Transcript: 290. Martin Pickavé on Emotions in Medieval Philosophy

Martin Pickavé returns to the podcast to talk about theories of the emotions in Aquinas, Scotus and Wodeham.

Note: this transcription was produced by automatic voice recognition software. It has been corrected by hand, but may still contain errors. We are very grateful to Tim Wittenborg for his production of the automated transcripts and for the efforts of a team of volunteer listeners who corrected the texts.

Peter Adamson: Today our episode topic is going to be emotions, which is something that has occasionally arisen in the podcast. Maybe the most obvious thing is that I talked about Seneca's treatise On Anger. Obviously, that's about an emotion, namely anger. But it's not something that I've talked about a lot in this series, and it may seem a surprising topic for some listeners. Could you say why philosophers should be interested in emotions? 

Martin Pickavè: Yes, I don't think it's surprising because emotions are part of our mental life, a very important part. Well, we might go around the world and only act on careful deliberation, but often we interact with the world and our fellow citizens by being angry at them, loving them, hating them, and so on. So they're an important part of how we manage to get around. And philosophers in the medieval period saw that as well, for example, in Aquinas, who provides - at least in terms of pages and words, the most comprehensive account of emotions before the early modern period. He has a whole series of questions in the Prima Secunda in the part on the principles of action. So he takes very seriously the idea that emotions are principles of action and required to be discussed in the same way as, for example, the will and virtues have to be discussed as well, because they are also principles of action. That's one reason why philosophers should be interested in emotions. Another reason is, of course, that at least in classical Aristotelian philosophy, emotions are that which are moderated by the virtues. So temperance moderates our desires. And of course, if you want to understand the nature of virtues, you have to understand the nature of the things that are moderated. So I can't imagine any complete moral psychology that is not also covering the phenomenon of emotions. 

Peter Adamson: Can I just ask you a quick terminological question here: in antique philosophy, when people talk about emotions, usually they're talking about "pathe," which has this very strong connotation of passivity. And I guess that the Latin word that comes closest to our word emotions is "passiones." Is that right? So yes, it's effectively the Latin version of the same. 

Martin Pickavè: Exactly. So the term "emotion" doesn't appear before the 17th century. I think it is in Descartes, but there it actually means something slightly different. So the classical term for emotions is passions, passiones. That's quite interesting for various reasons we might get into. The medievals, of course, they also sometimes refer to them as "affectus." And they also use terms that they take from antiquity, like "perturbaciones" or "acritudines." But of course, those are descriptions of passions that are negative. I mean, if you call a passion a kind of a disturbance of the soul, then you indicate that it's a bad thing. And the medieval philosophers do not think that passions are per se a bad thing. Of course, some manifestations of passions are bad, but not all of them. 

Peter Adamson: And in fact, some of them are almost obligatory, like love for God, if that counts as an emotion. Now, an obvious question that poses itself in the medieval context - since they are all working within what's sometimes called faculty psychology, where you have these different powers of soul, is: where do the emotions fit? I mean, they have a kind of limited range of possible answers that they could give here. Are emotions somehow connected to reason? Are they connected to the well? Or what? Where do medieval philosophers locate the emotions in our psychology? 

Martin Pickavè: Yeah, the Latin philosophers of the 13th century can be seen as completing Aristotle's faculty psychology when they try to find a place for the emotions in the economy of psychological powers. That's not new - patristic authors do the same, and they're heavily reliant on the patristic authors. But one of the key questions they have 'is where do emotions fit?' Do they belong to the sensitive soul, i.e. the soul we have in common with animals, or do they belong to the intellective soul, i.e. the soul that is typical for human beings? And depending on the authors, the responses are quite different. For example, for Aquinas, emotions or passiones are in the sense of appetite. There are some emotion or passion-like states also in the higher appetite, i.e. the will, but Aquinas does not call them passiones, passions. But in later authors, in Duns Scotus, for example, whom we discussed a couple of podcasts ago, he thinks that the passions of the soul, the human passions of the soul, belong actually to the will, they are in the will. And there are some passion-like emotions in the lower appetite, i.e. the ones we share with the animals, but those are not emotions in the proper sense. 

