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The Passions: Emotions and the Meaning of Life Paperback – 1 Feb 1993


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A mature, wise, and provocative work ... The main lines of argument--that the emotions are ways we constitute our lives with meaning; that they are in some important sense things we do rather than things that merely happen to us; that emotions have their own sort of rationality and logic and are subject to evaluation and criticism as such; that emotions are, in some important sense, evaluative judgments--remain an important, credible contemporary view... Solomon is clear, clever, and deep (also often funny). --Owen Flanagan, Duke University

About the Author

Robert C. Solomon, (1942-2007), was Quincy Lee Centennial Professor of Business and Philosophy and Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Texas, Austin. His The Passions: Emotions and the Meaning of Life is also available from Hackett Publishing Company.

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There is an air of paradox surrounding an attempt by philosophy to deal with the passions. Read the first page
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Amazon.com: 9 reviews
68 of 71 people found the following review helpful
EMOTION = YOU 16 Mar. 2000
By Euroshopper - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The development of a 'Philosophy of Emotion' is flourishing. Trends in philosophy come and go but what makes Robert C. Solomon's "The Passions" interesting is that it challenges an immensely popular faulty dichotomy: emotions vs. rationality. Nowadays it is hard to maintain that our rational thinking is entirely isolated from our deepest emotions, still the myth of the 'irrationality of emotions' is prevailing. If we are to accept the adaptive and purposive tendencies of emotions within the realm of social relations (even when 'conceding' that emotions were/are essentially biologically based), we must reject theories that are dichotomist or deterministic. Many great works of art presupposed that 'thinking with your heart' meant something entirely different from 'thinking with your mind'. Even the educated student of the philosophy of emotions still apologizes for 'suddenly becoming very emotional' about something or may tend to glorify a period in her/his life in which the ('foolish') passions seemed to rule. Solomon's basic thesis is: "every emotion is a strategy, a purposive attempt to structure our world in such a way as to maximize our sense of personal dignity and self-esteem.". The book has a distinct existentialist flavor: "It is our passions, and our passions alone, that provide our lives with meaning". Personally I find it one of the most stimulating books that I have ever read, it really brings back a spark of `Eros' in your once-upon-a-time enthusiasm for philosophy. Current debates are more or less influenced by Ronald de Sousa's "The Rationality of Emotion", an important book (basically working out a biological and social-adaptation thesis), but very poorly written with obtrusive (not that funny) idiosyncrasies (please fire the editor). Solomon's book leaves you with a better insight why people so often `fall back' on their emotions (and why they should do so!) furthermore if you would like to enhance your sophisticated touchy-feely capacities to gently weasel your way into someone's heart, Solomon's book is your gospel-true cookbook...
40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
Extraordinary, Yet Obvious 9 Jan. 2006
By D. S. Heersink - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Solomon's "The Passions," for me, was a life-changing read. In many ways, he anticipates and correlates psychologist Rollo May through his synthesis of philosophy, psychology, and literature into a seamless existentialist whole. While borrowing heavily from existentialist thought, Solomon does not limit himself only to that vein of philosophy, but borrows heavily from all periods of philosophical history. Even though he admits to having been schooled in the often arcane mode of Anglo-American philosophy, neither he nor his readers would know it by his mellifluous prose. And, while he opens himself up to Continental philosophy, especially Heiddegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre, he recognizes that this tradition is largely an ideological rather than experiential framework. The resulting work is compendious.

Solomon starts with the dominant paradigm in Western history of philosophical thought: Plato, especially the metaphor of the charioteer and two steeds (in the "Phaedrus"). According to Plato and nearly every thinker subsequently, "reason" and "emotion" are each of the two steeds, while the "soul" (i.e., mind) is the charioteer. The purpose of the charioteer is to extol reason and depreciate the emotions. And, for most of the intervening 2,500 years, most sages have depreciated the passions (i.e., the emotions) in favor of extolling reason (i.e., ratiocination). Even the early Stoics had an aversion to all things emotional. Boethius define humans as "a rational animal," a coinage that has remained unchanged for millennia. And as late as Freud, this dualism persists in the "ego" and the "id." But is that really how things are?

Solomon insists this whole tradition is bunk. His thesis is that reason and the emotions, while uniquely different aspects of the mind, are essentially and incontrovertibly united. I'm not sure that a conflationary claim can be defended against some of the insights of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology. But, he's not claiming these aren't different aspects; he's only claiming that the emotions and reason are intimately conjoined. The two are not separate and distinct, as Western tradition would have us believe, but that the two are integral to our very being. Indeed, it's their conjunction that gives "meaning to life," and without both of them together, our lives would be sterile and inchoate. And this thesis, I believe, he can defended.

When one looks back over one's life and recalls the most significant (and even the less significant) events, they all entail our emotions: Fear, hope, love, jealousy, revenge, lust, anger, etc. Nothing remotely "rational" alone stands out among the pinnacles of life. Yes, there is an occasional ratiocinative "eureka," but even then it's our pride in discovery that's controlling our pleasure, not reason alone. Indeed, all our interesting and engaging moments involve our emotions (or "passions"). Convincingly, I could not find a counter instance in my life to refute this claim. The "function" of reason is to prioritize, analyze, and utilize these emotions to our maximal benefit. It's only when we won't allow reason a mediating voice in our emotional experiences that things may go haywire, e.g., being consumed with so much rage that we self-destruct or kill others.

