Emotions, Feelings and Contexts: A Reply to Robert Kraut*

Robert C. Solomona1

a1 University of Texas at Austin

Unwarranted antagonism between reason and the passions is an ancient problem, dating back at least to Plato. Even philosophers who sought to give the passions their due—David Hume for example—juxtaposed reason and emotion and contrasted them as slave and master (or vice versa). The point of a so-called “cognitive” theory of emotion, simply stated, is to deny this antagonism. The most succinct (if not very informative) statement of the cognitivist view is Nietzsche's: “as if every passion did not possess its quantum of reason.” Hume's own theory anticipated such a synthesis (in his awkward analysis of “ideas” as both necessary causes and effects of emotions) while Spinoza and Hobbes clearly defended cognitive theories with the wisdom of reconciliation in mind. The aim of a cognitive theory is not to reduce volatile emotion to cool and calm belief, nor is the emphasis on emotion a romantic attempt to extol the passions and excoriate reason—though that exercise may have its place in philosophy too; it is rather to understand reason and the passions together and appreciate their shared properties, similarities and complementarity as well as their obvious differences and oppositions. So understood, cognitive theories have, generically, gained widespread acceptance; only a few reactionaries in philosophy and psychology still insist on a cognition-free concept of emotion, however backhandedly cognitive concepts might be acknowledged as presuppositions, causal preconditions or criteria for the appropriate labelling of emotion rather than as proper constituents of emotion.


* An early version of this essay was presented in a symposium, with Robert Kraut, at the American Philosophical Association meetings in Boston, MA, in December of 1986.