Deeper Than Reason: Emotion and Its Role in Literature, Music, and Art

By Jenefer Robinson | Go to book overview
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2
Boiling of the Blood

But the natural philosopher and the dialectician would give a
different definition of each of the affections, for instance in
answer to the question 'What is anger?' For the dialectician
will say that it is a desire for revenge or something like that,
while the natural philosopher will say it is a boiling of the blood
and hot stuff about the heart.

Aristotle, De Anima


The Central Importance of Physiological
Changes in Emotion

William James, the father of modern psychology, argued that physiological change is essential to emotion. In his epoch-making Principles of Psychology1 he famously pronounced that 'the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact, and… our feeling of the same changes as they occur is the emotion'.

James was almost certainly wrong to say that 'every one of the bodily changes, whatsoever it be, is felt, acutely or obscurely, the moment it occurs', for it is not true that we are consciously aware of all the physiological changes that occur during emotional experience. Many visceral changes in particular take place below the level of awareness: we have no idea of most of the goings-on in our stomachs and intestines. Moreover, many non-human animals appear to evince such emotions as fear, rage, and contentment, yet it is unclear whether and to what extent such animals can be consciously aware of their bodily states. However, in his main points about emotion, James, as so often, is right on target. As we shall see, he is correct to

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