Date: Thu Feb 24 2005 - 14:13:20 GMT
To All contributors:
Here is an article from the TLS (edited for ease of reading by the moderator) which gives an overview of the "contemporary understandings in the philosophy of mind and neuroscience" which Sam refers to in his original question.
It may help contributors to familiarise themselves with as much of this material as they can in order to better appreciate Sam's enquiry.
Why I am angry
01 October 2004
(c)Times Literary Supplement
The return to ancient links between reason and emotion
NOT PASSION'S SLAVE. Emotions and choice.
Robert C. Solomon.
Oxford University Press.
£25 (US $35).
0 19 514549 6
THINKING ABOUT FEELING. Contemporary philosophers on emotions.
Robert C. Solomon, editor.
Oxford University Press.
£34.50 (US $49.95).
0 19 515317 0
PHILOSOPHY AND THE EMOTIONS.
Anthony Hatzimoysis, editor.
Cambridge University Press.
Paperback, £15.99 (US $26).
0 521 53734 7.
The twelve essays by Robert C. Solomon that comprise Not Passion's Slave
serve as a kind of intellectual memoir of their author, who has, for the last thirty years, been at the heart of a revival of philosophical interest in the emotions. The two views that have been central to his work throughout, accumulating caveats and qualifications over the years, are that emotions are judgements and that they are actions rather than passions.
Taken together, this amounts to saying that emotions are active, cognitive states for which we are responsible, rather than irrational, physiological feelings that overcome us against our will. Solomon's energetic and provocative contributions to the field have thus combined the Aristotelian and Stoic that passions are evaluative judgements with the Sartrean suspicion that emotions are things we use to manipulate ourselves and others.
The two other collections under review, Philosophy and the Emotions, edited by Anthony Hatzimoysis, and Thinking about Feeling, edited by Solomon, together include contributions by twenty-six different authors, six of whome contribute to both. They reveal that contemporary philosophers of emotion divide very roughly into two groups:
1. the cognitivists (including Solomon, Susan James, Jon Elster, Peter Goldie, Jerome Neu, Martha Nussbaum and Amelie Oksenberg Rorty)
2. the physiologist (including Paul Griffiths, Jesse Prinz, Jenefer Robinson, Justin D'Arms and Daniel Jacobson).
The cognitivists, who represent the mainstream, echo ideas found in the writings of Aristotle, Seneca, Spinoza and Hume. The experience and expression of the more complex and interesting human emotions, the cognitivists say, are intellectually and culturally conditioned. As such, there is a limit to how much can be learned about human emotion from neurophysiology alone. The physiologically minded critics of the cognitivist mainstream, taking their lead from the nineteenth-century theories of Charles Darwin and William James, from Paul Ekman's work on pancultural facial expressions and from contemporary brain scientists such as Antonio Damasio and Joseph LeDoux, argue that emotions are first and foremost embodied and neurophysiological phenomena.
There are four central questions that the essays in these fascinating collections attempt to answer:
1. whether emotions are cognitive
2. whether they are rational
3. whether we are responsible for them
4. whether they form a natural kind.
Like beliefs and desires, most emotions are intentional (they are about some aspect of the world) and can be expressed as what philosophers call "propositional attitudes ": "I am angry that you spilt my drink "; "I am afraid that my trousers are ruined "; "I am embarrassed that everyone saw." Mere feelings, such as toothaches or pangs of hunger, on the other hand, are not intentional in this way and cannot be expressed as propositional attitudes. Most agree, therefore, that emotions, unlike sensations, qualify as candidates for rationality: they can be right or wrong; appropriate or inappropriate. To say that emotions are rational in this sense is basically to say that they are cognitive.
Cognitivists note that there is a particularly close link between emotions and beliefs. I cannot be afraid without believing myself to be in danger; I cannot grieve without believing I have lost someone or something I care for. Also, a change in beliefs can often result in a change in emotions. If what I believe to be a snake turns out to be a garden hose, my fear will rapidly dissipate.
But what is the best way to understand this link between emotions on the on hand and beliefs, thoughts, or judgements on the other?
Are judgements the causes of emotions?
Are they components of emotions?
Or are they simply the emotions themselves?
The last of these views, although prima facie the least plausible, has attracted philosophers from Aristotle and the Stoics to Solomon and Nussbaum.
Anger, for instance, Aristotle argued, is the judgement that I have been unjustly wronged.
Jenefer Robinson's essay in Thinking about Feeling is one of several to argue that the "introspection" and "armchair psychology" of some defenders of the judgement theory are not enough. They need to be supplemented with a more rigorously scientific, physiological account of the emotions.
Robinson offers a concise summary of the two main problems with the judgement theory:
it seems that you can make a judgement without experiencing the corresponding emotion (I can judge that the person who cut me up in traffic wronged me, without actually getting angry about it - I may just be amused), and that you can have an emotion without the corresponding judgement (all you need is an automatic appraisal of the environment as threatening, for instance, to trigger a basic emotional reaction, such as fear).
Solomon's response to the first problem is that emotions are a special sort of judgement - they are urgent, intense, hasty, embodied, evaluative judgements.
Nussbaum's answer would be that they are evaluative judgements relating to questions of particular personal importance. On the second question, of whether you can have an emotion without the corresponding judgement, it all depends on what you mean by judgement. Some critics of the judgement theory think that emotions are caused by precognitive, unconscious, automatic "appraisals" that do not deserve the name "judgement," which sounds like something more conscious and considered.
