290. Martin Pickavé on Emotions in Medieval Philosophy

Posted on 3 December 2017

Martin Pickavé returns to the podcast to talk about theories of the emotions in Aquinas, Scotus and Wodeham.

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Further Reading

• M. Pickavé and L. Shapiro (eds), Emotion and Cognitive Life in Medieval and Early Modern Philosophy (Oxford: 2012); includes his article “Emotion and Cognition in Later Medieval Philosophy: The Case of Adam Wodeham”, at 94-115.

• M. Pickavé, “On the Intentionality of the Emotions (and of Other Appetitive Acts)”, Quaestio 10 (2010), 45-63.

• M. Pickavé, “Thomas von Aquin: Emotionen als Leidenschaften der Seele”, in H. Landweer and U. Renz (eds), Klassische Emotionstheorien der Philosophiegeschichte (Berlin: 2008), 187-204.

Martin Pickavé's website with a full list of his publications.

Comments

Otter Bob 9 December 2017

Hi Peter,

I enjoyed the lengthy discussion of Aristotle's (and Aquinas') hylemorphic account of emotions beginning with the passages in the latter half of Ch. 1, Bk. 1 of the De Anima. Not to get too emotional but, on my soul, I was flabbergasted to hear you say, in regard to a particular passage, “In fact, he is just making a methodological point and probably you should not take it too seriously as a theory of emotions.” (9:40) “Methodological” I assume because he is contrasting the descriptions of anger by a dialectician and a physicist. Isn't he using “dialectics” in the one sense of investigating a subject starting from accepted opinions, whether by everyone, most people or the experts? In today's terms, might we say the two descriptions are those of a neurophysiologist and a cognitive psychologist? Perhaps a physiopsychologist would give the combined view. Yes, he is speaking of two different methods of investigation. But isn't it the subject-matter of the inquiry that determines the methods? And if the emotions are essentially some sort of compound of matter and form, then are not they principles of a serious theory of emotions?

I know you said it was “the most prominent passage where he talks about emotions” (7:30), and Martin agrees that it is “a very important passage” (8:20), but you go on to call it “a passing remark about emotions”. Is it not “passing” because it is in the introductory chapter listing the various problems concerning the soul, the first being whether there is just one method of inquiry for the soul and the last being whether the emotions always involve bodily changes? I think we agree that there are many places where we wish Aristotle was more expansive and provided a greater variety of examples. But we have what we have. Since he does deal with matter and form extensively in other places, is it not up to us to see how applicable they are to an explanatory hylemorphic account of mental activities in general and emotions in particular?

The questions you can help me with are:

1) Since emotions are feelings, experiences, passions or affections and not corporeal objects, how are we to understand the formal and material factors? It seems that we have gone far beyond material as an inert stuff, whether bronze of a sphere, wood and brick of a house, or plastic, metal and silicon of a computer. If the material aspect of being angry is some bodily (neurophysiological) change, is it not odd to say that it is what being angry is made of? So also for the formal factor. How does the shape of a table, the structure of a house, or the arrangement of the parts of a computer help us to understand, by analogy, the form of anger as a desire for revenge?

2) How are we to conceive of the material and formal factors coming together? It is less than helpful to say that emotions have a “double-sided nature” (Peter at 8:05) or later, “...and then within the emotion itself there's two parts, the physical reaction and whatever is going on in your appetitive soul” (Peter at 17:43) or “Yes, but only that the change of the body and the desire are basically two sides of the same coin.” (Martin at 17:54) Two sides of the same coin are the same sort of bodily surface; matter and form are not.

3) How could one put these together in some intelligible formula? We can say of this statue of Hermes that it is this marble having this representation of Hermes, or a house is these types of building materials arranged by house builders in a fashion suitable for providing a place of habitation with privacy and protection for oneself and ones' possessions from the elements or theft (the latter containing all four causes). If, in the case of anger, the material cause is something such as neural activity in the limbic system, the efficient cause is a perceived slight, and the formal caused modified by the final cause is a desire for revenge, how do we say that in a unified account without falling into the errors of 4) below.

4) If an emotion proper is some kind of whole experiential activity with two components, parts, factors, aspects, things that go together or whatever, how is the emotion “essentially connected with [bodily] changes”? (Martin at 18:13) Assuming “essentially connected” is a two-way street, are bodily changes essentially connected with the whole emotion itself or with the formal factor? Might it be that the bodily change and the desire for revenge are each essential factors and together are the anger itself? I don't think either Aristotle or Aquinas want to think that anger is some third thing of which the matter and form are necessary features. Nor do I think they want to say that the matter is an essential factor of the form alone. Rather, they are themselves together, as informed matter, the emotion of being angry. Does that make sense? Why the whole emotional experience is identified by us in terms of its formal aspect is another question. Nor do I think they want to say that the emotive experience arises from, follows from or originates from some lower-level neural activity. We agree that the efficient cause (trigger) of the emotion proper is the perceived slight, insult or betrayal.

How about some extended help, if not as an interpretation of Aristotle, then for its own sake as a hylemorphic account?

