Logic, Heart & Good Manners

Logic, heart & Good MannersPREPPING for one of the honours classes I teach in research methodology in film arts I had occasion to watch several televised debates between proponents of theism and atheism as examples of the sort of logic used in hotly contested debates of this nature.

One such debate in particular struck me as informative. Both men were scientists, one, a mathematician from Oxford and a believer in the existence of God – a Christian. The other was a physicist from Arizona State University and an unflinching atheist.

The Logic of Heart and Good Manners

Both men, in my opinion, put forward narratives that were strong on logic and consistent within their world views. In terms of their delivery, the Oxford man was affable, warm, tolerant and kind. The physicist came across as cold, rude, arrogant, mocking, and condescending. When I asked my honours students who they thought won the debate, a surprising number of them thought that the Christian did, even though that might have been at odds with their own beliefs.

The point is that the logic of a narrative, be it scientific, historical, or fictional, is only part of the story. The heart behind it plays a role in the art of communication too. It is not enough for a scientist to say that we have it by the numbers and that pleasantries, therefore, do not matter. Certainly, it will make no difference to the hard mathematical proofs whether you come across as arrogant or kind, but it will make a difference to how effective you are in advertising your field.

The mathematician and string theorist Brian Greene is proof of how hard science can be delivered in a warm, persuasive, and cogent way that makes it accessible to lay people. His documentary The Illusion of Time, is a good example of his affable, passionate style. Special and general relativity and black holes are explained in a way that makes one want to know more.

So it should be with any narrative. Behind the facts and logic, we should sense the presence of a human mind and heart seeking to communicate the wonder of being alive, not only through logic, but through the power of tolerance and kindness.


Use logic, heart and good manners to persuade others of the merits of your narrative.

6 thoughts on “Logic, Heart & Good Manners

  1. Peter Stott

    Very interesting reading, Stavros, and right in many ways indeed.

    Taking into account the different approaches of both speakers the subject, it’s not all that surprising to hear a scientist, who by logic is atheist, come across as arrogant and cold.

    Given that religion has had such an unapproachable foothold in almost every aspect of life, and has been unnervingly militant for so long, one can appreciate the undisguised anger and disregard for beliefs which are both irrelevant and plain silly.

    Perhaps not quite the approach I might take when addressing others, but being obliged to tolerate and respect the absurdity of religious dogma while trying to impart real and practical knowledge, is rather frustrating.

    Love your discussions, by the way!

    Thank you 🙂

  2. Gretchen Putnam

    I found this fascinating and reassuring since I’ve often been called ‘nice’ as if it were a negative trait. My mother always stressed the importance of manners and politeness- the value of which I didn’t appreciate in my youth. The reason my mother gave when questioned about the importance of manners was in the form of a rhetorical question- ‘What if the Queen came for dinner?’ Well the Queen never made it for dinner, but the manners and politeness are ingrained now and I’m able to see the value in that. It’s good to know that one can be ‘nice’ and successful as this mathematician from Oxford.

  3. Gerhard Pistorius

    logic, heart and good manners sounds good on paper and yet it makes for mild even boring storytelling. That’s why themes like sharing and friendship are the themes of children’s programming that is a pain to watch to any one not in the target audience.

    Great stories are universal because they deal with moral struggles.
    In the multi academy award winning Film “The God Father” Al Pacino as Michael Corleone, the Don’s third son, the only college-educated family member is initially steered from the family business. His progression from the family’s last-born son to its ruthless boss is the main subject matter of the film.

    When becoming God father we see ( through the power of editing) How Michael denounces Satin in front of a priest yet we are shown how his goons murder people whom he wants dead ( Seriously this is one of the most powerful secuences ever put together on film!)

    How Micheal transform from the well groomed war hero to the ruthless crime boss is what makes this film a classic forty years after it’s release and why dark themes make such powerful stories.

    Recommended reading : Why be moral? ( See Jan koster Open window Film lecture)

    1. Stavros Halvatzis Post author

      Well, Gerhard, I think you got the wrong end of the stick. I was referring to a debate on television, but even with regards your example, a story can be full of fire and fury, with its characters being perfect louts, but how does it end? Do these louts carry the day? Remember the moral of the story lies at the end.


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