Is today the Age of Emotion?

Saturday 17 October, 12.00 until 13.00, Cinema 3, Barbican Therapeutic Times

During the 1950s and 1960s, the New American Library published an aspirational series of books, edited by leading philosophers of the day, that divided the history of philosophy into six distinctive periods or ages: the Age of Belief of the medievals, the Age of Adventure during the Renaissance, the seventeenth century Age of Reason, the Age of Enlightenment, the Age of Ideology in the nineteenth century and finally the Age of Analysis with figures such as Wittgenstein and Sartre. Is it now time for a new philosophical age for the twenty-first century: the Age of Emotion? 

There has been a gradual growth in the discussion and investigation of emotion across contemporary society. Bestselling self-help books on exploring, healing and controlling your emotions – which certainly enjoy popular appeal – are increasingly supplemented by more academic works on the science and philosophy of emotions. While the study of emotion has a long history in intellectual thought reaching back to Plato, how should we explain the development of a distinctive ‘philosophy of emotion’ within academic philosophy?

Indeed, in everyday life - in school, in the courts or at work - saying how you feel now seems to take precedence over what you think. The concept of ‘emotional intelligence’ has increasing purchase beyond therapeutic circles, while in January the New York Times ran an article about the possibility of an ‘emotional economy’. More broadly, ‘being in touch with your feelings’ is increasingly elevated as the mark of a more cultivate and well-rounded human being.

Does it make sense to talk about ‘emotion’ in this sense, and what of the traditional picture of reason holding sway over the passions? Is it time to recapture a forgotten but fundamental aspect of humanity or is this the snake oil of the age?

Listen to the debate

Dr Julian Baggini
founding editor, the Philosophers' Magazine; author, Freedom Regained: the possibility of free will and The Edge of Reason: A Rational Skeptic in an Irrational World

Ruth Cigman
senior research fellow in philosophy of education, University College London Institute of Education

Anthony O'Hear
professor of philosophy, University of Buckingham; editor, Philosophy; director, Royal Institute of Philosophy

Stuart Walton
cultural historian, novelist and critic; author, A Natural History of Human Emotions and The Realm of the Senses: a materialist theory of seeing and feeling

Professor Dennis Hayes
professor of education, University of Derby

Produced by
Professor Dennis Hayes professor of education, University of Derby
Recommended readings
We know how you feel

Computers are learning to read emotions and the business world can’t wait

Raffi Khatchadourian, New Yorker, 19 January 2015

The Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence

In some jobs, being in touch with emotions is essential. In others, it seems to be a detriment. And like any skill, being able to read people can be used for good or evil.

Adam Grant, The Atlantic, 2 January 2014

The tyranny of emotional etiquette

The critique of Frank Furedi’s Therapy Culture in the current British Social Attitudes survey misunderstands the thrust of Furedi’s argument, and the extent to which emotional conformism has gripped modern Britain.

Jennie Bristow, spiked, 22 March 2009

You've Got an Attitude

The philosopher Richard Wollheim tackles the emotions

Paul Mattick, New York Times, 26 March 2000

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