Sunday, December 28, 2014

Jon Elster on the emotions



Yet more vintage Elster:

“…[W]ith respect to an important subset of the emotions we can learn more from moralists, novelists, and playwrights than from the cumulative findings of scientific psychology. These emotions include regret, relief, hope, disappointment, shame, guilt, pridefulness, pride,* hybris, envy, jealousy, malice, pity, indignation, wrath, hatred, contempt, joy, grief, and romantic love. By contrast, the scientific study of the emotions can teach us a great deal about anger, fear, disgust, parental love, and sexual desire (if we count the last two as emotions). [….]

I believe…that prescientific insights into the emotion are not simply superseded by modern psychology in the way that natural philosophy has been superseded by physics. Some men and women in the past have been superb students of human nature, with more wide-ranging personal experience, better powers of observation, and deeper intuitions than almost any psychologist I can think of. This is only what we should expect: There is no reason why one century out of twenty-five should have a privilege in wisdom an understanding. In the case of physics, this argument does not apply.”—Jon Elster, Alchemies of the Mind: Rationality and the Emotions (Cambridge University Press, 1999)

* Elster defines “pride” as an emotion triggered by a belief about one’s own action and “pridefulness” as triggered by a belief about another’s character.

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