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Aristotle’s Account of Fear, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

The Aristotelian Explanation of Cognition’s role in Emotion

Introduction

The numerous theories on the process of where, how, and why emotions come about in the human body is rooted in the role that emotion plays in explaining the different principles enveloping philosophy and psychology. Several philosophers have actually tried to define the existence of emotions and the reasons that bind its occurrence among humans. In the presentation that follows, with the use of supporting references, the understanding of Aristotle on the connection of emotion and cognition shall be examined in parallel connection with the current and modern ways of understanding the relationship between the elements mentioned.  The discussion herein shall provide sufficient evidences that could prove the competence of Aristotle’s explanation on the matter that supports the identification of behavior on the part of modern identifiers of human emotion and cognition as elements of being.  Through utilizing the principles of philosophical psychology, this paper entails to address the view point of  modern studies in consideration with the importance of emotion and how it motivates one to react on certain matters that he needs to fully content with.

To be able to make the discussion more focused and clarified, the utilization of “fear” as the central emotion to be examined shall be the core foundation of this discussion. The choice of fear lays on the fact that it is a general or universal emotion that all creatures feel. Both humans and animals realize the existence of fear and thus react towards the said matter accordingly.  The reaction of each creature to fear is identifiably different from another. This is because of the fact that fear is an emotion that is presented depending on how one individual or creature actually perceives the impact of a certain situation that he/it has to face. In the context of this paper, examining such responses to fear and understanding what particular elements fire-up such reactions shall be further presented in clarification of the connection between human cognition and emotions. From such investigation, this presentation shall also try to manifest the fact that Aristotle’s claims regarding emotional bearing and how it is affected through one’s understanding of a particular experience shall be given attention to.

Understanding Fear as an Emotional Response and Cause of Reaction

An influential and modern understanding of cognition’s role in emotion is the theory provided by Richard S. Lazarus; in his theory, he argues that appraisal of fear is a necessary and sufficient cause of emotion and that knowledge is necessary, but not sufficient (Lazarus, 2008 pg. 41).In other words the unconscious assessment of meaning in a given experience that makes emotion not just a part of rationality, but a necessary component for survival. Lazarus describes fear as an immediate, concrete and overwhelming physical danger that occurs in the following order:

  • First, the individual assesses the event cognitively, which cues the emotion.
  • Second, the physiological changes occur in which the cognitive reaction starts biological changes (i.e. increased heart rate, pituitary adrenal response).
  • Finally, an action occurs when the individual feels the emotion and chooses how to react. A conceptual model of this process is demonstrated below in figure 1.

Example of Emotional Response through Cognition

Figure 1: Example of Emotional Response through Cognition

For instance, Susie sees a snake. She cognitively assesses the snake in her presence which triggers fear. Fear in this case could be attributed from her knowledge of what a snake can do, or perhaps the appearance of the creature as it approaches her way. Upon processing these ideas in her mind, her body begins to respond. Her heart begins to race faster. Adrenaline pumps through her blood stream. She would possible scream and run away. (Lazarus, 2008, pg. 86) Lazarus stresses that the quality and intensity of emotions are controlled through cognitive processes. In this manner, it could be realized that the “fight-or-flight” response is a choice that a person makes in consideration with what he knows about a certain situation or what experiences he has had in the past in consideration with the current situation he is facing. In the case of Susie, it was her understanding that snakes are dangerous that motivated her to run away from the creature; or in other choice of reason, it would be the uncanny appearance of the snake that pushed her to choose to move far from it. Without such understanding about the creature, Susie would not have reacted the way that she did. These processes underlie coping strategies that form the emotional reaction by altering the relationship between the person and the environment. (Lazarus, 2008, pg.89)

On the part of Aristotle, he views that fear is more of a person’s recognition of what could inflict pain or disturbance on a person. To this he mentions”:

The fear is… “a kind of pain or disturbance deriving from an impression [phantasia] of a future evil that is destructive or painful…for things that are remote are not greatly feared.” (Rhetoric 2.5, 1382a21-5)

This passage then imposes that humans rarely fear what is yet to come, instead, they are motivated to fear what is already at hand. Revisiting Susie and the snake, Aristotle asserts that the ability of the snake to inflict intense pain, along with Susie’s awareness of this, creates the emotion of fear. Furthermore, the sound of the rattler and the sight of the red stripes on the back of the snake are also frightening to Susie. She is now aware that the snake is near and there is potential danger, which Aristotle adds, is just the approach of what is frightening (Rhetoric, 1382a25-32). Aristotle distinguishes that although we fear pain within itself, it is not the pain which is frightening, but the objects that portend to pain such as the rattling noise, red stripes, or the tracks in the sand that the snake created. Notably, understanding and knowing what could inflict pain is not enough to produce the emotion of fear. Instead, it is the correlative existence of other elements surrounding that object of fear that further points out the possibility of emotionally distancing one’s self from the possible source of pain. For Aristotle, fear cannot be created without thinking himself threatened by his own beliefs and inferences of an object’s or a situation’s potential danger to facilitate pain. Fear is not an irrational response, but a thoughtful response to the environment. What a person fears follows from how that person views the world.

