Emotions and Cognitions : Fourteenth-Century Discussions on the Passions of the Soul

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Detail of a miniature of the Castle of Love, with the lover addressing three women. Photo courtesy British Library

Detail of a miniature of the Castle of Love, with the lover addressing three women. Photo courtesy British Library

Emotions and Cognitions : Fourteenth-Century Discussions on the Passions of the Soul

Dominik Perler (Berlin, Humboldt-Universität)

Vivarium: Volume 43, Number 2, 2005, Seite 250-274.

Abstract

Medieval philosophers clearly recognized that emotions are not simply “raw feelings” but complex mental states that include cognitive components. They analyzed these components both on the sensory and on the intellectual level, paying particular attention to the different types of cognition that are involved. This paper focuses on William Ockham and Adam Wodeham, two fourteenth-centuries authors who presented a detailed account of “sensory passions” and “volitional passions”. It intends to show that these two philosophers provided both a structural and a functional analysis of emotions, i.e., they explained the various elements constituting emotions and delineated the causal relations between these elements. Ockham as well as Wodeham emphasized that “sensory passions” are not only based upon cognitions but include a cognitive component and are therefore intentional. In addition, they pointed out that “volitional passions” are based upon a conceptualization and an evaluation of given objects. This cognitivist approach to emotions enabled them to explain the complex phenomenon of emotional conflict, a phenomenon that has its origin in the co-presence of various emotions that involve conflicting evaluations.




Suppose that, during your childhood, you had a best friend who was very close, with whom you shared not only most of your time, but also most of your secrets. The two of you were inseparable at school and went through all the stormy stages of adolescence together. But then, one day, your friend suddenly disappeared without any explanation. You heard rumors that she had gone to Australia, but you received no message from her – no phone call, no postcard, nothing. It took you years to come to terms with this strange behavior. Yet one morning, when you were about to leave your apartment, all of a sudden she was standing at your door, smiling at you as if nothing had happened. How would you react?

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Sharan Newman