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Transformations of feelings: Philosophical theories of emotion 1250-1650 (313)

Principal Investigator:

In which ways did medieval and early modern philosophers define emotions? How did they relate them to sensations, beliefs, and desires?

Since the reception of Aristotle’s writings in the 13th century, medieval philosophers focussed on the question of the relationship between emotions and other mental as well as bodily states. They were interested in defining classes of emotions and in explaining the control of emotions. Early modern authors, too, were engaged in these questions, their results, however, were very different. On the basis of case studies, we will analyse the ways in which the respective theoretical frames of reference (hylomorphism, dualism, monism, etc.) determined the definition and classification of emotions and, at the same time, the explanation of the possibility of controlling an emotion.

We will consider two kinds of transformations. First, we will analyse the ways in which various philosophers explained the transformation of emotions. Did they acknowledge the fact that fear, pleasure, etc. can be tempered or transferred into other emotions? Which kinds of mental and physical states did they discuss? And how did they explain these processes in the context of a comprehensive mind-body-theory? Second, we will examine how a transformation of the whole explanatory model was possible. Why did Montaigne challenge Aristotelian-scholastic explanations? And why was Descartes determined to dispel the Aristotelian model and to replace it by a dualistic model? In order to respond to these questions, philosophical, medical, and theological texts need to be examined.


Perler, D. (2011). Transformationen der Gefühle. Philosophische Emotionstheorien 1270-1670. Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer.