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Passions: Philosophy and the Intelligence of Emotions

Passions: Philosophy and the Intelligence of Emotions

Professor Robert C. Solomon Ph.D.
The University of Texas at Austin
Course No.  4123
Course No.  4123
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Course Overview

About This Course

24 lectures  |  31 minutes per lecture

Fear, joy, grief, love, hate, pride, shame. We all have emotions, and we recognize emotions in others. But do we really understand what emotions are and what they signify? It is remarkable how often we are wrong about our own emotions and misread the emotions of others. We also deceive ourselves about their meaning. The more we puzzle over the nature of emotions, the deeper the mystery becomes. It is a mystery that is by no means solved, but one that repays careful, philosophical analysis.

Far from being routine, emotions are "the key to the meaning of life," says distinguished philosopher and author Robert C. Solomon, who in these 24 lectures takes you on a tour of his more than three-decade-long intellectual struggle to reach an understanding of these complex phenomena. Some of his conclusions are surprising and very much against the current of common sense.

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Fear, joy, grief, love, hate, pride, shame. We all have emotions, and we recognize emotions in others. But do we really understand what emotions are and what they signify? It is remarkable how often we are wrong about our own emotions and misread the emotions of others. We also deceive ourselves about their meaning. The more we puzzle over the nature of emotions, the deeper the mystery becomes. It is a mystery that is by no means solved, but one that repays careful, philosophical analysis.

Far from being routine, emotions are "the key to the meaning of life," says distinguished philosopher and author Robert C. Solomon, who in these 24 lectures takes you on a tour of his more than three-decade-long intellectual struggle to reach an understanding of these complex phenomena. Some of his conclusions are surprising and very much against the current of common sense.

Professor Solomon's lectures unfold as a rich dialogue with other philosophers, including Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, Descartes, Adam Smith, Nietzsche, William James, Freud, Heidegger, and Sartre. He also relates these views to contemporary work in the cognitive sciences on emotions, notably research by Antonio Damasio, Joseph LeDoux, and Paul Ekman. And he discusses the portrayal of emotions in writers and artists including Homer, Shakespeare, Melville, Dostoevsky, and Picasso.

Emotions Have Intelligence

By probing the ideas of these and other thinkers and presenting his own views, Professor Solomon will lead you to a remarkable conclusion: Emotions have intelligence and provide personal strategies that are vitally important to our everyday lives of perceiving, evaluating, appraising, understanding, and acting in the world.

This idea runs counter to the widespread view that draws a sharp distinction between the emotional and the rational and views the emotions as inferior, disruptive, primitive, and even bestial forces. For Professor Solomon, many emotions are distinctively human and they are far more complicated than mere "feelings." They are rational judgments—sophisticated strategies for survival.

In exploring the multifaceted nature of emotions you will address questions such as:

  • How do we distinguish emotions from feelings, such as heartache?
  • What is the meaning of our emotions, and how do they serve to enrich and guide our lives?
  • Is there a determinable number of basic emotions that serve as building blocks for the range of emotions we experience?
  • Is an emotion such as jealousy a genetic trait shared by all humans—or is it something learned?
  • The Japanese have an emotion named amae, but it seems unknown to Westerners. To what extent do language and culture determine emotional experience?
  • Are emotions subconscious products of the mind, or are they under conscious control?

Philosopher at Work

One of the fascinating features of this course is that you get to witness a philosopher wrestling with the ideas of his predecessors—accepting, rejecting, refining their contributions, and modifying some of his own earlier views—in a demonstration of the intellectual honesty required to make progress in tackling a profound philosophical problem. He also ranges beyond philosophy to draw insights from psychology, sociology, neurology, history, and literature.

A multi-award-winning teacher at The University of Texas at Austin, Professor Solomon has written or edited more than 45 books, including The Passions, Not Passion's Slave, In Defense of Sentimentality, and About Love, as well as works on Existentialism, Nietzsche, Hegel, business ethics, and introductory philosophy.

In a review of Not Passion's Slave, he was singled out for being "at the heart of a revival of philosophical interest in the emotions" by The Times Literary Supplement, which noted his "energetic and provocative contributions to the field."

Professor Solomon had such a profound effect on one of his students at UT, the future film director Richard Linklater (best known for Before Sunrise and Before Sunset), that Linklater included a memorable extract of Professor Solomon lecturing on Existentialism in the acclaimed feature film Waking Life.

Professor Solomon has conducted three other highly popular Teaching Company courses: No Excuses: Existentialism and the Meaning of Life; Will to Power: The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche (with Kathleen Higgins); and Great Minds of the Western Intellectual Tradition (selected lectures).

