Plato’s dialogue Gorgias ends with a long speech culminating in a rousing cry by an aroused Socrates. He is speaking to Gorgias’s student Callicles about his swaggering opinionatedness and their common uneducatedness. The words he uses are neanieusthai, ‟to act like a youth,” to behave like a kid, and apaideusia, ‟lack of teaching,” ignorance. And then he concludes with a condemnation of Callicles’s whole ‟way of life”—tropos tou biou—‟to which you summon me, believing in it”—hōi su pisteuōn eme parakaleis. esti gar oudenos axios, ō Kallikleis—‟For it is worth nothing, Callicles!” My fine 1922 edition of the Gorgias by the classicist Otto Apelt rightly translates the address O Kallikleis, jingling in the Gorgian manner with parakaleis, as ‟My Callicles,” for there is a curious, straining intimacy in Socrates’s peroration. The rest is silence. It is a favorite question of mine to ask our freshmen at St. John’s College, who all read this dialogue, what happened that night at home, when Callicles was, perhaps, by himself.
Now some of you may have heard of the late Seth Bemardete, a student of Leo Strauss and a brilliant classicist at New York University. In our youth we traveled together, and Seth once imparted to me the following wild conjecture. ‟Plato,” it was said, was a nickname given to him because of his broad shoulders. His real name was Aristocles: Callicles, Aristocles—he of noble fame, he of good fame; kalos k’agathos was the Greek way of denominating what Chaucer calls ‟a verray parfit gentil knicht,” a good and noble knight, a perfect gentleman. So Plato represents himself in this dialogue as a noble yet rudely unregenerate youth in his moment before conversion, a conversion accomplished by a usually imperturbable Socrates impassioned to speak, for once, extendedly and hotly.
Do I believe this clever combination of clues? Not really. Plato was, after all, of good family and a writer of tragedies before Socrates captivated him, and the swaggering surly youth Callicles has little of the high-bred, suave poet about him, a poet who was, moreover, probably already philosophically involved when he met Socrates.
Nonetheless, this anecdote about a conjecture seems to me thought-provoking. Here, for once, Plato permits us to see the spectacle of rational Socrates in a passion, un-ironic, touched to the quick—surely this is not a mere mean anger at being dissed by a Gorgiastic know-it-all.
Many of you are already teachers, though perhaps young in comparison to Plato (b. 427 B.C.E.) when he wrote the Gorgias (c. 387 B.C.E.). He was probably forty, and his Socrates (b. 470) was probably about the same age at the dramatic date of this dialogue (shortly after 429, the year of Pericles’s death, which is mentioned as a recent event in 503c). You will have experienced the unbalancing sense that the stakes are high and souls are to be pierced and that passion, or an exhibition of it, is in order. It is, to be sure, a wonderful question about the nature of passion whether deliberate demonstrativeness or disciplined reticence, either in the speaker or the listener, does more to nourish it or to dampen it, and how spontaneity and artfulness play into the effect. But we do know that Aristotle believed Socrates’s display in the Gorgias was effective. He tells of a Corinthian farmer who was inspired by his reading of the dialogue to leave his vineyard to its own devices, to join the Platonic circle, and henceforth to make his soul the ‟seedbed,” that is, the seminar, of Plato’s philosophy.
The Gorgias is, therefore, a good reference for beginning to talk about the affects as an object of study. Not merely because it documents, so to speak, that people concerned with the soul have in fact plenty of temperament—be it sober Socrates or meek Jesus (e.g., Matt. 21:12, Jesus wreaking havoc in the temple)—and that they don’t leave their affect at the entrance to their inquiries or preachings. I don’t, of course, mean the little negative furies that Socrates calls ‟eristic,” the eruptions of the contentious desire to win arguments, but I’m thinking of a large positive passion.
