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Emotions

Definitions, How Rational Are Emotions?, Bibliography

Ideas about emotions and their function in human and animal life have been a major theme in philosophy—and more recently in psychology and the social sciences—since the time of the ancient Greeks. The history of ideas about emotion is an essential part of the history of ideas about human nature and about human continuity—and discontinuity—with other animals. Whether emotions are essentially part of our "animal nature" or products of culture and cultivation, for example, is an issue that determines a great deal about our attitudes toward and evaluations of them. The history of ideas about emotion plays a particularly controversial role in the history of ideas about gender and culture. Whether women are "more emotional" (and thus less rational) than men, whether Greeks are more emotional and less rational than "Barbarians" or Englishmen are more emotional and less rational than their colonized subjects have been central themes in the often ugly histories of sexism and racism. Thus it is noteworthy that recent feminist studies have deeply probed the political role of the emotions and gender politics. And the history of ideas about emotion provides several important threads in the history of ethics, whether in the guise of "passion as a threat to reason" or in the more benign role of sympathy and the moral sentiments. Whether emotions contribute to or undermine rationality has been a central issue in ethics (at least) since Socrates.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Electrophoresis (cataphoresis) to Ephemeral