On Sentimentality

August 5, 2009

Here is a very good account of sentimentality as a vice, from Edward Feser:

“In The Aesthetics of Music, Roger Scruton (building on some ideas of Michael Tanner) puts forward a brief but illuminating account of sentimentality. A sentimental person, according to Scruton, tends to be quick to respond emotionally to a stimulus, will appear to be pained but will enjoy his pangs, will respond with equal violence to a variety of stimuli in succession, will nevertheless avoid following his emotional responses up with appropriate actions, and will respond more readily to strangers and to abstract issues than to persons known to him or to concrete circumstances requiring time, energy, or personal sacrifice. In short, a sentimental person is one whose emotional life becomes an end in itself and loses its connection both to the external circumstances that would normally shape it and to the behavior that it ought to generate. Feelings of moral outrage, romantic passion, and other emotional states become valued for their own sake to such an extent that the actual moral facts, the well-being of the beloved, etc. fade into the background. Sentimentality thus involves having one’s emotions ‘on the cheap’ – enjoying them, as it were, without paying the costs they entail. For that reason, Scruton says, it is a vice.”

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4 Responses to “On Sentimentality”

  1. This reminds me of the opening of Book III of Augustine’s Confessions: “quaerebam quid amarem, amans amare…”

  2. Francesca said

    I recently bought Feser’s The Last Superstition but haven’t read it yet. It’s about atheism.

  3. Yep, being “in love with love” expresses it well.

    Francesca,

    I didn’t know about Feser’s book, but it looks interesting. In my reading queue, I have Gilson’s ‘Unity of Philosophical Experience’ and Bristow’s ‘Hegel and the Transformation of Philosophical Critique’ (a defense of Hegel over Kant). We’ll see how these works might modify my narrative of philosophy necessarily leading to Kant and collapsing with Nietzsche and Dewey.

  4. […] Scruton is the foremost public intellectual within the Burkean school of conservatism. I have previously linked his documentary on art for the BBC, as well as Edward Feser’s summary of Scruton’s definition of sentimentality. […]

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