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H.J. Pott PhD




Research Project
Heleen Pott

Rethinking emotions – Affect and Cognition in the History of Science and Philosophy

Emotions are a hot topic today. They are deemed crucial to the understanding of practical reasoning and decision making, the experience of art, the evolution of consciousness, and many other things. Without emotion, there would be no literature, no morality, no politics, no cultural memory or public life, just nothing but boring routine.
Surprisingly however, during the first half of the 20th century, scientists tended to neglect and ignore emotional phenomena. It was only since the late 1960s that the ‘emotions’ as a psychological category started to become a fashionable area of scientific research. In the history of philosophy, emotions were not very popular either. A strong current of Western thought systematically warned against intense anger, joy, fear or grief , and called for banishing the ‘passions’ as alien powers that act against our rational will.
Rethinking emotions critically examines how, over the past 40 years, emotions became an increasingly popular subject ter in cognitive psychology, the humanities and neuroscience. The project examines current disagreements between cognitive and non-cognitive definitions of ‘emotion’ and styles of emotion research. It also raises philosophical questions about the recently proclaimed ‘rational’ nature of emotions, about how the concept of ‘emotion’ differs from ‘passion’ and ‘affect’, and how it relates to concerns and values, rationality and cognition, bodily changes and affective intentionality.
Its major theoretical claim is that a re-thinking of contemporary psychological approaches of feelings and emotions in the context of historical theories of the passions (Aristotle, Stoa, Aquinas, Descartes, Spinoza, Hume, Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Ricoeur and Plessner) can go beyond the tired dichotomies of affect and cognition, body and mind, causality and rationality, and make a major contribution to a truly integrative conceptual framework for understanding emotions.