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1: Emotion as Cognitive and its Therapy

PART I: Emotions as Judgements versus Irrational Forces
1: Emotion as Cognitive and its Therapy
In this chapter I shall set the scene by sketching some of the early developments: the idea of philosophy as psychotherapy and the view that emotions are cognitive. These ideas were developed in the period of the Presocratics Plato and Aristotle although it will be clear from the following chapters that I think the subject attained new depths with the Stoics so that Neoplatonists and Christians were able to presuppose and adapt the Stoics’ work.

I shall speak of ‘emotions’ rather than ‘passions’ when rendering the Greek term pathē. This is for the reason given in the Introduction that in so far as there is a distinction nowadays passion is thought of as a very strong type of emotion. Those who like the Stoic Chrysippus wanted to eradicate emotion hoped to eradicate not only the strong ones but very nearly all as I shall argue in Chapters 2 and 14. So their view would not be well expressed by saying that they were only against passions.

Philosophy as psychotherapy: the Presocratics
The idea of philosophy as psychotherapy can be traced back to the fifth century BC. Democritus compares philosophy to medicine. Medicine cures diseases of the body wisdom frees the soul from emotions.1 There are far more surviving fragments of Democritus’ writings concerned with ethics than with the atomic theory for which he is now more commonly celebrated (indeed sometimes for the atomic bomb). Many of these fragments have been assigned to his treatise On Cheerfulness (peri euthumiēs).2 The saying ‘I have tried too in my time to be a philosopher but I don't know how cheerfulness was always breaking through’ represents only one of the ancient images of philosophy.3 Four hundred years later Democritus came to be contrasted as the philosopher who laughed at men's follies with Heraclitus who wept at them.4 To cultivate cheerfulness was to avoid these follies.
An ancient anecdote will throw light not on Democritus himself since it gets attached to other philosophers too5 but on the kind of therapy which later Greeks thought it appropriate to ascribe to him. He was supposedly consoling the bereaved Darius king of Persia. When ordinary encouragement (paramuthia) failed he undertook to bring his wife back to life if Darius would find in his great kingdom three names to inscribe on her tomb of people who had not suffered grief (apenthātoi). He is then described as laughing at Darius for thinking he was alone (monos) in his suffering.6 The message is as Cicero puts it in another context ‘You are not the only one’.7
Democritus’ contemporary Antiphon put up a notice beside the market place in Corinth offering a therapy for distress that worked through words (tous lupoumenous dia logōn therapeuein). No sorrow (akhos) was too great for him to expel it from the mind (gnōmē) by his art of banishing distress (tekhnē alupias) in pain-killing lessons (nēpentheis akroaseis).8 The subjects he covered included loss of money and marriage difficulties.9 One of our sources compares a doctor treating sick patients.
At a more rhetorical level another fifth-century figure the sophist Gorgias wrote a defence of Helen of Troy in which he pleads on her behalf that it is not surprising if Paris’ words overcame her. For the spoken word can on its own ‘stop fear remove distress create joy and increase pity’. He compares the effect of drugs.10
Plato's references to medical care of the soul are rather different in character because he is concerned with curing it first and foremost of vice and only secondarily of unhappiness and by means of what he calls a political art rather than by other kinds of therapy.11
Chrysippus the Stoic in the third century BC repeats that there is an art for the diseased soul which corresponds to medicine for the body.12 But despite the early start to this idea Cicero can still in the first century BC contrast what he calls the medical art for the mind (animi medicina) with the art of caring for the body as something much less accepted.13 None the less he reveals that there were books on how to deal with poverty lack of office and recognition exile the ruin of one's country slavery infirmity and blindness.14 Such books are needed today. One of the attractions of the subject is that everyone meets with upsets of one kind or another so that this is a philosophy for everyone and not only for those whose emotions are in a modern sense pathological. It is needed in all walks of life and by the prominent as much as the humble. Some of the remedies are startlingly up to date such as Seneca's advice to Lucilius to take early retirement.15
The emotions as cognitive
So far I have spoken of the control of the emotions. But before the methods of control can be understood we must see how the emotions are analysed—what they are thought to be.