So this is where I zero in on my particular problem for this talk. I have read my way through a tiny fraction of the huge mass of contemporary writing on the emotions. I’ve come away with the cumulative—documentable—impression that there is a thoroughgoing misapprehension about a putative pagan rationalism and a supposed Western tradition for which it is held responsible and which breaks out with insidious virulence in the Enlightenment. This view owes something, I suppose, to Nietzsche’s brilliantly skewed portrait of the ‟despotic logician,” Socrates, the monster with the ‟one, great Cyclopean eye,” in whom “the lovely madness of artistic enthusiasm never glowed.” The attribution of monocular Cyclopeanism—i.e., vision without depth, carrying with it the charge of despotic sobriety—implies thought unravished by beauty. All this imputed to a man who thought that our soul contained a world that we could recover by going within, and believed that true poetry requires a Dionysiac frenzy inspired by the Muses, one cognate in kind to the philosophical longing for beauty! All this ascribed to a man who, attending a drinking party, bathed for once and wearing shoes, slyly paints a verbal picture of Eros that is in fact a self-portrait—Socrates looking at himself from a distance and recognizing the unwashed and unshod god!
So much for the picture of Socrates the rationalist. And something similar holds for Aristotle the intellectualist. His great work, the founding book of institutionalizable philosophy (since it pre-sets the problems to be solved in Metaphysics III), begins with an appetite, a root passion, which, in the form of the desire to know, is humanly universal and culminates in a passionate portrait of the ultimate object of appetition. This ultimate object is a divinity that attracts, without returning, love—an object that satisfies, that fulfills, by its mere actuality, by its unadulterated energeia (Metaphysics II; XII.7), as in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 94:
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone, unmoved…
except that the pure energeia of the divinity is the very opposite of the practically complete inertia of those unaffectable human objects of attraction, these beautiful but hyletic lumps of mere resistance that the speaker of the poem is excoriating.
Would it be too much to claim that this is the difference between the philosophical Greeks and the God-regarding Hebrews, more significant than Homer’s anthropomorphic polytheism, which is in any case more characteristic of the poets and the people than of the philosophers? I mean the lack of reciprocity between adoring human and worshipped divinity: The Socratic forms are great powers (Sophist 247e), but even when they come on the comic stage in visible shape—which they do in Aristophanes’s Clouds where they appear as wordily nebulous beings, as shaped mists—they don’t do a thing for their summoning worshipper, Socrates. In fact they abandon him to possible suffocation in his thinkaterion—the play leaves this uncomic outcome open—and exit satisfied with their ‟temperate” performance. (Clouds 269, 1509) The Aristotelian divinity, Nous, is similarly unresponsive, an object of uninvolved attraction. The God of the Jews, on the other hand, is beneficently or banefully involved with his people, and when a certain Jewish sect grows into a great religion, He becomes caring outreach itself, namely, Love. (e.g., Exodus 20:1-6, I John 4:8, 16)
Why am I dwelling first on the pagans and on the Christians in talking to you about the study of the passions, when the contemporary writers on the emotions simply drown out these earlier voices by their volume? It’s not that I have much faith in the explanatory power of chronology or in those longitudinal studies by which a genetic history is attributed to ideas, and which tend to develop more arcane information than illuminating depth. I can think of a half-dozen reasons for my distrust, which there is no time to set out at the podium, though we might talk about the implied historicism of such studies in the next few days. Moreover, it is probably less necessary at a Catholic university than at any other to try to induce respect for the tradition. There is, however, a particular way in which I think that emotion studies should begin with, or pick up at some point, the great ancient and medieval works—of the latter, above all, Thomas’s ‟Treatise on the Passions,” which he placed in the very center of the Summa Theologiae, for this monk knew—God knows how—everything about human passion.
I think these pre-modern works should be studied for their shock value, for the news they contain for us. Such a reading, a reading that places them not in the bygone superseded past but in a recalcitrantly unfashionable present, requires a difficult and never quite achievable art, one that graduate students should certainly be eager to acquire: first, the art of summing up, with some credibility, what a philosopher is really and at bottom about (I don’t mean ‟all about,” a hand-waving locution, but the compact gist of his intention); and second, the art of discerning how the particular part on which you mean to focus is, or fails to be, properly derivative from that central intention. Then, opposing gist to gist and consequence to consequence, there will emerge a coherent and discussable schema both of the general notions that preoccupy the denizens of modernity willy-nilly and of the sophisticated twists that studious scholars and trendy intellectual elites have given them. Approached in this way, emotion studies seem to me as necessary to our self-understanding as any subject can be—necessary to us as human beings with a contemporary affectivity.
