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The Purpose of Our Emotions


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The emotion

Postby Shagal В» 17.04.2020

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No aspect of our mental life is more important to the quality and meaning of our existence than the emotions. They are what make life worth living and sometimes worth ending. So it is not surprising that most of the great classical philosophers had recognizable theories of emotions.

In recent decades, however, emotions have once again become the focus of vigorous interest in philosophy and affective science. Our objective in this entry is to account for these developments, focusing primarily on the descriptive question of what the emotions are, but tackling also the normative question of whether emotions are rational.

In view of the proliferation of exchanges between researchers of different stripes, it is no longer useful to speak of the philosophy of emotion in isolation from the approaches of other disciplines, particularly psychology, neuroscience, and evolutionary biology.

This is why we have made an effort to pay significant attention to scientific developments, as we are convinced that cross-disciplinary fertilization is our best chance for making progress in emotion theory.

After some brief methodological remarks intended to clarify what differentiates a philosophical approach from a more general cognitive science perspective on the emotions, we begin by outlining some of the ways researchers have conceived of the place of emotions in the topography of the mind. We will note that emotions have historically been conceptualized in one of three main ways: as experiences, as evaluations, and as motivations.

Each of these research traditions captures something true and significant about the emotions, but no theory within any tradition appears immune from counterexamples and problem cases. Concerning the rationality of emotions, we will distinguish two main varieties of it—cognitive rationality and strategic rationality—and explore a number of ways in which the emotions can succeed or fail with respect to different standards of rationality. Two broad desiderata have governed the project of defining emotions in both philosophy and affective science: a Achieving compatibility with ordinary linguistic usage, and b Achieving theoretical fruitfulness.

A definition that aims exclusively at a is a descriptive definition. A definition that aims at b at the cost of possibly violating some ordinary intuitions is prescriptive. Scientists have also been interested in the study of folk emotion concepts, and they have applied to them experimental techniques common in the psychology of concepts. There are better and worse examples of emotions as ordinarily understood e. What philosophers and affective scientists aim to offer are prescriptive definitions of emotions that preserve as much ordinary language compatibility as it is compatible with serving interest-dependent theoretical objectives.

One reason why theoreticians are not merely interested in outlining the contours of folk emotion concepts through descriptive definitions is that they suspect that such concepts may include widely diverse items that are not amenable to any robust theoretical generalizations. At first blush, the things we ordinarily call emotions differ from one another along several dimensions. For example, some emotions are occurrences e.

Some involve strong motivations to act e. Some are present across species e. And so on. This multi-dimensional heterogeneity has led some to conclude that folk emotion categories do not designate natural kinds, either with respect to the generic category of emotion Rorty b, ; Griffiths ; Russell ; Zachar ; Kagan , or with respect to specific emotion categories such as anger, fear, happiness, disgust, and so on Scarantino ; Barrett , Others have argued that there is, nevertheless, enough homogeneity among instances of folk emotion categories to allow them to qualify as natural kinds e.

The concept of a natural kind is itself contentious and probably more suitable for discussing the categories affective scientists are interested in, so we will speak of theoretical kinds instead, understood as groupings of entities that participate in a body of philosophically or scientifically interesting generalizations due to some set of properties they have in common.

Whether folk emotion categories are homogeneous enough to qualify as theoretical kinds has important methodological implications. To the extent that they are, the prescriptive definitions of emotions the theorist offers can achieve both theoretical fruitfulness and maximal compatibility with ordinary linguistic usage in such case, prescriptive definitions will also be descriptively adequate.

To the extent that they are not homogeneous enough, prescriptive definitions will have to explicate folk emotion categories, transforming them so as to increase theoretical fruitfulness while giving up on some degree of ordinary language compatibility Carnap Theoretical fruitfulness, however, is conceived differently by philosophers and affective scientists. The former often have as their primary target making sense of the human experience of emotions and sometimes to contribute to other projects in philosophy, such as explaining the origins of rational action or moral judgment, or shedding light on what makes life worth living, or investigating the nature of self-knowledge.

Affective scientists, by contrast, are more likely to favor a third-person approach that may be highly revisionary with respect to our first-person self-understanding. And their prescriptive definitions are often designed to promote measurement and experimentation for the purposes of prediction and explanation in a specific scientific discipline. In this entry, we will assess philosophical and scientific definitions of emotions in terms of both ordinary language compatibility and theoretical fruitfulness, but acknowledge that the field currently lacks clear guidelines for how to strike a proper balance between these two desiderata.

At the same time, many of the things we call emotions today have been the object of theoretical analysis since Ancient Greece, under a variety of language-specific labels such as passion , sentiment, affection, affect, disturbance, movement, perturbation, upheaval, or appetite. This makes for a long and complicated history, which has progressively led to the development of a variety of shared insights about the nature and function of emotions, but no consensual definition of what emotions are, either in philosophy or in affective science.

A widely shared insight is that emotions have components, and that such components are jointly instantiated in prototypical episodes of emotions. Consider an episode of intense fear due to the sudden appearance of a grizzly bear on your path while hiking. At first blush, we can distinguish in the complex event that is fear an evaluative component e. One question that has divided emotion theorists is: Which subset of the evaluative, physiological, phenomenological, expressive, behavioral, and mental components is essential to emotion?

Although such theories differ on multiple dimensions, they can be usefully sorted into three broad traditions, which we call the Feeling Tradition, the Evaluative Tradition and the Motivational Tradition Scarantino The Feeling Tradition takes the way emotions feel to be their most essential characteristic, and defines emotions as distinctive conscious experiences.

The Evaluative Tradition regards the way emotions construe the world as primary, and defines emotions as being or involving distinctive evaluations of the eliciting circumstances. The Motivational Tradition defines emotions as distinctive motivational states.

