Understanding Our Emotions

In my last blog, I discussed the basic precept that our rational mind should always be in control over our emotions. One major key to elevating reason over the emotions, is to subject the emotions to understanding. By understanding emotions, we can learn to submit them to the mastery of reason.

According to the Hebraic Stoic work “On the Supremacy of Reason” (4Maccabees) “the two most comprehensive types of the emotions are pleasure and pain” (4Macc. 1:20)

Each of these two root emotions is part of a past-present-future, cause and effect process of three emotions each:

21 The emotions of both pleasure and pain have many consequences.
22 Thus desire precedes pleasure and delight follows it.
23 Fear precedes pain and sorrow comes after.
(4 Macc. 1:21-23)

This gives us three “pleasure” emotions: desire, pleasure and delight, and three “pain” emotions “fear, pain and sorrow.”  A seventh emotion is “anger” which is rooted in both pleasure and pain:

Anger, as a man will see if he reflects on this experience, is an emotion embracing pleasure and pain.
(4Macc. 1:24)

This is because we use anger to attempt to transform some kind of pain, into a form of pleasure. It “feels good” to blow off steam.

So the seven basic emotions are desire, pleasure and delight, fear, pain and sorrow and anger.

4Maccabees also tell us of these two root emotions of “pleasure” and “pain” that “each of these is by nature concerned with both body and soul.”  (4 Macc. 1:20)

Meaning that we have physical pleasure and mental pleasure and all of the processes of is three phases of each.  And we have physical pain and mental pain and all of the processes of is three phases of each. And we have anger rooted in physical pleasure and pain and anger rooted in mental pleasure and pain.  (So now we have a total of fourteen sub-types of emotions).

There is another unique aspect of the root emotion of pleasure that is malevolent:

25  In pleasure there exists even a malevolent tendency, which is the most complex of all the emotions.
26  In the soul it is boastfulness, covetousness, thirst for honor, rivalry, and malice;
27  in the body, indiscriminate eating, gluttony, and solitary gormandizing.
(4Macc 1:25-27)

And reason (Logos) rules over all of these as well:

15  It is evident that reason rules even the more violent emotions: lust for power, vainglory, boasting, arrogance, and malice.
16  For the temperate mind repels all these malicious emotions, just as it repels anger — for it is sovereign over even this.
(4Macc. 2:15-16)

So we now have Malevolent Physical Pleasure (boastfulness, covetousness, thirst for honor, rivalry, and malice) and Malevolent Mental Pleasure (indiscriminate eating, gluttony, and solitary gormandizing). And each of these can also exist in any of the three phases of pleasure.  (So now we have a total of at least 44 complex emotions).

Now it is important to know which emotions hinder which of the four virtues (I will write a future blog on these four virtues), and how, in turn, the Logos (Word/Reason) can help us overcome them.

Emotions that hinder self-control are gluttony and lust (4Macc. 1:3).  An emotion that hinders justice is malice (4Macc. 1:4) and emotions that hinder courage are anger, fear and pain (4Macc. 1:4).  (The hindrances of rational-thought are forgetfulness and ignorance (4Macc. 1:5; 2:24-3:1) which we do not think of today as “emotions” and which cannot be overcome by reason.)

Now the goal of 4Maccabees is not to teach us how to purge our emotion.  No one could, or should purge their emotions.  There is nothing wrong with pleasure.  For example the Scriptures speak very favorably of the experience of sexual pleasure between a husband and wife. The Torah exempts a new husband from military service for a full year so he may “bring joy to his wife” (Deut. 24:5). In the Song of Songs Solomon writes of his lover “How fair and how pleasant are you, o love, for delights!” to which his lover responds “I am my beloved’s and his desire is toward me.” (SoS 7:7, 11) elsewhere the Song of Songs, Solomon says “Eat, O friends, and drink; drink your fill, O lovers.” (SoS 5:1)  Pleasure however is be a blessing of life, but it should not be sought after merely for its own sake, at the expense of the four Labors of Wisdom.

It is not Elohim’s intent for us to purge our emotions, but rather to use reason (Logos) thru the Torah to control our emotions:

For reason does not rule its own emotions, but those that are opposed to justice, courage, and self-control; and it is not for the purpose of destroying them, but so that one may not give way to them.
(4Macc. 1:6)

2  No one of us can eradicate that kind of desire, but reason can provide a way for us not to be enslaved by desire.
3  No one of us can eradicate anger from the mind, but reason can help to deal with anger.
4  No one of us can eradicate malice, but reason can fight at our side so that we are not overcome by malice.
5  For reason does not uproot the emotions but is their antagonist.
(4Macc. 3:2-5)

By understanding our emotions, their root causes, and their processes, we can better learn to control them. The first step, for example, in controlling fear, is to understand it’s cause, that it is really the anticipation of pain. We must identify that pain, and and bring that pain under submission to reason.

In the end there are three things that motivate man:

  1. The desire to experience pleasure.
  2. The desire to avoid pain.
  3. Rational thinking.

If we can learn to bring the first two under submission to our rational mind, all of the other 44 complex emotions will follow.

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