Wondrous Troublemakers

"I want to invite you to look at your own emotions as if they are something wondrous, mysterious, and exotic, something you've always taken for granted—even when they've gotten you in trouble," says Professor Solomon at the outset of this course, which he divides into three sections:

  • Passions, Love, and Violence: The Drama of the Emotions (Lectures 2–9). The course begins with eight lectures on specific emotions (anger, fear, love, compassion, pride, envy, vengeance, and grief) with insights into the complexity, importance, and roles emotions play in our lives.
  • Out of Touch with Our Feelings: Misunderstanding the Emotions (Lectures 10–17). These eight lectures examine how we misinterpret and fail to take responsibility for our emotions. For example, the innocent-sounding claim that emotions are feelings represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what emotions are about. Other misconceptions are the seemingly innocent assertion that emotions are "in the mind" and the idea that we are the victims or slaves of our passions.
  • How Our Passions Enrich Our Lives (Lectures 18–24). The concluding section takes a positive look at the richness and value of our emotions, probing what it is about them that make life worth living. Professor Solomon talks about laughter, music, and the roles that emotions play in different cultures.

Throughout the course, Professor Solomon returns again and again to his thesis that emotions have intelligence, an idea that has roots in Western philosophy tracing back to Aristotle. The notion of "emotional intelligence" gained notoriety through a 1990s bestseller by psychologist Daniel Goleman, but while Goleman and other popular writers on the subject primarily discuss learning how to control emotions, Professor Solomon digs deeper to reach the core of how emotions themselves contain intelligence—indeed many kinds of intelligence—and to explore the complex emotional repertoire that makes us uniquely human.

As you listen to these lectures, prepare to think: Think about your own emotions; think about what you observe in others; think about the enormous body of research and conjecture on this fascinating topic as Professor Solomon takes you on a challenging and stimulating journey.

"Emotions are our doing," he says. "An emotion is not just a product of evolution, but a product of cultivation and, sometimes, personal choice. If you look at your emotions and say, 'I will take responsibility for this because it is my doing,' sometimes you will be wrong; but in general, you will suddenly find that you've taken ownership of your life in a way that you hadn't before. And it seems to me that is a very important philosophical lesson."

