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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

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Passions: Philosophy and the Intelligence of Emotions

Course No. 4123
Professor Robert C. Solomon, Ph.D.
The University of Texas at Austin
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Course No. 4123
  • Audio or Video?
  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. More than 100 visuals are featured in the video version, including over 50 photographs and paintings, on-screen text, and portraits of the philosophers, writers, and artists discussed, including Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Shakespeare, Melville, Dostoevsky, and Picasso.
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Course Overview

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
 |  31 minutes each
Year Released: 2006
  • 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

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Your professor

Robert C. Solomon

About Your Professor

Robert C. Solomon, Ph.D.
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...
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Rated 3.6 out of 5 by 41 reviewers.
Rated 2 out of 5 by Failed philosophy course This was not so much a philosophy course as a philosopher rambling on about his opinions of various psychological states. There is no argumentation or analysis of opposing views, and only a scant attempt to find foundational or generalizable concepts. He skirts around the phenomenally interesting problem, the so-called “hard problem”, regarding what is consciousness. I know the professor is a respected philosopher who has worked on this topic for a long time. The course is not clear enough for high school students, not interesting enough for college freshman, and not deep enough for philosophy majors. Overall, quite disappointing. May 19, 2016
Rated 5 out of 5 by We Are Indeed Complex Beings AUDIO: Audio Download I am really glad I listened to these lectures as a follow-up to Professor Solomon’s TC course ‘No Excuses: Existentialism and the Meaning of Life.’ Many of us often have a dismissive opinion about human emotions, considering them simply irrational. What this course deals with are “normal…problems we have with emotions, how and why they can make us unhappy, how and why they are sometimes irrational”, rather than “psychopathology, the many ways the emotions can seriously go wrong” (Course Guidebook, Page 2). Professor Solomon does an excellent job in expanding the discussion way beyond the “…old prejudice, namely, that our emotions are irrational, even that they are incomprehensible [,that] Our emotions present a danger and interrupt or disturb our lives, because we are passive with regard to them; [that] they ‘happen’ to us. By contrast, this course is an attempt to understand our emotions—how they provide insight and meaning—and the extent to which we are not passive but active regarding them. Our emotions, according to a recent theory, are imbued with intelligence. And a person’s emotional repertoire is not a matter of fate but a matter of emotional integrity” (Page 1). Though there is a good deal in this course on scientific findings, especially in neurology, psychology, and even anthropology, much of the course deals “…with the context of ethics and practical concerns, that is, their role in the good life” (Page 1). For Professor Solomon, taking a mechanistic view of an emotion as simply a “neat neurological package” is “drastically incomplete” (Page 7). He ably shows how philosophy has a great deal to add to our understanding of the emotions, and he does this in an engaging and illuminating manner, covering considerable territory in time, and in Eastern as well as Western, and even primitive, societies and cultures. Professor Solomon often surprises with highlights from the thinking of Aristotle, William James, and Jean Paul Sartre, and peppers the lectures with how their positions advanced discussion of emotions in our lives. He also references a great number of other key thinkers and researchers whose names are less well-known. Perhaps the most interesting parts of this course concerns emotions as strategies for dealing with the world and how language seems to play a critical role in shaping our emotions and even their physiology. While there is much that humans have in common, regarding the emotions we are not all the same: “In this vast emotional complex, in some sense, we share—but we share in different ways. Further, to have an emotion is a much more dynamic process that is intricately related to our philosophies, our language, and our culture than most of us would ever expect” (Page 121). This is indeed a rich and profoundly interesting course. As odd at it might seem at first, I found much of the discussion of emotions an interesting complement to another TC course, Dalton Kehoe’s ‘Effective Communication Skills’, and references to the infamous “ladder of inference” that impedes so much communication. On second thought, it might not be so wild a connection, as Professor Solomon’s interesting academic background includes not only philosophy, but also biology and psychology, and a good deal of work with corporations and publications on business ethics. I do have some advice for those taking this course: Do not give in to the emotions of irritation or impatience. Professor Solomon takes a while in setting the stage for the main event by examining the fine gradations of emotions in nearly half the early lectures. As it turns out, this is time very well-spent. This 2006 course has an excellent guidebook, including fine lecture summaries, glossary, biographical notes, timeline, and an exceptional annotated bibliography that includes internet resources. April 11, 2016
Rated 4 out of 5 by Good advice for having a good life. I have been writing a syndicated column for the past eight years now with readers located in 14 states. I am a senior citizens over the age of 70. The materials presented in these courses reinforces/enhances views that are needed to be practiced by seniors just as much as the Boomers or the Millennial Generation. It has given me a better understanding of the passions and human emotions associated with having/living a good live. I find Solomon's philosophical views refreshing and pertinent. January 20, 2016
Rated 2 out of 5 by Just Conversational One of the few I've returned, audio download... After four chapters I started inserting "Seems to me..." In front of every sentence and it fit. This is a mix of personal opinions, from someone who probably could and should have put together a great corse but the lecture format doesn't work. If you are so new to the broad field of human experience you might find it stimulating, but he quickly showed me her couldn't or wouldn't organize his thoughts and was less familiar than I am with some very essential information, e.g., neurology and evolution. And I'm only a novice in those areas. I recommend Biology and Human Behavior by Sapolsky and Understanding the Mysteries of Human Behavior by Leary instead. January 16, 2016
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