In the The Republic: Book X, Part 1, Plato states that reason and emotions are two separate parts of the tripartite soul. He believes that inner conflict within a person is proof that the reasoning part of the soul conflicts with the emotional part of the soul. Plato goes on to use this theory as proof that art, which appeals to one’s emotions, can be dangerous because it interferes with reason. That sort of art is unable to teach someone because it blocks out reason.
The cognitive theory of emotions proves Plato’s criticism of art false. The cognitive theory of emotions states that reason is a part of emotions. Without one, the other cannot work properly. Emotions organize and give shape to situations.
For example, assume a person is standing in the street and sees a car coming towards them at an accelerated velocity. The person’s reasoning will take in the speed of the car and its direction in relationship to the person standing in the street. The reasoning parts of the soul will then alert the emotions, which will cause fear in the person, which will cause them get out of the way. If the reasoning part of the soul had not done its job, the person would not realize they were in danger. Had the emotional part of the person not responded to the information given by the reasoning part of the soul, they would have been indifferent about the car and may have been badly hurt or killed. The emotional part of the soul must work with the reasoning part to function as a whole.
The cognitive theory of emotions also states that the reasoning part of the soul and the emotional part can work together to help the person gain knowledge. Emotions can be trained to see objects or situations one way another. They can be a key factor in social change. By appealing to one’s emotions, the artist allows the viewer to identify with a person or thing, educating them as to what the person or thing may be feeling or going through.
An example of educating the emotions is the movie Boys Don’t Cry. The main character is a young woman struggling with her sexual identity. She is raped because she dressed as a man and two of the men she spent time with want revenge. When reading about such a story in the newspaper, a person will not realize all that the young woman went through emotionally. By making the story into a movie, the artist is able to allow the audience to identify with the young woman. They are able to empathize with her situation and perhaps even feel some of her emotions. In this way, art is able to educate the public as to experiences others have with which they may not be able to identify.
Plato’s theory that emotions interfere with reason is false, as proven by the cognitive theory of emotions. An emotion, when coupled with reason, allows a person to more fully realize situations, objects, and people. Emotions are a key part of the soul, as is reason. When the two are used together, a person’s ability to be educated by art is immense.