Affect (philosophy)

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Affect (from Latin affectus or adfectus) is a concept, used in the philosophy of Baruch Spinoza and elaborated by Henri Bergson, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, that places emphasis on bodily or embodied experience. The word affect takes on a different meaning in psychology and other fields.

For Spinoza, as discussed in Parts Two and Three of his Ethics, affects are states of mind and body that are related to (but not exactly synonymous with) feelings and emotions, of which he says there are three primary kinds: pleasure or joy (laetitia),[1] pain or sorrow (tristitia)[1] and desire (cupiditas) or appetite.[2] Subsequent philosophical usage by Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari and their translator Brian Massumi, while derived explicitly from Spinoza, tends to distinguish more sharply than Spinoza does between affect and what are conventionally called emotions. Affects are difficult to grasp and conceptualize because, as Spinoza says, "an affect or passion of the mind [animi pathema] is a confused idea" which is only perceived by the increase or decrease it causes in the body's vital force.[3] The term "affect" is central to what has become known as the "affective turn" in the humanities and social sciences.

In Spinoza[edit]

In Baruch Spinoza's Ethics, Part III Definition 3, the term "affect" (affectus, traditionally translated as "emotion")[4] is the modification or variation produced in a body (including the mind) by an interaction with another body which increases or diminishes the body's power of activity (potentia agendi):

By affect I understand affections of the body by which the body's power of acting is increased or diminished, aided or restrained, and at the same time, the ideas of these affections.[5]

Affect is thus a special case of the more neutral term "affection" (affectio), which designates the form "taken on" by some thing,[6] the mode, state or quality of a body's relation to the world or nature (or infinite "substance"). In Part III, "Definitions of the Emotions/Affects", Spinoza defines 48 different forms of affect, including love and hatred, hope and fear, envy and compassion. They are nearly all manifestations of the three basic affects of:

  • desire (cupiditas) or appetite (appetitus), defined as "the very essence of man insofar as his essence is conceived as determined to any action from any given affection of itself";[7]
  • pleasure (laetitia), defined as "man's transition from a state of less perfection to a state of greater perfection";[7] and
  • pain or sorrow (tristitia), defined as "man's transition from a state of greater perfection to a state of less perfection".[7]

In Spinoza's view, since God's power of activity is infinite, any affection which increases the organism's power of activity leads to greater perfection. Affects are transitional states or modes in that they are vital forces by which the organism strives to act against other forces which act on it and continually resist it or hold it in check.[8]

In Bergson[edit]

Henri Bergson contends in Matter and Memory (1896) that we do not know our body only "from without" by perceptions, but also "from within" by affections (French: affections).[9]

In Deleuze and Guattari[edit]

The terms "affect" and "affection" came to prominence in Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus, the second volume of Capitalism and Schizophrenia. In his notes on the terminology employed, the translator Brian Massumi gives the following definitions of the terms as used in the volume:

AFFECT/AFFECTION. Neither word denotes a personal feeling (sentiment in Deleuze and Guattari). L'affect (Spinoza's affectus) is an ability to affect and be affected. It is a prepersonal intensity corresponding to the passage from one experiential state of the body to another and implying an augmentation or diminution in that body's capacity to act. L'affection (Spinoza's affectio) is each such state considered as an encounter between the affected body and a second, affecting, body (with body taken in its broadest possible sense to include "mental" or ideal bodies).[10]

Affects, according to Deleuze, are not simple affections, as they are independent from their subject. Artists create affects and percepts, "blocks of space-time", whereas science works with functions, according to Deleuze, and philosophy creates concepts.

Affective turn[edit]

