Roman Calendar

Monday, July 15, 2013

Not "pathai" but "eupatheiai"

      In Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion, the word pathē is translated as "emotion," since this is the closest English concept to what the Stoics describe, but another traditional translation (as she notes) would be "passion." In the etymological sense, pathē in Greek and passiō in Latin are closely related, meaning "experience," "being acted upon by something outside." When someone shoves you, that is "passion" in the literal sense - you are being acted upon, moved by something other than your own will. Hence the negative connotations of pathē in Stoic thought - being moved by a "passion," an emotion, is allowing yourself to be moved and buffeted about by external forces, to surrender control of yourself. Some of what we might term "emotions," however, are not termed pathai but rather eupatheiai - "affective responses which the Stoic theory accepts as entirely rational and good," including at the very least "awe and reverence, certain forms of joy and gladness, certain particular kinds of love and friendship, and some powerful types of longing or wishing." In other words, not all passions are bad. A longing for virtue, a desire to act in accord with nature, a sense of duty to friends and loved ones, respect and reverence . . . these can all be in accord with nature and will, and can be "good" emotions. This is because "emotions are defined by their propositional content; i.e., . . . every instance of emotion is in its very essence a judgment concerning some present or potential state of affairs."

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