So now let me give you some, perhaps vulnerably sweeping, observations about more recent emotional studies, particularly in English-speaking lands. The groundbreaking works for us were English; I will name Errol Bedford (1956) and Anthony Kenny (1963). But the American father of this field is Robert Solomon with his book The Passions (1976).
The Solomonic beginning and its consequences are full of oddities. (I am avoiding the harsher term ‟self-contradictions.”) The thesis of the book is ‟to return the passions to the central and defining role,” snatched from them by Socrates, and ‟to limit the pretensions of ‘objectivity’ and self-demeaning reason that have exclusively ruled Western philosophy, religion, and science” since his days.
Well, I guess we’ve read different works of Western philosophy. But now comes a surprise: How will this salvation from two and a half millennia of despotic rationalism be achieved? We must recognize that ‟an emotion is a judgment.” Of course, this dictum runs into difficulties concerning the meaning of non-rational judgments. Indeed, Solomon eventually accepted that his claim is actually a cognitive theory. As such, he says rightly, it has ‟become the touch-stone of all philosophical theorizing about emotions.” He could, in any case, hardly escape this cognitivist denomination, since it turns out that we become responsible for our emotions by adopting this very theory of cognitive emotion. For as the theory works its way into our unconscious volitions, it will become true, and our emotions will indeed be as much in our control as our judgments; so control is what it’s—after all— about.
The Stoics are the moderns among the ancients. Their cognitive theories, the first truly representational theories, are more future-fraught than any others in antiquity that I know of; they dominate modernity until Heidegger’s Being and Time. The Stoics are hard to study, because the deepest of them, belonging to the so-called Early Stoa, exist only in fragments. But we have an extended text on Stoic passion theory, the third and fourth books Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations. Some of you, who have read the work, will recognize that the modern dictum ‟an emotion is a judgment” is pure Neostoicism. Neostoicism has, in fact, dominated modern emotion studies. One major work in this vein is Martha Nussbaum’s Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (2001).
But how strange! The Stoics meant to reduce emotions to mistakes, to diseases, to pathologies, of judgment. An emotion is a false appraisal, a perturbed opinion about what matters: an ‟upheaval of thought.” It is a deep and complex theory underwritten by the Stoics’ fearless physicalism, their notion of a material substratum, the pneuma, on whose ground the psychic capacities can morph into one another. But there is no question that, taken summarily, rationality trumps affect. How odd, then, that modern theories so largely save the emotions from rationalism by rationalizing them. And I’ll list associated oddities.
First is the pervasive fear for the emotions, the sense that we moderns have suppressed and demeaned them, that they need saving. What teacher of the young (as scholars by and large are) or observers of the world (as some of them may be) could possibly think that that was what was troubling the nations, cities, neighborhoods!
Second is a curtailed sense of thought in the West. I think I’ve given some prime examples of the interpenetration of thought and affect, even of the primacy of appetition in the human soul in antiquity. When the ancients fight the passions it is because they are so alive, experientially alive, to the meaning of the word pathos, ‟suffering,” and the effect of its licensed reign, its invited tyranny. It is really, I think, a modern idea of emotion that is at work here, among our contemporaries, one which pits its softness against hard reason.
Inherited Enlightenment terminology indeed conveys this sense that our passions are attenuated, all but quelled by reason. The pivotal figure here is Hume. In his Treatise of Human Nature, the term ‟passion” begins to be displaced by ‟emotion.” He uses both, mostly interchangeably. But emotion is the word of the future. Solomon’s book is entitled The Passions, but the key word inside is ‟emotions.” Your own conference called for papers on ‟Emotion.”
‟Emotion” derives from e-movere, Latin for ‟to move out.” The significance of this substitution of emotion for passion is powerful. Ancient pathos, passion, was an affect emanating from an object; the object elicited the responsive affect, from the outside in. Modern emotion comes from inside out; it emphasizes expression; subject prevails over object. It is the Romantic worm eating its way out of the Enlightened apple.
