Views of emotions influenced by Greek philosophy!

Posted: July 1, 2013 in General
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Some really interesting insights into Greek ideas of emotion and how they tried to deal with them and what they thought of them. Next post on this topic should be from the Jewish thoughts on emotion! Below are some sections that I most saw some of my own views on emotions (not all) – so interesting how even this area can be influenced by Greek thought!

Their views on trying to deal with emotions resulted in them adopting views that are totally opposite to those of Christianity! They wanted to deal with emotions in a right way, but without starting with scripture and the God therein, what is the right way? The results were foolish –  wanting to become self sufficient and their own healers! Essentially set themselves up as God, just like our first parents tried to do in the Garden of Eden! The pitfalls of autonomy and self – even in something like emotion! Hopefully by the end of this book there should be some reformation in my thinking!


The correction of false beliefs, for Epicureans, will lead to the curtailing of strong desires that create mental turmoil (ataraxia). Harmful emotions are quieted by being self-sufficient (self sufficiency means that the value of all that is outside of oneself is diminished.) Here we see the first step toward the extirpation of emotion for which the Stoics argued. Whereas Aristotle argues for the goodness and cultivation of emotions in many situations, Epicureanism takes steps away from this view by insisting that self-sufficiency and detachment from the world is a means to control desire and harmful emotions.

Matthew A. Elliott. Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament (Kindle Locations 678-681). Kindle Edition.

While denying the validity of pagan religion and immortality, Epicureanism clung to a godlike self sufficiency and `detachment’. In contrast to the Christian and Greek concepts, the Epicurean gods are aloof with no care for human affairs. Therefore, they do not need anything from this world and their emotions are completely unaffected by what happens on earth. They are free.

Epicurus writes: For if we pay attention to these, we shall rightly trace the causes whence arose our mental disturbance and fear, and, by learning the true causes of celestial phenomena and all the other occurrences that come to pass from time to time, we shall free ourselves from all which produces the utmost fear in other men. Most forms of anger are also avoided in self-sufficiency. Nussbaum relates, `In this way, anger is seen to rest upon a condition of exposure and weakness, in which the person, having invested a great part of herself in the vulnerable things of this world, is correspondingly subject to reversals of fortune.’ Avoiding this attachment greatly increases the individual’s happiness. In summary, to Epicureans most negative and positive emotions have their roots in dependence and vulnerability. Because of this, anger and love are not as far apart as we would like to believe. With the cultivation of safety in love and friendship come the dangers of anger, betrayal, and violence. The greater the former virtues the greater danger there is of the latter vices. Being self-sufficient is best. Furthermore, as attachments grow so do anxiety and fear in the soul. The object of those attachments may be harmed or destroyed. Yet, it is important not to over-argue this point. There is room in Epicureanism for concern for one’s own safety and some kind of love and friendship. Therefore, the opposite dangers will also be present to some degree. In Epicureanism the control of the emotions is paramount, not their extirpation. The Epicurean will be able to control harmful emotions, while enjoying a level of love and friendships”

Matthew A. Elliott. Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament (Kindle Locations 688-699). Kindle Edition.


The Stoics went beyond the Epicureans in their analysis of the emotions. To the Stoic, reason holds the preeminent place in the human soul. People are to be evaluated in light of their reason, not their position, wealth or status. Reason shows the way towards a better society and, on a personal level, towards being a better individual. Answering questions that do not result in ethical improvements is not important to the Stoic. Good reasoning will result in good actions. When reason shines its light into the soul, goodness can be attained. You can be your own healer.

Matthew A. Elliott. Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament (Kindle Locations 699-702). Kindle Edition.

Section from the conclusion:

It is clear that both non-cognitive and cognitive beliefs were present in the ancient world. The parallels between these and the modern cognitive and non-cognitive theories, as discussed in the first Chapter, are many. There may not be the well-defined comprehensive theories that are present in the modern era, but we find the basic tenets of cognitive and non-cognitive theory very clearly in the first century. Alongside this, the two views also have similarities to their modern counterparts in their ethical and practical outlooks. The non-cognitive view stresses the unreliable nature of emotion and the need for it to be controlled by reason, while the cognitive view underscores the need to change harmful emotions by correcting false beliefs. However, we have seen that many of the philosophers presented seemingly uncomplimentary views in different sections of their writings. Plato in a few sections leans towards a cognitive view while Aristotle in some passages seems to present a non-cognitive view. Similarly, the Stoics draw conclusions that are inconsistent with their own theory of emotion.

Matthew A. Elliott. Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament (Kindle Locations 754-760). Kindle Edition.


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