No aspect of our mental life is more important to the quality and meaning of our existence than emotions.
They are what make life worth living, or sometimes ending.
Most emotions have an intentional structure: we shall need to say something about what that means.
Psychology and more recently evolutionary biology have offered a number of theories of emotions, stressing their function in the conduct of life.
Emotions also raise normative questions: about the extent to which they can be said to be rational, or can contribute to rationality.
So it is not surprising that most of the great classical philosophers—Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, Descartes, Hobbes, Hume—had recognizable theories of emotion, conceived as responses to certain sorts of events of concern to a subject, triggering bodily changes and typically motivating characteristic behavior.
What is surprising is that in much of the twentieth-century philosophers of mind and psychologists tended to neglect them—perhaps because the sheer variety of phenomena covered by the word “emotion” and its closest neighbors tends to discourage tidy theory.
While it is quite impossible to do justice to those approaches here, some sidelong glances in their direction will aim to suggest their philosophical importance.I begin by outlining some of the ways that philosophers have conceived of the place of emotions in the topography of the mind, particularly in their relation to bodily states, to motivation, and to beliefs and desires, as well as some of the ways in which they have envisaged the relation between different emotions.