Teaching & learning guide for: Emotion

Philosophy Compass 3 (5):1097-1099 (2008)
The emotions were a neglected topic in philosophy twenty or so years ago, but things have now changed. It is now appreciated how important it is to understand the emotions as an independent aspect of our mental economy – one that has to be properly taken into account in any worthwhile philosophising in ethics or moral psychology, in epistemology, in aesthetics, and generally in philosophical issues surrounding value and how the mind engages with value in the world. There is now a wide range of philosophical theories of emotion 'on the market', and whilst this Guide and the related Article are not the place to argue for one or the other of these, anyone working in areas which overlap with emotion research ought to be aware of what these theories are, and ought to consider what the implications of their own views are in order not to be committed to an ultimately untenable account of the emotions, and of their place in our lives. Author Recommends Ronald de Sousa, The Rationality of Emotion (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987). This is a classic, full of fascinating insights. Best not read straight through; use it selectively, depending on where your research is going. Robert Solomon, The Passions: Emotions and the Meaning of Life (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1976). Another classic. Solomon was one of the pioneers to resurrect emotion to its rightful place in philosophy. Solomon was greatly influenced by the existentialists, and he argued not only that emotions are rational, but also that we choose our emotions. Since then, Solomon has nuanced his position considerably, but this early work merits close study. Robert Solomon, ed., Thinking about Feeling: Contemporary Philosophers on Emotion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). This collection contains 17 chapters on emotion from contemporary philosophers, plus an Introduction by Solomon. It gives an excellent feeling for the central issues in the current debates. John Deigh, 'Cognitivism in the Theory of Emotions', Ethics 104 (1994): 824–54. Deigh argues for a cognitive theory of the emotions, and considers how such a theory can accommodate emotions in non-human animals and in babies. William James, 'What is an Emotion?', Mind 9 (1884): 188–205. This article, and the related (and later) discussion in his The Principles of Psychology (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981, ch. 25), has had an enormous influence on psychologists, and on philosophers who argue for various versions of non-cognitivism in the emotions. It merits reading in the original. Robert Zajonc, 'On the Primacy of Affect', American Psychologist 39 (1984): 117–23. This article, 100 years after James, has also been enormously influential on non-cognitivists. Jesse Prinz, Gut Reactions: A Perceptual Theory of Emotion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). Prinz is one of the proponents of non-cognitivism, and the influence of James and Zajonc will be clear. Peter Goldie, 'Emotion', Philosophy Compass 2/6 (2007): 928–38, doi: [DOI link]. My own survey of the current literature. Online Materials: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/emotion/ de Sousa on Emotion in the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy: An excellent survey of the current literature. Sample Syllabus: Week 1: Cognitive-rationalist theories of emotion R. Solomon, 'The Rationality of emotions', Southwestern Journal of Philosophy 8 (1977): 105–14. G. Taylor, 'Justifying the Emotions', Mind 84 (1975): 390–402. M. Nussbaum, 'Emotions as Judgements of Value and Importance', in Thinking about Feeling, ed. R. Solomon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 183–99. Week 2: Non-cognitive feeling theories of emotion W. James, 'What is an Emotion?', Mind 9 (1884): 188–205. J. Prinz, 'Embodied Appraisals', in Thinking about Feeling, ed. R. Solomon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 44–60. Week 3: Perceptual and sui generis theories of emotion Robert Roberts, Emotion: An Aid in Moral Psychology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), ch. 2, sections 2.1–2.4. Ronald de Sousa, The Rationality of Emotion (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987), ch. 6. Peter Goldie, The Emotions: A Philosophical Exploration (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000), ch. 3. Week 4: Expression of emotion Michael Smith, 'The Humean Theory of Motivation', Mind 96 (1987): 36–61. Rosalind Hursthouse, 'Arational Actions', Journal of Philosophy 88 (1991): 57–68. Peter Goldie, The Emotions: A Philosophical Exploration (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000), ch. 5. Week 5: Emotional sincerity and authenticity Mikko Salmela, "What is Emotional Authenticity?", Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 35.3 (2005): 209–39. David Pugmire, Sound Sentiments (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), ch. 2 and 7 especially. Week 6: Morality and the emotions A. J. Ayer, 'Critique of Ethics and Theology', Language, Truth and Logic (London: Penguin, 1936), chapter VI. Bernard Williams, 'Morality and the Emotions', Problems of the Self (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), 207–229. Simon Blackburn, Spreading the Word (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), chapter 6. Focus Questions1. What element of truth is there in the idea that emotions are judgements? How can such a theory allow for the possibility of conflict between emotion and judgement?2. James argues that feelings are essential to emotion: no feeling, then no emotion. How does a non-cognitive theory of emotion seek to account for this, and is such a theory the only way of doing so?3. Roberts argues that emotions are a kind of perception (a concern-based construal); de Sousa argues rather that there is only an analogy between emotion and perception and that emotion is an irreducible psychological category; Goldie argues that emotional feelings are sui generis'feelings towards'. How might one decide which of these more accurately captures the nature of emotion?4. Hursthouse argues that our expressions of emotion (kicking the chair in anger for example) are arational. What are her arguments for this, and are they sound?5. We often speak of someone's anger, for example, as not being sincere, or of her generosity as not being authentic. What do these claims mean, and how are the notions of sincerity and authenticity of emotion related conceptually?6. What is the role of emotion in our moral thought and talk?
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