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Abstract

This article looks again at the significance of the shift from theories of passions and affections to a new scientific psychology of “emotions” in the nineteenth century. It recovers religious, moral, medical and political ideas about the pathology of the passions, and situates those ideas among the more differentiated affective typologies of earlier periods, with reference to both secular and theological writers including Seneca, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Francis Hutcheson, Jonathan Edwards, and Edmund Burke. The place of the emotions in the writings of nineteenth-century figures from Thomas Brown and Charles Darwin to Oscar Wilde and G. E. Moore is explored with particular reference to transformations in ethical thought, in which emotions could be thought of as providing either a moral compass or the very goal of life. The article concludes by emphasising the reflexive relationships between social history, psychological language and emotional experience, and by asking, with reference to Martha Nussbaum's work, whether there is any place today for the ancient ideals of philosophical detachment and dispassion.