Saturday, November 14, 2009


I. Introduction

Book II of Aristotle's Rhetoric takes a rather lengthy look at the emotions, listing, describing, and differentiating them. In the context of rhetoric, a systematized approach is clearly useful to the speaker, who wishes to manipulate the emotions of the listeners to his advantage, and to the listener, who wishes foremost to consider the speaker's arguments. When is not an organized approach useful, though? While this may sound inordinately highfalutin, I only actually mean it is useful specific definitions for what you are talking about. It seems to me we have a tendency when discussing matters, emotions in particular, and whether in the context of personal reflection or of analyzing a drama, to be vague. We say mad when we mean angry, jealous when we mean envious, sad when we mean pitiable, funny instead of ironic, satirical, or farcical, we use tragedy to mean anything bad, and happy to cover virtually any positive experience.

In light these frequent misconceptions, vagaries, and verbicides, I thought it would be fruitful to take a look at Aristotle's study, if not necessarily toward any other end than to ensure we use the proper word on a given occasion. One need not agree with each specific categorization, but I think it would prove a fruitful exercise to explore the nuances and differences of these concepts that often get lumped under broad categories.

II. The Emotions of Book II of Aristotle's Rhetoric (sections 1378a - 1389a)

Emotion - feelings that change men so as to affect their judgments and are attended to by pain or pleasure.

1) Anger - an impulse accompanied by pain to a particular revenge for a particular slight directed unjustifiably toward what concerns self or one's friends.
Slighting - an actively entertained opinion of something of no importance, including
a) contempt - contempt for the unimportant
b) spite - thwarting the wishes of another solely to deprive him of something
c) insolence - shaming the victim for pleasure
2) Calmness - the quieting of anger. Felt towards those who:
- do not slight us or do so only involuntarily
- intended the opposite of what they did
- treat themselves as they treat us
- admit fault (we accept their grief as satisfaction)
- are humble before us
- are serious when we are serious
- have done us more kindness than we have done them
- share our anger or fear
3) Friendship - wishing for someone, for his own sake, what you believe to be good things and being inclined insofar as you are able to bring such things about.
- a friend feels and excites those feelings in return
- friends consider the same things good and evil
- friends wish for each other what they wish for themselves
 N.B. Aristotle discusses friendship at great length here (section 1380b) and of course in Book VIII (1155a) of the Nichomachean Ethics.

Enmity vs. Anger

- concerned with individuals or classes
- cannot be cured by time
- aims at doing harm
- hater does not care if victim feels the hater's enmity
- hater does not feel pain, nor pity
- hateful man wishes offenders not to exist
- concerned with individuals
- can be cured by time
- aims at giving pain
- angry man wants his victim to feel his anger
- angry main feels pain
- angry man wishes offenders to suffer

4) Fear - a pain or disturbance due to a mental picture of a destructive or painful future evil; not all evils, since some (e.g. wickedness and stupidity) do not frighten; also, only of imminent danger (danger is the approach of what is terrible)
- we do not feel fear amidst great prosperity
- those do not feel fear who have experienced every kind of horror
- if one is to feel the anguish of uncertainty, one must have some faint expectation of escape
- we are afraid of those we have wronged
5) Confidence - the expectation associated with a mental picture of the nearness of what keeps us safe and the absence/remoteness of what is terrible; may be due either to the presence of what inspires confidence or the absence of what causes alarm. We feel it if:
- we can take steps to prevent trouble
- have no rivals or not strong ones, or of our rivals are friends
- have the same interests as the stronger or more numerous party
6) Shame - pain or disturbance in regard to bad things (past, present, or future) which seem likely to involve or discredit us. (Shamelessness is indifference toward same bad things.)

We feel shame toward:
- evils due to moral badness
- cowardice
- injustices
- intercourse with forbidden persons
- making profit in a disgraceful way
- giving less or no help to those worse off
- borrowing akin to begging, begging as in asking return for a favor
- refusing to endure hardships endured by the weaker
- talking incessantly about yourself
- those who speak evil of everyone
- those who have not known us to come to grief

7) Kindness - helpfulness toward someone in need, not in return for anything nor toward one's own advantage.

8) Pity - feeling pain caused by the sight of some evil, destructive or painful, which befalls one who does not deserve it, and which we might expect to happen to us or a friend, soon. In order to feel pity one must believe in the goodness of some people, for if everyone is evil than everyone deserves evil. The terrible is not the same as the pitiful. In particular, the cowardly and those who have themselves escaped evil feel pity.

9) Indignation - pain caused by the sight of undeserved goods. (We should feel both sympathy for unmerited distress and indignation at unmerited prosperity.) What is undeserved is unjust
- Indignation is felt toward what is happening to another regardless of its likelihood to affect us.
- The type of man who delights in others' misfortunes is identical to the type who envies others' prosperity.
- Servile, worthless, unambitious people cannot become indignant because there is nothing they can think they deserve.
10) Envy - pain at the good; felt toward equals.
- Small-minded men are envious since all seems great to them
- We envy those whose possession or success is a reproach to us.
11) Emulation - pain caused by seeing in persons whose nature is like our own good things that are highly valued and possible for us to acquire.

- only felt because we lack such goods
- emulation spurs us to secure the good
- is a good feeling felt by the good; is the opposite of envy and contempt
- moral goodness is an object of emulation
III. Conclusion

I hope considering the above proves a useful exercise for you as it does for me. On verbicide, C.S. Lewis had some insightful words, saying its greatest cause:
. . .is the fact that most people are obviously far mor anxious to express their approval of things than to describe them. Hence the tendency of words to become less descriptive and more evaluative, while still retaining some hint of the sort of goodness or badness implied; and to end up by being purely evaluative–useless synonyms for good and bad. . . I am not suggesting that we can by an archaising purism repair any of the loses that have already occurred. It may not, however, be entirely useless to resolve that we ourselves will never commit verbicide. [1]
More than 'not useless,' certainly, but for the purpose of utilizing and preserving a rich and descriptive language. Of course one cannot list the ways "knowing what you're talking about" is useful. Specifically regarding defining the emotions, though, one hopes bearing the aforementioned definitions in mind would assist one in criticism and writing, helping one to notice where something is adequately or even beautifully defined or simply vaguely sketched in. It is also possible this study could lead to some reflection of our own emotions which, according to some, is not bad.

[1] Lewis, C. S. Studies in Words. Cambridge University Press. 1960.

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