Research Logic-Based Therapy and Civil Discourse in Fractious Times

Logic-Based Therapy and Civil Discourse in Fractious Times

by Laura Newhart

The purpose of this paper is to explore the role that Dr. Elliot D. Cohen’s Logic-Based Therapy might play in restoring civil discourse in these politically polarized and fractious times, particularly through the lens of the theoretical framework put forth by Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.

There is no denying that our public discourse has become increasingly uncivil, antagonistic, and detrimental to healthy, pleasant, and productive human relations. And, it stands to reason that our behavior would become increasingly destructive and violent as our ability to engage in civil public discourse deteriorates. Just a glance at headlines from the past year makes this clear:

That unusual Trump “Incitement” ruling wasn’t just about one rally but a multitude

The Washington Post, April 3, 2017

Trump’s outside attorney to apologize to man he sent profane emails

Politico, July 13, 2017

A Man Dumped a Bottle of Water on a Fox News Host’s Head at a Brooklyn Event

BuzzFeed, July 25, 2017

Rep. DeSantis: Shooting Suspect Asked if “Republicans or Democrats on Field”, June 14, 2017

More recently from Fox News, December 21, 2017,

Obama adviser Ben Rhodes slammed for tweet joking about GOP leaders’ ‘obits’

Ben Rhodes tweeted that a photo of Trump, Pence, Ryan, and McConnell with their thumbs up should be the accompanying photo when/if Trump is indicted. He then quickly added that it should also accompany the other three parties’ “obits.” Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La, who was seriously wounded in the shooting at a Republican congressional baseball practice in June tweeted back, “You may want to reconsider your rhetoric.”

No, these are not quarrels on the third grade playground. These are the kinds of exchanges taking place at the highest levels of our government and among the general population.  A recent study by Shanto Iyengar and his colleagues concludes that currently, “the level of partisan animus in the American public exceeds racial animus” (lyengar, et al. quoted in Blankenhorn).

Recently, there have also been news items touting the importance and value of civil discourse and providing tips on how to restore it.  In “20 Years Ago, Steve Jobs Demonstrated the Perfect Way to Respond to an Insult,” Justin Bariso explains that when a man publicly insults Jobs personally and questions the effectiveness of the most recent Apple software, instead of returning the attack, Jobs,

  1. stops and thinks,
  2. agrees with his accuser,
  3. helps everyone see the big picture,
  4. uses his own vulnerability to his advantage,
  5. praises his team, and
  6. finishes strong with a motivating, optimistic view of the future.

Likewise, in “The Seven Habits of Highly Depolarizing People” David Blankenhorn from The American Public Interest describes seven mental habits that encourage political depolarization. These include

  1. criticizing from within rather than from without (which assumes the existence of shared terms and values);
  2. looking for goods in conflict rather than seeing every situation in terms of good versus evil;
  3. avoiding Manichaeism or binary thinking by counting beyond two in any given situation;
  4. doubting one’s own views;
  5. specifying instead of generalizing whenever possible;
  6. qualifying one’s views when necessary and appropriate rather than absolutizing them; and,
  7. keeping the conversation going because when the conversation ends the posturing, insults, and violence take over.

These prescribed discursive techniques and mental habits for creating more civil public discourse bring to mind the resources provided by Elliot D. Cohen’s Logic-Based Therapy, especially the LBT Guiding Virtues of Objectivity, Authenticity, Empathy, Respect, and Empowerment.

Logic-Based Therapy

The fundamental principle of Logic-Based Therapy is that our emotions and behaviors are actually conclusions of the arguments that we use to justify them. Often the arguments that lead to unpleasant emotions or dysfunctional behaviors are fallacies or faulty arguments. A fallacy is an argument where the premises do not adequately support the conclusion or one or more of the premises is false.

According to Logic-Based Therapy, the arguments that support our emotions and behaviors are what Aristotle calls practical syllogisms. A practical syllogism is an argument with two premises, one of which is a general rule prescribing a particular emotion or behavior in a particular situation. The second premise is a report that such a situation holds. The conclusion is then the emotion or behavior that the rule prescribes in that situation. This is known as a practical syllogism because it possesses the standard form of the syllogism, i.e., major premise (Rule), minor premise (Report), and conclusion; and the conclusion is a practical outcome, i.e., an emotion or behavior.

