Since an emotion is experienced as an immediate primary, but is, in fact, a complex, derivative sum, it permits men to practice one of the ugliest of psychological phenomena: rationalization. Rationalization is a cover-up, a process of providing one’s emotions with a false identity, of giving them spurious explanations and justifications—in order to hide one’s motives, not just from others, but primarily from oneself. The price of rationalizing is the hampering, the distortion and, ultimately, the destruction of one’s cognitive faculty. Rationalization is a process not of perceiving reality, but of attempting to make reality fit one’s emotions.
Philosophical catch phrases are handy means of rationalization. They are quoted, repeated and perpetuated in order to justify feelings which men are unwilling to admit.
“Nobody can be certain of anything” is a rationalization for a feeling of envy and hatred toward those who are certain. “It may be true for you, but it’s not true for me” is a rationalization for one’s inability and unwillingness to prove the validity of one’s contentions. “Nobody is perfect in this world” is a rationalization for the desire to continue indulging in one’s imperfections, i.e., the desire to escape morality. “Nobody can help anything he does” is a rationalization for the escape from moral responsibility. “It may have been true yesterday, but it’s not true today” is a rationalization for the desire to get away with contradictions. “Logic has nothing to do with reality” is a crude rationalization for a desire to subordinate reality to one’s whims.
“I can’t prove it, but I feel that it’s true” is more than a rationalization: it is a description of the process of rationalizing. Men do not accept a catch phrase by a process of thought, they seize upon a catch phrase—any catch phrase—because it fits their emotions. Such men do not judge the truth of a statement by its correspondence to reality—they judge reality by its correspondence to their feelings.
If, in the course of philosophical detection, you find yourself, at times, stopped by the indignantly bewildered question: “How could anyone arrive at such nonsense?”—you will begin to understand it when you discover that evil philosophies are systems of rationalization.
When a theory achieves nothing but the opposite of its alleged goals, yet its advocates remain undeterred, you may be certain that it is not a conviction or an “ideal,” but a rationalization.