Again, this important insight about life has largely gone unnoticed. I was surprised that this book was written over 30 years ago, and still yet how so few people know of it (N.B. This second edition is much revised from the first.) Equally surprising is how accessible and insightful this simple thesis is, including Solomon's presentation of it, yet how out of touch so many of us are with its central thesis. Being a WASP, the subordination of all things emotional to reason was a "no-questions-asked" premise to life. How utterly wrong that premise and rule is. Consequently, I've discovered how truly enlivening the passions allow us to be, and fruitful when we allow reason to prioritize, analyze, and utilize them for maximal gain, and not spend useless hours wishing "things were otherwise." Highly recommended.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Philosophy you can actually use 10 Feb. 2008
By J. A. Whiteside - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Robert Solomon has gone the extra mile to make his profound philosophy accessible to the well-educated layman. At the same time, the reader needs to stretch at times to follow some of the more difficult parts of the book.

The core message, though, is simply stated; if there is meaning in our lives, it is to be found in our emotions. Contrary to what philosophers, psychologists, religious authorities, and educators have said for centuries, emotions don't "happen" to us as though we were passive victims, instead we create them to give order, substance, depth, and involvement to our lives. Furthermore, it is possible to modify and improve our emotions to give ourselves a better quality of life. The methods for doing this are surprisingly simple, though not easy.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Who is the judge? 14 May 2011
By Daiho - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Robert Solomon's thesis is that emotions are not irrational forces making us act against our will or best interests, but judgments about our experience, judgments which follow logical patterns based on how we think the world ought to be. Anger, for example, is the product of a value which deems someone to have acted unethically or immorally.

Good enough.

But what Solomon can't explain is why we have those particular values in the first place, nor why we often feel "overcome" by an emotional reaction seemingly arising from out of nowhere. How often have we found ourselves in the midst of anger and wondered - what am I getting so upset about? Solomon claims "it is because our judgments have already been made when we normally come to reflect on them that we are able to view them as `not ours' at all." What then does it mean to say that emotions are judgments? `Judging' implies opportunity to reflect as well as opportunity to choose whether and to what degree to react. If I don't recognize my reaction as proportionate to the event, who or what is doing the judging?

It seems Solomon was so concerned to present a case for the emotions as the exclusive responsibility of the individual that he refused to admit any role to culture or physiology. He even proposes self-delusion as a means to mental well-being. Recognizing that our desire once satisfied begs to be satisfied again, Solomon argues that "our [ultimate] satisfaction ... may turn precisely on the dissatisfaction of the emotion." That is to say, it is more important to the continued existence of the emotion to not get what we think we want than to get it and find ourselves bereft of our desire. A stamp collector, for example, will be happier, Solomon believes, if he never succeeds in collecting every last stamp; a warrior happier if his enemy is never completely defeated.

Solomon thinks emotion endows our lives with meaning, but it seems a rather shallow and superficial meaning that is better only partially expressed or satisfied, even worse one on which we act consciously to frustrate. And beware if you ever completely satisfy your emotions - your life will be "utterly without meaning (that dubious `peace' or `Nirvana'... so closely linked with death in both Freud and Buddhism)." While I can't speak for his conclusions of the former, Solomon has misunderstood the Buddha. In Solomon's thesis, "ought to" and "should be" create meaning; for the Buddha they are deep sources of dissatisfaction. Meaning, the Buddha would argue, comes from learning how to live with life as it presents itself.

I never heard of Robert Solomon before running across this book at Amazon. Together with the positive reviews, it seemed it might offer some insight. I wasn't entirely wrong. The first half of the book is an informative recapitulation of the history of the philosophy of the emotions, albeit with the intent of showing that everyone had it wrong until Solomon. In later years Solomon appears to have modified his views somewhat to allow for the affects of culture and physiology on emotion formation. For a succinct summary of some of his later ideas, google Matthew Ratcliffe's review "Not Passion's Slave: Emotions and Choice" in The Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A Fantastic Approach to Philosophy 6 May 2011
By Dinadan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I never liked the analytic/continental divide of contemporary philosophy. While I can see the rationale in the analytic method, I always felt it to be too concerned with being objective, positive, or "scientific." With rationalism being the normative approach to understanding, analytic philosophy has been reduced to triviality. Looking at some of my philosophy professor's recent publications I come away thinking that while interesting, how is it relevant besides in the realm of abstraction?

Thus I've always been more enamored with the continental method (a shame considering my university's philosophy department is purely analytic). Continental philosophy seemed to me more relevant, more readily applicable/practical, and more willing to tackle the 'big' questions in life. But I also see that such a method can be seen as too similar to literature. That continental philosophy isn't sufficiently grounded on the "facts," and that the arguments are unclear. I don't want to get into the analytic/continental debate, but it's relevant in illustrating what I really like about Robert Solomon's approach to philosophy.

From the beginning of the book, it becomes readily apparent that Solomon is willing to bridge the analytic/continental divide. While he was trained in the analytic tradition, he has a passion for continental philosophy. His book's thesis is even grounded on his idea that reason/rationality and the passions/emotions are not mutually exclusive. Solomon takes a more multidisciplinary approach to philosophy. The benefit is clear argumentation and personal relevancy. This fantastic publication makes a large step towards bringing philosophy out of the ivory tower and back to the people. I think Socrates would've been proud.
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