Institute of Philosophy

Research Projects

The Art of Feeling: Cultivated Emotions in Early Chinese and Græco-Roman Thought

The good life requires good action and good emotions. The sharp dichotomy between reason and emotions, as well as the idea that emotions are irrational forces that interfere with our rational agency and should therefore be eliminated or constrained, have had a strong presence in the history of Western thought.

Several recent philosophers working on emotions have questioned that dichotomy and tried to offer a more positive assessment of the role of emotions in the human agency. We shall contribute to these developments by suggesting that one of the important roles of the human rationality – and perhaps the most important one – is the ability to feel appropriately, or what we shall call "the art of feeling". The art of feeling is not an art of regulating or constraining feelings where the art corresponds to reason, and feeling to the object or material of reason. Rather, it is feeling itself which has been developed so that it has its own wisdom, just as the virtuoso player does not blindly obey the instructions of his trainer but himself knows how to do things, sometimes in a manner that even a good trainer is not capable to explain.

However, rather than construing an independent philosophical theory of emotions, this project will develop this perspective on emotions by interpreting selected texts from Chinese and Greco-Roman antiquity in their cultural and historical context. All these ancient thinkers, such as Confucian Mengzi, Daoist Zhuangzi, Stoic Seneca or Platonist Plutarch, advance different versions of the art of feeling. We shall try to use the perspective of the art of feeling to offer new readings of the ancient texts, and, in turn, to draw the attention of contemporary philosophers working on emotions to these texts and show how could they be relevant to comtemporary debates.  



This project is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.