Since 1995,[11][12] a number of authors in the social sciences and humanities have begun to explore affect theory as a way of understanding spheres of experience (including bodily experience) which fall outside of the dominant paradigm of representation (based on rhetoric and semiotics); this movement has been called the affective turn.[13] Consequently, these approaches are interested in the widest possible variety of interactions and encounters, interactions and encounters that are not necessarily limited to human sensibility.[14] The translator of Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus, Canadian political philosopher Brian Massumi, has given influential definitions of affect (see above) and has written on the neglected importance of movement and sensation in cultural formations and our interaction with real and virtual worlds.[15] Likewise, geographer Nigel Thrift has explored the role of affect in what he terms "non-representational theory".[16] In 2010, The Affect Theory Reader was published by Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth and has provided the first compendium of affect theory writings.[17] Researchers such as Mog Stapleton, Daniel D. Hutto and Peter Carruthers[18][19][20] have pointed to the need to investigate and to develop the notions of affect and emotion. They hold that these are important in the developing paradigm of embodiment in cognitive science, in consciousness studies and the philosophy of mind. This step will be necessary for cognitive science, Mog Stapleton maintains, to be "properly embodied" cognitive science.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Part III, Proposition 56. Spinoza, Benedictus de (2001) [1677]. Ethics. Trans. by W.H. White and A.H. Stirling. London: Wordsworth Editions. p. 141. ISBN 978-1-84022-119-0. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
  2. ^ "In truth I cannot recognize any difference between human appetite and desire". Spinoza, Benedictus de (2001) [1677]. Ethics [heading= Affect. Trans. by W.H. White and A.H. Stirling. London: Wordsworth Editions. p. 146. ISBN 978-1-84022-119-0. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
  3. ^ Existendi vis or power of existence. Spinoza, Benedictus de (2001) [1677]. Ethics. Trans. by W.H. White and A.H. Stirling. London: Wordsworth Editions. p. 158. ISBN 978-1-84022-119-0. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
  4. ^ Of the two "standard" English translations, the version by Samuel Shirley uses "emotion" for affectus, whereas the more recent rendering by Edwin Curley uses "affect". Spinoza, Benedictus de (2002) [1677]. Complete Works. Trans. by Samuel Shirley. Indianopolis and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing. p. 278. ISBN 978-0-87220-620-5. Retrieved 27 November 2011. Spinoza, Benedictus de (1994). A Spinoza Reader: The Ethics and Other Works. Trans. by Edwin M. Curley. Princeton and Chichester: Princeton University Press. p. 154. ISBN 978-0-691-00067-1. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
  5. ^ Spinoza, Benedictus de (1994). A Spinoza Reader: The Ethics and Other Works. Trans. by Edwin M. Curley. Princeton and Chichester: Princeton University Press. p. 154. ISBN 978-0-691-00067-1. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
  6. ^ Samuel Shirley, "Translator's Preface". Spinoza, Benedictus de (1992). The Ethics; Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect; Selected Letters. Trans. by Samuel Shirley. Hackett Publishing. p. 24. ISBN 978-0-87220-130-9. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
  7. ^ a b c Spinoza, Benedictus de (1994). A Spinoza Reader: The Ethics and Other Works. Trans. by Edwin M. Curley. Princeton and Chichester: Princeton University Press. p. 311. ISBN 978-0-691-00067-1. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
  8. ^ Kisner, Matthew J. (2011). Spinoza on Human Freedom: Reason, Autonomy and the Good Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-521-19888-2. Retrieved 28 November 2011.
  9. ^ Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory (1896), ch. 1.
  10. ^ Deleuze, Gilles; Guattari, Félix (1987) [1980]. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Vol. 2. Trans. and foreword by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press. p. xvi. ISBN 978-0-8166-1401-1. OCLC 16472336.
  11. ^ Massumi, Brian (1995). "The Autonomy of Affect". Cultural Critique. Autumn (31): 83–109.
  12. ^ Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky; Frank, Adam (1995). "Shame in the Cybernetic Fold: Reading Silvan Tomkins". Critical Inquiry. 21 (2): 496–522. doi:10.1086/448761.
  13. ^ Patricia Ticineto Clough, Jean Halley (eds.), The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social, Duke University Press, 2007, p. 1; Paul Hoggett, Simon Thompson (eds.), Politics and the Emotions: The Affective Turn in Contemporary Political Studies, Bloomsbury, 2012, p. 1.
  14. ^ Seyfert, Robert (2012). "Beyond Personal Feelings and Collective Emotions: A Theory of Social Affect". Theory, Culture & Society. 29/6: 35. doi:10.1177/0263276412438591.
  15. ^ Massumi, Brian (2002). Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham and London: Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-2897-1. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
  16. ^ Thrift, Nigel J. (2007). Non-representational Theory: Space, Politics, Affect. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-39320-1. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
  17. ^ Gregg, M.; Seigworth, G. (2010). The Affect Theory Reader. North Carolina: Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0822347767. Retrieved 30 April 2013.
  18. ^ Stapleton, M (2012). "Steps to a "Properly Embodied". Cognitive Science, Cognitive Systems Research. 22–23: 1–11. doi:10.1016/j.cogsys.2012.05.001.
  19. ^ Hutto, D. Intersubjective Engagements without Theory of Mind: A Cross-Species Comparison[1]
  20. ^ Carruthers, P. (2000). Phenomenal Consciousness: A Naturalistic Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.