Isocrates, Aristotle, and Their Theories of Eunoia (Good Regard) as Precursors of Emotional Intelligence


Modern interest in emotional intelligence (EI) stems from emotion and cognition being perceived as separate and distinctive human abilities. Although EI is related to both emotions and intelligence, it is also distinct from them in involving a primary focus on a specific area of problem solving. Long before the coinage of the term EI, Isocrates and Aristotle acknowledged the significance of taking into account the emotions of others at personal and collective levels. The overarching scheme of Isocratean rhetorical pedagogy and Aristotelian philosophy can be extrapolated, if modified accordingly and combined with eunoia (goodwill or good regard), into a nuanced system of EI, applicable to leadership as well as internal and international politics.

The close reading of selected passages from Aristotle’s works and two of Isocrates’s speeches, On the Peace and On Estate Exchange (Antidosis), prompts us to realize that Isocrates and Aristotle perceived eunoia as an interactive concept, entailing cognitive appraisal of the emotions of others. This case study encourages students to consider the interconnection between EI, Aristotle’s philosophy, and Isocrates’s educational program. Students will be asked to think how these can be applied to leadership as well as in different government settings such as internal and international politics.

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