 

Hi, sorry to be slow responding to this, I was traveling. There's a lot in your comment but just to touch on a few things for now:

Firstly, what I meant about the passage in Aristotle is that the point of the passage is not to discuss a theory of emotions, so he could just be giving it as a kind of tossed-off example without being seriously committed to this as a "theory" of anger. He does things like that elsewhere, I mean, mentioning a commonly held notion on some topic that he doesn't necessarily think would withstand full scrutiny. Having said that I don't have any reason to doubt he does believe that anger has a physical and psychological component, I just meant it would be a bit risky to build a whole theory around this passage.

"1) Since emotions are feelings, experiences, passions or affections and not corporeal objects, how are we to understand the formal and material factors? It seems that we have gone far beyond material as an inert stuff": Yes but that is standard in Aristotle. Remember that the notion of matter relative to form is really about a functional relationship, e.g. he is ready to say that earth is matter for bone, but bone for an animal; or even that genus is "matter" for species. So matter could be something like an organ; here it is the blood around the heart.

"2) How are we to conceive of the material and formal factors coming together? It is less than helpful to say that emotions have a “double-sided nature” (Peter at 8:05) or later, “...and then within the emotion itself there's two parts, the physical reaction and whatever is going on in your appetitive soul” (Peter at 17:43) or “Yes, but only that the change of the body and the desire are basically two sides of the same coin.” (Martin at 17:54) Two sides of the same coin are the same sort of bodily surface; matter and form are not." Well, it is two sides of the same coin in that we have one phenomenon here that has both a formal and material aspect just like most things in Aristotle. Like, there is just one table and it - as a substance - is in some sense what "really exists" but it has both a shape and wood, hence form and matter. The case of anger is a bit more complex because the formal aspect has a richer cognitive content, "desire for revenge" but I don't really see why the same principle can't apply. Matter and form _always_ come together to form a unity, that is the whole point of the theory (so hopefully that deals with your next points too).

I think in general the issue is that you are resisting the idea that a hylomorphic composite is a unity: you are thinking of it as two metaphysically different things that are sort of co-existing, but the idea here is that form is the actuality of the matter, so that we can't really understand one without the other, e.g. why is blood boiling? Because of desire for revenge.

I've never understood how you find the time for the myriad of dispositions you actualize so well. Thank you for the extended response.

I agree with your evaluation of that passage. But I'd like to take the risk, using that as a starting point, to build a more complete theory of mental activities based on Aristotelian principles (always a risky business). I've put much effort into understanding what is called in our time “The Hard Problem of Consciousness” and have come to believe that a hylemorphic account is itself cogent and overcomes the problems of other historical and contemporary accounts. But I want to get the applications of Aristotelian principles right; so I come to you for help.

1) I do understand that “the notion of matter relative to form is really about a functional relationship”, and I'm pleased to see you so phrase it. Yes, relative to the neural activity (the material factor) the being angry is the formal factor. Together as a whole event, i.e. the actualizing of a potential, they can function in addition as an efficient cause for another whole activity, e.g. verbally returning an insult. Or the neural activity may be viewed as a whole event relative to its own material and formal causes (factors), e.g. the neuronal network and its excitation. What is material and what is formal is relative to a point of view (investigation) but only because those are facts of nature.

2a) I'm not sure why, for an example of Aristotle's substance without qualification, i.e. a particular table, you put the scare quotes around really exists. Are not bodily objects (informed or delineated stuff) what Aristotle considers substances (existents) in the primary sense? For a hylemorphic theory and to resolve certain problems, I'm going out on a limb and suggesting that it's the functioning aspect of the whole event, the actualizing of the material potential, that is what is “really real”. I don't think I'm going beyond Aristotle, while still realizing that “being” is used in many ways, in identifying, for these purposes, eidos (or morphe) with energeia (at work, actualizing), ousia (being), the what it was to be throughout (essence), and entelecheia (being at completion). Many passages in the Metaphysics and elsewhere support that. [OK, maybe this is too involved for the podcast. But, by golly, you've gone close to such depth in other discussions.]

2b) We agree that “the case of anger is a bit more complex because the formal aspect has a richer cognitive content, "desire for revenge" but I don't really see why the same principle can't apply. Matter and form _always_ come together to form a unity, that is the whole point of the theory….”  I am not “thinking of it as two metaphysically different things that are sort of co-existing….”  That will not do. Rather, as we agree, the relation is that of the form being the actualizing of the matter as potentiality. But what comes to be, what that actualization is, is the whole event. For most mental activities, I think that is why it “is a bit more complex because the formal aspect has a richer cognitive content”. Richer because the formal aspect is prior in being but also cognitive because it is more knowable to us. That is, it is by introspecting on our own mental events and observing and discussing these with other people that we learn what being angry is. Even the neurophysiologist needs to identify anger in that way before she can begin to look for the bodily activities involved. So this, with risk, is what Aristotle could say. No credit here; just expanding. Others may have proposed and investigated this kind of account.