From early on philosophers thought of the emotions as cognitive. This is not yet very clear in Gorgias’ Helen.16 In describing how words can produce pleasure and remove distress he characterizes this in terms of incantations (epōidai) wizardry (goāteia) magic (mageia) and drugs (pharmaka). Incantations often depend on sound not Only once does Gorgias refer to cognition by saying that the incantations combine with the belief (doxa) in the soul in order to soothe persuade and change it. But it may be striking that he gives this much recognition to belief seeing that his aim is to represent Helen as defenceless against the verbal persuasion to which she was subjected.
Plato's cognitive account
There is a striking development in Plato. In two early dialogues Laches and Protagoras he puts in Socrates’ mouth and repeats later in the Laws the idea that fear actually is a cognition: the expectation (prosdokia) of impending evil.17 This anticipates the bold attempt by the Stoic Chrysippus to identify the emotions with judgements (Chapter 2 below). But so far as I know it is not repeated before Chrysippus for other emotions not even by Plato.
It might be thought that it is repeated for the case of desire in the immediately preceding passage of the Protagoras18 and in two related passages all translated in Chapter 20 below. But these passages say more about the relation between action and thinking good than about that between desire and thinking good. The Protagoras passage does speak of being willing (ethelein) but seems to treat it not as identical with but only as causally related to value judgements. It is said to be not in human nature to be willing to go after what one thinks (oiesthai) bad instead of good things. This tells us only about the case in which one makes a comparative assessment that one objective is good another bad. It is a causally necessary condition of being willing to pursue an objective that one is not making an unfavourable comparative assessment of it. This falls a long way short of identifying willingness with judging something good.
The other two passages also tell us little.19 They introduce the idea of what one really wants (boulesthai) and a restriction on it that one can only really want good not bad. But this does not tell us about desire in general because the opponent's view is neither confirmed nor denied that at least one can have an appetite for (epithumein) things one thinks or knows (hēgeisthai gignōskein) to be bad and harmful. It might be thought that Plato must mean Socrates to apply to appetite what he explicitly says about action that it is directed to what seems good (dokei) or better. But this is less than certain because in a parallel passage20 Plato contrasts appetite (epithumia) as being directed at pleasure with boulēsis which is directed at good. There is an analogous acknowledgement later in the Republic to be discussed in Chapter 20: Leontius does not think it better to look at the corpses at the moment he gives in to that appetite even though in some sense the soul does whatever it does for the sake of good.21 But even suppose that in the early dialogues Socrates’ implicit view is indeed meant to be that appetite (epithumia) is directed not only to pleasure but also in some sense to what is good or better. Even then we should have learnt at most a necessary condition for desire. Neither boulesthai nor epithumein would be identified with judging good.
There is equally no sign in Plato of Chrysippus’ further idea that the judgements invoked in fear or other emotions are always false. The courageous person according to these early dialogues of Plato knows what is to be feared22 which implies that sometimes at least the judgements are true.
What we do repeatedly find in Plato's later dialogues is beliefs and other cognitions playing some role or other in emotional struggle. We shall see in Chapter 20 that these beliefs are sometimes but not always mistaken ones. The bad horse which represents the lustful part of the soul can think it right (axioun) to give in to temptation.23 Or one can give in to temptation through the deceit (apatē) of pleasure.24 Pleasure and distress can make mistakes about their objects because they are accompanied by (meta) a false belief.25
When Plato in Republic 604 B contrasts reason with emotion we should not think he means emotion is irrational in the sense of involving no beliefs. For beliefs are located by Plato not only within reason but also within the irrational parts of the soul. This is crucial for example to the Republic's definition of temperance as the virtue in which the rational and irrational parts of the soul all have the same belief (homodoxousin) about which of them should be in charge.26
Aristotle and Aristotelians on cognition
Aristotle discusses the emotions in many different contexts. In the Rhetoric and Poetics he is concerned with orators and poets who want to have an effect on emotions. In his Nicomachean and Eudemian Ethics he is concerned that we should avoid extremes and hit the mean in emotional dispositions. In On the Soul and biological works he takes a scientist's interest in emotions.
