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In Memory: Robert Solomon

Oxford University Press was deeply saddened this week by the news that Robert Solomon, author of more than forty books (many of them with Oxford), had passed away suddenly. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.

The preface to Solomon’s most recent book with OUP, True to Our Feelings: What Our Emotions Are Really Telling Us, explains why so much of Solomon’s work focused on emotions and gives some insight into what a fascinating man he was. We excerpt it below.

I have always been fascinated by emotions; watching and dealing with them in other people, coping with and often joy-riding with my own. To be perfectly honest, I’ve also been terrified of them. As a child, I had a vile (though rarely violent) temper. As a young man, I fell in love often, and hard. As I matured, I learned to actually love, though perhaps more slowly and awkwardly than I would like to admit. And all along, I found myself brooding on, speculating about, luxuriating in, and terrified by my own emotional dispositions, responses, and preferences. I was already (although I did not know it at the time) a philosopher.

When I actually came into philosophy (from biology and medical school, where I had developed an interest in psychoanalysis), I brought with me that very personal fascination with the nature of the emotions, now as a scientific questions, to be sure, but much more as a practical philosophical matter. What were my emotions, my passions, or-more vaguely-my “feelings”? Did they, as it sometimes seemed, just happen to me-”sweep me away”-or even possess me, “take over my personality”? Or were they, as they also seemed to be, what was most me, most mine, what best (or worst) defined me? Were my emotions good and good for me, or were they bad and bad for me (as my less emotional friends would continually caution me)? What did it mean-that sixties’ expression-to be “in touch with one’s feelings”? What was it to be an “authentic” person? (I had started reading and being captivated by Jean-Paul Sartre and the existentialists.) What was it, in other words, to be true to one’s feelings?

Over the next thirty years, I explored those questions by way of philosophy, psychology, anthropology, and biology. (I remained fascinated by animals and animal behavior as well as by the behavior of my fellow humans). I had long been indignant that emotions were so neglected in philosophy, the self-appointed discipline of “rationality.” But I started to argue (as Pascal and Nietzsche had years before me) that the emotions have their own rationality, their own reasons, their own intelligence. Back in the seventies, that was an argument that attracted little sympathy among my peers. Now, the philosophy of emotions, and the idea that reason and emotions are in cahoots rather than antagonists, is a major research area in psychology and the fast-advancing neurosciences. I have taken aboard these welcome scientific investigations, and I have accordingly changed my own views about what an emotion is over the years. (Although, my friends and critics will no doubt chime in, not that much.) But I hold onto the concern that got me interested in emotions in the first place: their intriguing and often troublesome role in our lives. That means that our emotions are first of all, for me at least, a personal concern, that is an ethical matter (in the old classical meaning, having to do with living the good life rather than a moral question of right and wrong). The questions, again, is how we can be true to our feelings. How can we get what I now call emotional integrity? How can we enjoy and thrive with rather than be plagued or haunted by our passions? That is what I have written about here.


To learn more about Robert Solomon see the The Leiter Reports and to watch Solomon in the movie, Waking Life click here.

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One Response to “In Memory: Robert Solomon”
  1. Susan Dunn says:

    Being a student of, and teacher of, emotional intelligence, I was very touched by this excerpt, and prompted to buy the book.

    How beautifully and thoughtfully he writes of the emotions.

    I would have to say that I am fascinated by them as well, and always grateful when I see someone learn to manage and understand their own emotions better, and reach the sort of comfortable integrity he mentions. They are, after all, what they are. It’s what we do with them that matters. And how it matters.

    They give us information and without self-awareness and understanding of emotion, we are inutterably lost … without rudder or anchor for the most important decisions in our life. I’ll have to get this book and read it.

    Thanks for sharing this,

    Susan

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