Back to 3): How do we get a unified, intelligible formula or account? Without further needed qualifications, might we not say that actually being angry (as opposed to a disposition to be angry) is desiring revenge (formal and final cause) for a perceived injury, insult, slight or betrayal (efficient cause) involving certain neural activities in the limbric system of the brain (material cause)?

Back to 4) and two problems with this:

a) How do we avoid identifying the whole activity, being angry, with just desiring revenge, i.e. just the formal and essential but partial component of the whole activity? Given what I said in 2a, I think I have made that reduction. Perhaps I need to lift a phrase and say “In a way Yes, and in a way No”.

b) How does “involving” explain the coming to be of the unity of the whole activity? Some how I need to make more understandable how an efficient cause, i.e. the whole event of perceiving a slight directed at me, brings about the unification of desiring revenge with its neural activity into another whole event, i.e. being angry. When you give the example of “why is blood boiling? Because of desire for revenge”, I know that you mean matter and form. But these days most everyone is going to take “because” as efficient causation, that is, the desire for revenge causes (moves to happen) the boiling of the blood. A physicalist might reverse the causal order.

I'm trying to develop, with Aristotelian principles, a hylemorphic explanatory account of mental dispositions and events that does not end of being, with all their problems, some sort of event dualism, whether (to use the jargon) it be interactionism, epiphenomenalism, a supervenience of higher on lower levels model, or property dualism. Any suggestions or additional problems, Peter?

Right, those are very complicated issues. I think one might, in the modern day point of view, want to take a reductive approach and say that we simply have more than one way of describing the same event or phenomenon, just like you could describe the same thing as "20 short people making noise" or as "childrens' birthday party". One could then suppose that there is one preferred description which is the "real explanation" (perhaps the "scientific explanation"), even though there could be an indefinite number of other descriptions. To be a true hylomorphist you would need to resist that temptation and say that the material and formal accounts are both ineliminable, i.e. offer different types of genuine explanation that cannot be redescribed in other terms. But I don't think this needs to imply any form of dualism since the contrast between material and formal accounts could be merely heuristic, e.g. you could argue that invoking purpose is needed to have a full understanding of a mental event, without thereby implying that purpose or purposiveness is something metaphysically additional to the physical event in the body. Does that help?

Otter Bob 18 January 2018

In reply to by Peter Adamson

“Does this help?” At first, yes, but now I may have confused myself. I agree that an event can often be described and explained in many different ways. But I don't understand why you call that a “reductive approach”. Sounds more “expansive”. I assume it is because of your next remark that 'one could then suppose that there is one preferred description which is the "real explanation" (perhaps the "scientific explanation")'. But what is the temptation to be resisted--admitting to other descriptions that may be equally correct as a matter of preference? 

I take Hylemorphism to be a theory about part of scientific explanatory accounts not descriptions, although they may be based on the latter. “Part” because we are just dealing here with matter and form as they pertain to biological phenomena and, more specifically, mental activities, states and dispositions and, even more specifically, emotional experiences.

I certainly agree that“the material and formal accounts are both ineliminable” not only because of the reason you give but also because they, as an explanation, say what the event really is. They together give the essential nature of the kind of event.  But to say, “...the contrast between material and formal accounts could be merely heuristic...” really sticks in my craw (a too large crayfish, the otter ate). To avoid a dualism by saying that is going counter to the facts. Suggesting (which you don't) the material aspect of an event is merely a device for explanation but does not refer to any reality or nature of the event is lethal to hylemorphism as an ontological position and not my krug of beer. Nor, obviously, would I drink that poison regarding the formal aspect. Are you speaking of the contrast as heuristic rather than the individual accounts? (I would resist treating them as separate acccounts. They must be taken jointly, as the actualizing of a potential, to answer a What is it? question.)

You switch to the final cause, as you so often do, and suggest it as a heuristic device “without thereby implying that purpose or purposiveness is something metaphysically additional to the physical event in the body”. But you already tipped your hand on which way you lean for the ontological status of a telos in a reply to Ep. 43. I think the four causes are explanatory factors for natural, especially biological, activities precisely because they reference the essential reality of kinds of activities. Don't we agree that, with our example, that the efficient cause, perceiving the insult, and the material and formal aspects of being angry, as well as 'the for the sake of which', revenge, are really ontologically “out there” as the emotional activity of becoming angry, whether or not we have discovered them and incorporated them into a scientific explanation of anger? None of them, possibly with the exception of the efficient cause as separate, are metaphysical additions to the experience of being angry. They are the anger. Right?   

 

Nathanael Johnston 12 December 2017

Peter,

In your interview with Martin Pickavé you talked about how little Aristotle talks about emotions in his corpus, particularly in De anima. I was wondering if Avicenna's De anima deals with the topic of emotions in any more depth than Aristotle's and I also wondered to what extent Avicenna's De anima influenced the medieval discussion of emotions.

Peter Adamson 17 December 2017

In reply to by Nathanael Johnston

Good question. I may be misremembering but I don't believe that there is much, if any, discussion of the emotions in Avicenna's "Healing," so I think this would be a rare case of a Latin pyschological discussion that is not heavily influenced by him.

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