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Upheavals of Thought

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Upheavals of Thought

The Intelligence of Emotions

Cambridge UP,

15 min read
10 take-aways
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What's inside?

Are your emotions informative, transformative wells of compassion or simply reflexes a reasonable person should ignore?

Editorial Rating



  • Comprehensive
  • Innovative


This book presumes that you have a deep, broad acquaintance with philosophy, literature, music and psychology, setting the bar high enough to deter all but committed and highly educated readers. Those undaunted by this barrier will find themselves amid an awesome tour de force of philosophical inquiry. Author Martha Nussbaum uses the ancient foundations of stoicism as a platform for a theory about emotions that, curiously enough, elevates and honors emotions - the same unruly forces that the Stoics eradicated. Yet, unfortunately, Nussbaum wrote her 700-plus pages so dryly that she makes even the story of a lonely man rescuing a little stray dog as bloodless and dusty as a mummy. Recounting her mother’s death, she betrays the flicker of a tear, but quickly dries it with the towel of analysis. It seems strange that a study of the emotions should be so barren of emotional content. However, assures persevering readers who keep digging through the dry sands of this book that they will discover some marvelous intellectual architecture buried deep beneath.


The Emotions in BriefFrench novelist Marcel Proust described emotions as "geologic upheavals of thought." But the philosophers who trace their line of descent from Plato disagree, seeing emotions as apart from and opposed to thought. If they are right, you may understand emotions as reflexes, chemical reactions, conditioned responses or something similarly unworthy of being taken very seriously by people who aim to govern their lives by reason. However, if Proust is right, then emotions are complex cognitive phenomena with an intriguing structure and they are essential to your self-knowledge and development. If so, emotions are cognitive, and have implications for ethics, law, aesthetics and more. That is the argument: if the philosophers are correct, liberation from emotion makes a great deal of sense. If the novelist is correct, then liberation from emotion makes as little sense as liberation from eyesight, hearing or thought itself. Emotions are cognitive, positive and valuable. A social order should acknowledge emotions and appeal to and encourage them. The emotion of compassion is particularly important for social justice.Emotional JudgmentsBeginning in ancient Greece, the ...

About the Author

Martha C. Nussbaum is Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, appointed in the Philosophy Department, the Law School, the Divinity School, and the College. She is an Associate in the Classics Department, an Affiliate of the Committee for Southern Asian Studies and a member of the Board of the Committee on Gender Studies.

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