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What are emotions?

What are emotions?

At this point, it might be asked: ‘What exactly do you mean
when you speak about emotions?’
I answer as follows: ‘Emotions are the more lively and
intense action of the soul’s inclination and will.’
God has given the human soul two main powers. The first
is understanding, by which we examine and judge things. The
second power enables us to look at things, not as indifferent
spectators, but as liking or disliking them, pleased or displeased
by them, approving or rejecting them. We sometimes call this
second power our inclination. In its relationship to our deci-
sions, we usually call it the will. When the mind exercises its
inclination or will, then we often call the mind ‘the heart’.
Human beings act by their wills in two ways. (i) We can
move towards the things we see, by liking them and approving
of them. (ii) We can turn away from the things we see, and
reject them. These acts of the will, of course, differ greatly in
degree. There are some inclinations of like or dislike which
move us only slightly beyond total apathy. There are other
degrees in which the like or dislike is stronger, until the
strength is so great that we act in an energetic, deliberate way.
It is these more energetic and intense acts of the will which
we call ‘emotions’.
Our will and our emotions are not two different things. Our
emotions differ from casual acts of choice only in their energy
and vividness. However, I admit that language can express
only an imperfect sense of this difference. In one sense, the
emotions of the soul are the same as its will, and the will never
moves from a state of apathy unless it feels. Yet there are many
acts of the will which we do not call ‘emotions’. The difference
is not a difference in nature, but in the strength of activity and
the way the will acts.
In every act of will, we either like or dislike what we see. Our
liking for something, if is vigorous and lively, is the very
same thing, as the emotion of love; and an equally strong dislike
is the same as hatred. In every act of will for or towards
something, we are in some degree inclined to that thing; and
if this inclination is strong, we call it desire. In every act of will
in which we approve of something, there is a degree of
pleasure; and if the pleasure is great, we call it joy or delight.
And if our will disapproves of something, we are in some
Degree displeased; if the displeasure is great, we call it grief or
sorrow.
Every act of will is concerned either with approving and
liking, or else with disapproving and rejecting. So our emotions
are of two kinds. There are emotions which carry us towards
what we love, desire, joy, gratitude, and pleasure. Then
there are emotions which turn us away from what we see,
opposing it. These include hatred, fear, anger and grief.

  • Posted by Josef Coetzee
  • on October 28, 2019
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