Understanding Aristotle’s Thinking About Fear and Emotions

Apart from the regular thoughts of what emotions are about and how they are formed as per described by famous philosophers in the past, Aristotle tries to defy claims that dictate the emotions are apart from that of the dictation of the mind.  For example, from the discussion in the Philebus, it is implied that the relationship between cognition and emotion was still being debated. It fails however in specifying the type of relationship between cognition and the output of an emotion.  The Philebus’ example of the preposition “with” could be misconstrued as “and” or “made up out of”, “in the same place”, or “in the same time”.  Aristotle expands on this distinction in Posterior Analytics where he insists that questions of cause and questions of essence are one and the same thing. (An. Pos.90a14-15)  This is best illustrated by Aristotle’s reference to the eclipse of the moon. “…what is the cause of an eclipse, or why does the moon suffer eclipse? Naturally, it is because light fails owing to the obstruction of the earth” (An. Post.90a15-18). Scholar W.W. Fortenbraugh describes this distinction best in that:

“…the obstruction of the earth is essential to the occurrence of an eclipse and so it mentions it in the definition. Therefore, the efficient cause of an eclipse is part of the formal cause.” (W.Fortenbraugh, pg.77)

Figure 2

Figure 2

So for Aristotle’s cognition theory is in the definition of why an emotion happened. For the emotion of fear, the thought of danger or pain is essential to occur in a firsthand approach. Therefore, without the cognitive thought itself, fear cannot exist

Aristotle respects the property of dualism in respect to the consideration over the relative effect of developing emotions. This view of property dualism is validated theory in modern science known as the “two-sphere view” which claims that the mind is a property of both the brain and the body’s physiological responses. This theory could be further recognized to be grounded on the following points of consideration:

  • There are some actions with emotion in which cognition plays a more influential role (shame, envy, anger) and he calls these voluntary emotional responses.
  • Other emotionally charged actions are initiated instantaneously (fear) and stopping them is virtually impossible which he describes as involuntary. However when the involuntary act occurs whether consciously or unconsciously, then that emotion has a specific psychological purpose which is congruent with reason’s thought.

This is a fundamental distinction of Aristotle’s bi-partition in that both emotional responses and immediate reactions are two kinds of intelligent actions (EN 1102a32). Both the irrational and rational involve the cognitive faculty of the intellect.  Going back to the example that proves Aristotle’s theory on cognitive behavior and its connection with emotions, Susie is filled with fear because of the snake close by. The fear that she has is not in question, but rather what her plan of deliberation between what courses of action to take.  By grouping Plato’s components of emotion and desire in one part it allows for a better understanding upon the inter-relationship of between reason and emotion. So in an ideal case, emotion is obedient to that of reason as the theory of response functions as a whole.  When Aristotle says that the rational being is obedient to reason (EN 1098a), it is important to note that the agent must be a virtuous person in the sense that he would subject his emotional response with his rational side; which means that one has the need to reason out in reference to the actions that he has chosen to show regarding a particular situation, person or creature. This then means that a person has control over his emotions; he then decides whether or not to fear a certain matter based on the past experiences he derives from his mind to indicate a sense of danger or pain that a certain matter can inflict him with. The capability of one to think does not need to take time, immediate responses could be regarded to be based on experience and knowledge. Take note that a chicken will not run away from a dog in amok if the dog does not behave the way it does. Observe how animals too use their reasoning in responding to the need to consider the option of “flight” when faced with danger. There has to be a reason for a creature to respond the way that it does towards another or towards a particular situation.

What Modern Philosophers Think About Cognition, Emotion and their Relationship

Researchers on philosophy and psychology of the modern times specifically impose on the fact that brain cognition is strongly related to the process by which emotion is further convened. The relative indication of what cognition is and how it controls emotion follows a quite different path. It is at some point because of this that the confusion among western philosophers grew especially in pointing out that these two elements work together. Medical confirmations even point out that emotional occurrences are assumed to be specifically defined by the subcortical elements of the brain which include the amygdala, ventral stiatium and the hypothalamus (Damasio, 1994). These elements of thinking do not necessarily impose reason. In a way, the reaction that the body convenes in relation to the kind of situation that one has to deal with has a very vague connection to how the subcortical sector of the brain works (Fortenbraugh, 2006). It could be understood that somehow, the capability of the brain to produce emotional bearings on a particular situation is somewhat not connected to the value from which the brain functions in a rational manner. However, through behavioral observation and experimentation, it has been found out by psychologists that a person only reacts to something when he or she has a background about that matter. Notably, “fear” being a general emotion to all creatures, has also been noted as part of the experimentation (Damasio, 1999). During the process, participants were subjected to particular general factors that are usually causing fear on several individuals. From this point, it has been observed that different individuals responded in different manners depending on how they viewed the situation and how they knew about the possibility of the occurring damage causing them to react accordingly to the challenge. When asked why they feared such factors, most of the participants responded how past experiences pushed them to react accordingly to what was being shown to them. One individual even responded that she feared the dark room because she has had a traumatizing experience about the said matter when she was still a young child. Responding to the dark room was then perceived through the reaction of rational thinking. Understandably, some others explained their emotional bearings about the said challenges and “items” or “factors” of fear based on their past and their knowledge regarding the said elements.

