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Editor's 1-Minute Essay:
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The following represents a distillation of Dr. Adler's Syntopicon Essay:
Emotion, as its root suggests, moves and sets us to motion.
Modern thinkers on this subject, psychologists and physiologists, emphasize the facts of this phenomenon.The ancients, however, viewed emotion as a moral issue, especially as related to ethics and politics.
Yet, a point of agreement among all those who study this great idea: emotion is not mere, simple feeling; but, more significantly, a complex, organic disturbance within the body.
In his treatise On the Circulation of the Blood, speaking of these bodily disturbances, Harvey calls attention to:
"the fact that in almost every affection, appetite, hope, or fear, our body suffers, the countenance changes, and the blood appears to course hither and thither. In anger the eyes are fiery and the pupils contracted; in modesty the cheeks are suffused with blushes; in fear, and under a sense of infamy and of shame, the face is pale" and "in lust how quickly is the member distended with blood and erected!"
Also, Adler refers to Freud in this regard:
"The line between the neurotic and the normal is shadowy, for repressed emotional complexes are, according to Freud, also responsible for the hidden or latent psychological significance of slips of speech, forgetting, the content of dreams, occupational or marital choices, and a wide variety of other phenomena usually regarded as accidental or as rationally determined."
This notion of "disturbance" is suggested within emotion's synonym, "passion." Adler instructs that its root, akin to "passivity," expresses the idea that the body is acted upon, that emotion affects us, even, attacks us, from the outside.
And what does emotion attack? It is the "higher" nature of men and women, our dispassionate rational selves.
The Great Books writers speak of three main views regarding emotion and reason:
(1) Reason should govern emotion: a view held by Aristotle and Plato. Emotion is good if subordinated to the rule of reason and used for noble purposes; further, Aristotle sees such virtues as courage and temperance in terms of, as Adler states, "habitual emotional attitudes or responses which carry out the commands of reason."
(2) Reason should get rid of emotion: the Stoics, among them Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, preached of the inadequacy of emotions; that we should beat them down and try to expunge them from our natures. Stoics founds emotions to be a threat to reason and, therefore, advocated a calm, controlled, inner-life.
(3) Emotion should govern reason: a modern holding asserts that emotion should reign supreme; that reason is woefully wanting concerning its ability to make life all that it should be. Proponents here are the German Romantic philosophers, Schelling, Schleiermacher, and Novalis. Also, Adler tells us, the "English poet William Blake expresses a similar view... He contrasts the glowing radiance of gratified desire with the withering effect of abstinence... He says, Damn braces, bless relaxes, and Exuberance is beauty."
Spinoza, also, offering his opinion on the relation between emotion and rational thought:
"The mind is subject to passions in proportion to the number of inadequate ideas which it has, and ... it acts in proportion to the number of adequate ideas which it has."