At the same time, the non-affective, the rational part of the subject becomes mere reason. Hume, famously, says: ‟Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” He can say that because Humean and enlightened reason is not deeply affective, not driven by love, and so its relation to emotion may indeed be one of subservience, standoff, or finally, enmity. I need hardly add that with this transformation of the appetitive, longing, loving, intellect into manipulative, instrumental, willful rationality, philosophy loses its proper meaning and becomes a profession. My brush here is broad, but, I think, it has some good overlap with the case. So my second oddity is the severely foreshortened view of the capabilities of passionate thought.
Now a third curious notion, the oddest one of all: the unreflective launching of an enterprise which is, on the face of it, like embarking on a destroyer with the idea of going swimming. The vessel of war displaces, cleaves, churns up the element, but, absent a shipwreck, the sailor stays dry. So the student of emotion banishes perturbations, analyzes wholes, whips up terminology, and, unless melancholy seizes him, sails high and dry over the billowing depths of feeling, with much solid bulkhead keeping him from immersion in the element to be apprehended. This not very elegant simile is just a way of expressing my surprise at the fact that emotion studies tend to precipitate themselves into a dispassionate subject without much thought about how such a subject can come to be—about how emotion can be subjected to thought without being denatured in the process.
Here, incidentally, lies, it seems to me, the best reason why cognitive scientists, and those philosophers who like to be on solid ground, are by and large physicalists and might well regard the Stoics as their avatars. What matter-and-its-motions has in its favor in emotion studies is that in this spatial form the different motions of the mind appear not to occlude each other; spatio-temporal events, laid our in extension and sequence, have patency. However, since cognitive brain studies, including the emotion research, depend on prior conceptualization and introspective protocols, it is hard to think of them as independent of a philosophical phenomenology.
Therefore, in the unavoidable preparatory philosophical exploration, the perplexity of thinking about feeling remains a vexing one, the more so since it appears to me to be a variant of the greatest quandary, now and always: How is thinking about any form of our consciousness even conceivable? How is it—or is it, indeed—that thought about awareness does not collapse into a union, as does ‟thinking of thinking,” the noēsis noēseōs of the Nous? How can we know that thought about itself or its fellow internalities does not transform its object out of its true being?
Just this latter eventuality makes emotion studies problematic. Study does have its own affect, one of the most interesting in the list of feelings, namely, interest itself. The word—from interesse, ‟to be in the midst of”—signifies what student parlance calls ‟being into it.”
To study is to bring to bear received learning and native analytic and combinatory capacities on a determinate object. If study is of a high quality, it is preceded and accompanied by its opposite, leisure—free time for meditating or musing, during which original questions rise up and take shape. But the business itself focuses on problems such as Aristotle first set for himself and left for his successors. Nowadays it’s the dissertation advisor’s job. Now all the questions become formulated as demands for reasoning, and under reasoning all things turn to reason—as under studious production all thinking turns to footnoted paper-writing.
It is indeed curious that this fact is not more of a perplexity to students of the emotions. Yet on second thought, it is perhaps not so surprising that emotion studies seem so desiccated—perhaps they are not really more so than serious scholarship ever must be. Robert Browning has his lovingly respectful students sing at the “Grammarian’s Funeral:”
Learned we found him.
Yea, but we found him bald, too, eyes like lead, Accents uncertain:
‘Time to taste life,’ another would have said,
‘Up with the curtain!’
This man said rather, ‘Actual life comes next?
Patience a moment!
Grant I have mastered learning’s crabbed text. Still there’s the comment.’
Here is the picture of interest raised to the pitch of passion. There is a sort of pure, dry, professional love (Browning’s grammarian’s passion was for Greek syntax, the particles in particular) that can capture the loving admiration of students. I know this from my own student days. But I doubt that it suits philosophy, and, in particular, philosophizing about the emotions. Here another poem expresses our condition more aptly: Wordsworth’s ‟The Tables Turned.” It begins:
Up! up! my Friend and quit your books;
and this is its seventh verse:
Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.
