It’s easy to think of emotions as the opposite of reason – unintelligent intrusions into an otherwise measured life. Or to think of them as if they’re a form of hydraulic pressure – to be contained unless (or until) they explode. Or to treat them as mere physiological events, nothing more than a surge of hormones, a quickening of breathing, a pattern of brain activity.
In True to Our Feelings, Robert Solomon mounts a convincing argument that emotions have a rich intelligence all of their own. He invites us to look at them through new eyes, and to see what it is that each of them has to show us about ourselves, our cares, what matters to us. By understanding our emotions more accurately, he argues, and by avoiding the simple reductionism that’s so easy to fall into, we can enrich our lives and develop more sophisticated responses to the world.
Each chapter in this book takes up the story of a different emotion or mood, and Solomon does much to rehabilitate the so-called ‘negative emotions’ to their proper place in the family of moods each of us experience. Written in an accessible style but with the depth and intelligence to bear fruit on repeated reading, this is a fabulous book for anyone who’d like to address their own emotions – and those of others – with more skill. It’s also a resource for helpfully attuning each of us to what moods might be trying to show us, but which we’re denying or ignoring.
The book is based upon a publicly available lecture series, The Passions: Philosophy and the Intelligence of Emotions.
For a companion piece you could have a look at Solomon’s much earlier book The Passions: Emotions and the Meaning of Life. It’s denser, more philosophical, and has an comprehensive dictionary of moods at the back – some 60 of them analysed in detail, showing how each mood orients us to the world, brings us in close or distances us from others, has us feel superior or inferior, as well as what keeps each mood going and how it works to maintain self-esteem in the face of the circumstances of life. The dictionary itself is a valuable resource for understanding yourself and others, and in particular the unique worlds of possibility (some tight and closed, some wide open) that each mood brings about.