The general format is as follows:

  • Rule
  • Report
  • Therefore, Emotion or Behavior

As an example, we can consider the following argument for anger:

  • If someone gives me a mean look, then they are a total jerk. (Rule)
  • That person just gave me a mean look. (Report)
  • Therefore, that person is a total jerk. (Emotion: Anger)

Logic-Based Therapy tells us that if we drill down further in our analysis of the argument form of the practical syllogism, we find that the major premise, i.e., the rule, often takes the form of a conditional (if…., then….) statement where the first part of the statement (the antecedent) contains the object of the prescribed emotion or behavior and the second part contains the rating of that object. In the example above, the person giving the mean look is the object and my rating of that person justifies my anger. Given the truth of the rule and the structure of the argument, if someone gives me a mean look, it automatically follows that I should get angry.

However–and this is Logic-Based Therapy’s primary opportunity for intervention–it is always possible that one or more of the premises (the rule or the report) be false and, hence, that the argument is faulty, i.e., a fallacy. Maybe everyone who gives me a mean look isn’t a total jerk, or maybe that person didn’t just give me a mean look. According to Logic-Based Therapy, the arguments that lead to unpleasant emotions or dysfunctional behavior (read: human misery) are often fallacious. Moreover, they often take the form of the eleven Cardinal Fallacies identified by Logic-Based Therapy: Dutiful Worrying, Demanding Perfection, Damnation (of self, others, life or the universe), Awfulizing, The World-Revolves-Around-Me Thinking, Oversimplifying Reality, Distorting Probabilities, Blind Conjecture, Can’tstipation, Bandwagon Thinking, and Manipulation. The argument cited above is an example of the LBT Cardinal Fallacy of Damnation (of others), the fallacious rule of which is “If someone else makes a mistake or does something wrong, they are completely worthless and should be damned.”

The goal of Logic-Based Therapy is to identify these fallacies (or faulty arguments) and to correct them by refuting them (showing how and where they are faulty) and replacing them with patterns of thought that lead to healthier emotions and more functional behaviors (read: human happiness). These more desirable patterns of thought often issue from the possession of certain virtues; and, so, Logic-Based Therapy uses the theoretical content of philosophy to define and encourage the development of corresponding LBT Guiding Virtues to combat the tendency to engage in these LBT Cardinal Fallacies. For example, Respect is the corresponding Guiding Virtue for Damnation.

Logic-Based Therapy divides the eleven Cardinal Fallacies into Fallacies of Rules, where the premise stating the prescriptive rule is false, and Fallacies of Reporting, where the premise stating the empirical report is false. Moreover, Logic-Based Therapy divides the Fallacies of Rules into Emotional Fallacies and Behavioral Fallacies. As Cohen states in Logic-Based Therapy and Everyday Emotions: A Case-Based Approach,

Generally speaking, the designation “Emotional” signifies a fallacy that generates a destructive or self-defeating emotion;….and “Behavioral” signifies a fallacy leading to self-defeating action (xviii).

It is also important to note that emotional reasoning interfaces with behavioral reasoning such that the conclusion of an emotional argument can become a premise in a behavioral argument and, thus, lead to action.

The Logic-Based Therapy session consists of six simple steps:

  1. Identify the emotional and/or behavioral reasoning;
  2. Check for Cardinal Fallacies in the premises;
  3. Refute any Cardinal Fallacy;
  4. Identify the Guiding Virtue for each fallacy;
  5. Find an uplifting philosophy that promotes the Guiding Virtue; and,
  6. Apply the philosophy by implementing a plan of action for the client.

As Cohen tells us in Logic-Based Therapy and Everyday Emotions,

These six steps provide a rational framework for confronting problems of living (xix).

