The Stoics on the Mental Mechanism of Emotions: Is There a “Pathetic Syllogism”?

Elenchos 39 (2):349-375 (2018)

The mechanism of emotions in Stoicism has been presented by Graver a decade ago as relying on a “pathetic syllogism” having as its premises a judgment about the goodness of a certain type of object and a judgment that it is proper to have a certain emotional response to that object. It is true that each emotion is an irrational impulse resulting not only from the opinion that something is good but also from the opinion that it is appropriate to have a certain type of emotional response to that object, as shown by Graver. However, the present paper intends to present an alternative to Graver’s view by reducing the mechanism of emotion to the mechanism of all impulses: each impulse is an assent given to the impression that it is befitting for me to accomplish certain actions, and what Cicero and Stobaeus describe is not the combination of two premises resulting in an emotion as a conclusion, but the idea that it is necessary to give one’s assent to the impulsive impression to produce an emotion. Likewise, in Seneca, it is in such a way that a preliminary form of impulse is transformed into an emotion. A universal judgment about an object being good or a reaction being appropriate is certainly involved in certain emotions, but not in all of them, since many emotions depend on a fresh impression that overwhelms the general rational judgments of someone due to one’s insufficient mental preparation and to the weakness of one’s mind. In those cases, an emotion may involve the impression that a behaviour or a feeling is appropriate without endorsing the idea that it is universally good or appropriate, since the mechanism of the emotion relies on the vividness of one particular impression even against one’s system of beliefs.
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DOI 10.1515/elen-2018-0020
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