Scholia Reviews ns 12 (2003) 29.
W. W. Fortenbaugh, Aristotle on Emotion. London: Duckworth, 2002 (second edition, first published in 1975). Pp. 142. ISBN 0-7156-3167-5. UKú12.99.
James H. Berry
Bethesda, Maryland, USA
When Fortenbaugh's Aristotle on Emotion appeared in 1975, scholars welcomed his marvelously succinct, workmanlike development of the links between Plato's Academy and the Peripatetic school on fundamental questions of human emotional response and cognitive behavior. In this second edition Fortenbaugh, who is Professor of Classics at Rutgers University, reprints the original four chapters on 'Aristotle's Analysis of Emotional Response' (pp. 9-22), 'A New Political-Ethical Psychology' (pp. 23-44), 'Consequences for Political Theory' (pp. 45-61), and 'Consequences for Ethical Theory' (pp. 63-92), and adds an epilogue (pp. 93-126) in which he reconsiders Aristotle's treatment of such emotions as anger, fear, and shame in the Rhetoric and the Eudemian and Nicomachaen Ethics.[] In the epilogue Fortenbaugh considers the effect of emotion on judgment, the involvement of pain and pleasure, whether Aristotle ever offered a general definition of emotional response (he thinks he did not), glances at how Theophrastus analyzed anger, and ends with a discussion of laughter.
Here is a roadmap to the role of cognition in emotional responses such as anger and fear, as developed first in Plato's Philebus and his Laws, and then recast by Aristotle in the De Anima, the Nicomachaen Ethics, Eudemian Ethics, the Politics, the Rhetoric, and the Poetics and by his Peripatetic School. At the end of this evolution the mind has an alogical half, which predominates in youth. Emotions dwelling in this half of the mind have a rational side, which can be appealed to in childhood to habituate the child to virtue, just as the logical side of the mind can be appealed to by rational persuasion in adulthood. (A man reaches physical maturity at age thirty-seven and rational maturity at age fifty.) In the Academy and the Lyceum the goal of life is virtue in action. These qualities show up under pressure, in the immediate response of the honorable and courageous man under challenge, who acts properly even before reflection, because of his proper training. Self-control is the ideal, not pleasure, and especially not the undisciplined expression of random, baser appetites.
There is one substantive area that I find disappointing. It is Aristotle's treatment of shame, and Fortenbaugh's discussion of it. Like Aristotle, he leads us to water but does not let us drink. Aristotle and his interpreters do know that shame can have a positive role. In the Nicomachaen Ethics 1128b30 Aristotle finds shame to be a good thing in the circumstance where a good man does something wrong and feels disgraced. His discussion of shameful acts and characteristics (Rhet. 1383b12- 1385a15) carries the same implication of usefulness. But he and Aristotle find no particular action connected to shame (p. 116), although children ought to have a sense of shame,
'for they live by emotion and are prevented from error by shame (1128b16-18; cf. 1179b11). In regard to military dangers shame is even spoken of as a virtue, for it helps restrain citizens from ignoble flight (1116a27-9). But despite these useful effects of feeling shame, it is true that shame is not logically tied to action of any particular kind, and that Aristotle is on solid ground when he defines shame simply as a pain or disturbance concerning bad things which appear likely to involve us in discredit (Rhet. 1383b12-14). Shame is not a practical emotion, so that neither a goal nor an action is mentioned in its essential definition.' (p. 82)
But shame is a practical emotion, and it does have an action tendency, a most powerful and unfortunate one. As Homer knows, a warrior who is shamed says, with Agamemnon, 'When that day comes, may the earth swallow me' (Il. 4.183). When Sophocles' Ajax kills himself on stage (line 865), we see the devastating impact on the chorus, endangered by his act, and on his wife, undone by it. The desire to disappear associated with shame has always been an action tendency, and a real danger, especially to young men, one that philosophy ought to arm them to face. Aristotle might have considered these action effects, and his readers might have benefited from a discussion of them. A man ought to be taught how to step through the shock of shame and move immediately to restorative actions. Aristotle ought to have known and said this at 1383b12-14, where he 'omits any reference to action' (Fortenbaugh p. 116, n. 1). Aristotle merely quotes the proverb, 'shame dwells in the eyes' at 1384a33, when he could have considered Sophocles' Ajax, and remarked instead that shame swells in the heart, and its pain destroys the soul.
His modern interpreters can do the cause of psychological analysis a great service by stating what is missing in Aristotle, which is the thought that by new acts of courage a young man may erase a prior shameful act. Jon Elster makes a beginning in his Alchemies of the Mind,[] which Fortenbaugh does not consider, when he says that the modern teenage youth, when shamed, also wants to disappear (p. 60). The modern youth is in a similar psychological state to an ancient man. Elster seems to understand better the power of shame, when he concludes that shame is 'not only a support of social norms, but the support' (p. 145). He also knows that when it is overplayed, shame as a shaping tool will backfire. Yet he merely notes in Ulysses Unbound that social norms ranging from the trivial to matters of life and death are 'sustained by the internalized emotion of shame' (p. 198).[] The English historian N. G. L. Hammond once remarked that without a sense of shame boys are lost, and we have certainly seen that in the shootings at Columbine High School and elsewhere.[] Yet none of these writers seems to grasp the great destructive power of shame when it is present and felt too keenly.
Fortenbaugh reports that Aristotle hesitates between treating shame as an emotion or a disposition, and then leans toward the former. He then writes (p. 81), 'For our purposes the important point is that a man may feel ashamed and yet do nothing at all. If he is ashamed of some past deed, it may be simply too late to undo things or even make amends.' The person suffers, or turns red, or in extreme cases commits suicide.
This is a counsel of despair, not a strategy for life. It would be better to say that a long and difficult path consisting of new acts of courage can eventually remove the stain of a single shattering shameful act.
[] He writes (p. 93) that with one minor exception he has left the main body of the text unchanged, 'aside from correcting typographical errors and occasionally improving the English style' and that the pagination through p. 92 (the end of the text of the first edition) 'remains faithful to the original publication.'
[] J. Elster, Alchemies of the Mind: Rationality and the Emotions (Cambridge 1999), has a section on 'Aristotle on the Emotions' (pp. 52-75), and one on 'Shame and the Social Norms' (pp. 145-64). In his discussion of action tendencies, Elster puzzles over the strong link of shame with the urge to hide or disappear, which is certainly an action tendency. While Fortenbaugh does not cite Elster, Elster cites Fortenbaugh three times (pp. 56, 58, and 60). Especially interesting is Elster's remark (p. 82) that '[Aristotle] does not say about any specific emotion that it has no action tendency, or desire, associated with it.' Elster then notes Fortenbaugh's claim in his Aristotle on Emotion (1975) that 'Aristotle is . . . clear the [indignation] need not be manifested in action,' but Elster notes that 'the passage from the Rhetoric that he cites to support this view does not speak to this issue.' Looking at the passage in contention, Rhet. 1387a22-23, Elster appears to be right. Aristotle is discussing the feelings that accompany envy and indignation, not their action tendencies or lack thereof.
[] J. Elster, Ulysses Unbound: Studies in Rationality, Precommitment, and Constraints (Cambridge 2000), describes the character of social norms (p. 198) and lists their sanctions, which range from 'avoidance behavior through social ostracism to outright persecution' and finally include 'the internalized emotion of shame.'
[] N. G. L. Hammond, A History of Greece to 322 BC (London 1967) 587: 'Xenophon wanted boys to learn justice and honour, because the shamelessness which results from the lack of these is at the root of all moral and political wrongs; and he intended at the same time to produce good citizens of a military society.'