David Appleby

title.none: Knuuttila, Emotion in Ancient and Medieval Philosophy (David Appleby)

identifier.other: baj9928.0801.005 08.01.05

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: David Appleby, Thomas Aqiunas College,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Knuuttila, Simo. Emotions in Ancient and Medieval Philosophy. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004. Pp. x, 341. $74.00 (hb). ISBN: 0-19-926638-7.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.01.05

Knuuttila, Simo. Emotions in Ancient and Medieval Philosophy. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004. Pp. x, 341. $74.00 (hb). ISBN: 0-19-926638-7.

Reviewed by:

David Appleby
Thomas Aqiunas College

This is a synthetic overview of the place of emotions in the history of ancient and medieval philosophy and philosophical psychology. The scale of the project compels Knuuttila to present this story through the primary texts themselves, though he attends also to the main currents of recent and on-going scholarship (mostly in English), especially for the ancient Greek and Hellenistic philosophers, but also for some fourteenth-century Franciscan authors. These fields have been active enough in the last twenty years to make a comprehensive account of the sort Knuuttila offers most welcome. The book is not a history of passion and emotion, nor a contribution to the social and cultural history of emotions. Social and cultural historians will nevertheless find it valuable as a source of background information on the ideas of cultural elites that at times achieved a normative status. As for scholars interested in the emotions as the subject of philosophical speculation, they too will benefit from the approaches and insights of the ancient and medieval thinkers presented here.

The first of the work's four chapters deals with Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman thought about the emotions before the rise of Christianity. Knuuttila gives almost one half of this chapter to the views of Plato and Aristotle. There is a useful survey of the psychological ideas in Plato's early and middle dialogues. In his later works, Plato started to take into account the imagination and affective anticipation as cognitive elements of occurrent emotions, and he came to treat emotions as various mixtures of pleasure and distress. The precise character of these changes is still the subject of scholarly debate, as are their causes, and Knuuttila reviews the positions of W. W. Fortenbaugh, M. C. Nussbaum, J. C. B. Gosling, and C. C. W. Taylor. But there are at least traces in Plato's mature thought of the compositional theory of the emotions that Aristotle later developed more systematically.

Although Aristotle's debt to Plato in this field was considerable, he presented an understanding of the emotions that was his own, not least in the distinction he made between the pleasant and unpleasant feelings of non-rational natural appetites, and the pleasant and unpleasant feelings of the appetites associated with reason. The latter appetites he understood to be "conditioned by culture and [to] presuppose specific beliefs" (31). More consistently than Plato, Aristotle attributed real if not quite terminal importance to man's earthly, social existence, and consequently took an interest in human attachment to temporal, contingent things, many of which were beyond human control. Accepting this "vulnerable dependence on temporal matters" (26) as a basic human condition is the backdrop for Aristotle's thought about virtue and emotions. Recent scholarly work focuses on the difference between belief and evaluative judgment as constituent causes of emotions. Knuuttila considers R. Sorabji's discussion of the emotions of animals in Aristotle's works, and J. Lear's distinction between feelings, which are caused by appearances (in images or drama) but do not require belief, and emotions, which do presuppose belief. Also worth noting is D. Charles' suggestion that Aristotle thought of various kinds of desire "as propositional attitudes of a certain kind" (45).

Stoic thinkers regarded emotions as disturbances of the soul's tranquility caused by mistaken judgments about things. Living according to man's rational nature meant regarding virtue alone as the only true good, and vice alone as the only true evil. The Stoic sage secured autonomy and self-sufficiency by divesting himself of attachment to, or aversion from things he could not control, that is, from external things such as wealth, honor, pleasure, family, and so forth. The autarchy of the sage thus both depended upon and was expressed in his freedom from emotions (apatheia). Whether this apatheia should be understood as freedom only from disturbing, harmful emotions or as the eradication of all emotion was the subject of discussion in antiquity. But even Stoic good feelings (eupatheiai), such as good will, kindness, and caution, do not involve ascribing intrinsic importance to contingent things, and so do not rise to the level of real emotions according to the Stoic understanding.

