What is an emotion? William James and Jean-Paul Sartre present two different arguments regarding what constitutes an emotion. This paper will explore William James' analysis of emotion as set out in his 1884 essay . It will attempt to discover the main points of his view, and then present Sartre's rebuttal of this view taken from his essay on emotions . Concluding with an explanation regarding why Sartre's account is flawed and James's argument is the stronger of the two, it will use outside examples to demonstrate the various weaknesses and strengths within the two perspectives.
William James analysis of emotion revolves around his theory that an emotion is nothing more than the senses and feelings we experience in our bodies that come about after we perceive something. He says that " … the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur is the emotion". He gives several premises to back up this theory.
First of all, that if you were to take away the bodily changes and senses that we associate with an emotion that you would have nothing left of the emotion. He refers to the state of fear and how there would be no emotion left, if the feelings of "… quickened heart-beats nor of shallow breathing…" were taken away. It would simple be a state of being, as opposed to an emotional state. Presenting an emotion with out the bodily changes that are associated with it is, as James states, is "… inconceivable."
As well, James then states how difficult it is for human beings to re-enact the bodily functions that take place when an emotion...
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... same time, each representing a specific emotion. But it is much harder to imagine that the mind could transform a person's perception of an object in conflicting ways at the same time.
James' analysis of emotion is a much stronger argument than Sartre's. Its truth can be seen in many examples of past and present day. Although the common public definition of what entails an emotion will most certainly change, it is much more likely to fall in line with, or derive from similarities in James' definition, rather than Sartre's.
William James,'What Is an Emotion?', from Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy, 3rd Edition, by Bowie, Michaels, Solomon pp. 394-98.
Jean-Paul Sartre,'Emotions as Transformations of the World', from Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy, 3rd Edition, by Bowie, Michaels, Solomon pp. 399-401.
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