Early Theories Of Emotion The Greek Philosophers

The writings of Plato and Aristotle on the subject of the emotions are vastly different, both in terms of extent and of the impact they were to have on subsequent Western philosophy. In this chapter we try to outline both approaches (though with a heavy Aristotelian bias) and endeavour to explain why the clearly articulated ideas of Aristotle were distorted or suppressed, while the relatively unformulated opinions of Plato were to exert a strong influence on ways of thinking about emotion for over 2000 years.

The beginnings of an answer to this question are apparent when one considers that Plato's theory of mind was essentially dualist, with an earthly body being inhabited by a divine soul (e.g., Phaedo: 64c, 80 a-b), an idea with obvious appeal to the Christian and Islamic thinkers who were to follow. In contrast, Aristotle had no time for such notions and was the first to propose a view of the mind that might rightly be called functionalist; an approach that provides the foundation for modern-day cognitive science and which gave rise to considerable theological unease.

In retrospect it is clear that with the works of Plato and Aristotle we have the sources of two rich streams of philosophical discourse and ideas. The first stream runs directly through the history of Western philosophy and can be traced via the work of René Descartes (1596-1650), John Locke (1632-1704), David Hume (1711-1776), and William James (1842-1910) before drying up in the behaviourist desert. The second stream, with Aristotle as its source, runs a more elusive subterranean course, surfacing at intervals in the writings of the Stoic philosophers, Seneca and Chryssipus (see Rist, 1969), in the work of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), and the ideas of Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), before emerging as a raging torrent in the second half of the twentieth century in the work of Magda Arnold, Anthony Kenny, William Lyons, and the numerous theoreticians whose ideas are reviewed in Chapters 3 and 4. This latter cognitive stream is still gaining momentum and the ideas we try to put forward in this book without doubt "go with the flow".

In the rest of this chapter we trace the courses of both streams of thought. First we shall consider the writings of Plato and the ideas of the two most influential proponents of dualist philosophy and its derivatives—Descartes and James—and their behaviourist nemesis as illustrated by the work of Watson, Skinner, and Ryle. We shall then turn to a discussion of the development of the cognitive theory of emotions through the writing of Aristotle, Aquinas, Spinoza, and twentieth-century Anglo-American philosophy.

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