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From Passions to Emotions
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Book description

Today there is a thriving 'emotions industry' to which philosophers, psychologists and neuroscientists are contributing. Yet until two centuries ago 'the emotions' did not exist. In this path-breaking study Thomas Dixon shows how, during the nineteenth century, the emotions came into being as a distinct psychological category, replacing existing categories such as appetites, passions, sentiments and affections. By examining medieval and eighteenth-century theological psychologies and placing Charles Darwin and William James within a broader and more complex nineteenth-century setting, Thomas Dixon argues that this domination by one single descriptive category is not healthy. Overinclusivity of 'the emotions' hampers attempts to argue with any subtlety about the enormous range of mental states and stances of which humans are capable. This book is an important contribution to the debate about emotion and rationality which has preoccupied western thinkers throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and has implications for contemporary debates.

Reviews

‘In sum, this is a deeply rewarding book, backed up by detailed scholarship; it deserves a place on the bookshelves of anyone concerned with the history both of passions and emotions.’

Source: History of Political Thought

‘From Passions to Emotions will be consulted for a long time … not least because it is an important contribution to the history of several fields … Dixon has reduced the main issues to their essences, and one cannot imagine the task having been better accomplished by others.’

Source: History of Psychiatry

‘In a series of closely argued and well-documented chapters, Dixon shows that this category had no equivalent in earlier discourse … Dixon clearly demonstrates that ‘emotion’ constitutes a specifically modern discursive construction rather than an analogue of some ancient psychological category …Dixon presents a superb analysis of the interrelationship between the historical fate of the will and the passions … Measured against the sharper, more differentiated analysis presented this book, the conventional understanding of ‘emotion’ begins to look like a very blunt instrument. Dixon’s contribution is not ‘merely’ historical; it has considerable relevance for contemporary attempts to achieve a richer conceptualisation of affective life.’

Source: Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences

‘From Passions to Emotions offers a cogent, and I think, convincing argument on an issue of crucial public interest. It is a piece of good old-fashioned intellectual history …‘.

Source: Galton Institute Newsletter

'… a most significant and most interesting contribution both to the history of psychology and to the study of relations between the modern scientific world view and religion. … it will substantially alter how writers refer to the history of what we loosely call the 'feelings'. … There has been little systematic history of the 'emotions' before this book, and this book provides a new and firm reference point. … [there] is a much-needed seriousness about the centrality, complexity and subtlety of interrelations between religion and psychology. There is no doubt that ignorance, indifference or antagonism to religion has marked the history of this field. Here we now have a model study that shows what is involved in overcoming this limitation. … very valuable scholarship and persusasive clarity …'

Source: British Journal of the History of Science

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