Interestingly a remarkable number of the participants reacted differently when they were asked why they feared a certain element in the choices that were presented to them. Apparently, some of them had no idea what the element was and what it could do to them. However, the fact that they were unfamiliar with that certain element that was presented to them, they had the inkling of not knowing what could happen next which pushed them to run away. It could be realized that somehow this could seem to be a little offset from the first results that were garnered. Nonetheless, if closely observed, they are closely related to each other. It may seem that the second set of results pertaining to the reaction of the participants could be beyond reasonable or rational thinking. Take note however that the participants responded that they did not know what was going to happen next; nonetheless, “not knowing” does not mean “not thinking” . The fact that they reacted means they intended to have choices in mind of what could possibly happen, either way, they knew that they might not like what was going to happen next. Reacting upon such matter indicates that somehow the participants had a background or at least has an idea on what could happen; this basically means that it was their rational understanding of matters that pushed them to move away and run from the situation. This specifically creates a relative indication on how reason governs emotional reactions. Fear in itself cannot be evident if the person does not know anything about the situation that he is currently facing. Animals are no different to humans in this case. The fight or flight response is often imposed through the pattern of a particular negative past that these creatures have experienced. Making a record of such situation in one’s brains as part of one’s memory [imposing cognition] provides one a chance to specifically insist on what kind of reaction he [or it] would embrace once the said situation does happen again in the near future. From such experiences comes a realization that would specifically give the said creatures a chance to think on how to deal with specific issues that they meet with everyday.

From this point of study and realization, it could be understood that somehow Aristotle’s consideration the connection between cognition and emotion supports the modern way of thinking and the results of the experimentations that have been considered [as defined herein]. While the actual medical indicators of connection between the brain sections that work towards producing emotional reactions do not specifically coincide with the function of rationality. However, in cases of behavioral observations, it has been found out that cognition and emotional development cannot be separated from each other due to the fact that one does not respond to a particular matter without knowing what it is about. Using fear as the central element of emotional development that has been observed in the entirety of this discussion, it could be realized that somehow people do not simply react upon a matter without knowing what it is about and how it could actually affect them. This is the reason why people have different phobias; they have different elements of fear and they respond differently to matters that could particular scare others but others do not have particular inkling to.

Conclusion

Notably, it could be identified through this presentation that Aristotle’s explanation of emotion was the first of its kind in ancient psychology and philosophy; and a systematic account of emotion that withstands modern day scrutiny. Armed with the latest scientific understanding of cognition, Aristotle’s explanation on the correlation of emotion and cognition encompasses how the mind works and the body responds.  Notably, his explanation insists on the correlative existence of the mind and body which in a way is balanced among all creatures. Both humans and animals use reason to make decisions in their lives. Animals may not use as complex decisions as humans do, but that does not mean they do not know how to use reason. Instinct is one aspect of response that is also attributed through the utilization of reasoning. No instinctive response could be expected without one’s understanding of a certain matter or situation that he is undergoing at present.

According to psychological cognitivist van der Eijk, “perhaps more than those of any ancient philosopher, Aristotle’s understanding on cognitive thinking/behavior and its relation to human emotions is continuously welcomed as a stimulating contribution to contemporary debate in the philosophy of the mind” (Berthoz, 2007, pg. 172).  Even though the study of psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience have made tremendous progress in the area of emotion, Aristotle’s theory of emotion still holds relevant in how emotion is produced as well as how the different elements that affect the mind and body contribute to the presentation of how emotions are handled by human beings at present.

Bibliography

Aristotle, Rhetoric II 1-2; Nichomachean Ethics 1.13; Posterior Analytics 12-16(2)Plato, The RepublicIV; Philebus, 36c-45d

Berthoz, Alain, Emotion & Reason: The Cognitive Neuroscience of Decision Making (Oxford 2007)

Bishop, S.J. Neurocognitive mechanisms of anxiety: an integrative account. Trends Cogn Sci 11, 307-16 (2007).

Damasio, A.R. Descartes’ error: Emotion, reason, and the human brain (G.P. Putnam, New York, 1994).

Damasio, A.R. The feeling of what happens: body and emotion in the making of consciousness (Harcourt Brace, New York, 1999).

Dolan, R. Emotion, cognition, and behavior. Science 298, 1191-1194 (2003).

Fortenbraugh, W.W, Aristotle’s Practical Side: On his Psychology, Ethics, Politics and Rhetoric (Leiden, Boston 2006)

Lazarus, Richard S., Stress and emotion: A new synthesis, Revised New York, 2008)

Talvite, Vesa, Freudian Unconscious & Cognitive Neuroscience (London, 2009)

Zoltan, Koveces, Emotion Concepts (New York, London 2003).

David Konstan, The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks (University of Toronto Press.).

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