Philosophy of Emotions

Course Requirement Areas: 
Axiology and Practical Philosophy
History of Philosophy
Course Description: 

During the past several decades, the emotions have emerged as a topic of major concern in philosophy. While this appears to be a relatively new development, interest in the emotions has a far longer, and more enduring, history, reaching back to the ancient beginnings of philosophical inquiry itself. Given that fact that the emotions have been a shared preoccupation of all of the major philosophical traditions, irrespective of time period and geography, this course takes a culturally and historically expansive approach to the topic. After considering the main lines of contemporary approaches to the emotions, we will examine how thinkers in both the ancient Greek and Chinese traditions (as well as the Indian Mahāyāna Buddhist tradition) conceptualized the emotions, both psychologically and ethically, and how they envisioned the role of emotions in theories and practices of the good life. We will also interrogate the place of emotions in natural philosophy, in relation to the endeavor to understand and make sense of the reality of both human beings and the cosmos at large.

An important goal of this course is to explore ways in which past approaches to the emotions might be brought to bear upon present-day philosophical inquiry. Rather than taking contemporary theories of emotions and their corresponding categories as the basis for understanding past approaches, or alternatively, treating past approaches as the historical background for the real business of doing philosophy, it will consider how past perspectives might offer alternative models and perspectives for thinking about the emotions, thus shedding critical light on the assumptions and conceptual foundations of current habits of thinking.

Prior background in Chinese philosophy, ancient philosophy or philosophy of emotions would be helpful but not required. All sources will be read in English translation.

Learning Outcomes: 

1. To achieve familiarity with the broader outlines of current philosophical approaches to the emotions
2. To learn about the early history of thinking about emotions from geographically expansive perspectives
3. To better understand the larger conceptual contexts of particular ways of approaching the emotions, as well as the larger issues at stake in thinking about the emotions
4. To develop skills in the analysis and interpretation of texts and to communicate them effectively in writing
and in class discussions


1. Participation: 30%
2. Presentation: 10%
3. Short essay (1000-1200 words, due March 14): 20%
4. Long essay (1600-1800 words, due April 13): 40%

File Attachments: