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The Emotions as Causes in Galen

Andrew Mayo

University of Michigan

The Emotions as Causes in Galen

This paper argues that the emotions, as causes mediating between mind and body, are central to Galen’s model of the human being, building in particular on Hankinson’s work (1998a; 1998b: ch. 11) on cause and explanation in Galen. Galen often frames mental states as following bodily ones; despite some appearances to the contrary, The Soul’s Dependence on the Body (QAM) does not require a reductive explanation of the mind purely in terms of bodily causes and physical dispositions (so Singer 2017). The soul is embodied, but should not be explained in exclusively bodily terms, a Galenic position owing something to the Stoics (cf. Gill 2007); Marechal (2019) describes this as Galen’s “constitutive materialism”, arguing that, though his ontology is reductive, immaterial things have real explanatory value for Galen. Galen maintains that the whole soul, including the appetitive and the spirited parts, depends on material dispositions (QAM IV 776-82K). At the same time, he is well aware of psychosomatic conditions: the mind can effect changes in the body.

First, I address anatomical issues. Though some scholars have complained that Galen’s account of liver and heart, as seats of emotion, causing internal action is undercut by the absence of motor nerves proceeding from them, Tieleman (2003: 155-60) has shown how Galen sees emotions in these organs as influencing the brain, and thereby effecting actions transitively, while in other cases acting independently of the nervous system; Galen deals with this problem in The Function of the Parts of the Body (UP) and the fragmentary Timaeus commentary. Some causes are effected by the emotions through the brain (for instance, at UP III 275.8-15 K), others not.  

That emotion is sui generis and not a defective kind of thought (as the Stoics held, cf. Nussbaum 1994: ch. 9-10; Tielemann 1996; Sorabji 1997; Brennan 1998; Gill 2010: ch. 4-5) is central to Galen’s model of the interaction of mind and body, and this in part motivates his polemic against the Stoics in The Doctrines of Hippocrates and Plato (PHP). The second part of the paper looks at the character of the emotions in Galen, and how they have an explanatory value independent of rational thought and bodily mixture.

The third part of the paper examines causal relationships between mind, emotions, and body, first as they are presented in QAM, which illustrates the body’s effects on emotions, and then the causal power of thought on emotions in the moral psychology of Galen’s ethical work, in particular The Passions and Errors of the Soul (Aff. Pecc. Dig.). Here, Galen’s conception of psychotherapy requires that the rational soul can effect long-term changes in the emotions, which seem also to be changes in the body’s physical disposition. I use clinical anecdotes in Galen to illustrate the operation of the emotions in psychosomatic conditions, some aspects of which King (2013) has observed.

Galen’s interest in establishing the causal power of the emotions is, I suggest, owed to its great practical significance for medicine and ethics.


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Emotions and the Body in Greco-Roman Medicine

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