What Are Emotions and
How Do They Operate?
For thousands of years people have assumed that that there is some special deep connection between emotion and the arts. In the Republic Plato famously complained that one reason why poetry often has such a bad moral influence on people is that it appeals to their emotions rather than to their reason, the 'highest' part of the soul. The idea that the emotions are intimately connected to the arts was taken up by Aristotle and given a more sympathetic twist. Almost ever since, there has been a widespread conviction among Western thinkers that there is some special relationship between the arts and the emotions.1
Until very recently, however, there was little consensus about what the emotions really are and how they actually operate, and so it has been hard to adjudicate exactly how they function in relation to the arts. This situation has now begun to change. Within the last thirty years or so there has been an upsurge of research into the emotions in disciplines as diverse as experimental and clinical psychology, neurobiology, anthropology, sociology, and philosophy. We now have a much better idea of what emotions are. Not that there is a complete consensus: far from it. Competing theories are rife. But none the less there is growing agreement about emotion and what its most important ingredients are.