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Emotions are the foundation of the quality and connotation of human existence. Emotions are the essence of life and make it worth living or, as seen in various circumstances, ending life (Pakaluk and Pearson 2011). The great classical philosophers Plato and Aristotle formulated recognized theories of emotion, which were created as rejoinders to specific concerns such as a subject, usual bodily changes, and motivating characteristic behaviors (Gerd 2000). Plato and Aristotle had much in common, which is evident since Aristotle was Plato’s student for many years. However, Plato’s and Aristotle’s philosophies, specifically the discussion of emotion, are often characterized as thesis and antithesis.

Throughout Plato’s writings, social-psychological thought is in his theories of emotion by connecting to the three-way soul and the city. His writings are highly sophisticated, using the typical Socratic dialogue. Plato provides the basis to think about the concept of emotion in terms of how it developed and relates to the thinking ability. Plato extends knowledge on the psyche concept (a body which gives life), thymos (mind or consciousness), and phrenes (lungs, where an individual’s personality lies) from Homer—essentially stating that the psyche was an essential component in forming consciousness and life principles instead of the thymos (Oatley 1994). Plato theorized that if one were to understand how the human body can recognize stimuli, the concept would help comprehend how the human consciousness functions (Oatley et al. 1994; Ellis and Tucker 2015). The original theories of emotion were explained in Plato’s Republic, with a more in-depth study taking place through the scientific interpretation of mind and soul in his work Timaeus.

Plato’s argument in the Republic suggests that the city is made from three types of individuals, which are representative of the three types of souls (adopted from Ellis and Tucker 2015):

• The philosopher-guardians- archetypal of rationality

• The military class- archetypal of spirit

• The merchants class- archetypal of appetite

Through The Republic, Plato argues that there “are many types of souls as there are various definite kinds of political constitutions” (Platio, Book 1, pg. 283). Plato also points out that the soul itself is divided into three separate psychic functions: reason, emotion, and desire (Plato, n.d.).

Deonne and Teroni (2012) argued that Plate had advised against making connections of the emotion to the body as they were not recognized at the time. However, Aristotle, during his time and theoretic, makes such connections with reasoning. However, when emotion is being related to the person's mental states, it is considered a necessary component that enables human advancement and optimization of a person’s intellectual life.

To summarise Plato's work, he defends that emotion is unpredictable; it functions with its reasoning, and these reasons may not be sensible.

All types of desires, including emotion, are flexible and can be subjected to good habits through reasoning and teaching, as argued by Aristotle. Aristotle means that humans can be taught to respond to objects to formulate beliefs about those objects emotionally. The theory that Aristotle develops emphasizes a vital social element for emotion. Aristotle asserts that the family is the primary teacher of appropriate emotional responses, making concrete through habit. Deonne and Teroni (2012) add to the interpretation that the explanation of emotion is psychosocial. For example, when feeling “shame,” there are bodily indications such as blushing, but Aristotle focuses on the object from which the individual feels shame. The object to which emphasis is placed is directly associated with the person’s social position and status. Based on the example of shame, when there is no reputation to lose, no “shame” can be felt, and shame can only be felt about others.

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The psychosocial theme is also evident in Aristotle’s definition of anger, which he argues is induced through relationships where inequality is present (Aristotle, n.d.; Oatley 1994). Aristotle argues that certain people such as kings are entitled through their status to disparage people such as their slaves, who have no special status and therefore are not allowed to feel “pride,” so they are then not predisposed to feel anger (Aristotle, n.d.; Gerd 2000).

Like his teacher, Aristotle believes that there is a particular link that allows for the communication of the body, mind, and emotions. But using Plato’s more all-encompassing theory, Aristotle made it more practicably relatable through ideas and observations that appeal to humans' rationality (Oatley 1994).

The basic concept of Aristotle’s theory of emotion is that there are two kinds of emotion-based actions that are coherent to the type of feeling. Firstly, a few emotionally charged steps are made that a person makes, which are more cognitive and voluntary (Scherer 2013). On the other hand, there are instances of different emotionally charged instances in which actions conducted are so fast and intense that stopping them is not something that can be done. Such actions are termed counter-voluntary (Scherer 2013).

When interpreting Aristotle’s views using Platonic forms of expression, the interpretation of emotion results in that voluntary emotional action is represented by the interaction between the psyche and the thymos (Yazici 2015). On the other hand, involuntary emotional actions are the animal-like appetite inherent in human beings (Yazici 2015). Both philosophers’ ideas on emotion greatly diverge in its implementation through the communication of emotion, such as through art forms (i.e., theatre). Plato’s arguments state that emotions are feelings of arousal through art used to manipulate people To take them away from the path of reasoning and ultimate truth (Harding and Pribram 2009). In contradiction, Aristotle asserts that the onlookers’ emotion in theatre allows for katharisis regarding the acts being played out having emotional results as found prevalent in his Poetics works.

The evaluation of both Plato’s and Aristotle’s theories of emotion concludes that both theories encompass emotion as bodily reactions that can be controlled at certain instances but are often described as an event that may happen to an individual. Unlike Plato, Aristotle believes that most emotional affections are active and have cognitive elements. Aristotle presents emotion as an “intentionalist” and portrays emotion as a selection of processes used to comprehend various features of the environment. Even after Plato and Aristotle's time, emotions are still viewed as the principal cause of human suffering.


ARISTOTLE. Poetics. Translated by Kenny, A. London: Oxford World’s Classics.

Deonna, J. A., and Teroni, F. (2012). The emotions: a philosophical introduction. London [UK]: Oxford University Press.

Ellis, D., and Tucker, I. (2015). Social Psychology of Emotion. London: SAGE.

Gerd, V. R. (2000). Aristotle’s definition of pleasure: A refutation of the Platonic account. Ancient Philosophy, 27, pp. 119-137.

Harding, J., and Pribram, E.D. (2009). Emotions: A Cultural Studies Reader. London: Routledge.

Oatley, K. (1994). Best laid schemes- The psychology of emotions (2nd edition). Paris [FR]: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge.

Pakaluk, M. and Pearson, G. (2011). Moral psychology and human action in Aristotle. Oxford [UK]: Oxford University Press.

PLATO. Republic. Translated by P. Shorey. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

PLATO. Timaeus. Translated by Jowett, B. [online] Available from < http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/timaeus.html>. [Accessed 19th March 2016].

Sclater, S.D., Jones, D.W., Price, H.S., and Yates, C. (2009). Emotion: New Psychosocial Perspectives. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Scherer, K. R. (2013). Plato’s legacy: relationships between cognition, emotion, and motivation. The University of Geneva. [online] Available from < http://www.affective-sciences.net/system/files/biblio/1995_Scherer_Genstudies_Plato.pdf >. [Accessed: 19 March 2016].

Yazici, A. (2015). Aristotle’s theory of emotions. International Periodical for the Languages, Literature, and History of Turkish or Turkic, 10(6), pp. 901-922.

Katherine Alexander

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