Peter Adamson: Okay. Actually, one of the issues that comes up there is one you mentioned just in passing, which is whether animals - non-human animals, in other words - have emotions. And I guess that it's plausible to say that they do, right, because animals seem to react with anger. In certain circumstances. And so if you locate the emotions in humans in a higher faculty that animals don't have, like the will, then you're sort of forced to say that either animals don't have emotions, although they seem to, or they have something that is like an emotion, or that emotions can work differently in animals than they do in humans. 

Martin Pickavè: Yes. So among authors like Aquinas - those authors who think that emotions belong to the sensitive soul, they all agree on the idea that animals have emotions, including anger. Of course, they are not angry about the same things as human beings are angry about. I mean, they don't get angry at not being promoted or such, obviously, but that doesn't mean they don't have anger in the proper sense. 

Peter Adamson: Of course, if it's a cat, it just assumes it's in charge in any circumstance. Now, in sort of anticipating what medievals might say about emotions, I guess the obvious thing to do is to think about what Aristotle says, because he's usually their main point of reference. And Aristotle talks about the emotions in various places, including the Rhetoric. But to me, the most prominent passage where he talks about emotions is actually a sort of passing remark that he makes about anger. And here he says that anger can be considered in two ways: It's a physical phenomenon. So it's "the boiling of the blood around the heart," as he says, but it's also a phenomenon of desire or thought, maybe. And he says in particular, it's a desire for revenge. And then he says that the natural philosopher might think about it in terms of its physiological manifestation, whereas the dialectician - whatever he means by that - thinks about it as a desire for revenge. Is that the way the medievals think about it too, that it has this kind of double-sided nature where it's both something in the body and something maybe in the soul? 

Martin Pickavè: Yes, some do. So the passage you're referring to at the beginning of Aristotle's On The Soul is indeed a very important passage because depending on which view you have about emotions, you have to say something about that passage. Aquinas, for example, has a very straightforward reading of this. So he thinks indeed that we get some sort of idea here of what an emotion is. And he takes very seriously the idea that an emotion, in this case, anger, is both a desire for revenge and involves essentially a bodily change. And that is one of the key reasons why he thinks that emotions belong to the sensitive appetite, i.e. they don't belong to the cognitive faculties of the sensory soul, like perception and imagination and so on. They belong to the sense of appetite, i.e. a desiring faculty we have because the appetite is essentially linked to the body - that the whole body is an organ. So every movement of the appetite also entails a bodily change. So you might say that Aquinas, for example, has a hylomorphic understanding of emotions because he thinks that there's a formal aspect, i.e. the pro attitude in this sense. And there's a material attitude, i.e. the bodily change. And he takes that more or less from that very passage, although, of course, it's not very clear what Aristotle means here. 

Peter Adamson: Right. In fact, he's really just making a methodological point. Probably you shouldn't take it too seriously as a theory of emotion. 

Martin Pickavè: But the passage is very important because this seems to be one of the only references to emotions in the whole work On The Soul. And the Medievals, when they read Aristotle's De Anima, they wonder about all the things that haven't been covered there. Another thing that hasn't been covered there apparently seems to be something like the faculty of the will, which the Medievals, of course, also think is very important. 

Peter Adamson: Some of them even complain about the fact that it's missing. It's interesting that his account of the emotions, then, is actually a lot like his account of sensation. And this shows how thoroughgoing his hylomorphism is. He always wants to say there's a material phenomenon. In the case of sensation, it's the reception of a species in the eye. In the case of anger, it's the blood around the heart. And then there's a psychological aspect, which in the case of sensation is seeing, for example. In the case of anger is forming this desire for revenge. 

Martin Pickavè: Exactly. Yeah. And you might think that this is fairly counterintuitive because there are certain desires that do not result in a change of the body because you don't perceive it. Of course, if you're angry, you obviously have also a certain proprioception that your pulse goes up and you kind of feel a certain state. But the fact that we sometimes can't perceive the body to change is not an argument against the very idea that emotions come along with the bodily state. 

