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
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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
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 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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Passions: Philosophy and the Intelligence of Emotions is rated 3.9 out of 5 by 64.
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Stimulating Journey, Semantic Argument As Prof Solomon admits, this is an unusual course. The study of emotions is usually covered in psychology rather than philosophy courses.But he has an argument to make and, in making his argument, takes you on an interesting trip through most of the major theories of emotion. I found the journey fascinating and have no regrets about having taken the course. But, in the end, his argument that "emotions are something that you do" hinges on whether an emotion, such as "anger", is a state or a process. Common sense suggests than anger is a state and that there are processes/judgments that cause anger. Prof Solomon's did not convince me to suspend common sense.
Date published: 2011-11-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good, but ... What? Like other reviews, I echo that Professor Solomon was an excellent lecturer and that the subject matter is interesting. And like others, I too felt that the course was fractured. I also felt that many lectures were on the verge of making a valuable point, but never nailed it. I've done a half-dozen philosophy courses, and understand that concepts can be esoteric. That didn't seem to be the problem. It seemed that the content was on the verge of providing a better way of understanding human interaction and psychology, but never got there. I'll probably watch it again, but I know the answers are not going to be delivered and examined; instead I'll just have to extract what value I can on my own without any discussion available as to flaws or broader truths within my conclusions... Not the best outcome for a self-study course.
Date published: 2011-10-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Helped shape my own philosophy I'm a big fan of the late Professor Solomon. This course is right in his wheelhouse, as it deals with how one might approach life passionately, and how isn't necessarily different from approaching life intelligently. If you want to be fully and passionately engaged in the world, this is a great course for you.
Date published: 2010-07-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from This is a course lacking in content I was really surprised by the lack of content in this course. The initial series of lectures, dealing with individual emotions, were so simplistic that I kept coming back to them with the idea that I had missed something, that surely there was an interesting, original thought that would validate my time and money in this course. The only thought that I came across that could be thought of as "emotionally intelligent" is the idea that anger has a place in one's emotional repertoire as a legitimate response to injustice in the world. For a better treatment of emotional education, I'd recommend the 24 lecture course on Buddhism.
Date published: 2009-10-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Original and Rewarding This deceptively original course is a modest survey of the nature of human emotions, and it is a credit to the late Professor Solomon. The professor spends several lectures digging into the nature of individual emotions, then he discusses some common misconceptions about emotions, and finally he explains his belief that emotions are wonderful things that greatly enrich our lives. The lectures are quite easy to listen to. I took away several impressions, such as the difference between emotions and feelings, and the debunking of the silly idea that emotions control our thinking processes. Most importantly, I was delighted by the professor's view that emotions are NOT something that act on us; rather, emotions are something that we DO! I concur wholeheartedly. This is not the most profound course in TTC's catalog, but listening to it is a pleasure. Persons with considerable life experience might not learn a great deal from these lectures, but they can be recommended to young persons with a budding interest in our human passions.
Date published: 2009-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Provocative! Modern culture, especially in the domains of entertainment and politics, is obsessed with 'feelings.' We are often asked how we 'feel' about someone or something, rather than what we 'think.' Maybe this is not so bad. Can we ever separate feelings from thinking? Dr. Solomon seems to say that emotions really matter, and must be taken into account in a fully inclusive discussion of all philosophy. I'm not sure the professor fully succeeds in making his case, but his presentation ... well, I 'felt' good about it, and this course is worth listening to again.
Date published: 2009-06-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from This is the first course that disappoints me, and its not because of the topic, which I find to be very interesting. The lack of structure left me confused, and as others, I also found it lightweight in content. On the positive side, Professor is a good lecturer.
Date published: 2009-02-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Passions: The Philosophy of Emotions This study of emotions has a strong and well presented foundation. It is fascinating, perhaps because it is refreshingly different. Dr. Soloman suggests applying the material in one's daily life and, if his suggestion is accepted, the result is entertaining, intellectually stimulating, and downright useful.
Date published: 2009-02-15
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Lightweight, Folksy and Self-Indulgent I was very disappointed with this course: it contains too many platitudes, truisms and repetitious remarks on the most basic aspects of the emotions. Moreover, the professor's existentialist convictions dominate the course's structure and content. This course could have been taught much better-- for example, through an intellectual-historic overview of how the great thinkers have conceptualized the emotions.
Date published: 2009-02-02
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Very Weak I have the CD version. PRO--Professor speaks clearly in a pleasant voice, with no annoying verbal tics. Subject of the course is interesting. CON--Extremely weak content! I did not learn anything listening to these lectures. It's common-sense stuff (for example, he spends time discussing that an elderly couple loves each other differently than a teenage couple. Everyone knows that already.) I personally found this almost junior-high school level, certainly not college level. It may be more interesting in one of his live classes, but I was not at all challenged or interested in the course on CD. I think Prof. Solomon could do a great job if he were to delve much deeper into each emotion.
Date published: 2009-01-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Prof. Solomon is an excellent lecturer - clear and interesting and in complete commend of his subject matters.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This was the first book or course on philosophers or philosophy I've had that really dealth with real life experience realistically. A ground-breaking approach to life as we experience it.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have thoroughly enjoyed Robert Solomon's thought provoking lectures-first on existentialism and now on the emotions. All are full of marvelous thoughts.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Robert Solomon was intelligent, delightful and funny. how on earth did he memorize that course?!?
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 2 out of 5 by from This is one of the few courses that I thought lacked focus, intellectual rigor and in the end left me annoyed at the self indulgent theory pushing of the professor.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I suggest you make Dr. Solomon's lecture "lessons of love" from this course available via the internet for valantine's day. it is the best expasition of love I have ever heard.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Light weight in content, sloppy distributions, repetitious, very disappointing. Literary review without informative analysis.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I was pleasantly surprised to find the course so engaging. It was educational and very entertaining.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Opened my mind as well as my eyes. Instructor fantastic - 12 hours - no notes - he is not only brilliant he believes material as well knows material in course
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This series is the most radically thought-provoking one I have listened to...also, it is the most useful and relevant to everday living. Great series!
Date published: 2008-10-17
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