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Are reason and emotion equally necessary in justifying moral decisions?

The above statement was a prompt my TOK students were invited to respond to this year. I have been trying to respond to it for the last 24 hours. My dog is in the hospital.

He’s an old dog, and not a terribly “good” dog. He’s 10, a street pup from the wrong side of the tracks that the vet described as Pit Bull, Shar Pei, and Lab (he was being charitable). My wife and I got him just after we were married. For the first few years he slept in our bed, accompanied her to the woodshop, I took him to the dog park every day, and he sat (rather heavily at 60+lbs) on my lap during my evening drink on the porch.

As the years went on he became a little less the center of our attention. Trips to dog beach or the park were fewer and fewer. Then we bought a house. The house had a big back yard which he had the run of. But, we also had kids, so he didn’t come in the house. No more beach. No more park. We did buy him his own, very nice wooden, painted dog-house, and a bed from Costco.

Then we bought a bigger house, with a smaller yard for him. I did try to take him to the beach but he was so horrible with the other dogs at this point that he had to be kept on a leash (constantly “humping”, and stealing toys). He stayed home. No beach. No park. No house. He was tethered to the fence after he figured out how to run away.

Once I was alone in the house for the weekend. It was the first time in five years. I bought gates to separate the rooms so he could hang out with me in the family room. He never sat down. Sniffing and looking for food were way more interesting than hanging out with me.

He sleeps in the garage, where the garbage is kept, and he’s figured out how to tip over the cans. Now I strap them shut with an old surfboard rack soft-tie. Late one night last week I inadvertently tossed the garbage in the unsecured recycling bin.

The next morning trash was strewn across the garage. There was a ripped frozen blueberry bag on his Costco bed. The dog who lived for food didn’t eat his breakfast. Then he didn’t eat the next day or the next. He was so lethargic he didn’t need his tether. I took him to the vet.

X-rays revealed a bottle cap in his stomach. It was a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale bottle cap no doubt. But there was also a strange black mass around his intestines which she (the Dr.) suggested was the real problem. It could be paper or string or plastic but the only way to get it out would be with $3000 of surgery and care.

Reason and Emotion; 10 years from now I will justify the decision we made. Were reason and emotion equally necessary? I am a public school teacher and richer for it in more ways than I can describe. I am not, however one who you would describe as having great financial means. We have a very nice house, two cars, and no savings. We have great credit but virtually no college funds for our kids. We have very nice furniture (my wife has made much of it) and a cat and a dog. We have a good life, but it would be well described as pay-check to pay-check. It’s that much easier as a public school teacher knowing just what that paycheck will be and knowing our own health is covered.

We have decided to go through with the surgery. The most substantial “way of knowing” (in TOK speak) that I use to justify this decision is introspection. When I ask myself what is right, my answer is that it is right to proceed. Though it is a lot of money compared to our income, I could not face myself, or my children, and say we chose not to proceed because of money. We are not starving. The house is not going to be taken away.

In our decision reason and emotion are both at play. My emotive response of staring at myself in the mirror or facing my seven year old daughter who now loves taking him for walks around the block (since she can hold the leash), is that we must try to save him. My reasonable response says also that he will likely live, and survive and despite his unsociable nature he does provide us with a certain sense of security and serenity at home and a better quality of life.

Now one might say, “reason should dictate”, and that the fact he is ten and grey muzzled now, and of little “value”, in fact considerable work, like hiring a house sitter for the month we are gone this summer, means we should let him go. We should cut our losses. He will not live long. Too much money and not enough benefit. What use is he?

But reason could argue the opposite. He is kind of a big scary looking dog. As such he has provided me and my family with an untold sense of safety and security for years and will likely continue to do so. Reason might further argue that the lessons I want my children to learn about the value of life, will be not better supported than with a decision to try to save the dog. If we back out for money I am afraid the kids would learn lessons we do not want to teach.

If “emotion” should dictate the same dilemma can evolve. I love Felix. He is my first dog that I chose in adulthood. No price is too great to save him. As I type this now I realize he is literally going under the knife. I want to go visit him.

Emotion could also say “no”. Let him go. He is lonely and old. He hasn’t been part of the family in years. Put him out of his misery. How do we know what is in a dog’s head? His head is tethered in a dusty small yard with a house with peeling paint and flies nipping at his ears. He poops and pees and eats and sleeps. Could he possibly be happy?

My decision, the one I will lay down and rest with tonight, whether Felix lives or dies, was to do all we could, despite considerable financial hardship, to save him. Reason and emotion were, in this instance, I think, equally necessary. Neither of them however could provide the “final answer”. It was a combination of reason and emotion combined with introspection which has allowed me to resolve a satisfactory outcome.

I had to look inside myself. Myself, and yourself are made up of history, experience, evidence, logic, and the way I, or you, perceive all of these things. Emotion and reason are there, but in the end moral decisions are made by you, by me, and by us. The truth for each of us lies in our own hearts.

Comments (2)


Our hearts go out to you. Do post when you have an update on Felix. - Ed and family


Our hearts go out to you all as well. Please relay this to Norma and the kids. I'll always remember the first days when Felix would stay on the sidewalk in front of the shop when you were deciding what to do with him then. It seems like you've gone through that all over again .... Whatever decision you have to make going forward we're with you.

Yesterday, probably while Felix was in surgery, we suffered our first pet tragedy of Angelina's young life -- her fish died. She still doesn't know we swapped it for another similar one. But the emotion when she first realized her fish was missing was so thick we had to swing into an uber-happy routine (assuring her the fish would be returned once it was cleaned up) to prevent a complete meltdown. She's 26 mos old now.

Chris ... how are the kids dealing with the Felix health issue? Does Calvin know about death (outside of playing GI Joe of course)?



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