Reason: A Falsely Glorified Ideology
Reason has long been a sacred term to past philosophers. It guides and determines our moral actions. If such logic is true then it is safe to assume that if Abner Snopes were reasonable, he would have not been an arsonist. However, realistically, no one has time to carefully use reason—we do not have the time nor patience to contemplate each action like philosophers. Abner’s character is destructive and angrily revenges anyone who he feels has wronged him. His youngest son, Sartoris, believes that if his father were to reason through his irrational behavior, then “maybe it will…change him…from what maybe he couldn’t help but be” (Faulkner17). Nonetheless, rationality and reason are the slave of irrational passion. Sartoris further wished that if Abner could finally realize that getting in trouble with the law is not in his own-self interest, he would finally quit being an arsonist.
Nevertheless, as Hume establishes in A Treatise of Human Nature, “men often counteract a violent passion in the prosecution of their interests and designs” (Hume 278). So, Abner does not think about what is in his interest such as not getting in trouble because he is stirred up with strong passions that blind him from self-interest. The violent passion in Abner that leads to his cruel actions in Barn Burning stems from the “element of fire” that speaks “to some deep mainspring” in him ( Faulkner 7). Hence, passion and sentiment are what motivate people such as Abner to action. Reason alone can never be a motive to any action of will—it can’t produce action as Hume states.
At first glance, the reader might mistake Sartoris’s quest for justice as one that stems from reason. However, other sorts of passions that are less violent motivate his actions. These passions as Hume points out are the calm passions. Hume suggests in his book that moral evaluation derives from feelings of like or dislike, from sentiment and not reason. The process of evaluation is neither a hesitant nor a reflective process. Sartoris is constantly in a feeling of dislike towards his father’s rash actions. However the feeling does not stem out of reason, but instead from the calm passions that instigate such feelings. In the beginning of the short story Sartoris thought to himself, “ he aims for me to lie…and I will have to do it” ( Faulkner 4). Out of passion he would have lied although he understands that it is wrong—if reason were truly the thing that led him to action then he would not have lied. At the end of Barn Burning, the child escapes the household and runs away not looking back. If he were acting out of reason, he would have hesitated to leave since a man of reason would not simply leave everything that he had known all his life behind such as family.
However, to completely reject reason would not be rational. Reason serves a role in the a posteriori of an event. Reason helps us explain why we feel a certain way or take certain actions. As Hume states, “ reason is the discovery of truth or falsehood” (Hume 280). Therefore, reason is useful in determining the truth of certain aspects of an event after it has occurred. Past philosophers are idealist with their ideas that reason directly leads to action. Hume, on the other hand, is realistic in his understanding of how humans are irrational and in how passions drive them towards action. It seems that past philosophers need to give passion a grander role in moral evaluation. Although passion may be irrational, it can never “be called unreasonable” ( Hume 278).