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24 Lectures
  • 1
    Emotions as Engagements with the World
    Professor Robert C. Solomon begins by reviewing the rich history of thinking about emotions. He introduces the major themes of the course, including Jean-Paul Sartre's idea that emotions are "magical transformations of the world." x
  • 2
    The Wrath of Achilles
    Starting a sequence of eight lectures on basic emotions, this lecture treats anger, typified by the wrath of Achilles in Homer's Iliad. Anger is reputedly the most dangerous emotion, but it has a positive aspect as well, and Professor Solomon argues that anger is sometimes right and even obligatory. x
  • 3
    It’s Good to Be Afraid
    Fear is arguably the most important emotion, for without it we would be vulnerable to many dangers. Although often regarded negatively, people sometimes go out of their way to experience fear. This raises a paradox that has intrigued philosophers since Aristotle. x
  • 4
    Lessons of Love—Plato’s Symposium
    This lecture addresses the endlessly fascinating emotion of love, focusing on Plato's classic dialogue Symposium with its odd story told by Aristophanes, which illustrates how love reconfigures personal identities and relationships. x
  • 5
    We Are Not Alone—Compassion and Empathy
    Philosophers including David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the economist Adam Smith defended what they called sympathy as a natural moral sentiment. Sympathy is similar to what we call compassion and provides the basis of ethics. x
  • 6
    Noble? or Deadly Sin? Pride and Shame
    Pride, like its opposite, shame, is an emotion of social self-evaluation. Its place in society shifts with morals, religion, and politics. This lecture is about a family of such emotions, including guilt, embarrassment, remorse, regret, and self-loathing. x
  • 7
    Nasty—Iago’s Envy, Othello’s Jealousy
    Envy and jealousy are double-edged, self-destructive emotions, even as they aim at bringing down other people. Both are vividly demonstrated in Shakespeare's Othello. Envy is a bad emotional strategy, since it turns into resentment and deludes itself into jealousy. x
  • 8
    Nastier—Resentment and Vengeance
    Resentment is a particularly nasty emotion. Friedrich Nietzsche diagnosed it as inexpressible vengeance. Accordingly, vengeance can be seen as the natural extension of resentment. Vengeance is also an offshoot of anger, as its most cold-blooded and protracted expression. x
  • 9
    A Death in the Family—The Logic of Grief
    Grief is misunderstood as both the most private and most negative of negative emotions. But in truth it is a continuation of love. The withdrawal that is so familiar in grief should not be mistaken for a breakdown of rational behavior, but as a period of reflection and reconstitution of the self. x
  • 10
    James and the Bear—Emotions and Feelings
    Starting a sequence of eight lectures on how we misinterpret and consequently fail to take responsibility for our emotions, this lecture argues against a widely accepted idea that gained contemporary respect through the writings of William James: emotions are feelings. x
  • 11
    Freud’s Catharsis—the Hydraulic Model
    Professor Solomon challenges the hydraulic model as a metaphor for emotions. Freud used this model extensively. The problem is that it is mechanical, and the emotions are not mechanisms. They are engagements with the world. x
  • 12
    Are Emotions “in” the Mind?
    The concept of the mind as the private domain of emotions is an outgrowth of the philosophy of René Descartes. An alternative view, phenomenology, advocated by Martin Heidegger and other philosophers, holds that the mind is an activity and the objects of our emotions are essentially objects in the world. x
  • 13
    How Emotions Are Intelligent
    Professor Solomon argues that emotions are engaged in our efforts to get along with people and to cope with an often difficult world. They give us insight and provide intelligence about the world. In other words, they have what philosophers call intentionality, and this requires intelligence. x
  • 14
    Emotions as Judgments
    Understanding emotions involves understanding the judgments that structure them. This lecture goes through several of the emotions already discussed—notably anger, shame, embarrassment, hatred, envy, and resentment—to show how this is the case. x
  • 15
    Beyond Boohoo and Hooray
    This lecture questions the distinctions between positive and negative emotions. We should be much more attentive to the richness of intelligence within emotions and not reduce the subtlety of emotions to a simple "hooray!" or "boo-hoo!" x
  • 16
    Emotions Are Rational
    To say that an emotion is irrational is to say that it has somehow missed its target, but that is also to say that an emotion can get its target right and thus be rational. The ultimate aim of our emotions is to enhance our lives, to help us get what we want and need. x
  • 17
    Emotions and Responsibility
    To say that emotions are strategies is to say that they are to some extent our doing. With some passions we may find ourselves "out of control," but even then we tend to choose and cultivate those passions. As examples, this lecture looks at anger and love. x
  • 18
    Emotions in Ethics
    Beginning the final section of the course, which takes a positive look at the richness and value of emotions, this lecture surveys the history of ethics, from Aristotle and the Stoics in antiquity through what was called emotivism in the 20th century. x
  • 19
    Emotions and the Self
    All emotions are self-involved; that is what makes them different from intellectual judgments. As strategies, they are concerned with the well-being of the self. To understand the centrality of the self in the structure of our emotions, it is necessary to broach the huge topic of consciousness. x
  • 20
    What Is Emotional Experience?
    Emotions are feelings, but they are not just the physiological symptoms of emotional excitement. This lecture analyzes the many components of emotional experience, from autonomic nervous system responses and sensations to much more subtle and sophisticated and experiences. x
  • 21
    Emotions across Cultures—Universals
    Emotions differ from society to society—in their causes, expression, language, and, consequently, in their experiences. But what are the underlying similarities across cultures? Are there basic biological structures that all people have in common? x
  • 22
    Emotions across Cultures—Differences
    Continuing the theme of emotions across cultures, Professor Solomon focuses on significant differences between cultures, including some emotions that are unknown to Westerners. Two such examples are the Japanese emotion amae and the Ifaluk (Caroline Islands) emotion fago. x
  • 23
    Laughter and Music
    Two universal expressions of emotion are laughter and music. Laughter most often conveys joy, amusement, and humor, but it can also communicate nervousness and embarrassment. Music not only enhances emotion, but also imitates, expresses, and evokes emotion. x
  • 24
    Happiness and Spirituality
    In this final lecture, Professor Solomon returns to a central issue: the way emotions and rationality form an inseparable team, not two opposing forces. It is through reflection, not emotion alone, that human happiness becomes possible. He also addresses the culmination of emotional life in spirituality. x

Lecture Titles

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Robert C. Solomon
Ph.D. Robert C. Solomon
The University of Texas at Austin
Dr. Robert C. Solomon was the Quincy Lee Centennial Professor of Business and Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, where he taught for more than 30 years. He earned his undergraduate degree in molecular biology from the University of Pennsylvania and his master's and doctoral degrees in philosophy and psychology from the University of Michigan. He held visiting appointments at the University of Pennsylvania; the University of Auckland, New Zealand; UCLA; Princeton University; and Mount Holyoke College. Professor Solomon won many teaching honors, including the Standard Oil Outstanding Teaching Award; the President's Associates Teaching Award (twice); and the Chad Oliver Plan II Teaching Award. In addition, he was a member of Academy of Distinguished Teachers at UT, which is devoted to providing leadership in improving the quality and depth of undergraduate instruction. Professor Solomon wrote or edited more than 45 books, including The Passions, About Love, Ethics and Excellence, A Short History of Philosophy with Professor Kathleen Higgins, A Better Way to Think about Business, The Joy of Philosophy, Spirituality for the Skeptic, Not Passion's Slave, and In Defense of Sentimentality. He also designed and provided programs for corporations and organizations around the world. Professor Solomon passed away in early 2007.
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Reviews