One vexing interpretative issue concerns the Stoic understanding of emotion itself, in particular whether emotion is "the affect [elation, contraction, and so on] which is occasioned by a judgement, or the judgement itself" (54). Galen's testimony, which attributes the former view to Zeno and the latter to Chrysippus, is pivotal but problematic, since Galen was involved in an argument against Stoic psychological monism in favor of a Platonic tripartite theory of the soul. Galen claimed that Posidonius too had sided with Plato and identified the emotions as movements of irrational powers of the soul. Knuuttila agrees with R. Sorabji, against J. M. Cooper and J. Fillion-Lahille, among others, that Galen's testimony concerning Posidonius' views is basically accurate: certain appearances trigger movements of the emotional part of the soul. While these feelings sometimes grow into actual emotional impulses in the absence of judgement (for instance, in the case of spontaneous crying, or in the case of emotions aroused by listening to music), usually the rational power gives its assent before the feeling turns into an emotional impulse. In this way, emotions came to involve a mixture of the voluntary and the involuntary. Later Stoic thinkers developed the notion of first movements from Posidonius' doctrine of feelings that come before emotional impulses.

The balance of Chapter 1 includes surveys of Epicurean, Middle Platonic, Galenic, and Plotinian doctrines of the emotions, and concludes with a look at the emotions as they figure in the eclectic handbook known as De natura hominis of the late fourth-century Nemesius of Emesa. Knuuttila outlines the various psychological, physical, physiological, and ethical doctrines of these individuals and schools as the matrix within which affections and emotions were understood. Although ideals such as mental tranquility and personal self-sufficiency crop up repeatedly, their character and specific meaning depended upon the aim of this or that author, and upon what he understood to constitute the good life for man.

The second chapter, "Emotions and the Ancient Pursuit of Christian Perfection," focuses on emotions in the thought of some of the main Christian authors from the first to the fifth centuries. Knuuttila's interest here lies in the ways that elite Christians received and made use of ancient philosophical and medical doctrines of the emotions. In second- and third- century Alexandria the predominant influence was Stoic with a substantial undercurrent of Middle Platonism. Sometimes Clement and Origen wrote in platonizing terms of rational and irrational parts of the soul; at others they referred to the soul as unitary and rational, in the manner of the Stoics. They developed a two-tiered model of Christian perfection in which beginners, who account for the vast majority, were expected to moderate their emotions but not to eradicate them, since the passions are operations of the irrational faculties of the soul. In contrast, the few advanced believers, the gnostics, achieved apatheia, the radical extirpation of self- regarding emotions and emotions focused upon contingent things, and instead were animated by divine love alone. As Origen put is, the advanced cut off the passionate part of the soul. They may experience the first movements and suggestions, but these pre-passions cannot rise to the level of culpable passions without the approval and consent of the rational soul. According to Clement and Origen, the incarnate Lord exemplified apatheia, even at Gethsemane, where he experienced not fear or sadness but their first movements, which he then effectively resisted.

Alexandrian Christian thought influenced most of the subsequent development in the patristic period, and Knuuttila traces it in the writings of the Cappodocian Fathers and works associated with monasticism in the Egyptian desert. Since the former were bishops with pastoral responsibilities, they showed some interest in addressing the passions and emotions of lay Christians. But emotions played a greater role in the literature of the monastic movement in Egypt. Thanks to letters attributed to the saint himself as well as the Life composed by the learned Bishop Athanasius, we see that St. Antony eventually developed a method of coping with tempting, illicit thoughts that is reminiscent of the philosophical psychagogy of the time. It was Evagrius of Pontus in the later fourth century, however, who came to the Egyptian desert and "developed Origen's ideas into a system of monastic spirituality" (140). He adopted the originally-Stoic view that "all vicious motions of the soul are caused by wrong evaluative thoughts (logismoi) and that the goal of the practical life is to make the soul wholly free from them" (142). The goal of apatheia and the doctrine of first movements or pre- passions had Stoic antecedents. But the Evagrian system also showed traces of platonism, especially the idea of the three parts of the soul. For the passionate disorders of each of the soul's three parts, Evagrius discussed particular remedies with the aim of an overall harmony in which the rational part makes use of the spirited and appetitive parts in an apathetic way. Evagrius' thought was one of the main inspirations of John Cassian who introduced many of the central ideals of Egyptian monasticism into the Latin West in the early fifth century. In turn, Cassian's writings influenced later western monastic authors such as Benedict of Nursia.

