The presentation of the theory of knowledge presents a peculiar difficulty. This difficulty is linguistic. Human language was a not made for speaking about knowledge; linguistic formality is not cognitive formality; there are infra-linguistic and supra-linguistic cognitive levels."
- Leonardo Polo, Curso de teoría del conocimiento, tomo I

Monday, June 15, 2015

Translating "sentimientos"

Polo's anthropology includes a discussion of "sentimentos humans". How should this be translated? In English, there are various works like "sentiments", "feelings", "emotions", and "affections".

An added complication is to identify how to translate this when speaking of "sentimientos" related to different aspects of the human being: her nature, her essence, the person.
Some possibilities that have been proposed are,

Proposal A:
Feelings of the human nature (feelings belong to the senses)
Emotions of the human essence (emotions belongs to anima)
Affections of the human person (affections belong to spirit)

Proposal B:
Passions of human nature
Emotions of human essence
Sentiments of the person
With "feelings" and "affections" being general.

What are your thoughts?


  1. It seems to me that one way of looking at this is to see how these terms have normally been used in translations of Thomas Aquinas. In this case, the word “passions” is used to indicate the acts or the passions of the sensitive appetites. The word “affections” are used with regard to inclinations of the will.

    In the article “Sentimientos humanos”, Polo seems to imply that “sentimientos” includes within it various types. For example, he makes mention of the Greeks’ usage of the word “passiones” as a type of “sentimiento” that are most related to the “sentimientos más sensitivos” (those that have to do with eating or with sexual pleasures).

    Later, Polo speaks of “afectos” which are “movimientos más espirituales que los sentimientos, los cuales son más bien psicosomáticos”. Thus, he seems to link “sentimientos” with psycho-somatic tendencies (body-soul). This also implies that “afectos”, which are spiritual (as in, related with intellect and will), are not “sentimientos”. Moreover, “afectos” are awoken by the truth and admiration.
    “Afectos”, however, are sometimes accompanied by “sentimientos”.

    The only place in this article that Polo uses the word “emotion” is when he speaks of the “frialdad emocional” or the “frialdad emotiva” of the Scotish moral philosophers. In these cases, I don’t think Polo is trying to use “emoción” in any technical way, nor to distinguish from “sentimiento” in any way.

    With regard to English words,
    Emotions seem to imply a feeling that arises without our control (although we can later try to get them under control), and is a bit closer to the senses (even though people then become aware of them and reflect upon them).
    The OED defines emotion as “ instinctive or intuitive feeling as distinguished from reasoning or knowledge.

    Passions seem to imply intensity of some feeling (or emotion) which threatens to be irrational (if not properly directed). It also is often linked with sense appetites, as is the case when translating Thomas Aquinas.
    The OED defines passion as “strong and barely controllable emotion”.

    Affections seems to imply more of a link to the higher dimension of he human being.
    The OED defines affection as “a gentle feeling of fondness or liking” (although this is not what it means when used to translate Aquinas, where it is linked with the intellectual appetite (the will)).

    Sentiments seem to be a type of feeling, especially with regard to other persons.
    The OED defines it simply as “a feeling or emotion”.

    Feelings seem to be more general, but do imply some dimension of the sensitivity and thus, some connection with the psycho-somatic dimensions of the human being.
    Also, in English we say “feelings make us human”, which, I think, includes passions and emotions that arise from sensible appetites, but can also be related to reason and the spiritual in man. But, even when it relates to the intellectual, feelings, always include a sensible aspect (for example, I can love God, but not feel it).
    The OED defines it as “an emotional state or reaction.”

    Having said this, my inclination is to normally translate as follows:
    “passiones” = passions
    “sentimientos” = feelings
    “afectos” = affections

    I suppose “sentimientos” could also be translated as sentiments, but I’m not sure if it sounds normal. (We often talk of our “feelings”, but not that often of my “sentiments”. And besides, we say “feelings make us human”, but not “sentiments” make us human”).

    I’m not sure if at this point, I can really say that each of these is limited to human nature, essence, or the person (as the above proposals try to do). And neither have I tried to look at AT2 to see how this fits. But then again, the article “Sentimientos humanos” doesn’t mention these distinctions. So, at this point, in order to translate “Sentimientos humanos”, I would settle for these simple translations and save the discussion regarding which word should be linked to nature, essence, or person (if that can really be done) for another time.

    1. I agree with Derrick. In case you want to go deeper on the anthropological distinction between them read "Los filósofos y los sentimientos" by Juan Fernando Sellés. In any case, I don't think Polo uses these terms in a technical way.