polarity and PAM

As one would expect, LI’s researches into the origin of the positive/negative classification of affect [I’m calling this the polarity of affects model – PAM] is forcing us to modify our original hypothesis. Our original hypothesis was modeled, to an extent, on Philip Mirowski’s history of the constituting metaphors of economics. Economists, around 1870, began to adapt a physicalist language to defend a rigorously mathematical equilibrium model of economics. Now, it struck us that the experimental school of psychology was doing the same thing. This would make psychology fit very well as a module within the capitalist field – or its cognate, after 1917, in communism. Accordingly, LI held that PAM diffused outward from the scientific high culture into industry, education, and the sphere of personal relations.

However, further research has made us see that this story, as it stands, can’t be right. While it does focus on the problem correctly – how is it that PAM became, in the twentieth century, the dominant classification system for emotions? – the answer is a bit more complex than some resort, by psychologists, to that familiar form of scientism, the borrowing a vocabulary from physics.

As we see it now, there are three sources of PAM. One, indeed, is that scientism that we have been pursuing, following in Mirowski’s footsteps.

The second is the hedonic calculus. We noted that Kant was already considering whether pleasure and pain could be represented quantitatively in his pre-critical writing. Bentham, who ‘invents’ the hedonic calculus, is drawing on work by other Enlightenment figures. But the calculus is always meant to be a heuristic. It is not meant to represent pleasure and pain in any dynamic sense. Thus, from the point of view of the hedonic calculus, pleasure and pain must appear as units. If they are not units, if they are not, for some reason, separable, then the whole basis of the calculus is overturned. This isn’t really that much of a worry to the first utilitarians, however, since the calculus is a measure suggesting action, rather than an introspective probe.

The third, and perhaps more surprising antecedent of PAM is the re-discovery, in romantic science, of alchemy. Specifically, the re-discovery of force and polarity. Schelling was so impressed by Coloumb’s experiments on magnets in the 1780s – experiments that, for the first time, showed how to measure magnetic force – that he magnified polarity into one of his cosmic principles in his natural philosophy works, such as the Soul of the World. Schelling’s followers, like Oken, tried to find allegorical schemas throughout the natural world. One of his followers, Carus, used polarity to discuss Seelenlehre. And here we begin to see a new tone added to the idea of negative and positive feelings.

I’ll have more to say about this in another post.