Retrieving Political Emotion

Thumos, Aristotle, and Gender

By (author) Barbara Koziak

Hardback - £41.95

Publication date:

01 March 2000

Length of book:

216 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271019215

Retrieving Political Emotion engages the reader in an excursion through our ancient Greek heritage to recover a concept of emotion useful for enriching political philosophy today. Focusing on thumos (typically translated as "spiritedness," "heart," or "anger"), Barbara Koziak reveals misinterpretations of the concept that have hampered recognition of its possibilities for normative theory. Then, drawing especially on Aristotle's construal of it as a general capacity for emotion and relating this to contemporary multidisciplinary work on emotion, she reformulates thumos to provide a more adequate theory of political emotion, as an antidote to the modern fixation on rational self-interest as the key to explaining political behavior.

The book proceeds by recounting the way thumos is used in Homer's Iliad and Plato's Republic and then showing how, while borrowing from both, Aristotle went substantially beyond them. From the Nicomachean Ethics and Politics we can see the activity of thumos—how a person with good thumos acts and through which institutions. Through the Poetics we observe the characteristic disposition of thumos—what patterns and objects typify a person's emotional capacity in the best regime.

Her reconstructed Aristotelian theory of political emotion allows Koziak in the concluding chapter to show how it can help us better understand political behavior today, as manifested in recent congressional debates on welfare reform, and through constructive engagement with feminist thinking on the "ethics of care" lead political theory to pay more attention to the importance of passions in political life.

“Barbara Koziak’s Retrieving Political Emotion: "Thumos," Aristotle and Gender is an ambitious attempt to recover a richer understanding of political life by tracing the historical development of the concept of thumos, normally understood as anger or ‘spiritedness’ but also as the capacity for emotion itself, from ancient times to the present. In doing so Koziak challenges the liberal enlightenment view that celebrates the triumph of reason over the passions, and expands on recent studies in ‘care feminism’ that argue for a reevaluation of emotional life and therewith the traditional view of women.”

—Lisa Pace Vetter, Review of Politics