The Six Best Books on the Philosophy of Emotion

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This page contains a list of the six best books on the philosophy of emotion. Finding good introductory philosophy books can be difficult for two reasons. First, searching google for recommendations usually doesn’t bring up anything useful. Second, phrases like “best books on emotion” are ambiguous. One person may be looking for a short, beginner friendly introduction, someone else may want a comprehensive academic overview, a third person may be looking for classic works on the philosophy of emotion. This list tries to account for this ambiguity by recommending different types of books on emotion. Here are the best books on the philosophy of emotion in no particular order:

The Emotions: A Philosophical Introduction – J. Deonna & F. Teroni

Category: Short Introduction | Length: 150 pages | Published: 2012

Publisher description: The emotions are at the centre of our lives and, for better or worse, imbue them with much of their significance. The philosophical problems stirred up by the existence of the emotions, over which many great philosophers of the past have laboured, revolve around attempts to understand what this significance amounts to. Are emotions feelings, thoughts, or experiences? If they are experiences, what are they experiences of? Are emotions rational? In what sense do emotions give meaning to what surrounds us?

The Emotions: A Philosophical Introduction introduces and explores these questions in a clear and accessible way. The authors discuss the following key topics:

  • the diversity and unity of the emotions
  • the relations between emotion, belief and desire
  • the nature of values
  • the relations between emotions and perceptions
  • emotions viewed as evaluative attitudes
  • the link between emotions and evaluative knowledge
  • the nature of moods, sentiments, and character traits.

Including chapter summaries and guides to further reading, The Emotions: A Philosophical Introduction is an ideal starting point for any philosopher or student studying the emotions. It will also be of interest to those in related disciplines such as psychology and the social sciences.

Emotions: An Essay in Aid of Moral Psychology – Robert C. Roberts

Category: Contemporary | Length: 368 pages | Published: 2003

Publisher description: Life is a sequence of emotional states. But what are emotions and why are they so important to us? In one of the most extensive investigations of the emotions ever published, Robert Roberts develops a novel conception of what emotions are and then applies it to a large range of types of emotion and related phenomena. Aimed principally at philosophers and psychologists, this book will certainly be accessible to readers in other disciplines such as religion and anthropology.

The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Emotion – Peter Goldie

Category: Comprehensive Textbook | Length: 736 pages | Published: 2012

Publisher description: This volume contains thirty-one state-of-the-art contributions from leading figures in the study of emotion today. The volume addresses all the central philosophical issues in current emotion research, including: the nature of emotion and of emotional life; the history of emotion from Plato to Sartre; emotion and practical reason; emotion and the self; emotion, value, and morality; and emotion, art and aesthetics.

Anyone interested in the philosophy of emotion, and its wide-ranging implications in other related fields such as morality and aesthetics, will want to consult this book. It will be a vital resource not only for scholars and graduate students but also for undergraduates who are finding their way into this fascinating topic.

What Is an Emotion?: Classic and Contemporary Readings – Robert C. Solomon

Category: Anthology | Length: 320 pages | Published: 2003 (2e)

Publisher description: What is an Emotion?, 2/e, draws together important selections from classical and contemporary theories and debates about emotion. Utilizing sources from a variety of subject areas including philosophy, psychology, and biology, editor Robert Solomon provides an illuminating look at the “affective” side of psychology and philosophy from the perspective of the world’s great thinkers. Part One of the book features five classic readings from Aristotle, the Stoics, Descartes, Spinoza, and Hume. Part Two offers classic and contemporary theories from the social sciences, presenting selections from such thinkers as Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud alongside recent work from Paul Ekman, Catherine Lutz, and others. Part Three presents some of the extensive work on emotion that developed in Europe over the past century. Part Four includes essays representing the discussion of emotions among British and American analytic philosophers. The volume is enhanced by a comprehensive introduction by the editor and a multidisciplinary bibliography.

What is an Emotion? is appropriate for any course in which the nature of emotion plays a major role, including philosophy of emotion, philosophy of mind, history of psychology, emotion and motivation, moral psychology, and history and psychology of consciousness courses. The second edition provides much more material on emotions in the sciences and more from recent philosophical theories, encompassing recent shifts in theorizing on three fronts: the wealth of new information on the central nervous system and the brain; new developments in cross-cultural research and anthropology; and the recent emphasis on “cognition” in emotion, both in philosophy and the social sciences. New selections include work by Antonio Damasio, Ronald De Sousa, Paul Ekman, Nico Frijda, Patricia Greenspan, Paul Griffiths, Richard Lazarus, Catherine Lutz, Martha Nussbaum, and Michael Stocker.

The Passions of the Soul – René Descartes

Category: Classic

Publisher description: Descartes is most often thought of as introducing a total separation of mind and body. But he also acknowledged the intimate union between them, and in his later writings he concentrated on understanding this aspect of human nature. The Passions of the Soul is his greatest contribution to this debate. It contains a profound discussion of the workings of the emotions and of their place in human life – a subject that increasingly engages the interest of philosophers and intellectual and cultural historians. It also sets out a view of ethics that has been seen as a radical reorientation of moral philosophy.

This volume also includes both sides of the correspondence with Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia, one of Descartes’s keenest disciples and shrewdest critics, which played a crucial role in the genesis of The Passions, as well as the first part of The Principles of Philosophy, which sets out the key positions of Descartes’s philosophical system.

A Treatise of Human Nature – David Hume

Category: Classic | Length: 626 pages

Publisher description: David Hume’s comprehensive attempt to base philosophy on a new, observationally grounded study of human nature is one of the most important texts in Western philosophy. It is also the focal point of current attempts to understand 18th-century philosophy The Treatise first explains how we form such concepts as cause and effect, external existence, and personal identity, and how we create compelling but unverifiable beliefs in the entities represented by these concepts. It then offers a novel account of the passions, explains freedom and necessity as they apply to human choices and actions, and concludes with a detailed explanation of how we distinguish between virtue and vice. The volume features Hume’s own abstract of the Treatise, a substantial introduction that explains the aims of the Treatise as a whole and of each of its ten parts, a comprehensive index, and suggestions for further reading.


This list was created by following a method that I’ve found to be useful when searching for introductory philosophy books. It involves:

  • browsing required reading lists on university course syllabi
  • searching for books using the Open Syllabus Project
  • browsing the bibliographies of articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • searching for recommendations on philosophy forums

The following sources were used to build this list:

University Course Syllabi:

Bibliographies:

Other Recommendations:

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