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AnxietyA Philosophical History$
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Bettina Bergo

Print publication date: 2021

Print ISBN-13: 9780197539712

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780197539712.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 22 September 2021

The Universality of Emotions?

The Universality of Emotions?

Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872)

(p.175) Excursus 2 The Universality of Emotions?

Bettina Bergo

Oxford University Press

Having adopted Herbert Spencer’s evolutionary mechanism called survival of the fittest in Origin of Species (1859), Darwin turned his attentions to human societies and the remarkable turn entailed “natural selection applying to itself its own selective law.” In this fold in natural selection, human cultures evinced altruistic behaviors as well as egotistical rivalries. With Origin published six years after Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments, Darwin would argue in favor of affects like sympathy and compassion. Yet how did such affects come about and how could they be demonstrated empirically? While hesitating over the origin of instincts in selection and habituation, Darwin simultaneously worked on his “demonstration” of the universality of five basic affects (pleasure, fear, suffering or grief, rage, and disgust). Though the mechanism of transmission of moral sentiments might be in doubt, these basic affects could be read on faces, whether sketched, photographed or through epistolary descriptions. One year after the Descent of Man (1871), Darwin published his thirty-year long research as The expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). In that work, he would argue that human expressions provide us a window into the affective mind, essentially of all human cultures. This was the empirical research needed for supporting the claim for the universality of human emotions. The work inaugurated a debate still current today centered on the role of culture in bodily semiosis. Surprisingly, Darwin aligned anxiety with grief rather than fear and suffering.

Keywords:   Descent of Man, Expression of Emotions, altruistic instincts, culture versus biology, Monogenesis versus polygenesis, Lamarck, Spencer, moral emotions, iconic language, universality of emotions

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