The philosophers that are saying the same thing
David Hume and Richard S. Lazarus present the same argument in their discourses. Lazarus propounds a theory of emotions while Hume presents a detailed analysis of human understanding (1982). Literally, the former asks where emotions emanate from while the latter delves on the origin of understanding. Ideally, they are talking about the same thing: cognition. Although on face value, one may argue that emotion is not the same as idea, the inherent connotation in the passages is the same. This comparison will show that there are several similarities in the two treatises. Both Hume and Lazarus show that ideas and emotions are processed by the human mind to produce the effect that is externally visible to the observers.
Hume shows that ideas come from experience (Hume, 2010). According to him, unless people see, hear, or feel things, they cannot ‘create’ such experiences. For instance, after seeing something, one begins to think about it. This though could lead to yet another thought that further leads to specific action. Unless sight preceded thinking, such a thought-action could not have been possible. This is perhaps why researchers argue that observation is the first step of the scientific method. This view contends that both scientific and ‘non-scientific’ ideas emanate from senses of the body: sight, smell, hearing, tasting, and feel. Hume writes that ‘When we analyse our thoughts or ideas—however complex or elevated they are—we always find them to be made up of simple ideas that were copied from earlier feelings or sensations” (p. 8). This argument draws similar elements from Lazarus’ text. According to Lazarus (1991), emotions are products of environment and personal factors. If the relationship is ‘harmful’, the resultant emotions are negative; otherwise, they are positive (Lazarus, 1991. P. 819). This is precisely similar to what Hume argues that ideas emanate from what people see, hear, or observe: light and sound are components of environment.
After ideas or emotions are ‘identified’, they are passed into the brain for processing. The process of identifying ideas or emotions, according to Lazarus, is relational (1991). This stage, processing, is dubbed motivational. Again, there are similarities between Lazarus and Hume; evidence that they are saying the same thing. According to Hume, once ideas are identified, different people relate the ideas with others and come up with new plans, actions, and innovations (Hume, 2005). The rate at which the process of relating ideas to similar ones takes place is the determinant of differential success between people whose ideas came from the same stimulus. To show the earlier-mentioned linkage, Lazarus refers to this property as motivational. In other words, the innate ‘mental power’ of a person determines how quick such a person makes an idea or an emotion a reality.
The last property of Lazarus’ theory involves cognition. According to the author, cognition is a process of knowledge appraisal of what happens in the environment. It appears to be the highest aspect of his relational-motivational-cognitive theory. Lazarus also offers a detailed analysis of the relationship between emotions and cognition. Although some writers have ascribed cognition and emotions to different domains, Lazarus asserts that they are ‘usually fused in nature’ (Lazarus, 1982; p. 1019). Those who hold the former view operate from a definitional difference that cognition is the same as rationality. According to Lazarus, this is far from being true. Cognition is simply the process through which the effect of the external stimuli on environment is identified.
Philosophers that disagreed
Although Hume and Lazarus agreed on the source and nature of ideas and emotions, there are marked differences between Hume and Socrates. In his “Apology”, Plato presents the emotional state of Socrates who was condemned to death for challenging the rulers of the city of Athens. It was shown that Hume considered negative emotions to emanate from the unpleasant interaction between the environment and the senses of the body. However, in the case of Socrates, emotions were not triggered by the environment. It was some kind of ideological warfare between change and status quo. Socrates narrated the ‘bitter’ defense because he knew he would die anyway. Although he justified that he was not afraid of death, it was clear that the condemnation made him hate his prosecutors. The point of disagreement is that the origin of Socrates’ emotions cannot be classified as ‘ideas’ or ‘impressions’. The latter has to do with innate cognition. Although his philosophical arguments were based on logic, they did not ‘naturally’ emanate from within him, but they were triggered (Plato, 2007).
The text by Plato is simply a narrative while Hume’s text is highly analytical. Hume attempts to structure the thought process into spheres that have logical basis. His is a theory rather than a narrative. Moreover, despite the sub-genre aspect, the inherent themes are totally different. While Hume focuses on the source, Plato focuses on the effects or aftermath of emotions. In the view presented by Plato, the effect of emotions is ‘lamentation’; but Hume appreciates the existence of faculties that help persons to identify the inherent emotional conflict and place it in its rightful positions for action.
- Hume, D. (2010). Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.
- Lazarus, R. S. (1982). Thoughts on the Relations between Emotion and Cognition. American Psychological Association, 37 (9), 1019-1024.
- Lazarus, R. S. (1991). Progress on a Cognitive-Motivational-Relational Theory of Emotion. American Psychological Association, 46(8), 819-834
- Plato (2007). Apology of Socrates.