Hume’s Science of Emotions: Feeling Theory without Tears


We must rethink the status of Hume’s science of emotions. Contemporary philosophers typically dismiss Hume’s account on the grounds that he mistakenly identifies emotions with feelings. But the traditional objections to Hume’s feeling theory are not as strong as commonly thought. Hume makes several important contributions, moreover, to our understanding of the operations of the emotions. His claims about the causal antecedents of the indirect passions receive support from studies in appraisal theory, for example, and his suggestions concerning the social dimensions of self-conscious emotions can help guide future research in this field. His dual-component hypothesis concerning the processing of emotions, furthermore, suggests a compromise solution to a recalcitrant debate in cognitive science. Finally, Hume’s proposals concerning the motivational influences of pride, and the conventional nature of emotional display rules, are vindicated by recent work in social psychology.