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The Science of Sentiment

Oxford UP,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

The heart has its reasons, but are those reasons reasonable?

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Editorial Rating



  • Comprehensive
  • Engaging


This layman’s guide to the emotions is a delightful walking tour through the gardens of philosophy, psychology and neuroscience, not to mention popular culture. Author Dylan Evans proposes the thesis that emotions are an evolutionary necessity that plays an important role in ensuring human survival. He demonstrates his thesis with anecdotes and illustrations. Though it delivers some intellectually rigorous material, this is not an intellectually rigorous book. It is more of a long, agreeable, rambling monologue. highly recommends it to those who would read it primarily for pleasure, and secondarily suggests it as a useful overview of the evolutionary role of emotions. Its ample bibliography can guide those who are interested in exploring the subject in greater depth.


A Brief History of Emotion

The concept that emotions oppose reason is relatively new. The great Enlightenment philosophers David Hume, Adam Smith and Thomas Reid saw emotions as an integral part of human life and society. It was not until the Romantic Movement that a gulf appeared to separate reason and emotion. Rousseau claimed that reason corrupted mankind, and that the only way to recover the innocence of the "state of nature" was to act according to the prompting of emotion while eschewing the temptations of reason. Science, which has always been more inclined to act according to the dictates of logic, ignored Rousseau’s exhortation and, until quite recently, all but ignored emotions.

That, however, is changing. Scientific investigations during the 1990s shed new light on the emotions and revealed them to be an important part of the human mind. Anthropology, cognitive psychology and neuroscience all contributed importantly to this understanding. For example, until recently many scientists thought that emotions were a product of culture, and that people from one culture would no more recognize emotional expressions from another culture than they would recognize ...

About the Author

Dylan Evans is a philosophy research fellow at King’s College, London. He is also the author of Introducing Evolutionary Psychology and Rethinking Emotion.

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