Each tradition faces the task of articulating a prescriptive definition of emotions that is theoretically fruitful and compatible at least to some degree with ordinary linguistic usage. And although there are discipline-specific theoretical objectives, there also is a core set of explanatory challenges that tends to be shared across disciplines:. For example, a viable account of anger should tell us how anger differs from fear and from non-emotional states differentiation , whether and how anger motivates aggressive behaviors motivation , whether and how anger can be about a given state of affairs and be considered appropriate with respect to such state of affairs intentionality , and whether and how anger involves a distinctive subjective experience phenomenology.

We now consider some of the most prominent theories within each tradition, and assess how they fare with respect to these four theoretical challenges and others.

As we shall see, each tradition seems to capture something important about what the emotions are, but none is immune from counterexamples and problem cases. As a result, the most recent trend in emotion theory is represented by theories that straddle traditions, in an attempt to combine their distinctive insights.

Although we begin our investigation with William James and will occasionally mention earlier accounts, our primary focus will be on theories developed in the last 50 years.

The idea that emotions are a specific kind of subjective experiences has dominated emotion theory roughly from Ancient Greece to the beginning of the twentieth century. This idea can be interpreted in either of two ways.

The great classical philosophers—Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, Descartes, Hobbes, Hume, Locke—all understood emotions to involve feelings understood as primitives without component parts. When we perceive that we are in danger, for example, this perception directly sets off a collection of bodily responses, and our awareness of these responses is what constitutes fear.

This approach has acquired new prominence in recent times with the affirmation of the psychological constructionist movement in affective science section 8. But the James-Lange theory seemed less successful with respect to the challenges of motivation, differentiation and intentionality. First, James stated that common sense is wrong about the direction of causation concerning emotions and bodily changes: a more appropriate statement is that. James The counterintuitive implication that emotions do not cause their manifestations but rather emerge from them struck many as problematic, because it seemed to undermine the idea that emotions are important to us.

How could they be so important, critics like Dewey , asked, if they have no causal import with respect to actions? Arnold Furthermore, the theory lacked an adequate account of the differences between emotions. This objection was influentially voiced by Walter Cannon According to a common interpretation of the James-Lange theory, what distinguishes emotions from one another is the fact that each involves the perception of a distinctive set of bodily changes.

Cannon countered that the visceral reactions characteristic of distinct emotions such as fear and anger are indistinguishable, and so these reactions cannot be what allows us to tell emotions apart. Subsequent research has not fully settled whether emotions do, in fact, have significantly different bodily profiles, either at the autonomic, expressive or neural level for the latest on bodily signatures, see Clark-Polner et al.

Independently of how the empirical debate on bodily signatures is settled, brain or bodily changes and the feelings accompanying these changes can get us only part way towards an adequate taxonomy. Emotions, however, are capable of being not only explained, but also justified. The first distinction we need to draw is the one between particular objects and formal objects of emotions.

As Kenny first emphasized, any X that I can have emotion E about is a particular object of E , whereas the formal object of E is the property which I implicitly ascribe to X by virtue of having E about X. Particular and formal objects constitute the two principal aspects of emotional intentionality: emotions are object-directed insofar as they have particular objects, and they are fitting insofar as their particular objects instantiate the formal objects represented by the emotion see section The second distinction we wish to draw is that between two types of particular objects of emotions: target objects and propositional objects de Sousa The target object of an emotion is the specific entity the emotion is about.

For example, love can be about Mary, or about Bangkok, or about Homer Simpson and so on. These are all possible targets of love, and they may be real or imaginary. Not every emotion has a target. I may be angry that my life has turned out a certain way, without there being any particular entity—myself or anyone else—at which my anger is directed. Propositional objects capture facts or states of affairs, real or imagined, towards which my emotion is directed.

Conversely, not all emotions have a propositional object. For example, if Mary is the target of my love, there may be no proposition, however complex, that captures what it is that I love about Mary Kraut ; Rorty []. Finally, there also appear to be affective states that lack both types of particular objects: they are neither directed at a particular entity nor are they about a state of affairs captured by a proposition. For example, I can be depressed or elated but not depressed or elated about any specific target or fact.

These seemingly objectless affective states share many properties with object-directed emotions, especially with respect to their physiological and motivational aspects, so we may consider them to be emotions without objects. On the other hand, some have suggested that such objectless states are better regarded as moods Frijda ; Stephan a. Whether we think of seemingly objectless affective states as emotions or moods, we must decide what kinds of objects they lack.

Here two main options are available. The first is to assert that some affective states have neither particular objects nor formal objects. If we think of moods and objectless emotions that way, it becomes hard to explain how such affective states may have conditions of correctness—formal objects being among other things descriptions of what the world must be like for the affective state to be fitting Teroni If instead we think of such affective states as having formal objects and conditions of correctness, then their objectlessness is only apparent, because they need to have targets or propositional objects of some kind to which they implicitly ascribe the property defined by the formal object.

What are the formal objects of specific emotions? This is a controversial topic, because the ascription of formal objects commits one to the claim that each emotion, on conceptual grounds, ascribes a specific property to its particular object.

Once the formal object of an emotion has been clarified, we can use it to justify emotions by citing their conditions of elicitation. Evaluative theories of emotions, a. A key distinction is that between constitutive and causal evaluative theories. Constitutive theories state that emotions are cognitions or evaluations of particular kinds, whereas causal theories state that emotions are caused by cognitions or evaluations of particular kinds.

The constitutive approach tends to be dominant in philosophy, while the causal approach enjoys significant support in psychology. Let us consider these two strands of cognitivism in turn. The emergence of the constitutive approach in philosophy in the middle of the twentieth century can be traced to a pair of articles by C.

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