St. Augustine's importance in the history of self-perception is as great as his familiarity with ancient philosophical theories of the emotions was slight. He considered God and the angels to be impassible, and thought that by nature human beings are too. Man's present subjection to persistent carnal appetites and passions is a part of the penal consequence of original sin. Before the Fall the lower parts of the soul obeyed the rational will, and so Adam and Eve did not experience spontaneous psycho-somatic movements. In heaven, the elect will once again enjoy the tranquility of well-ordered souls. The tripartite division of the soul presented in De quantitate animae is of course reminiscent of the platonic schema, and like the Platonists Augustine located the source of most of the emotions in the two irrational parts. The positive emotions associated with faith and Christian love are not like the passions, since they issue from the higher, rational part of the soul, and since faith and Christian love themselves are divinely infused. More important is the Confessions with its essentially new interest in the subjective history of the self, and its conception of the will as the dynamic center of personality.

Chapter Three, "Medieval Conceptions of Emotions from Abelard to Aquinas," focuses on the reception and development of ancient and late antique doctrines of the emotions in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Within the period, Knuuttila presents some subsections focused on themes of particular interest, and others on the thought of principal figures. The first thematic subsection addresses the elaboration of the early Christian understanding of first movements toward sin. There was considerable disagreement in the high middle ages as to whether impulses to forbidden acts were already sins or not. One part of the problem stemmed from a misunderstanding of Augustine's position on this question circulating in the pages of Peter Lombard's influential Sententiae. Augustine had distinguished between the "unavoidable initial stage of a movement towards sin and its continuation, which could be prevented by the controlling will" (183). While he considered the second stage culpable, the first was not. Peter Lombard understood Augustine to mean that even the first, passing, pleasant reaction to a forbidden thing is already a venial sin. Many twelfth- and thirteenth-century thinkers expressed their preference either for "first movement toward sin" or "first sinful movement," until a version of the latter position eventually became the dominant approach. In addition to the interesting elaboration of "a theory of an ascending order of psychological commitment" (186) that was produced in this controversy, Knuuttila points to the "unsatisfactory" (192) tendency to regard people as responsible for first movements that are not in fact under their control.

One note-worthy outgrowth of the discussion of first movements was the development of a modal logic of the will and emotions by Peter Abelard, Stephan Langton and others. They addressed problems of conditional obligation and cases in which an antecedent is willed while a consequent is not. These subjects were related to emotional acts of the sensitive soul and objects of what came to be called the conditional will. Knuuttila also mentions work by Irene Rosier and Gabriel Nuchelmans on high medieval discussions of interjections and other syncategorematic terms as indications not of concepts of mind, but of mental events including affective states. Knuuttila briefly considers the interesting but less philosophical issue of spiritual exercises as an index of high medieval self-awareness as a feeling subject. The focus here is the affective spirituality of Bernard of Clairvaux, William of St. Thierry, Hugh of St. Victor, and Richard of St. Victor.

The most philosophically sophisticated discussion of psychology and the emotions in the later twelfth and early thirteenth century was the sixth book of Avicenna's al-Shifa. This was translated into Latin about the same time as Aristotle's De anima, but for the last quarter of the twelfth and the first quarter of the thirteenth century was more influential than the terse and less accessible work of Aristotle. There is a valuable survey of Avicenna's psychology. His view of the emotions resembles Aristotle's compositional theory, but with greater attention to identifying the particular faculties involved in occurrent emotions, and in arranging the components of emotions into causal sequences.

In the early thirteenth century Avicenna's theories helped shape western accounts of the relation between different kinds of emotion and the soul's concupiscible and irascible parts. John of la Rochelle articulated what became the standard view according to which acts of the imaginative and estimative apprehensive powers may "actualize the imperative moving powers" (231), namely the concupiscible and irascible, which in turn "give impulses to external behavioral changes" (231). John presented an extensive taxonomy of the emotions in light of what he called four "dispositions" of the sensitive motive powers (the concupiscible had like or dislike, and the irascible had strength or weakness), by which Knuuttila thinks he meant to draw attention to "the different ways in which these powers were actualized" (232).