Peter Adamson: I see. So you might feel jealous and although you're not conscious of something happening in your body, it is. To what extent is the range of emotions that would be recognized by someone like Aquinas just the same as we would consider to be emotions? I mean, does Aquinas just kind of have a checklist of the emotions? And is it pretty much the checklist we would think of? So envy, anger, jealousy, gladness, sadness, that sort of thing? 

Martin Pickavè: Contemporary philosophers of emotions wonder whether there are any basic emotions - whether there are any emotions to which all other maybe more complex emotions can be reduced. And Aquinas also thinks that there are some basic emotions. He thinks of 11 basic emotions, namely, let me just mention them: love, hate, desire, aversion, pleasure, sadness, hope, despair, fear, confidence, and anger. And he thinks they're basically two groups. The first six I mentioned from love to sadness, other so-called concupiscible passions, concupiscible emotions, and then there are the irascible emotions, namely from hope to anger. And he thinks there are 11 basic classes of emotion and there are many others, but they fall under one of these 11. So in this long treatise on emotions in the Prima Secunda, he goes through all of these 11 and he will have questions about how other emotions fit as species under these more general classes. Whereas later in the history of philosophy, of course, you get other classifications of emotions, for example, maybe most famously Descartes, he thinks that there are six basic emotions, namely: wonder, love, hatred, desire, joy, and sadness. And Descartes, of course, also thinks that there's a whole list of other emotions that fall under these as species under these six as general, but he also has an idea that there are some emotions that are composed out of these. Aquinas does not think that they're emotions composed out of these 11. 

Peter Adamson: Okay, so if you took a very kind of sophisticated and nuanced emotional state like being wistful because of the loss of your youth or something like that, they would have no problem with that because they would say that it's maybe a combination of sadness with something, some other kind of passion, as they put it. 

Martin Pickavè: So the question is, what is the dominant passion? So if we have to talk about the phenomenology of this, this emotion - but it might very well end up for Aquinas to be a species of sadness. 

Peter Adamson: Okay. And is it really plausible to say as he is that all the emotions have something to do with either concupiscence - or aversion, is the way that way you just put it. But basically that means that there are some things that you like and some things you don't like. Is it really plausible to say that all emotions have to do with these kind of positive and negative attitudes? I mean, couldn't you just, so for example, I would sort of want to say that wistfulness isn't particularly a negative or a positive attitude - it's more like a kind of ruminative mental state. Maybe he would just say if that's really what it is, it's not an emotion. 

Martin Pickavè: Yeah, it's just a ruminative mental state. It might not be an emotion, might be something like a mood. And then it would not fall under the emotions. Or you might think along his lines and say, 'well, maybe wistfulness is not one emotion. It is a combination of two emotions.' I mean, of course he does not, as I just said, he does not think that there are emotions which are composites of basic emotions, but he would just say, 'well, they're not, but then just two emotions.' 

Peter Adamson: Okay. I guess maybe a more fundamental objection to his whole picture though is that it does seem that reason has something to do with emotion. And in particular, it's hard to see how I could even be in an emotional state about something unless I had formed certain beliefs about it. So presumably he has a story about how reason is at least implicated in the formation of emotion, even if the emotion isn't actually seeded in the rational soul. 

Martin Pickavè: Yeah. So you might think that in a way the whole approach, both Aquinas and other people later, have is misguided because they put emotions on the appetitive side of the soul. They put emotions on the side of pro or negative attitudes to something that moves us to action. And you might think, 'well, is that really the right way to think about emotions? Aren't emotions also kind of judgment-like states? If I have love towards something, isn't that kind of judging a thing or evaluating a thing?' 

Peter Adamson: Or think about anger. Like if it's revenge, it's desire for revenge. I must have the belief that the person wronged me. Otherwise, how could I want to... 

Martin Pickavè: So you might think, well, don't emotions and not only do they involve, are they not also rational states or judgments? So Aquinas' response is to say, 'well, the emotion proper is not the cognitive state. Of course, emotions are caused by beliefs and sometimes also just brute perceptions and so on. But the perception and the antecedent cognition is just something that causes the emotion.' So he wants to make a distinction between what comes through this antecedent, what triggers the emotion, and the emotion proper. So of course, let's take the case of anger. Anger is normally considered in the tradition as a desire for revenge because of a slight that occurred. So of course, we have to perceive a slight. And this might involve sometimes very complex cognitive states. So I mentioned he was slighted by a colleague because he cites him improperly. So clearly, that involves a lot of processing, intellectual processing and so on. But Aquinas would say, well, this is just what triggers the emotion. It's not the emotion. The emotion is just the the desired state of the soul that goes together with a bodily change. 