Jonathan Haidt and a General Argument for Political Polarization

While the affinities between Logic-Based Therapy and the discursive techniques and mental habits prescribed above for civil discourse seem clear on a more general surface level, it is important to dig deeper in order to uncover in more specific terms how Logic-Based Therapy might be helpful in bridging our current political and social divisions and improving the civility of public discourse. In The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, social and moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt provides an empirical analysis of the different value commitments of the major political perspectives in the United States, including liberalism, libertarianism, and social conservatism. It is interesting and informative to consider in both general and specific terms how Logic-Based Therapy as a curative intervention might fit into Haidt’s methodological and theoretical framework. While there are significant and substantial differences between Cohen’s and Haidt’s approaches and theories, there are also surprising and profound similarities. A comparison of the two can provide insight into ways that Logic-Based Therapy might contribute to restoring civil discourse in these fractious times.

In spite of Haidt’s empirical approach, his ultimate conclusion is that empathy, the ability to see things from the other person’s point of view (and the LBT Guiding Virtue corresponding to the World-Revolves-Around-Me Thinking Fallacy), is the primary element necessary to overcome our current political polarization. However, Haidt claims that empathy is difficult to apply in moral and political disagreements:

Our righteous minds so readily shift into combat mode. [Our reason and intuition] work together smoothly to fend off attacks and lob rhetorical grenades of our own. The performance may impress our friends and show allies that we are committed members of the team, but no matter how good our logic, it’s not going to change the minds of our opponents if they are in combat mode too. (58)

At first glance, it appears that the key Logic-Based Therapy Fallacies involved in polarizing and antagonistic public discourse and behavior include: Simplifying Reality, especially pigeonholing in terms of us versus them; Bandwagon Thinking; The-World-Revolves-Around-Me Thinking; Damnation; and, Manipulation, including deception and bullying. And, underlying all of these is a foundation that consists of Demanding Perfection. Haidt’s contribution of the “metaphor” of combat in the quote above sheds light on and firms up this first appraisal as we can see from the following chain of reasoning which sums up the emotional and behavioral reasoning of political polarization and which contains LBT Cardinal Fallacies at several points:

If someone disagrees with me, then we are in a combat situation.

(Demanding Perfection)


If we are in a combat situation, then it is a situation of us versus them.

(Simplifying Reality: Pigeonholing)


If it is a situation of us versus them, then we must strengthen and fortify our side.

(Bandwagon Thinking)

If we must strengthen  and fortify our side, then all that matters is protecting ourselves and making sure that we are (or  are perceived to be) right.

(The-World-Revolves-Around-Me Thinking)

If all that matters is protecting ourselves and making sure that we are (or are perceived to be) right, then the disagreeing other is worthless (and a danger) and should be damned.


If the disagreeing other is worthless (and a danger) and should be damned, then it doesn’t matter how badly we treat them.

(Manipulation: Deception and Bullying)

The Limited Role of Reason in Haidt’s Framework

The greatest obstacle to attempting to understand the role that Logic-Based Therapy might play in restoring civil discourse through Haidt’s framework is that Haidt downplays the role of reason in the process of choosing political and moral perspectives. In spite of the fact that reason plays a limited role in Haidt’s framework in several places, there are also several openings where Logic-Based Therapy could have an impact.

Haidt’s Social Intuitionist Model

Beginning with Plato’s story of the myth of Gyges’ ring in the Republic, Haidt claims that human nature more closely resembles Glaucon’s account of justice than Socrates’. It will be recalled that in this part of the Republic, Glaucon and Socrates are debating about the value and origin of justice. In order to show that most people see justice as the lesser of two evils, and that it only arose in order to keep people from the worst fate of suffering evil without the possibility of recompense, Glaucon describes the ring of Gyges that was said to make its wearer invisible. Glaucon claims that anyone with this power to become invisible at will would do whatever he or she wanted knowing that they would not be caught and punished. Thus, Glaucon claims it is more important and more profitable for people to be thought to be just rather than to actually be just. Haidt accepts this assessment as the correct account of human nature.