To be sure, there are now less intrusive ways of getting inside Nature. Yet the conceptualizing of feeling will ever and always be an abstraction in the basic sense—a removal, a drawing away from life. And in respect to the affects, this sort of abstraction is doubly dubious. For in ordinary abstraction, the concept incarnate in concrete things is, by a specifically human cognitive operation, separated off from them. But it is simply a premature, a prejudicial notion that the affects ‟stand under” (to use Kantian diction) abstractable concepts in the same way as do things.
It might follow that to view as problematic the dispassionate, studious study of the affects—be they impositions from without or stirrings from within—is a sine qua non for beginning rightly. I think it does follow.
There are early bonuses. I’ll give you in turn a suspicion, a conjecture, and a figure. The suspicion is that we really are partite beings, so that our affective and our thinking capacities are terminally distinct, structurally and dynamically heterogeneous. The conjecture is that it is this very disjunction in their being which makes possible their conjunction in thought and action, their effective complementarity. Here I’ve written a sentence that I don’t even quite understand as I’m reading it to you, and yet I have some faith in it. Finally, my figure is that our affective capacities lie deeper in our nature than our reflective powers.
To be sure, neuroscientists also say that certain brain structures expressly subserving the emotions are located deeper within the brain and appeared early in evolutionary history, but that is not dispositive: What is biologically primitive might, after all, not be humanly primary. What I mean, rather, is that affectivity has a certain abysmal, incomprehensible character that makes it feel—I don’t know how else to put it—submersed; affects touch us (‟to feel” is related to the Latin palpare, to pat) in intimate, that is, ‟innermost” regions, while articulable thought-activity intends, ‟stretches toward,” emerges, towards comprehension of objects. We might be constitutionally bipolar, extended between emotional depth and thoughtful height. Perhaps an original question might be formulated from this figure. It is something we could discuss later, if you like.
Wordsworth’s lines imply that the murderous dissection is performed on a lovely, living object. I must tell you that emotion studies sometimes—too often—read as if they were carried out on a latex-injected corpse that suffers every cut with supine springiness. This is, as I’ve tried to show, a partly inevitable result of making affectivity a ‟subject,” a thing lying still under thought, literally ‟thrown under” its wheels.
Nonetheless, I feel tempted, by way of an ending, to say how I think we can mitigate the dilemma, for if we can’t think about our feelings, we’ll come apart. I’ll try to be practical.
First, then, you can’t study emotions at even the kindliest advisor’s prompting. They are a subject that requires experiential urgency, some pressure for the relief of confusion. In brief, you not only have to be a feeling being—as are we all—but also a being enticingly oppressed by the enigma of emotionality, the arcanum of affectivity. Some topics are well approached in the brisk spirit of pleasurable problem-solving. Not this one, I think.
Second, listen to what Socrates says in the Apology. He does not say, as is often reported, that ‟the unexamined life is not worth living.” What he really says is, I think, something stronger: that such a life is ‟not livable for a human being,” ou biōtos anthrōpōi (38a), is not a possible life, not a lived life. That is what the –tos ending of biōtos signifies: ‟livable or lived.” He means, I think, that experiences, passions among them, that are not internally reviewed, introspectively relived, are in effect unlived—an unexamined experience is not yours. A nice corroborating illustration comes in Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain, whose hero—meant to be a paradigm of simple humanity—engages in an introspective discipline he calls regieren, “ruling, regulating,”—in short, digesting, appropriating his affects and images. For as experimental emotion research requires protocols drawn from inner experience, so conceptual emotion studies cannot do without introspection. And unlike egocentric self-analysis, which is a spontaneous sport, disciplined self-inspection is an art learned by practice. So now I seem to have contravened everything I’ve just said, which was that feeling is choked by thinking.