Peter Adamson: Okay. In that case, he actually has three components for every emotion. There's the cognitive state that brings it on, like the judgment that someone's been wronged. And then within the emotion itself, there's two parts: There's the physical reaction and whatever is going on in your repetitive soul, which just means your desire for something or your aversion to something. 

Martin Pickavè: Yes, but only that the change of the body and the desire, they basically want two sides of the same coin. Because every desire for Aquinas goes together with a body. 

Peter Adamson: Just like a person is a soul in a body. 

Martin Pickavè: And it's essentially connected with a change. It's different from... When you mentioned the example that emotions seem to be something similar to perceptions. And they are, because normally in perception there's also some bodily change. But Aquinas makes a distinction. And he doesn't think that the bodily change that occurs in perception is as essential to the perception. Of course, it's difficult to receive sound without having an ear that is shaped a certain way. It's difficult to imagine that we could perceive sounds without the ear being shaped a certain way. But Aquinas would not think that the corporeal change of the organ is an essential part of the perception. It's just a condition that has to be in place for cognition to happen. He actually contrasts the way the body is involved in perception with the way the body is involved in emotions. And when he compares the two, he emphasizes that in the one case, in the emotion, that change is essential to the emotion, whereas in the other case, it's coincidental. 

Peter Adamson: Okay, well, that's obviously quite a sophisticated view of emotions, but not one that met with universal acclaim from later medieval philosophers - which is pretty much par for the course for Aquinas and his reception. And the core of his view, as you've said, is that the emotions are located in the appetitive faculty or the desiring soul, we might say. What is the case that can be made for associating the emotions with other faculties in the soul? 

Martin Pickavè: The main reason that determines the location of the emotions is the question of where the virtues are located? Because the moral virtues in particular are supposed to be moderating our emotions, at least some of them. And the idea is that, well, that thing that moderates the emotions must be the same faculty. Actually, the most straightforward view about virtues is just that virtues are dispositions of the appetitive faculty. So later authors like Scotus have independent arguments for locating the virtues in the will, because Aristotle's famous definition of virtues calls them habits of choice. And Scotus takes this to mean that they must be in the will, which is the faculty of choice. So for Scotus, it follows from this that the human emotions must exist primarily in the will. Now, of course, Aquinas was happy to agree that there are some emotion-like states in the will. He agrees with this himself. He just doesn't call them passions of the soul. He calls them affectus. And he's fairly consistent in that use. But he thinks they are not so important for human existence. I think that's why he insists that the passions exist in the sense of appetite, because there is something essential for us human beings to be an embodied existence. And in Scotus, we kind of get a slightly different anthropology. For Scotus, we are more identical with our intellective soul, which includes our will. Another reason, I think, why Scotus wants to locate the emotions in the will has to do with the location of the virtues, which are supposed to be 'that which moderates the passions.' So Scotus takes very seriously the idea expressed in Aristotle's definition of virtues: that virtues are habits of choice. So he thinks that habits of choice must belong to the faculty of choice, which is the will. So basically, he agrees with Aquinas that the location of the emotions is dependent on the location of virtue. He just thinks that virtues are located in a different power of the soul. And that determines where he wants to locate the emotions. That's one of the main reasons. The other reasons have to do with the experience of moral conflict. Scotus thinks, for example, he takes very seriously the idea that we can moderate our passions. But he also takes very seriously that there are certain, well, let me call them 'emotional responses' for the lack of a better word, that we cannot eradicate, for example, the experience of something: Sugar will always induce in us the emotion of pleasure. And in similar way that Aquinas wants to say, 'well, there is some emotion-like states in the higher faculty.' Scotus now does the reverse and will say, 'well, the same way as there are proper emotions in the world, there are some emotion -like states also in the lower appetite. But these are completely out of our control. These are part of our human nature. And they just come about.' 

