The word “emotion” has named a psychological category and a subject for systematic enquiry only since the 19th century. Before then, relevant mental states were categorised variously as “appetites,” “passions,” “affections,” or “sentiments.” The word “emotion” has existed in English since the 17th century, originating as a translation of the French émotion, meaning a physical disturbance. It came into much wider use in 18th-century English, often to refer to mental experiences, becoming a fully fledged theoretical term in the following century, especially through the influence of two Scottish philosopher-physicians, Thomas Brown and Charles Bell. This article relates this intellectual and semantic history to contemporary debates about the usefulness and meaning of “emotion” as a scientific term.
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