What the TOK Syllabus has to say about … Emotion



Key Quotations:

·         ‘[Emotion] has the advantage of being open to all, the weak and the lowly, the illiterate and the scholar. It is seen to be as efficacious as any other method and is sometimes said to be stronger than the others, since it is its own fruition, while other methods are means to some other ends.’ Bhagavad Gita

·         ‘I do not in the least wish to suggest that it is undesirable for us to be set on thinking by emotional considerations. On the contrary, nothing else will suffice to make us think to some purpose.’ Susan Stebbing

·         ‘Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions.’ David Hume


Overall Summary:

Emotions play a powerful role in shaping thoughts, influencing behaviour, and steering the pursuit of knowledge. While emotions may be a key to self-understanding and to understanding the world, the extent to which they contribute to should be explored and knowers need to consider the nature, value, and limits of emotion as a way of knowing.



Questions about … the Nature of emotion

·         Can we ever know anything purely through emotions? How do emotions interact with reason, sense perception and language?

·         To what degree is emotion biological or “hard-wired”, and hence universal to all human beings? To what extent is it shaped by culture and hence displayed differently in different societies?

·         What sorts of things count as emotions? Are emotions and feelings the same thing?

·         Can feelings have a rational basis? Is “emotional intelligence” an oxymoron? Robert Solomon says that emotions are “systems of judgments”, and that “virtually all of our experience is to some degree ‘affective’, and even our most dispassionate judgments…can be adequately understood only within some larger emotional context”. Is he correct in claiming that virtually all sense perception, and reasoning, must involve emotion?

·         Is it possible to experience an emotion, a feeling, an attitude or sensibility that cannot be expressed in language? Can an emotion, such as love or grief, have its origins in, or be shaped by, language?

·         Can emotions be trained? To what extent can we control our emotions, not in terms of how we act on them, but what we actually feel? Do cultures select emotions to foster and use?

·         Are concepts such as solidarity, patriotism and racism examples of collective emotions?

·         Is faith an emotion, a feeling, or neither?


Questions about … Emotion and knowledge

·         Does emotion reside in the realm of private knowledge in the sense that it cannot be verified by others? Can people be mistaken about their own emotions? Can others lead them to recognize previously unknown emotions?

·         Is there any kind of knowledge that can be attained solely through emotion? Is the answer to the question dependent on factors such as gender, age, culture, and/or socio-economic group?

·          Is emotion an essential ingredient of the pursuit or validation of scientific or artistic knowledge? Can there be creativity without emotion?

·         Why has emotion sometimes been seen as a less valuable way of knowing than, say, reason? Or does the value of emotion as a way of knowing depend on the kind of knowledge that is being pursued?

·         Is it true that emotions are an essential driver of any purposeful activity?


Links to the Areas of Knowledge

·         What part does emotion play in the acquisition of knowledge? Does the role of emotion vary across the different areas of knowledge?

·         Should emotion play a role in the evaluation of knowledge claims? Are there circumstances under which, in order to evaluate a knowledge claim, one should ignore or, alternatively, pay special attention to one’s emotions?

·         Is an action morally justifiable if it feels right? What part do, or should, emotions play in the formation of moral judgments or political judgments?

·         Can emotions be classified as good or bad? Can there be correct, or appropriate, emotional responses? Is it correct to be horrified by accounts of torture?

·         Is faith purely emotional or is it possible to provide a rational justification for religious belief? Is emotion a source of spiritual knowledge?

·         Do people act their way into feeling or feel their way into action? What is the relationship between emotion and experience (for example, in CAS activities)?

·         How did your feelings or emotions affect (positively or negatively) your ability to perform, to make decisions or to reason in regard to particular CAS activities? How did you deal with such situations?