The Philosophy of Cognition
Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland
Very recently I acquired a shiny new textbook on the psychology of the emotions. In the chapter entitled, “What is an emotion?”, I was astonished, in the way that one might be astonished to be served mackerel described as salmon, to find that the definition of an emotion, which began with the words, “An emotion is usually caused by a person consciously or unconsciously evaluating an event as relevant to a concern (a goal) that is important…”, was held to be a recent major breakthrough in the psychology of emotion and given a reassuringly recent date of 1986 (Oatley & Jenkins, 1996, Chapter 4). In this essay I will endeavour to point out that causal–evaluative theories of emotion are arguably as old as Aristotle and the Stoics, and in our own time have been much discussed by philosophers and psychologists well before 1986. But I suppose that I should not be astonished by strange claims about the history of ideas in modern textbooks of psychology. Part of psychology's laudable aim to be accepted as a science means, for many practitioners unfortunately, that it must ape the physical sciences in all ways, including by becoming more or less uninterested in the provenance of the problems they currently discuss and in the history of their own subject.1 So, be
1 When recently I received the latest edition of the esteemed Hilgard's Introduction to Psychology
(Atkinson et al., 1996), I was pained to find that the section entitled, “Brief History of Psychology”,
was now consigned to an Appendix. Yet that, I suppose, is better than the previous edition, where the
history of psychology was summed up in three paragraphs. Somewhat ironically, in his most scholarly
book on emotions, Best Laid Schemes, Keith Oatley does take the trouble to sketch in the provenance
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Book title: Handbook of Cognition and Emotion. Contributors: Tim Dalgleish - Editor, Mick J. Power - Editor. Publisher: Wiley. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1999. Page number: 21.
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