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 3.8 out of 5 by 56.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Interplay of Philosophy and Human Nature Professor Solomon was a superb teacher as I have taken other of his courses. He interesting mixes his great knowledge of philosophy with things of everyday life. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2018-07-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not for the faint hearted-For the passionate heart An life endeavour not to be taken lightly. Living through your philosophy like your teacher Bob does. Living a life of integrity through virtue and doing your passions and reasoning well. U won’t find any universal rationalisations here, every example is case and context specific to ensure a healthy equilibrium throughout, so your life and others can be fair and just. This is a life journey to experience and reflect time and time again. A long conversation, a never ending friendship. And Bob is the man for the job. For any one who wants to engage in deep self education I highly recommend this and everything else Bob touches. A genius, a lover and most important a sharer. Thank u Bob!
Date published: 2018-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great insight. I purchased this a couple of weeks ago and I enjoyed listening while driving. Ifter finishing I went back to review the mist relevant lessons for me.
Date published: 2017-09-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Philosophy and the Intelligence of Emotions As an occupational therapist and psychologist as well as therapist, I was thoroughly entrenched in the lectures. I enjoy philosophy so to here about different philosophies and their relation to emotions of human intellect brought me intrigue and "bliss".
Date published: 2017-08-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course!!! I've become a bit of a fan of Robert Solomon because I took existentialism as an undergraduate and he was the author of our textbook. I naturally got his existentialism course on this site, loved it, saw that he also has this course, and I learned that he wrote several books about philosophy of emotions. So, I decided to get this course I'm so glad I did! He is very knowledgeable on this topic and passionate about teaching this subject!
Date published: 2017-06-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from strong introductory material, no practicals Hi :). As a person of refined emotional intelligence (pretty much by accident), I was hoping for a rather more advanced discussion, perhaps involving development techniques or how society could be generally brought to a higher level of emotional analytical capacity and emotional competence. That said, this is clearly a very good course ... just not what I was hoping for. It was a firm introduction to the validity of the concept that emotional intelligence can exist, with historical and academic references. If you question the idea of emotional intelligence, or if you have just begun to admit that this idea is important to you personally and feel a need for some Ivory Tower type of support to help you feel validated, this course would be spot on for your needs. By the end there is no real question that the topic is a valid and important one. I wanted a set of lectures that started from that assumption and moved forward. I was a bit bothered because the entire presentation is fundamentally apologetic -- being presented from the subconscious position of 'what I'm presenting will be uncomfortable or challenging for people to hear and accept' -- but then I'm a generation or two younger than the presenter, female, grew up amongst undeniable neurodiversity, and live in Portlandia, so it's not surprising that I don't perceive his fascination and theses to require as much defense as he perceives they do.
Date published: 2017-06-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Appreciated the course I found the course informative. It was a subject in which I had no previous experience, other than my observation of life. I got the gist that emotions do have a purpose in generally helping us to achieve some objective, that they may have been developed in us by our evolutionary past.
Date published: 2017-03-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A Disappointment from a Usually Great Professor I am quite impressed with the breadth of knowledge and the teaching skills of the late Dr. Solomon from UT Austin. This set, which I got in CD form for listening while driving, was a disappointment. Perhaps it was because of my extensive background in both psychology and philosophy...The class seemed at too low a level. It seemed that Dr. Solomon was defining emotions in the way a person might define them to, say, help a person on the Autism Spectrum or a person who did not speak English natively. He defined the emotions in the first lectures, very simplistically. I did not enjoy being told ideas such as: "Sadness is a feeling we have when we lose something we love. It is an internal emotion, not directed at other people." Yes, I knew that in third grade! I would recommend this course to persons who know very little about psychology or philosophy. You might learn something new!
Date published: 2017-02-11
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