Rated 3.6 out of 5 by 28 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Deep & Profound This is not going to be easy, folks. You're going to sweat a bit, maybe a lot. But when you're done, you'll have that rewarding "I did it" feeling. And that's a good thing. If you're up to the challenge, get the course. September 9, 2013
Rated 3 out of 5 by Rather vague, but there is value here DVD REVIEW: Here's a course we can all apply in our own lives; a series of talks that indeed give pause for thought. The late (January 2007) Dr. Robert Solomon presents his lectures in a very calm, tic-free manner that's a pleasure to listen to. The talks are well-structured, easy to follow, nicely-paced. Graphic content is absolutely minimal ~ might as well buy the audio set unless you far prefer to SEE the professor expounding, as I do. The lectures provide highly detailed definitions of love, hatred, grief, resentment, shame, pride, vengeance, jealousy, envy, and other emotions, negative and positive. We're in the world of semantics and it's important to bear in mind that one person's understanding or definition of a particular emotion may be quite different from those of other persons. The point of the lectures, however, is to study and think about how these emotions affect the individual experiencing them, in interaction with society. On this basis, the course is very valuable. I found the talk on grief particularly poignant. I must say that, at times, the lectures seemed to go around in circles, words, words, words... especially # 12 "Are Emotions in the Mind?". References to philosophical writings are important here. Dr Solomon avers that "emotions aren't really feelings at all... emotions are basically engagements with the world". I'm afraid I have to disagree very strongly here. In my experience, emotions are quite definitely felt, and can be felt without any reference whatsoever to engaging with the world. In this respect, emotions ARE feelings, and in fact the lecturer later admits that "emotions are feelings in a general sense"! I'd like to mention that Dr. Robert Solomon and his wife Dr. Kathleen Higgins, also a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, co-presented a Great Courses series "Will to Power: The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche". August 19, 2013
Rated 4 out of 5 by A Social Theory of Emotions Dr Solomon had obviously thought a lot about this topic before composing these lectures, as he not only offers a broad survey of the various ways philosophy, psychology and neurology have approached them in the past 2500 years, but also offers his own synthesis and unique theory of emotion's social function. Generally his thesis is that feelings + thoughts = emotions, and that they are our (inherently intelligent and ) intentional way of engaging in the world. Although, however synthetic and comprehensive he tried to make it, I also thought he was at times a bit too vague, simplistic, wordy and repetitive. Basically he helped clarify what emotions are, but I had to give him the benefit of the doubt more than once (eg. too often used "feelings" and "emotions" interchangeably). Instead of 24 lectures this would have been better at 18, yet it was still worth listening to, and thinking more about. June 7, 2013
Rated 4 out of 5 by Value Lurking Beneath With all its flaws, this course has value. Professor Solomon made a good contribution to TGC by offering a course on the emotions. We typically put our emotions aside as a sort of crazy uncle in the basement. Professor Solomon "brought him back up" and forced us to a needed encounter through a systematic and thoughtful examination. I especially appreciated the ethical lens through which the professor guided his teaching. Emotions do give meaning to life, and how we live with our emotions defines in many ways who we are and how good we are. The course, however, does have serious problems. The professor strayed off path too often, wandering at times too much from the substance and the science into opinion. It seemed that the professor had honed his own notions over time, and he was content to rest on findings from his own latest thinking as the final word. In reality, there is quite a lot of diversity in thinking about emotions. I think we would have been better served had the professor taught perhaps more modestly, including these other perspectives in the discipline in his own teaching. The idea of the intelligence of emotions was popular when this course was conceived. I listened very carefully. And while I agree that emotions can be broken down to be better understood and perhaps even seen as rational in some respects, I do not come away convinced of the idea that there is an intelligence to emotions generally. Is anger generally a strategy? I don't think so. Do vengeance and justice go hand in hand? No, not generally. Is it enough or satisfactory to say that emotions are "an engagement with the world." I think this sounds better than it is truly helpful. I believed the professor stretched quite a bit in his efforts to bring laughter and music into the discussion. And his teaching on happiness and spirituality, while interesting, seemed off course to me. I wouldn't recommend the course to friends, but I did find value in it, for which I am grateful. November 20, 2012
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