Here, then, is my last attempt at being practical about our problem as students: how to keep feeling before ourselves while bringing thought to bear on it. Or, more learnedly put: how to turn what is, regarded in itself, the most subjective element of our being, perhaps our very subjectivity itself, into an object. (I will get myself into a word muddle here, unless I remind you that before the eighteenth century “subject” meant just what we now call “object”—for example, the being that arouses passion, and we still use it in this way, as in “the subject to be studied.” But by means of an inversion that is only partial, “subject” is now used for the host of the emotion rather than for its object, and “subjective” signifies a feature of emotional affect.)
Deliverance from the quandary of objectifying the essentially subjective seems to me to come from our great representational faculty, the imagination. Mental images are summoned by feeling, arouse feeling and are, famously, affect-fraught, feeling-laden. There are those who deny that we have analogue images before an inner eye, but they are in retreat. The cognitive scientist Stephen Kosslyn (the prime defender of mental analogue images), lay persons in general, and most students of the imagination are convinced by their own inner experience of imaginative vision and its affectivity—and what claim could possibly override such personal, one might say, eye-witness knowledge? (I might add here that the very latest neuroscience seems, though incidentally, to clinch the argument for mental visuality; mental images are directly machine-retrievable.)
These affect-laden sights can indeed be held in mind, and thinking can turn to them, play over them, study them. So, it seems to me, emotion studies require an imaginative life. Here is a practical consequence: Your profession requires you to read scholarly articles, but your mission needs you to read works of fiction, particularly novels. For these not only stock your minds with visualizable scenes of passion on which to dwell while you think, they also school you in the adequately expressive diction with which to articulate what you discovered. For, my fellow students, if you speak of feeling either in flabbily pretentious or technically formalizing diction, your papers will be worth—well, next to nothing.
Books by Eva Brann may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore. This lecture was presented to the graduate students of the School of Philosophy at the Catholic University of America on March 30, 2012. It appeared in The St. John’s Review (Volume 54, Number 1, Fall 2012) and is republished here with gracious permission. Miss Brann welcomes questions/comments via mail: Dr. Eva Brann, St. John’s College, 60 College Avenue, Annapolis, MD, 21401-1655 (she does not use computers).
 Platons Dialog Gorgias, ed. Otto Apelt (Leipzig: F. Meiner, 1922), 166. This is the very end of the dialogue, at 527e.
 Debra Nails, The People of Plato (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2002),
 Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, Middle-English edition, Prologue, l. 72 (New York: Penguin Classics, 2005),
 Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, Book III, Chapter 5, “Plato,” R. D. Hicks, Loeb Classical Library 184 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1925).
 This anecdote is found in a fragment from Themistius in the so-called Akademie-Ausgabe of Aristotle’s works edited for the Prussian Academy of Sciences by Immanuel Bekker (Berlin: G. Reimer, 1870), 1484b. The fragment is translated in The Works of Aristotle, W. D. Ross, Vol. 12 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952), 24. The story is translated in its original context in Robert J. Penella, The Private Orations of Themistius (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 122.
 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, section 14: “das eine große Zyklopenauge des Sokrates . . . in dem nie der holde Wahnsinn künstlerischer Begeisterung geglüht ”
 Plato, Meno,
 Plato, Phaedrus, 245a, 249d.
 Plato, Symposium
 Errol Bedford, “Emotions,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, LVII (1956-57), 281-304.
 Anthony Kenny, Action, Emotion, and Will (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963).
 Robert Solomon, The Passions: Emotions and the Meaning of Life (New York: Doubleday, 1976).
 Solomon, The Passions, xiv.
 Ibid., 185.
 Ibid., 188ff.
 Martha Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
 David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739), 2.3.3. Emphasis added.
 See, for example, Antonio Damasio, Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain (New York: Harcourt, 2003),
 Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book XII, Chapter 9.
 See Silvan Tomkins, Affect, Imagery, Consciousness, 4 vols. (New York: Springer, 2008), Volume I, Chapter 10, “Interest–Excitement,” 185-202.
 In Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain, Chapter 6, “Of the City of God and of Evil Deliverance.”
 See, for example, Stephen Kosslyn, Image and Brain: The Resolution of the Imagery Debate (Boston: MIT Press, 1996).
 Francisco Pereira et al., “Generating text from functional brain images,” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 5 (August, 2011): Article 72.