Socrates, on the other hand, crafts an image of the soul which he believes shows the intrinsic value of justice. A just soul for Socrates is one where reason is in charge. In Socrates’ image of the just soul, reason is represented by a man who keeps the unruly beasts (both wild and tame) of the appetites and passions under control and maintains harmony among them all. Without reason’s rule, Socrates tells us, the unjust soul is in a torturous state of internal war. This is not Haidt’s view of the human psyche.

Haidt compares reason to a rider and the intuitions (appetites and passions) to an elephant. The elephant, Haidt tells us, is actually in control. The rider (or reason) plays a much more limited role than in Socrates’ description. Reason (the rider) occasionally has some limited influence on the intuitions (the elephant) in determining the emotions, opinions, and behavior of the person but reason’s primary role is to serve as a public relations representative for the person. Remember, Haidt claims it’s more important for people to seem just than to be just. Reputation, including one’s own self-concept, is all-important. The elephant (intuitions) makes the decisions, and the rider (reason) follows along behind justifying and defending those decisions to others and to oneself.

As disheartening as Haidt’s view of the human psyche may be, it is clear that there is an opportunity for Logic-Based Therapy to play a role here. Recall that Logic-Based Therapy also begins with the claim that people use logical arguments to justify their emotions and behavior.  Unfortunately, as Haidt’s framework developed, the opportunity for Logic-Based Therapy to play a role in restoring civil discourse narrowed even further, but it never completely disappears.

Haidt claims that he originally held the view that emotions gave rise to moral judgments, the moral judgments gave rise to logical reasoning, and then the logical reasoning doubled back to check and influence the moral judgments. As his work evolved, he began to think of emotions in a more inclusive and less cognitive sense as intuitions, and the role of reason became even more limited. Haidt’s developed view of the formation of moral judgments is one where “intuitions (caused by a triggering event) come first and reasoning is usually produced after a judgment is made, (primarily) in order to influence other people” (55). Haidt refers to this as the social intuitionist model which represents a socially dynamic and iterative process, whereby, “as a discussion progresses, the reasons given by other people sometimes change our intuitions and judgments,” and this process repeats itself between the participants in the discussion (Haidt  55). According to Haidt, while it is possible for a person to change their own moral judgments through private reflection, it is relatively rare for most of us to “change our mind about a moral issue without any prompting from someone else” (56).

In terms of Logic-Based Therapy, if we think of the social intuitionist model in the context of a Logic-Based Therapy session, the point of intervention for the Logic-Based Therapy counselor or consultant would be where the LBT practitioner’s reasoning and judgments impact and influence the client’s original intuitions concerning the triggering event and thus change the client’s judgments and reasoning about the event. Moreover, this dynamic interactive process continues and works in both directions such that the client’s secondary judgments and reasoning (based on their intuitions concerning the LBT practitioner’s intervention) will impact and influence the LBT practitioner’s intuitions, judgments, and reasoning. Thus, the social intuitionist model can also serve as a reminder that it is important for Logic-Based Therapy practitioners to be mindful of the influence of their own intuitions on their judgments and reasoning as the session progresses.

Toward the end of The Righteous Mind, Haidt suggests that the way out of the morally and politically polarized condition of our public life is for psychologists to “work with political scientists to identify changes that will indirectly undermine Manichaeism” (362), also known as the Logic-Based Therapy Cardinal Fallacy of Pigeonholing as a form of Simplifying Reality. The Logic-Based Therapy session is one such indirect approach. With its emphasis on the corresponding Guiding Virtue of Objectivity, there is definitely a role for Logic-Based Therapy to play here.

Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory

The second way in which Haidt downplays the role of reason in his framework is through a reliance on a version of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Haidt believes that the formation of our moral and political positions can be understood through a series of steps in both individual genetic and social cultural evolution. According to Haidt, genetic evolution and cultural evolution work in tandem, and social groups as well as individuals are subject to the process of natural selection. Haidt identifies a number of evolved psychological mechanisms and social factors that he believes can allow us to track the formation of the political identifications of individuals from their genetic make-up. Haidt provides the evolutionary background of many of these mechanisms and factors, especially those that allow and encourage individuals to form coherent internally cooperative but externally competing social groups in The Righteous Mind; however, here we will focus only on those which, in spite of their proposed evolutionary origins, allow opportunities for Logic-Based Therapy to intervene in ways that contribute to the restoration of civil discourse.