Peter Adamson: Okay, that seems like actually a very compelling point. Basically, the idea is, well, sometimes your emotions are under your control, sometimes not. And the ones under your control clearly must be in your will. Otherwise, why would they be under your control? And the ones not, not. What about the other thing that seemed very distinctive about Aquinas's position, which is eliminating the judgment part. So, for example, the judgment that someone has slighted me. So he eliminates that from the emotion itself and says that the emotion, the passion is all about the reaction, the kind of passive part. I mean, in a sense, maybe you could think that's justified by the passivity implied by the vocabulary that they're using, as I already pointed out. But it still seems like there's room for the view that the emotion includes the cognitive judgment, or just even is the cognitive judgment that I should seek revenge or that this is an appropriate case for revenge. 

Martin Pickavè: Yeah. So I take your question to be, are there any cognitivists about emotions in the Middle Ages? And there are - at least I know of one person, Adam Wodeham, who defends the theory that emotions are cognitions - they're sort of cognitions. Now, Wodeham agrees with Aquinas and Scotus and the tradition that there are certain cognitive states that trigger the emotion, and those are not the emotion proper. But he also insisted the emotion itself is a cognition or a "notitia." And it's very difficult to understand, at least in the medieval framework, what that could mean. But I think one of the reasons why he wants to insist that emotions are cognitions is that emotions seem to be more than just desiderative urges, or so. Emotions have an object. My love is directed at an object of my love. My love for my wife is directed at my wife. I despair about a certain situation. And so it has an intentional object. It looks like on the view that emotions are just appetitive acts, there isn't any intentional object - at least on Wodeham's understanding of what the opponents say. And I think that's one of the main reasons why he wants to say that the emotions themselves are cognitions, because they have this intentionality that is essential to them. 

Peter Adamson: I see. So the thought would be that if I'm angry that someone has slighted me, I really have to build in the intentional content, namely 'that someone has slighted me' into the emotion itself. 

Martin Pickavè: It's part of the emotion. 

Peter Adamson: But it seems like he's sort of double counting, isn't it? Because he says, well, 'first there's this judgment that you've been slighted, and then you get angry. And the anger is about the fact that you've been slighted.' And so you wind up with the judgment that you've been slighted kind of coming in twice. And so I guess the opponents might say, well, if it's already there in the judgment that brings on the emotion, we don't need to build the intentional content into the emotion itself. 

Martin Pickavè: Yeah, before I respond to that, let me just imagine what Aquinas would say to Wodeham. And I think he would also bring double counting as an objection. First, I think he would say, 'well, you have a very strange understanding of desires as simple urges.' And so desires themselves are intentional, but they are directed towards an object in virtue of the antecedent recognition. So there's a kind of a division of labor in the soul. We shouldn't think about appetites kind of doing their own thing and the antecedent progression doing their own thing. They're related, there's a division of labor. And it's because of the cognition that the emotion proper is directed at an object. So you might think about inherent or derivative intentionality of the emotions in this account. So Aquinas' intention of the emotion doesn't fall under the table. But actually, a later contemporary of Wodeham brings exactly this double counting objection against Wodeham. Gregor of Rimini is one of them. And he says, 'well, now, we acquire cognitions by, for example, by being angry.' And that seems to be very weird. Clearly, when I'm angry, my rationality seems maybe sometimes challenged. But on Wodeham's account, I acquire a new cognition that I hadn't before. 

Peter Adamson: I'm learning more about the world just by being angry. That's a little bit strange. 

Martin Pickavè: But then you wonder whether Gregory's objection to Wodeham is really so fair, because clearly the emotion is not a cognition in the way that the cognition that triggered the emotion is. So it's a cognition of a different kind. And Wodeham would be the first to stress that. But then, of course, if that's the way Wodeham would defend himself, then you get back to the old question. Do you really need to call the emotional cognition? What do you say more than? Because now you have to introduce a new kind of cognition. And it's not clear why you want to go that way if you can't get the intentionality of the emotion out of the antecedent and intriguing condition. 


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