From beginner-friendly introductions to classic books on the philosophy of the emotions, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s important to note that there is no single best book on the philosophy of emotions. The best book for you will depend heavily on your preferred learning style and the amount of time/energy you’re willing to spend reading. For example, if you tend to find classic works of philosophy difficult to understand, you might want to start with a short, beginner-friendly introduction. If you prefer more depth, you can choose a more comprehensive introduction or pick up one of the classics.
It’s also worth noting that it is not a list of personal recommendations. Personal book recommendations tend to be highly subjective, idiosyncratic, and unreliable. This list is part of a collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists which aim to provide a central resource for philosophy book recommendations. These lists were created by searching through hundreds of university course syllabi, internet encyclopedia bibliographies, and community recommendations. Links to the syllabi and other sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a broader range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best books on the philosophy of emotions in no particular order.
The Emotions: A Philosophical Introduction – J. Deonna & F. Teroni
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?
Emotions: An Essay in Aid of Moral Psychology – Robert C. Roberts
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
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
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. …
The Passions of the Soul – René Descartes
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. …
A Treatise of Human Nature – David Hume
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.
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Issues in Philosophy of the Emotions – University of Western Ontario
- Philosophy of Emotions – Fordham University
- The Philosophy of Emotion – Rhode Island College
- The Philosophy of Emotion – University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Emotion
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Theories of Emotion
You might also be interested in the following reading lists:
- The Best Introductory Philosophy Books
- The Best Books on Moral Psychology
- The Best Philosophy Books on Happiness
Or browse this collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists to find more philosophy book recommendations.
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