A third problem for judgement theorists is posed by what are variously discussed in these collections as "outlaw emotions" or "recalcitrant emotions"-emotions that seem to be based on judgements I do not hold. Examples include feeling terrified of spiders while judging them to be harmless, or feeling guilty while not believing I have done anything wrong.
One quite straightforward way to account for these cases is to allow that humans are capable of holding conflicting beliefs. Recalcitrant emotions could be thought of, then, as indicators of internal cognitive conflict. Indeed, seeing troubling passions and emotions this way is central to many kinds of cognitive therapy. Other thinkers deal with the problem of recalcitrant emotions by claiming that emotions are based on something less than full beliefs; for instance they might be based on more tentative "construals" of the world rather than fully fledged beliefs about it.
Whatever words one chooses (beliefs, judgements, thoughts, construals, appraisals, cognitions, representations), however, it is hard to get away from cognitivism of some kind about the emotions. The trigger for even the most basic of emotions must be some sort of recognition of a salient feature of the environment. And, as Solomon puts it, it is simply stating the obvious to note that recognition is a form of cognition.
Arguing that emotions are cognitive and arguing that they are rational, however, are not the same thing. One could hold - as the Stoics did - that they are cognitive but irrational; that they are mistaken judgements.
Contemporary philosophers have looked at two ways that emotions might be considered rational (essays by Ronald de Sousa in Thinking about Feeling, and by Patricia Greenspan in both Solomon's collections, explore the question particularly well). These two sorts of emotional rationality correspond to the senses in which beliefs, on the one hand, and actions and desires, on the other, might be considered rational. An emotion is "cognitively rational" if it is based on a well-supported belief (I clearly saw that it was you and not Susan who knocked over my glass of red wine), and "strategically rational" if it leads to actions that will achieve a desirable goal (the urgency of my anxiety encourages me to rush across the room and immediately throw salt on the stain).
A key part of Solomon's argument, since his 1973 manifesto "Emotions and Choice" (reproduced in Not Passion's Slave), has been that if emotions are judgements, then they are things that we choose - perhaps in order to manipulate others and for which we can be held responsible. However, as Jerome Neu notes, in a perceptive essay, "Emotions and Freedom" in Thinking about Feeling, it is not clear that judgements, any more than feelings, are generally things that we choose. Many of our judgements, emotional or otherwise, are no more the product of rational deliberation than are such things as the colour of our hair, the career we follow, or the place we live.
A second problem with the idea that we are responsible for our emotions is that, at the more primitive end of the spectrum, emotions are physical reactions that seem virtually impossible to control. If I am to be held responsible for my emotions, am I also to be held to account for other physiological reactions, from shivers, sneezes and allergies to mental illnesses?
The difficulties philosophers have encountered in trying to decide whether or not emotions are cognitive, or rational, or voluntary, lends support to the view that emotions do not constitute a natural kind and so cannot be the subjects of plausible generalisations.
Several of the key problems discussed above do seem to be mitigated once it is admitted that "emotions" is an unhelpfully broad category. Some emotions are as automatic and involuntary as animal instincts, others are indicative of our deepest and most complex cognitive states, others are knowing and manipulative strategies. As Griffiths's essay in Philosophy and the Emotions nicely summarises it, there are basic emotions, complex emotions and Machiavellian emotions.
Amelie Oksenberg Rorty agrees that the category "emotion" does not cut mental nature at its joints. Examining the histories of philosophy and psychology reveals that nobody thought that it did until the nineteenth century. TheStoics, for instance, distinguished between three things: physical "firstmovements," the passions proper, and more refined feelings, which they classed as eupatheiai rather than pathe. Medieval and Enlightenment moralists differentiated between lower appetites and passions on the one hand, and more cognitive affections and moral sentiments on the other. In recent years, Griffiths has led the way in arguing, on the basis of neuroscientific studies, that "emotions" should be broken down into at least two different subcategories:
2. hard-wired "affect programs "
3. complex, cognitively elaborate states, mediated through relatively recently evolved structures in the neocortex.
Contemporary neuroscience, then, has rediscovered something that philosophers already knew (until recently): that a distinction needs to be made between primitive passions and more complex affections, between pathe and eupatheiai.
Although Nussbaum is alone in going so far as to identify herself as a "neo-Stoic," these three volumes taken together constitute something bordering on a revival of Stoicism. The Stoics' idea that passions and emotions are (or are somehow constituted by) thoughts or judgements is now widely and sympathetically discussed. Their idea that the passions are not to be trusted has generally received a less sympathetic hearing in recent decades. As Goldie notes, in his contribution to Thinking about Feeling, recent cognitivists have tended to see emotions as a Good Thing.
There are signs, however, in Goldie's essay and in several other contributions to these three books, that this is changing. Philosophers are once more learning to recognise, as the Stoics did, the ways in which passions can be cognitive and moral mistakes. As philosophers continue to move away from an over-general celebration of the emotions, to differentiate between primitive passions and cognitive sentiments, and to illuminate the ways in which each can be implicated in failures as well as successes of reason and virtue, they will no doubt continue to find the history of their own discipline to be as valuable a resource as contemporary neuroscience.
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