Among these evolutionary developments are what Haidt refers to as moral foundations. Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory holds that there are at least six fundamental moral foundations that individuals and groups rely upon in making specific moral judgments as well as more general political identifications. These include:

  1. Care/Harm;
  2. Liberty/Oppression;
  3. Fairness/Cheating;
  4. Loyalty/Betrayal;
  5. Authority/Subversion; and,
  6. Sanctity/Degradation.

Haidt claims that these moral foundations arose through evolutionary processes, e.g., the Care/Harm foundation arose through the parental need to care for offspring.

Haidt sees these moral foundations as “universal cognitive modules upon which cultures construct moral matrices” (146). The six moral foundations (or modules) work together to form the moral matrices of particular cultures. Each moral foundation moves between the two extremes that its label identifies on the basis of certain triggers which activate that module. For example, the Care/Harm module was originally activated by “suffering, distress, or neediness expressed by one’s child” (146). It’s important to note however, that these triggers are culturally variable and in fact malleable so that today current triggers for the Care/Harm module might include “baby seals, cute cartoon characters,” etc.  Haidt claims that current triggers are “the sorts of things that do in fact trigger the relevant modules (sometimes by mistake) for people in a modern Western society” (147).  Different cultures will have different triggers, and Haidt claims that it is possible for the triggers to change in the course of a generation. While the triggers are culturally variable and malleable, Haidt insists that these moral foundations and their triggers are not relative so much as they are pluralistic.

Concerning Logic-Based Therapy, it appears that the moral foundations (or modules) are analogous to the general rules of the major premise of the LBT practical syllogisms that dictate ratings of particular objects, and the triggers serve as minor premise reports that “trigger” or activate those rules, thereby leading to particular emotions or behavior.  If, as Haidt claims, people can be mistaken in their identification and assessment of particular triggers for particular modules, and these triggers vary from culture to culture and are malleable, Logic-Based Therapy may have a role to play in adjusting these triggers of Haidt’s moral foundations/modules in ways that creates more civil public discourse and more healthy, pleasant and productive individual and social lives.

Haidt demonstrates how his Moral Foundations Theory can be used to understand the different (and often competing) moral commitments of the major political perspectives in modern Western society. Focusing on the Liberal, Libertarian, and Social Conservative perspectives, Haidt claims that the major difference between the three rests on the relative importance that each places on the different moral foundations in its moral matrix.  Liberals, Haidt tells us, place primary importance on the Care/Harm foundation, with secondary importance on the Liberty/Oppression foundation, Fairness/Cheating coming in third, and Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation barely registering. The most sacred value for the Liberal Moral Matrix is “Care for victims of oppression” (351).  Libertarians, for their part, place primary importance on Liberty/Oppression, with Fairness/Cheating (especially in terms of people getting what they deserve/earn) a distant second, and the remaining four moral foundations (including Care/Harm) barely registering. The sacred value for the Libertarian Moral Matrix is Individual liberty (352).  In contrast to both liberals and libertarians, Haidt claims that social conservatives value all six moral foundations relatively equally, including what Haidt calls the external socially binding factors of Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation. The most sacred value for the Social Conservative Moral Matrix is to “preserve the institutions and traditions that sustain a moral community” (357).


Although Haidt has long self-identified as a political liberal, he finds himself ultimately favoring social conservatism. He claims that in stressing the importance of the social institutions and traditions, e.g., laws, customs, nations, and religions, which are embraced by what Haidt calls the external socially binding moral foundations, i.e., Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation, social conservatism is able to do what liberalism and libertarianism cannot, and that is to hold societies together. According to Haidt, the Liberal and Libertarian Moral Matrices, in ignoring these external socially binding factors, allow for the fragmentation and disintegration of society that can so easily degenerate into the political polarization and fractious condition of our current society.