His interest is by no means the Stoic one of removing emotion. In the Rhetoric orators are more often advised how to inflame emotion although there is a whole chapter 2. 3 on equability (praotēs) or how anger can be calmed. In the Poetics certain emotions are to be lightened and as I believe expurgated but by first arousing them. In the Ethics emotions may need intensifying as often as quieting if the mean is to be hit. What this does mean is that Aristotle is more concerned than the Stoics with the emotional effect of one person on another.
Aristotle's accounts of emotion are shot through with cognitive terms but they are not yet tidied in the way that the Stoics were later to tidy them. Thus in Rhetoric book 2 ten chapters are devoted to roughly ten emotional states. But Aristotle does not bother about whether to talk of belief (doxa) appearance (phantasia) or thinking (oiesthai nomizein). And this is in spite of the fact that he rejected Plato's identification of appearance as a kind of belief and insisted on their being distinct states.27 Aristotle also wavers between treating pleasure and distress as the genera under which emotions are classified and treating them merely as accompaniments of emotion (meta). Again he uses very diverse prepositions for expressing the relation between emotion and cognitions: through (dia) at (epi) with (meta) out of (ek) from (apo). Only in the Topics does he introduce some regimentation saying that anger occurs through (dia) the appearance of harm and arguing that ‘with’ (meta) a term used in Plato's account of pleasure at Philebus 37 E 10 does not sufficiently bring out the relation. It has been argued that he is here deploying his new conception of the causal relations required in science.28 The Stoic tidying up of such points may or may not have succeeded in being truer to reality. But the Stoics may have thought that if the emotions were to be controlled (their central interest) a much more orderly account of them would be needed.
In one respect however Aristotle is very careful indeed and that is concerning the content of the thoughts involved in emotion. Both the orator and the poet need to know exactly what thoughts go into various emotions if they are to act on those emotions. And it is interesting to see how far the accounts of certain emotions are co-ordinated as between the Rhetoric and Poetics. To take some examples from the Rhetoric anger is defined as a desire accompanied with (meta) distress for what will be seen as (phainomenē) revenge through (dia) what is seen as (phainomenē) a slight directed at oneself or one's circle when the slight was not appropriate and it is accompanied (hepesthai) by pleasure from (apo) the hope (elpis) of revenge.29 Fear is distress or disturbance from (ek) the appearance (phantasia) of impending evil which is destructive or distressing. It is accompanied (meta) by the expectation (prosdokia) of suffering some destructive effect so people think (oiesthai nomizein) they are going to suffer something.30 Pity is distress at (epi) what is seen as (phainomenon) a destructive or distressing evil for someone who does not deserve to meet it an evil which one might expect (prosdokān) oneself or a member of one's circle to suffer and that when the suffering is seen (phainesthai) as near.31 There are corresponding definitions for equability love shame benevolence indignation envy and emulation.32
Aristotle's definitions are carefully designed to bring out the interconnection among these emotional states. In the law courts the orator can stop the judges feeling pity if he can convert pity to fear indignation or envy. The definitions make it very clear what is needed for doing this. If the expected victim is seen as exceedingly near in kinship (sphodra engus oikeiotēti) pity can turn to fear.33 If the person is seen as after all getting not evil but undeserved good fortune or good fortune in circumstances where he is someone very like ourselves then pity may get replaced by indignation or envy.34 Even pleasure and distress (hēdonē lupē) which Aristotle is sometimes wrongly supposed to be treating as non-cognitive affects are analysed elsewhere as cognitions. For he defines them as perceptions of the good as good and of the bad as bad:
being pleased or distressed is being active with the perceptive centre in relation to good or bad as such.35
In the Poetics Aristotle gives us his famous theory of emotional catharsis as the function of tragedy. This will be the subject of later chapters notably Chapters 5 18 and 19. For now I need only say that in order to produce catharsis of pity and fear the poet must first arouse them in the audience.36 At any rate most interpretations agree on this much. So the poet writing a tragedy needs to know what kind of plot will arouse these emotions.