The other great stimulus to western psychological speculation in this period was the direct encounter with Aristotle's De anima. In the 1240s commentaries on that work began to appear, including those of Peter of Spain and Albert the Great. The latter was the teacher of Thomas Aquinas who himself wrote an important commentary on De anima, and whose Summa theologiae II-I.22-48 is the largest medieval treatise on the theory of the emotions. Thomas Aquinas adopted the faculty psychology that was normal in his day, but dropped the idea of the soul as an immaterial individual substance, instead holding that the soul is the substantial form of the body. He considered emotions to be essentially psychosomatic. But Thomas Aquinas was more systematic in his account of the contrariety and order of occurrence of the emotions than others had been. In particular he explained the movement of occurrent emotions using concepts and terminology borrowed from the theory of the movement of physical objects found in Aristotle's Physics. Along with this came the idea of final causation, the "assumption" (247) (Thomas Aquinas might have said "observation") that natural potencies tend toward optimal actualization. In the case of animals, concupiscible passions lead to activity that tends to preserve the life of the individual or species. Irascible passions cause actions that enable animals to overcome obstacles to attaining the ends of the concupiscible power. Knuuttila describes this "systematic use of the principles of natural philosophy" as "the most idiosyncratic part of Aquinas's theory of emotions" (243).

The book's final chapter is a consideration of emotions in fourteenth-century philosophy. It is the shortest of the four and one of the most technical sections of the book. The main subject of interest here is the voluntarist psychology developed among late thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Franciscans. Because of their theological interests, these authors raised issues and perspectives that went beyond the traditional faculty psychology, in which psychosomatic emotions were considered to be separate from naturally, or supernaturally caused acts of the intellectual soul. The point of departure was the scholastic discussion of a problem in the philosophy of mind, namely the nature of reflexive psychic acts. The view of Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle, that the intellect is aware of itself not directly but through its particular acts, raised questions about the character of that self-awareness, especially what are the phantasms in the sensitive soul associated with it. One author who explored this problem in greater detail was Peter John Olivi, who maintained that whenever the will acts freely it adverts 1) to an object of which there is a cognitive representation, 2) to itself as the agent that causes willing, and 3) to itself as willing. The will's reflexive acts are the second and third of these. The subject of direct reflexive knowledge of mental acts formed one part of a wider discussion of intuitive cognition, which was important in the thought of Duns Scotus and William Ockham.

Knuuttila connects these broader themes to the subject of emotions through the question of the weakness of the will, a problem that was often discussed in this period. Their voluntarism led some fourteenth-century authors to account for weakness of the will not only in the traditional manner, as an occurrent emotion or irrational impulse that obscures knowledge of the appropriate means to a willed end. In addition, they held that a choice can be viewed as a temporary deviation from the end. "In this theory the goals are chosen together with the means; when there is a judgement about a goal and a means, a human being can either will the means or give up the goal" (264). Emotions thus seemed to be not only movements of the sensitive level of the soul, but also of the intellectual level. Even before Duns Scotus, Franciscan authors had spoken of the passions of the will, but "he was the first to formulate a comprehensive theory of the emotions involving the sensitive passions and the passions of the will" (268). In other words, this was a fundamentally new attribution of emotion to the intellectual soul.

The chapter is important because it shows that real development in the philosophy of emotions occurred after the reception and assimilation of Aristotle's thought. But Knuuttila also points out the thematic continuity with the high middle ages, and indeed ends the book by saying that medieval theory and controversies "are much more relevant to the psychology of emotions in Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, or Leibniz than is usually acknowledged" (286). Whatever may be the truth of that claim about the thought of the early modern period, it is clear that just below the surface of the fourteenth-century discussions Knuuttila covers are the sort of concerns that animated western philosophical consideration of the emotions from ancient times. Above all, can we include the emotions in a coherent account of the human person, and if we do so, what consequences does this have for our understanding of the place of human beings in relation to nature and the divine? These are fundamental questions, and Knuuttila deserves credit for making them the axial concerns in this lucid and highly useful survey of ancient and medieval philosophy and philosophical psychology.