Haidt is aware that these external socially binding moral foundations also support religious cults and fascist dictatorships, and he insists that more is necessary for a successful society than just the final three (external socially binding) moral foundations. Haidt is also aware that to the modern Western educated mind such external socially binding moral foundations sound threatening and even dangerous. After all, wasn’t the goal of the Enlightenment to enable individuals to think for themselves, to throw off the chains of authority, religion and superstition, so that individuals might freely use their own reason? In response to this, Haidt cites historian Jerry Muller who claims that modern conservatism is operating from within the terms of Enlightenment thinking and not counter to it. Muller identifies “Enlightenment thinking” as “the search for human happiness based on the use of reason” (quoted in Haidt  337). Haidt contends that social conservatism has identified an essential element for human happiness through the use of reason, i.e., the socially binding forces that can hold a society together outside of or beyond the thinking/reason of any particular individual. In basically ignoring these socially binding moral foundations, i.e., Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation, Haidt believes liberals and libertarians have overlooked an essential element of human happiness and have contributed to the deterioration of coherence in our society and the breakdown of civil discourse in these fractious times.

In addition to favoring social conservatism for its embrace of the external socially binding moral foundations, Haidt also favors it because in his view it takes into account all six of the moral foundations in its moral matrix as opposed to liberalism and libertarianism which only take into account one or two or three at the most. Haidt claims that the inclusiveness of social conservatism should enable social conservatives to understand and empathize with the other two political perspectives in ways that liberals and libertarians are not able to understand and, hence, empathize with social conservatism.

In spite of his empirical descriptive approach and his fairly consistent downplaying of individual reason, Haidt concludes on a prescriptive and reasonable note by stressing the importance of empathy through understanding as a solution to improving the civility of public discourse in these fractious times. Haidt sees the development of empathy as a primary change that will indirectly undermine Manichaeism and its deleterious effects on our society.

As Haidt completes the quote cited above from page 58 of The Righteous Mind:

If you really want to change someone’s mind on a moral or political matter, you’ll need to see things from that person’s angle as well as your own. And if you do truly see it the other person’s way—deeply and intuitively—you might even find your mind opening in response. Empathy is an antidote to righteousness, although it’s very difficult to empathize across a moral divide. (58)

Haidt sees the understanding of the different political perspectives provided by his analysis as a bridge across the moral divide that might contribute to the development of empathy among the adherents of the different political perspectives.

Finally, Haidt provides some concrete suggestions for creating understanding and, hence, empathy among adherents of different political perspectives— a Logic-Based Therapy plan of action, perhaps. Haidt calls upon people, both in political office and among the general population, to interact with each other more, i.e., to mix and mingle with people of different political perspectives.   Haidt recalls a time before 1995, when congressional members of both parties would move their families to Washington, DC. They would attend parties with each other, their spouses would become friends, and their children would attend the same schools. It was much more difficult for congressional members to treat each other as poorly then as they do now when most of them leave their families in their home state, fly into Washington on Monday nights, do battle with their adversaries for three days, and fly back home on Thursday night.

Haidt claims the same phenomenon is occurring in the general population:

Technology and changing residential patterns have allowed each of us to isolate ourselves within cocoons of like-minded individuals…Our counties and towns are becoming increasingly segregated into “lifestyle enclaves,” in which ways of voting, eating, working, and worshipping are increasingly aligned.  (364)

According to Haidt, indirectly attacking Manichaeism requires intermingling among people of different political perspectives. More positive interactions, more pleasant experiences with each other, and better relationships are the key to understanding where those who disagree with us are coming from.

Logic-Based Therapy is definitely up for the task of promoting Empathy, the Guiding Virtue that corresponds to the Cardinal Fallacy of The-World-Revolves-Around-Me Thinking. Hopefully, Empathy will lead to Respect and Empowerment of others. And, one day we might even be able to ask, “Why does the fact that someone disagrees with me mean that we are in a combat situation?”

Laura Newhart is a Professor of Philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University. Her areas of specialization include ethics and political philosophy. She currently has research interests in philosophical counseling, especially Logic-Based Therapy; philosophy for children; and the philosophy of mothering.  This article was originally published in the International Journal of Philosophical Practice 4.4 (Fall 2017) and is reprinted by permission of the Editor.


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