Retrieving Political Emotion: Thumos, Aristotle, and Gender

Retrieving Political Emotion: Thumos, Aristotle, and Gender

Retrieving Political Emotion: Thumos, Aristotle, and Gender

Retrieving Political Emotion: Thumos, Aristotle, and Gender


Retrieving Political Emotion engages the reader in an excursion through our ancient Greek heritage to recover a concept of emotion useful for enriching political philosophy today. Focusing on thumos (typically translated as "spiritedness, " "heart, " or "anger"), Barbara Koziak reveals misinterpretations of the concept that have hampered recognition of its possibilities for normative theory. Then, drawing especially on Aristotle's construal of it as a general capacity for emotion and relating this to contemporary multidisciplinary work on emotion, she reformulates thumos to provide a more adequate theory of political emotion, as an antidote to the modern fixation on rational self-interest as the key to explaining political behavior.


He began to think of her, of what she was thinking and feeling. For the first time he really pictured to himself her personal life, her ideas, her desires; and the notion that she could and should have a separate life of her own appeared to him so dreadful that he hastened to drive it away. . . . To put himself in thought and feeling into another being was a mental exercise foreign to Karenin. He considered such a mental exercise harmful and dangerous romancing. . . . "The question of her feelings, of what has taken place or may take place in her heart, is not my affair but the affair of her conscience, and comes under the head of religion," he said to himself, feeling relieved at having found the category of regulating principles to which the newly-arisen situation rightly belonged.

--Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Emotion in politics has no need for retrieval. Among other emotions, anger, envy, compassion, righteousness, grief, sometimes feigned, sometimes sincere, play daily on the world's political stage. While we may clearly see the emotional in politics, a conception of political emotion sorely needs retrieval. Although most political theories imply or suggest some view of the role of emotion in political life, some of which are at the same time deeply hostile to emotion, no general treatment of the emotional has been written in the history of normative political theory.

Reason and the image of the reason-ruled person have long dominated political philosophy, but never completely nor without challenge. What reason and being reason-ruled means has changed from Plato to Locke to Rawls, and so have the passions and nonrational elements infiltrating reason's domain. For Plato, reason is never fully extricated from eros and myth; for Locke, reason gives us access to natural law; and for Rawls, cupidity is made to serve reason or even to become the inner drive of . . .

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