A Comedy We Believe In: A Further Look at Sartre's Theory of Emotions

European Journal of Philosophy 24 (4) (2016)
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This paper discusses recent interpretations of Jean-Paul Sartre's early theory of emotions, in particular his Sketch for a Theory of the Emotions. Despite the great interest that Sartre's approach has generated, most interpretations assume that his approach fails because it appears to be focussed on ‘malformed’, ‘irrational’ or ‘distorted’ emotions. I argue that these criticisms adopt a rationalistic or epistemically biassed perspective on emotions that is wrongly applied to Sartre's text. In my defence of Sartre I show that the directional fit of emotions is not towards an evaluatively loaded world which is independently given and, at best, represented by emotions, but towards a world shaped through the impact of emotions themselves. Sartre's idea of emotions ‘magically transforming’ reality for the subject so that the latter is better able to cope with problematic aspects of practically relevant situations encapsulates the world-shaping capacities of emotions, which are thus not reserved for a restricted class of emotions. Recognition of the transformative powers of emotions will also direct attention away from their seemingly representative elements to their normative and practical aspects and offer a new basis for delineating the criteria for judging them. The plausibility of this position is discussed with reference to some of Sartre's examples, such as fear, sadness and horror, but also with reference to Joan Didion's account of grief in The Year of Magical Thinking.



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Magic, Emotion and Practical Metabolism: Affective Praxis in Sartre and Collingwood.Tom Greaves - 2021 - Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 53 (3):276-297.

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