The Passions and The Emotions

For this series we have decided to focus on the passions and the emotions. Our speakers have been invited to interpret this as widely as they might like, to include anything that bears on basic questions in this area, including historical treatments, where perhaps ‘passion’ was a term more widely used than ’emotion’. We are inviting potential lecturers to talk about issues in the area which interest them particularly, as well as themes of more general current and historical philosophical study.

All the lectures start at 5.45 in 14 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0AR.  The talks last an hour, followed by a short break and half an hour of questions.  The lectures are free, there are no tickets, and no reservations can be taken. You are advised to arrive early to be sure of a seat, as fire regulations mean that when the hall is full we cannot let anyone else in.  All the lectures will appear on our YouTube channel — you can watch past London Lecture series there too.

*2017*

October

6th – Eleonore Stump

Love and Forgiveness: A Thomistic Account

In the thought of Thomas Aquinas, love is a passion, but it is also the foundation of the ethical life. Aquinas’s account of the nature of love is sophisticated and powerful; and it has implications for a wide range of other ethical notions, including forgiveness. In this lecture, I explore the nature of forgiveness, understood in the Thomistic way, as a function of love. I show that this Thomistic understanding of forgiveness yields an intuitively appealing account, which nonetheless has the surprising result that forgiveness does not always imply reconciliation, even with a wrongdoer who is genuinely repentant.

13st – Elizabeth Radcliffe

Ruly and Unruly Passions: Early Modern Perspectives

A survey of theories on the passions and action in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Britain and Europe reveals that few, if any, of the major writers held the view that reason in any of its functions executes action without a passion. Even rationalists, like Cambridge Platonist Ralph Cudworth and English clergyman Samuel Clarke, recognized the necessity of passion to action. On the other hand, many of these intellectuals also agreed with French philosophers Jean-François Senault, René Descartes, and Nicolas Malebranche that, for passions to be useful or to become virtues, they must be governed by reason. Without the moderation of reason, passions will be unruly, distort our notions of good, and disrupt our rational volitions. In response to these popular early modern perspectives, Enlightenment thinker David Hume offered a now-famous argument that reason without passion cannot motivate, drawing the further conclusion that reason cannot govern the passions, either. Given that no one in Hume’s era seemed to defend the claim that reason alone can motivate action, what was Hume’s intention?

20th – Paisley Livingston

Lange vs James on emotion and the arts

It is often asserted that an innovative account of emotions was independently discovered by Carl Georg Lange (1885) and William James (1884), as was declared by James in his (1890) Principles of Psychology. I argue that there are important differences between the innovative parts of what Lange and James wrote on the subject. Most notably, Lange was unlike James in insisting on the importance of distinguishing between passions and emotions. I develop this argument with special reference to Lange’s largely overlooked 1899 book on aesthetics, Bidrag til Nydelsernes Fysiologi.

27th – John Cottingham

The Passions and Religious Belief: Early-Modern and Contemporary Perspectives

Descartes is normally regarded as a philosopher who aims to base his system on the pure light of reason. But a closer reading of his arguments shows that the passions and emotions play a crucial role in establishing the theistic foundations for his philosophy.  After exploring this insufficiently appreciated aspect of Cartesian philosophy the lecture will go on to draw some lessons for contemporary philosophy of religion, arguing that much of it suffers from an overly abstract and intellectualised methodology.  Recovering an authentic conception of religious understanding requires us to acknowledge the vital contribution of the emotions and passions to a proper cognitive grasp of the nature of the cosmos and our place within it.

November

3rd – tbc

10th – Patricia Greenspan

The Evaluative Content of Emotion

We can distinguish between the object and the content of emotion on the model of sense versus reference. Fear, for instance, refers to something one is afraid of and involves an evaluation of that object as dangerous which amounts to the “meaning” of the emotion. Some current accounts of the unpleasantness of physical pain lend support to my treatment of emotional discomfort or other affect as what does the evaluating, but they call for an explanation of how it can simultaneously evaluate the sensory symptoms of emotion and its external object. I make two suggestions, modifying my earlier view.

17th – Sabine Roeser

The Role of Emotions and Art for Moral Reflection on Risky Technologies

Debates about risky technologies such as biotechnology, ICTs and energy technologies are frequently heated and end up in stalemates, due to the scientific and moral complexities of these risks. In this lecture I will argue that emotions are crucial to debates about technological risks, because emotions can point out what morally matters. I will also examine the role that works of art can play in this. Recently, artists have become involved with risky technologies. I will argue that such artworks can contribute to emotional-moral reflection on risky technologies by making abstract problems more concrete, letting us broaden narrow personal perspectives, exploring new scenarios, and challenging our imagination.

24th – Sebastian Gardner

The Aesthetic Dimension of Passion

The idea I want to explore is that emotion, or passion, has an inherent aesthetic dimension – in the sense that the very having of it gives occasion (which may or may not be taken up) for a type of satisfaction that, if only for want of any alternative, may be described as aesthetic. The idea – which is obviously puzzling – is borrowed from Charles Altieri, but it is also, I argue, an important thought of Nietzsche’s. My primary aim is accordingly to explain the idea and its attractions – i.e., what it might mean, and why one might want, to say that passion by its nature has an aesthetic character.

December

1st – Mark Schroeder

Why You’ll Regret Not Attending This Talk

Some people are like me in the following way: when faced with major life decisions, we find it probative to think through those decisions in terms of their possible consequences for what we might later regret.  This paper is an attempt to come to grips with what it would take to fully rationalize this thought.  It is not, I argue, fully rationalized by regret’s role as a heuristic.  To understand it, we must look to the significance we place on our authorship over our own lives, in our own self-understanding.

*2018*

January

19th – Fiona Ellis

The Quest for God: rethinking the concept of desire

How are we to understand the idea of a quest for God? Does it make sense in these times? And what, if anything, does it have to do with desire? I examine two different approaches to these questions – in Sartre and Levinas – and bring out the implications for an understanding of self, God, and the relation between them.

26th – Michael Lacewing

A truthful way to live? Objectivity, ethics and psychoanalysis

Is there a best way to live? If so, is this a form of ethical life? The answer, I believe, turns on what we can say about the nature and place of the passions – emotions and desires – in our lives, including in particular, our ability to be truthful about our passions and our relations with other people. I approach the question through the work of Bernard Williams. I consider first what it might be for a way of life to be ‘objectively’ best, before looking more closely at the psychological conditions of such a life, using ideas from psychoanalysis on the way we hide our true passions from ourselves and the effect this can have on our understanding of both ourselves and others. I end by considering whether we can say that a truthful life is the best life, and whether it places universal and material constraints on how best to live.

February

2nd – Susan James

Swept Away by Passion

Some human passions are stronger and more intense than others.  Rage, for example, is stronger than irritation, and hatred is stronger than dislike.  Love can be stronger than fear, or the other way round. We habitually describe passions as strong or weak, and assess them in these terms. (Her rage was excessive, her love insufficient.) In doing so, we draw on an ancient metaphor that clearly makes some phenomenological sense.  But what does the strength of a passion consist in? Since the metaphor has been around for such a long time there will be more than one detailed answer to this question, but in this lecture I shall begin by sketching a relatively stable interpretation of passionate strength and its counterpart, passionate weakness.  I shall go on to consider what this metaphor can explain about our passions, and what it conceals.

9th – Jamie Dow

The Persuasive Use of Emotions
The rhetorical power of emotions came to philosophers’ attention early on in the western tradition: emotions can exert a powerful effect on what an audience comes to believe or decides to do. I focus here on their effect on audience beliefs. A key question in antiquity was whether this use of emotions is benign or manipulative, and hence whether skill in emotion-arousal is properly considered a part of a valuable and commendable expertise in public persuasion. Since Aristotle clearly offers a positive answer to that question, we are entitled to ask what he would need to think emotions are like, and how he must think they function persuasively, so as to make their persuasive effect a beneficial one. In other words, what does one need to believe about emotions and their persuasive effects for these to transmit justification to the new beliefs which they help produce in the listener? Following cues in Aristotle’s Rhetoric, I argue that we can make sense of a legitimate persuasive use of emotions if we recognise their similarity in certain respects to beliefs, and model their persuasive use on the ways in which good inferences can transmit justification from believing the premises to beliving the conclusion. This requires a potentially controversial assimilation of emotions to beliefs, consisting in the following three claims. First, emotions involve accepting their representational contents as true. Second, when emotions are justified in the relevant sense, this is epistemic justification. Third, the kind of persuasion vindicated here would involve audiences’ forming their new beliefs as a result of accepting as true the emotion’s representational contents, and recognising how this served to make the truth of the conclusion more likely. I assess the prospects for accepting these claims, and vindicating the persuasive use of emotion-arousal when (and to the extent that) they hold true.

16th – Alexander Douglas

How to Make the Passions Active: Spinoza and R.G. Collingwood

According to Spinoza, “an affect which is a passion ceases to be a passion as soon as we form a clear and distinct idea of it” (Ethics 5p3). What does Spinoza mean by this, and how does he argue for it? I propose a somewhat off-beat interpretation, influenced by R.G. Collingwood’s reading of Spinoza in his Principles of Art. Collingwood’s reading, I argue, deserves more attention than it has been given by Spinoza scholars.

23rd – Matthew Ratcliffe

Emotional Intentionality 

Abstract: In this talk, I will offer an account of what distinguishes emotional intentionality from other kinds of intentionality. I will focus on what I call the ‘two-sided’ structure of emotional experience. Emotions such as being afraid of p and being angry about p might be thought of as intentional states with specific contents. However, it is important to acknowledge that experiencing p in a distinctively emotional way also involves a wider-ranging disturbance of the experiential world within which p is encountered. My task will be to spell out exactly what this disturbance consists of, clarify its relationship to the localized content of an emotional experience, and show that this two-sidedness is specific to emotional intentionality.

March

2nd – Nancy Sherman

Dancers and Soldiers Sharing the Dance Floor: Emotional Expression in Dance

When we talk about emotional expression in ordinary interaction, what typically comes to mind is showing what you’re feeling. To express emotions often means to give a “read out” of the heart.  This was in no small part the mission of modern dance. “To make visible the interior landscape,” was how Martha Graham described the modernists’ reaction to the mannerism of ballet. But expression as showing what you’re feeling is far too narrow a view of the presentation of emotion in both ordinary interactions and performative space. Thinking about modern dance as a reaction to ballet, and ballet and its commingled roots in court etiquette and military drill sheds light on a broader view of emotion expression as communicative and the critical role of dynamic movement of the body proper in that expression.