Philosophy Emotion
Michael Brady
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 May 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0039


Emotions occupy a central place in our lives and are increasingly the object of philosophical attention. It is not easy, however, to keep a grip on the literature on this subject, in part because the emotions are the focus of study in a number of disciplines. As a result, it is rather difficult to present an overview of the literature on emotion in general. In order to keep things manageable, then, this entry focuses on the issues that are central to the main philosophical debates. Reference is made to other approaches—from psychology, evolutionary theory, and social science—insofar as these have informed, and have been informed by, philosophical thinking.

General Overviews

There are relatively few general overviews of the central issues in the philosophy of emotion. Most of these are online, and only a few are particularly wide-ranging. De Sousa 2007 is the most comprehensive, accessible, useful and up-to-date guide, covering the psychology and biology of emotion, along with historical and more contemporary philosophical approaches. It also features very helpful short descriptions of the work of more than thirty philosophers of emotion. Most of the other resources, such as Rorty 1980, Solomon 1998a, and Solomon 1998b, are much shorter but are of some use as brief guides to central figures and contemporary issues. Goldie 2007 presents a good summary of different approaches, although this online resource is available only via subscription. Oatley 2004 provides a general history of emotion encompassing scientific and philosophical thinking.

  • de Sousa, Ronald. “Emotion.” In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2007.

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    A very comprehensive introduction to philosophy of emotion by one of the major figures in the field and an essential read for those wanting a thorough and sophisticated take on historical and current debates. Excellent bibliography and summaries of major philosophers working in this field.

  • Goldie, Peter. “Emotion.” Philosophy Compass 2.6 (2007): 928–938.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2007.00105.xE-mail Citation »

    Clear and helpful overview of desiderata for theories of emotion and a critical discussion of how well the main different accounts fare in satisfying these.

  • Oatley, Keith. Emotions: A Brief History. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2004.

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    Short, philosophically sophisticated account of the evolutionary and cultural history of emotions from one of the leading psychologists working on emotion.

  • Rorty, Amélie. “Introduction.” In Explaining Emotions. Edited by Amélie Rorty, 1–8. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

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    Another brief but informative classification of different approaches to emotion in one of the best-known anthologies, centered on the suggestion that emotions do not form a natural kind.

  • Solomon, Robert C. “Emotions, Nature of.” In Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward Craig, 281–285. London: Routledge, 1998a.

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    A short encyclopedia entry on central philosophical issues, with another helpful annotated reference section.

  • Solomon, Robert C. “Emotions, Philosophy of.” In Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward Craig, 285–289. London: Routledge, 1998b.

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    A short précis of some central historical figures in the emotions. It is rather selective, but there is a useful annotated bibliography.

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