Emotion and the Arts

By Mette Hjort; Sue Laver | Go to book overview

9
On Looking into Titian's Assumption

WILLIAM LYONS


I. Titian's Assumption, James, and the English Couple

In volume 2, chapter 25, of his capolavoro, The Principles of Psychology, William James discourses on the nature of emotion. He begins with a comparison between emotions and instincts. While every object that excites an instinct can also excite an emotion, the reverse is not the case. Some objects might strike us as hilarious or worthy of deep admiration, to take just two examples, but would not thereby excite in us any of those reflex actions or reactions we call instinctive. In addition, emotional reactions are more internal and physiological than behavioral and practical. They primarily exhibit themselves as a rigidity of this muscle or a relaxation of that one, a constriction of arteries here or a dilation of them there, a quickening of the pulse or a slowing, and so on. These patterns of physiological changes associated with emotion are, of course, also personal and idiosyncratic to a certain extent, like everything else to do with individual humans.

James then goes on to distinguish the coarser emotions (such as grief, fear, rage, love), which are characterized by coarse or strong physiological reactions, from the subtle emotions (such as the moral, intellectual, and aesthetic ones), in which the physiological reactions are of a more delicate kind. With the coarser emotions, James claims, it should be quite clear by now that the emotions as such are the feelings of the strong physiological reactions. That is, the

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