• Andreea Marculescu
  • Charles-Louis Morand Métivier
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Emotions book series (Palgrave Studies in the History of Emotions)


“What are emotions?” This seemingly simple question generated a lot of discussion in the field of emotion studies. 1 Darwin and, later, Freud regarded emotions as internal drives that produce outbursts of feelings and sensations that need to be tamed or channeled. 2 Starting in the 1960s and 1970s, neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists demonstrated the shortcomings of such models. The neurobiologist Antonio Damasio asserts in Descartes’ Error that emotions are far from being simple, uncontrolled impulses, but are instead wired in the human body. 3 Emotions, per this narrative, have a strong cognitive aspect. Anthropologists 4 and historians, 5 in contrast, argue that emotions are neither sensorial nor cognitive, but are constituents of social and cultural practices. Philosophers like Martha Nussbaum acknowledge the quintessential role that emotions have in evaluating such practices. For Nussbaum, emotions have a strong cognitive dimension because they allow subjects to reflect on external events: “they (emotions) are our way of registering how things are with respects to the external (i.e., uncontrolled) that we view salient for our well-being.” 6 In other words, events are uncontrollable, but emotions represent a map that facilitates further reflection on normative ways of constructing forms of existing and being in the world in a particular society. 7

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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andreea Marculescu
    • 1
  • Charles-Louis Morand Métivier
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Women’s and Gender StudiesUniversity of OklahomaNormanUSA
  2. 2.Romance Languages and LinguisticsUniversity of VermontBurlingtonUSA

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