Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1979

Department

Philosophy

Abstract

Human emotion is, to some, an embarrassment. They regard our emotional aspect as not fully human; like some grotesque offspring, it should be hidden away in our psychic cellar or gotten rid of altogether. Our emotions (or "passions" or "affections") are powerful, but they may be kept at bay by our fair child, reason. The enmity seems natural; reason represents the orderly, the proper, the Apollonian; emotion is the disruptive, the capricious, the Dionysian. The accomplishments of cool reason may be consumed in the heat of passion. To give vent to emotion is thus to turn irrational and to reveal that one has at least temporarily lost a clear and compelling vision of the rational cosmic order. Such a view is held by Spinoza, for example, who defines a passion as "a confused idea," and who sets a chapter on "the strength of the emotions" which he called "Of Human Bandage." In the same spirit, Marcus Aurelius warns:

"This is the chief thing: Do not be perturbed, for all things are according to the law of nature... Let that part of your soul which leads and governs be undisturbed by motions of the flesh... let it set a wall around itself and keep those emotions in their place."

To others, emotion is a delight. They prescribe the relaxing of reason in a warm bath of passion. The Romantics see reason as pale, conventional, and imprisoning, while emotion is intense, natural, and liberating. Sometimes, however, this celebration of the emotions is only instrumental, as with the Orphics, who would indulge in frenzied orgies as a sacrament of purification, a ritual catharsis of the baser passions. Yet even these emotional enthusiasts assume a fundamental opposition of reason and emotion. [excerpt]

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