Chapter One

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22 Apr 2012
Chapter One - Page 1 of 6
Chapter One: Approaches to Understanding Emotions
Nineteenth Century Founders
Charles Darwin: the evolutionary approach
The expression of the emotions in man and animals (1872)
The origin of species (1859)
o Described how living things have evolved to be adapted to their environments
He observed emotion expressions in nonhuman species, as well as in adult and infant humans
Cross cultural studies; questionnaires
Asked to observe particular expressions in other cultures
Darwin concluded that emotional expressions derive largely from habits that in our evolutionary or
individual past had once been useful. These are based on reflex-like mechanisms.
Thought of emotional expressions like vestigial parts of our bodies
Our emotions link us to the past both, the past of our species and our own infancy
Helped provide descriptions of facial expressions
Argued for the universality of expressions
Thought that emotions have useful functions too
William James: the bodily approach
The principles of psychology (1890)
William James argued against the commonsense idea that when we feel an emotion it impels us to a
certain kind of activity that if we were to meet a bear in the woods we would feel frightened and run
Instead, James thought that when we perceive the object of fear, a bear, “the exciting fact” as he put it,
then the emotion is the perception of changes of our body as we react to that fact. When we feel
frightened, James thought, what we feel is our heart beating, our skin cold, our posture frozen, or our
legs carrying us away as fast as possible
He focuses on the nature of emotional experience
The core of an emotion is the pattern of bodily responses
Our experience of many emotions is the set of changes in the ANS
Emotions give colour and warmth to experience
Sigmund Freud: the psychoanalytic approach
Proposed that certain events can be so damaging that they leave psychological scars
Case of Katharina
Emotions are at the core of many pathologies
Philosophical and Literary Approaches
Aristotle: the conceptual approach
Emotions are connected with action
Emotions depend on what we believe they’re evaluations
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Chapter One - Page 2 of 6
We are responsible for our emotions because we’re responsible for our beliefs and valuations of the
Aristotle’s book – Rhetoric
o Three principles:
A hearer is more likely to believe a good person than a bad one
People are persuaded when what is said stirs their emotions
People are persuaded by arguments that seem truthful
Solomon (2004) says: emotions are judgments, and to understand how this occurs we can say that there
are subjective engagements in the world
Aristotle’s book – Poetics
o Concerned with narrative writing, mainly tragedy
o He said drama is about universal human action, and what can happen when well-intentioned
human actions miscarry
o He noticed two important effects of tragic drama:
People are moved emotionally
We experience katharsis of our emotion
Mistranslated as purgation/purification ridding oneself of toxic emotions, or to
elevate them via going to the theater
Means clarification the clearing away of obstacles to understand our emotions
By seeing universal predicaments of human action at the theater, we may come
to experience emotions of pity and fear
Rene Descartes: the philosophical approach
The passions of the Soul (1649)
o Basis for modern neurophysiology
Founder of modern philosophy and the scientific view of the brain
Six fundamental emotions wonder, desire, joy, love, hatred, and sadness occur in the thinking aspect
of ourselves (soul). At the same time, they’re closely connected to our bodies (heart rate, blushing, tears)
Differentiated emotions from other perceptions about outside world events and those that arise from
events within the body
Perceptions tell us about what is important in the outside world, and bodily passions like hunger and pain
tell us about important events in the body, emotions tell us what is important in our souls
Identified the origins of emotions in our souls
Emotions can’t be entirely controlled by thinking, but they can regulated by thoughts (Especially true
Like Aristotle, he suggested that emotions depend on our evaluations
First to argue that emotions serve important functions
Central idea of his book was that our emotions are usually functional, but can sometimes be
He was a contemporary of William Harvey who discovered the circulation of the blood
Four humours (derived from Hippocrates, Galen, etc.)
o Disease was caused by imbalance among them, and each gave rise to an emotional state
o Blood - hope and vigor - sanguine
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