort I’m discussing here merge, almost imperceptibly, with the instincts themselves—at least where feeling is one’s ‘inferior’ or least differentiated psychological function. One might almost say that the two converge at the frontier where that which is foundational to our personal, individual character encounters the collective, impersonal realm of our psychic, instinctual inheritance—like the river delta merging with the sea. If these deep, character-shaping and invisibly course-plotting feelings constitute what and who we are in a way and to a degree that greatly outweighs even our most powerful thoughts which, by comparison, seem like shadows of these substantial and substantiating feelings, then shouldn’t we simply listen and adapt ourselves to them? Surrender to them, perhaps? Naturally, this is presuming a great deal from the get-go—namely, that we have already managed to burrow down through all of those obscuring, distorting veils that have hardened into a thick accretion or masking shell around our souls. Such burrowing and unearthing requires great honesty and courage from us.
So, assuming that I have successfully managed to break through the many layers of falsifying and obstructive psychological clutter that have interposed themselves between me and my innermost, core feelings (about others, about myself and how I live my life, about existence itself and the culture I inhabit), then what do I do with this more honest and substantial acquaintance I have with myself? What if I don’t particularly like or ‘approve of’ what I have dug up about myself? Can I change these core feelings—or, precisely because they are core feelings and presumably essential to who I am, must I simply learn to accept them, reform my conscious thoughts and values so that they more accurately reflect or conform with these core feelings?
Basing one’s moral behavior on theoretical or rational principles, alone, is a very different kettle of fish than moral action that springs from deep feeling—even if the actions performed outwardly appear to be the same. Is either one more ‘moral’ than the other?
I noted earlier the apparent proximity—psychologically speaking—between our deepest feelings (which are, properly speaking, part of our personal character or even the defining, structure-providing core of our personalities) and the inherited instincts, which are universal in their form and impersonal in their nature. It is generally agreed that, as civilized, law-abiding and morally responsible human beings, we must learn (beginning as children) to manage and/or control (or—an option that is gaining more widespread acceptance in our contemporary world—medicate) our instinctual drives, cravings, aggressive and lustful impulses, and so forth. These instincts, though they may vary in strength and intensity from one person to the next, display a kind of dynamism that distinguishes them from feeling, in certain respects. Feeling (as Jung taught)—speaking with a view to precision—is an evaluative response to some event, person, set of conditions, etc. The feeling—when registered and consulted—tells us how we are disposed towards the person, event, and so forth, in feeling terms. Are we made to feel secure or insecure, comfortable or uneasy, trusting or suspicious, enlivened or depressed, interested or indifferent, and so on, by the person, situation, conditions, etc?
As a rule, moral action—or non-action, for that matter—which is grounded in deep feeling carries more weight with us than the same action or non-action which, relatively devoid of feeling, is based primarily (or exclusively) upon theoretical or rational principles. Because of the crucial ingredient or infusion of feeling, of passion, and affectivity, there is a degree of heft, of ballast, and of substantiality that may be absent from the deed performed by the principle-obeying ideologue or dogmatist. There is a kind of disinterestedness in the principled performance of such duties and obligations (which intellectuals—and dogmatists—often love to emphasize and parade as a mark of ennobling distinction), but this might just be a self-serving way of talking about disengagement from what is actually being done or not done.
On the other hand, it is worthily maintained that in order for an act to be genuinely moral, it must be performed freely. If I am compelled to do something—whether it is to jump into a lion’s den to save a child or to tell the truth about something that is going to cost me my sterling reputation or my marriage—then, strictly speaking, my action is not morally praiseworthy since for some undivulged reason or another, I was forced to perform it. Because it was not undertaken with freedom, it loses any moral value it may have otherwise possessed—just like an event occurring in nature according to the necessary rules of mechanical physics.
This criterion (of freely chosen and uncompelled deeds) throws actions which are rooted in powerful feeling into a somewhat questionable light—does it not? I suppose our sense of the praiseworthiness of his action depends upon how actively engaged the moral agent is in the contest or struggle between powerfully conflicting feelings, passions, and drives. If he simply ‘goes with the flow’ or the prevailing winds of his established feeling preference—more or less passively and unreflectively obeying the dictates of his feelings, then we are left wondering what there is to admire or applaud in what he does. If, on the other hand, we learn that his action is the end result of much deliberation, weighing and carefully assessing the various competing claims or appeals to his assent, then our respect increases proportionally. (We might then ask: “What essential role does ‘respectability’ play in determining the real worth of a moral action?” If its worth is intrinsic, respectability has no place here, insofar as it is an extrinsic factor.)
Of course, what is presupposed in this example of commendable moral action and reflection is that there are conflicting ‘pulls’ or divergent feelings at play in any genuinely moral act. And perhaps we are entitled to move one step further from this initial acknowledgement and say that thinking is also perhaps a crucial part of the process by which a genuinely moral decision is freely but judiciously/dialectically arrived at and performed. Viewed in this light, feeling is necessary, but perhaps not always quite sufficient for moral action. But the same may be justly said of thinking—may it not? Thinking, alone—in an emotionally detached, affectively dead manner—seems grossly insufficient to fully transform a man into a moral agent. He must become engaged—get ‘dirty’ or ‘wet’ or ‘implicated’—at a feeling level in the struggle between the ‘higher’ and ‘lower,’ ‘nobler’ and ‘baser’ elements in his nature—elements which confront him a thousand times a day in the choices he is presented with. He may not be seeing or consciously acknowledging these choices, but they are lurking in the wings nonetheless. They have to do with simple, everyday issues concerning the way he starts his day; how he treats those around him at work or at home or at school; how he performs his job or how deeply he listens to the persons he professes to love. They have to do with what he reads and why he reads, and how much time he devotes to the cultivation of his understanding of the world and himself. They have to do with big questions like what career path he’s going to pursue—and why; which girl he’s going to marry—and why; where he lives and the extent to which he engages with those around him.
Obviously, all of these matters involve feeling—to some extent—but thinking (analytically, speculatively, and imaginatively) is there, too, hand in hand with the feeling assessments.
 Kant (in his teachings about morality and the principle of the categorical imperative) seems to have regarded the feelings either as superfluous to morality or an outright obstacle which justly deserved to be over-ruled by rational thinking, while Rousseau placed enormous importance upon his deepest moral feelings as guiding lights in his life. Philosophers are certainly not in unanimous agreement on how much authority should be accorded to the feelings in the guidance of our lives.