Affect and ancient philosophy

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Chapter 4 endnote 37, from How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context is:

Philosophers from the West and the East describe valence and arousal as basic features of human experience.

Since the time of ancient Greece, Western philosophers have described valence as a basic element of human experience, but they have mainly been concerned with ethics: whether or not a feeling is desirable or linked to virtue or vice.[1] Around the mid-1800s, the meaning of valence shifted to refer to hedonics (pleasure/displeasure) rather than ethics. In an approach sometimes called “mental chemistry,” philosophers tried to break down complex mental states into simpler “elements."[2][3] The definition of “valence” was imported from chemistry, which describes the charge of atoms as positive, negative, or neutral, and applied as an analogy to pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral feeling. Most modern philosophers who discuss consciousness, for example, describe valence and arousal as properties of consciousness.[4][5][6]

Buddhist philosophies arose in a very different cultural context and history from their Western peers. According to the traditional Abhidharma view (3rd century BCE), every mental state can be deconstructed into a primary factor of awareness (or cotta, which usually means apprehending an object or event with sensation), and various mental factors that describe the content of one’s experience of an object or event. The factor of feeling (vedana, tshorba) is described as omnipresent, and refers to the tone that accompanies the experience of an object or event as either pleasant or unpleasant (or neutral), peaceful or agitated, attentive or distracted; that is, valence and arousal.[7]


Notes on the Notes

  1. Solomon, R.C. & L. D. Stone. 2002. "On ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ emotions." Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 32: 417–35.
  2. Mill, James. (1829) 1869. Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind. Vol. 2. Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer.
  3. Mill, John Stuart. 1863. Utilitarianism.
  4. Searle’s theory of consciousness: see Searle, John. R. 1992. The Rediscovery of the Mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  5. More on Searle's theory of consciousness: see Searle, John R.  2004. Mind: a Brief Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  6. Humphrey’s theory of consciousness: see Humphrey, Nicholas. 2006. Seeing Red. Harvard University Press.
  7. Dreyfus, Georges, and Evan Thompson. 2007. “Asian Perspectives: Indian Theories of Mind.” In The Cambridge Handbook of Consciousness, edited by Philip David Zelazo, Morris Moscovitch, and Evan Thompson, 89–114. New York: Cambridge University Press.