What I want to ask is whether Aristotle's account of pity and fear in the Rhetoric is co-ordinated with that in the Poetics. To a large extent it is. One small difference is that in the Poetics fear is felt by the audience in the first instance for others for the characters in the play. But the similarities are more striking and they are even exploited in Aristotle's remarks on plot.37 At a stroke Aristotle circumvents Plato's moral objection to the writers that they show injustice succeeding and justice unsuccessful.38 On the contrary according to Aristotle that would be incompatible with tragedy's need to imitate fearful and pitiable events. For that purpose the plot must not show a good man (epieikēs) brought from good to bad fortune nor a bad man brought from bad to good fortune. Nor for that matter must it show a very bad man brought from good to bad fortune. For these events are not pitiable or fearful. Similarly the plot must not be about someone outstanding in virtue or justice. And why not? Because pity is felt at undeserved misfortune fear at misfortune for someone like oneself (homoion).39 This immediately connects with the Rhetoric which says that both fear and pity are aroused by showing that suffering has come to someone who is like us (homoious).40 The reason given is that this makes people realize they too are liable to suffer. This allows Aristotle unlike the Stoic Seneca whose view will be discussed in Chapters 4 and 5 to hold that it is genuine fear that is aroused in the theatre audience and moreover fear for oneself. Aristotle's only restriction is that if fear for oneself is excessive it will drive out the pity41 which it is the function of tragedy to produce.
There are some small discrepancies between Aristotle's Rhetoric and Poetics. For example when the Poetics condemns the plot in which a good (epieikēs) man is brought from good to bad fortune this seems to contradict the Rhetoric since the Rhetoric preserves pity especially for victims who are good (epieikeis).42 Aristotle's explanation in the Poetics of the opposite view that such a situation would be a defilement (miaron) rather than fearful or pitiable does not seem to pick up anything in the Rhetoric. But the important point for present purposes is that the accounts of emotion in the Poetics are just as cognitive as those in the Rhetoric and this is in no way offset by the catharsis analogy even if that as I shall maintain in Chapter 19 is an analogy with such non-cognitive things as laxatives and emetics.
Aristotle's treatment of the emotional mean in his Nicomachean Ethics will be discussed in Chapter 14. But when he does natural science in On the Soul a new factor comes in. The scientist must define emotions not only by their cognitive element which constitutes the form of the emotion but also by the underlying physiological process which constitutes its matter. This is a very important addition and the matter and form offer purchase to two alternative concepts of therapy as will be brought out in Chapter 17. Emotions might be calmed either by addressing the physiological process or by addressing the cognitions. The latter is what Chrysippus advocates since he regards the physiological processes as mere concomitants. In Aristotle's example anger is not only a desire for retaliation. That account is cognitive because the idea of retaliation (antilupēsis) implies awareness of distress received and distress to be returned but it describes only the form of anger. Anger is also a boiling of blood around the heart—Aristotle could have worked as well with brain mechanisms if his science had been updated. All emotions and all mental processes with the possible exception of thinking are here assigned a physiological basis.43
The Aristotelian school continued to write about emotions. Aristotle's successor Theophrastus is credited with quite a few such treatises44 as well as the extant Characters. In Characters 24 Theophrastus gives a short character sketch of pride (huperēphania) but a more detailed treatment On Freeing from Pride has survived from Aristo of Ceos a slightly later Aristotelian of the third century BC.45 The very words for the proud person's attitudes are compounds of verbs for thinking and believing: philodoxein mega phronein kataphronēsis oiēsis. These are particularly often used by the Epicurean source (Philodemus) who preserves the long fragments of Aristo. But what is most striking in Aristo is the cognitive therapy which he recommends against pride which will be further described in Chapter 15.
