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Passions: Philosophy and the Intelligence of Emotions

by Robert C. Solomon

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Robert C. Solomon, Professor of Business and Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin, delivers 24 lectures in which he discusses emotions, primarily from the standpoint of ethics and practical concerns.
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In various contexts under sway of death, corruption, increased isolation, decreased communication, and relational failings, our emotions can be driven beyond the intelligent ordering of reason and become self-defeating, hurtful, and destructive passions. These passions produce suffering. Christ endured His Passion, His seemingly meaningless Suffering, to deliver us from these destructive passions, that our emotions might be healed by realignment with the intelligence of the Divine Reason.

Prayer, fasting, and charitable offerings are certainly means of placing our emotions under the logical regulation of Divine Reason. The spiritual orientation of our five bodily senses will determine whether our senses play the role of five wise virgins or five foolish ones (Matthew 25:1-13). Finding ourselves subject to foolishly misdirected and destructive passions, lacking the light of spiritual Wisdom and misled by the disorientation of our senses, we are counseled to redirect ourselves, our bodily senses, and our emotions toward the Kingdom of God by selling what we have and giving alms (Luke 12:33), so buying that spiritual Oil (Matthew 25:9) that our lamps may be burning as we watch and wait for the Lord (Luke 12:35-36). In this way we will be enabled to see the Kingdom of God and, perhaps, even enter it. It is one thing to experience the fire of passion and yet another to receive and maintain the Light of Wisdom. The Lord does not suggest the extinguishing of passions, but rather their wise redirection as rational emotions properly engaged with ourselves, one another, our environment, and the world at large.

The Apostle Paul counsels us to "walk honestly, as in the daytime: not in carousing and getting drunk, not in sleeping around and licentiousness, not in quarreling and envying." Rather Saint Paul encourages us to clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for gratifying the desires of our mortal flesh (Romans 13:13-14). "Therefore, putting aside lying, let each person speak truth with his neighbour: for we are members of one another" (Ephesians 4:25). ( )
  sagocreno | Sep 2, 2018 |
If we, as Orthodox Christians, listen to the lecturer while keeping in mind the Divine providence of God the Logos, we will understand how our emotions exhibit the wise reason of the Logos unless the corrupting forces of the present age drive our emotions to take on the character of irrational passions. As Dr. Solomon points out, a healthy, intelligent emotion is "the right response to the right occasion, to the right degree," and directed to the right target, person, or persons. Proper emotions are an engagement with one's environment, with one's world. As such, emotions are, by nature, relational. In other words, they arise from, pertain to, and display wisdom in honest, authentic relating to oneself, to others, and to one's environment.

In various contexts under sway of death, corruption, increased isolation, decreased communication, and relational failings, our emotions can be driven beyond the intelligent ordering of reason and become self-defeating, hurtful, and destructive passions. These passions produce suffering. Christ endured His Passion, His seemingly meaningless Suffering, to deliver us from these destructive passions, that our emotions might be healed by realignment with the intelligence of the Divine Reason.

In Part One, Disc Two, in his discussion of resentment, Dr. Solomon follows Nietzsche in saying that most human beings are powerless in many respects and therefore, rather than acknowledging their powerlessness, prefer to accept divine commands to be powerless. Dr. Solomon claims that "meekness" means "powerlessness," but the Greek word for meekness is simply another word used in the Septuagint to translate the word for humility. A humble man is not necessarily powerless and, in fact, may be more powerful than those around him, while viewing himself as an equal of those around him. Dr. Solomon (and Nietzsche) claims that the Bible contains commands purported to be from God which tell people not to do the very things they are largely incapable of doing anyway. Dr. Solomon erroneously asserts that the New Testament teaches that "wealth is essentially evil, or the root of all evil," however, the New Testament teaches that "the love of money is the root of all evil." He then follows up these false claims about what the New Testament teaches by concluding that in this frame of mind (the Christian one), "it's good not to be educated, it's good not to know too much" (whatever "too much" may mean...). After making these false claims about the teachings of Orthodox Christianity, he then claims that these supposed Christian teachings point to the emotion of resentment.

Dr. Solomon then speaks of the supposed Judaeo-Christian values of "humility" and "enforced poverty." He claims that everyone wants to be powerful and wealthy, but that Judaism and, especially, Christianity have ended up teaching that power and wealth are vices and powerlessness and poverty are virtues. In other words, Christians, who have been comparatively weak and poor, have turned weakness and poverty into virtues so that they would feel powerful and wealthy and, thus, not humiliated. Dr. Solomon claims that resentment is at the root of this Christian inversion of values. He says this results in a sense of self-righteousness simply because one does not possess power and wealth. But then we must ask, "Which is more Christian? Being weak or poor or being self-righteous?" Or, perhaps, it is even better to ask, "Which is more Christian? Being wealthy and powerful? Or being self-righteous?"

Although Dr. Solomon's Nietzschean assessment of Christian values appears skewed when speaking of the value of poverty and weakness, Orthodox Christians would most certainly side with Nietzsche that "being resentful is, by its very nature, being filled with self-deception and being hypocritical." Nietzsche apparently claimed that resentment is an expression of weakness. Indeed, it is one way of expressing weakness, but weakness need not be expressed in resentment. Saint James, the step-brother of the Lord and first Bishop of Jerusalem, writes, "Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor" (James 2:5-6). One's poverty or weakness need not be expressed in resentment, but rather in trust and dependence on God. Likewise, one's sense of wealth need not be expressed in disdain of the poor, but in gratitude and compassion for the poor. When Dr. Solomon describes the experience of envy or resentment as "being stuck in this position of bitterness," he seems to be describing the condition of those experiencing the torments of Hell and surely this description is fitting.

Dr. Solomon astutely observes, "It seems to me that one of the virtues of resentment is that resentment is a recognition, not just of impotence or inferiority, but resentment can be a key recognition of the nature of oppression." Resentment can be a natural reaction to the seeming injustices in the world if we believe that everyone deserves or benefits from exactly the same amount and quality of wealth and power and knowledge. Dr. Solomon points out that the Existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre has the idea that "resentment is an act by which we escape responsibility for a world that we find too difficult."

In speaking about vengeance, it is unclear how vengeance is an emotion. It would seem rather to be an act. Perhaps, "outrage" would be a better term for the actual emotion of which Dr. Solomon speaks. Outrage can be expressed in an act of vengeance. Justice is certainly the basis for outrage and vengeance. Dr. Solomon defines justice as fairness of distribution and fairness in punishment and claims that it is a personal emotional schema. This question would be a good topic of discussion, especially as it relates to the Scriptural concept of dikaiosune (δικαιοσύνη), usually translated as "righteousness." ( )
  sagocreno | Aug 31, 2018 |
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