The affections, emotions and appetites

In a previous post we looked at the importance of the affections in Puritan spirituality. In this post we explore the link between affections, emotions and appetites.


The Puritans employ a range of language which can be confusing. In particular, the Puritans (and Augustine) sometimes speak of the will driving the mind (or reason). This is because the affections so determine the will that they can speak of them synonymously. Jonathan Edwards said: ‘The affections are no other than the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul.’ (The Religious Affections, Banner, 24)


The Puritans did not use the word ‘emotions’ (which only came in to common usage later). Thomas Dixon argues that after the eighteenth century, the word ‘emotion’ became a catch-all term that failed to distinguish between a variety of states that had been described in an earlier intellectual climate. Subtle distinctions that were encompassed in terms such as ‘passions’, ‘affections’, ‘sentiments’ and ‘appetites’ were lost. (Thomas Dixon, From Passions to Emotions: The Creation of a Secular Psychological Category, CUP, 2003.)


A helpful rule of thumb is that the term Puritans used for ‘emotions’ is ‘passions’. Our ‘passions’ are different from our ‘affections’. Our affections are our loves, desires, hopes, fears. Perhaps the nearest contemporary word is ‘motives’. Our affections are determined by what we consider the good that should be desired or the evil that should be shunned. These affections therefore drive both the will and passions.


Emotions or passion = affections + circumstances.

For example, if I desire the approval of the people (an affection) and my work is well-received then I’ll feel happy (an emotion). But if my work is not well-received (a change of circumstance) then I will feel sad (an change of emotion). My affection (the desire for approval) does not change, but it produces different emotions under different circumstances.

In Augustine when one’s love is ‘well-directed’ the affections that issue will also be good. These we will experience through a breadth of emotions – they will ‘both fear and desire, and grieve and rejoice’ – but ‘because their love is rightly placed, all these affections of theirs are right.’

Puritans could be wary of the passions because of their tendency to move us away from God. Puritans often distinguished between passions and affections (which were viewed more positively). Sometimes the passions were associated with the body and the affections with the mind.

The Puritans had another category: the appetites. The appetites are bodily responses (like hunger, thirst, tiredness). The Puritans were concerned that people should not be ruled by their appetites. In the self-controlled person, our affections conquer our appetites.

For more on affections and emotions in Puritan thought see Keith Condie, ‘The Puritans, Theological Anthropology and Emotions,’ in True Feelings: The Emotions in the Christian Life and Ministry, ed. Michael P. Jensen, IVP, 2012. True Feelings is available from and ThinkIVP.

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