The Epicureans and cognition
The view that the emotions are cognitive was shared by another post-Aristotelian school the Epicureans. But this comes out most clearly in the works of an Epicurean of the first century BC Philodemus. In one On Anger he attacks empty anger (kenē orgē).46 This has rightly been related to Epicurus’ idea that there are desires (epithumiai) which are neither natural nor necessary but due to empty beliefs (para kenēn doxan kenodoxian).47 Empty belief is found whenever there is intense effort despite there being no pain attached to the desire's being unfulfilled.48 Philodemus adds that anger depends on the belief that you have been harmed but the supposition of harm is not a sufficient cause (drastikon aition) of anger.49
In another treatise On the Gods Philodemus contrasts animals with humans in respect of emotion. Animals have only analogues of human disturbance (tarakhē) and only numb impulse (hormē).50 That is because they lack reason thought belief and apprehension (logos noēsis doxa hupolēpsis) and have only analogous sense perception.51 The role of cognition in emotion is brought out by the contrast with the numbed impulse (narkōdēs hormē) of animals.
According to Philodemus
So impulse in the strict sense (kuriōs) must be formulated in concepts (noein) by every animal. Yet animals cannot formulate impulse in the absence of foresight and expectation (proorasis prosdokia) or something analogous. [The need is] because impulse in the strict sense is formulated (noeitai) in relation to something impending.52
This is a clear statement that emotions are cognitive.
The last treatise brings out that the Epicureans give a role not only to the beliefs occurring within an emotion but also to the antecedent beliefs which make you liable to emotion if you have not absorbed Epicurus’ philosophy. In a way animals are at a disadvantage because they cannot like humans use Epicurus’ teaching to understand and calm their disturbances.53 Epicurus’ views are to be memorized especially his views on the unimportance of death views which are expounded both in Lucretius and in Philodemus’ treatise On Death.
The role of cognitions comes out also in the Epicurean therapies for emotions. Philodemus recommends in On Anger and On Frank Criticism that one should point out the bad consequences of anger avarice or being in love and in On Envy the good consequences of others’ success.54 But in one respect as will be stressed in Chapter 17 Epicurean therapy is very different from Stoic in that Epicureans think emotions can be calmed by switching your attention without changing your beliefs.
Finally the Epicureans recognize a role for unconscious beliefs in emotion. Plato had already discussed unconscious desires surfacing only in dreams such as the desire to sleep with one's mother.55 The Epicurean Lucretius as Martha Nussbaum has well shown sees restless travel and the ambition to amass honours power and wealth as due to an unconscious fear of death and the last as due to an unconscious belief that somehow one's achievements will give one a kind of immortality.56 This would be cured by studying Epicurus’ attitude to death as nothing to us since we shall not be there to suffer anything any more than we were before we were conceived. The Epicureans were presumably drawing on Plato who had earlier treated the desire for offspring and fame and the production of noble deeds or works as a desire for immortality.57
Pyrrhonian sceptics and cognition
I shall postpone to Chapter 14 a fuller account of the Pyrrhonian sceptics. But it will become clear there that they had learnt from the Stoics. They distinguished emotion sharply from the mere sensation of pain. The latter could not be helped but they could avoid distress by refraining from adding the belief (prosdoxazein) that the sensation is bad. A long list is given of disturbances besides distress which depend wholly on belief and belief is distinguished as with the Stoics from mere appearance.
Plotinus and cognition
Plotinus maintains the long tradition which makes emotion cognitive even though he reverts in the direction of Plato as against Aristotle and the Stoics in not recognizing a sharp distinction between appearance (phantasia) and belief (doxa). Emotion for him does indeed start from beliefs but these produce an uncritical appearance (anepikritos phantasia) which is like a murky belief and this in turn produces shock (ekplēxis) in the body which on the view canvassed here is the only thing to be passively affected (pathos).58 The soul thus causes emotion rather than undergoing it and the beliefs cause emotion rather than constituting it.