The proliferation of dimensions of appraisal is both welcome and worrying. The preoccupation with sorting out causes may be somewhat otiose. And the ubiquity of emotions in levels of processing raises intriguing problems about the role of language in identifying and triggering emotions and appraisals.
Existentialism is compatible with a broadly biological vision of who we are. This thesis is grounded in an analysis of “concrete” or “individual” possibility, which differs from standard conceptions of possibility in that it allows for possibilities to come into being or disappear through time. Concrete possibilities are introduced both in individual life and by major transitions in evolution. In particular, the advent of ultrasociality and of language has enabled human goals to be formulated in partial independence from the vestigial (...) “goal” of biological replication. The existentialist stance is validated by the necessity of choice grounded in emotion, in a way that does not require a commitment to a Kantian Will. (shrink)
The question What is an individual? goes back beyond Aristotle’s discussion of substance to the Ionians’ preoccupation with the paradox of change -- the fact that if anything changes it must stay the same. Mere reflection on this fact and the common-sense notion of a countable thing yields a concept of a “minimal individual”, which is particular (a logical matter) specific (a taxonomic matter), and unique (an evaluative empirical matter). Individuals occupy space, and therefore might be dislodged. Even minimal individuals, (...) therefore (Strawsonian individual or Aristotelian substance) already contain the potential for competition or conflict. What is added by biology to this basic notion? It emerges from some recent work on the evolution of metazoan animals that individuals as we know them are minimal individuals towhich four features have been added, and which appear to be inseparable: differentiated multicellularity; sexual reproduction; segregation of germ from somatic cells; and obligatory death. Whether or not individuals are to be counted as units of selection, they are not the beneficiaries of natural selection. (shrink)
I begin with a rather unpromising dispute that Nozick once had with Ian Hacking in the pages of the London Review of Books, in which both vied with one another in their enthusiasm to repudiate the thesis that some human people or peoples are closer than others to animality. I shall attempt to show that one can build, on the basis of Nozick’s discussion of rationality, a defense of the view that the capacity tor language places human rationality out of (...) reach of a comparison with animals. The difference rests, paradoxically, on the human capacity tor irratianality. Irrationality depends on the capacity tor language, which allows the detachment of explicit thoughts from their underlying dynamic implementation; these, in turn, condition the essential disputability of principles of rationality. That is what places every human potentially -- if not actually -- on the other side of an unbridgeable gulf that separates us from other animals. (shrink)
The word "truth" retains, in common use, traces of origins that link it to trust, troth, and truce, connoting ideas of fidelity, loyalty, and authenticity. The word has become, in contemporary philosophy, encased in a web of technicalities, but we know that a true image is a faithful portrait; a true friend a loyal one. In a novel or a poem, too, we have a feel for what is emotionally true, though we are not concerned with the actuality of events (...) and characters depicted. To have emotions is to care about certain things: we can wonder whether those things are really worth caring about. We can wonder whether our passions reflect who we are, and whether they constitute fitting responses to the vicissitudes of life. So there are two aspects to emotional truth: how well an emotion reflects the threats and promises of the world, and how well it reflects our own individual nature. That is the starting point of this book, which looks first at the analogies and disanalogies between strict propositional truth and a looser, "generic" sense of truth. As applied to emotions, generic truth is closer to those original meanings: as in a portrait's fidelity or friend's loyalty. Taken in this sense, the notion of emotional truth opens up large vistas on areas of life essential to our existence as social beings, and to our concerns with beauty, morality, love, death, sex, knowledge, desire, coherence, and happiness. Each of those topics illustrates some facet of the dominant theme of the book: the crucial but often ambivalent role of our emotions in grounding and yet also sometimes undermining our values. Emotions act, in holistic perspective, as ultimate arbiters of values where different and independently justified standards of value compete. (shrink)
Emotions can be the subject of moral judgments; they can also constitute the basis for moral judgments. The apparent circularity which arises if we accept both of these claims is the central topic of this paper: how can emotions be both judge and party in the moral court? The answer I offer regards all emotions as potentially relevant to ethics, rather than singling out a privileged set of moral emotions. It relies on taking a moderate position both on the question (...) of the naturalness of emotions and on that of their objectivity as revealers of value: emotions are neither simply natural nor socially constructed, and they apprehend objective values, but those values are multidimensional and relative to human realities. The axiological position I defend jettisons the usual foundations for ethical judgments, and grounds these judgments instead on a rationally informed reflective equilibrium of comprehensive emotional attitudes, tempered with a dose of irony. (shrink)
Abstract The notion of representation lies at the crossroads of questions about the nature of belief and knowledge, meaning, and intentionality. But there is some hope that it might be simpler than all those. If we could understand it clearly, it might then help to explicate those more difficult notions. In this paper, my central aim is to find a principled criterion, along lines that make biological sense, for deciding just when it becomes theoretically plausible to ascribe to some process (...) or state a representational role. I shall be especially concerned with some differences, in this regard, between classical and connectionist models. The relation between ?standard? artificial intelligence and connectionism turns out to illustrate a ?first in, last out? principle: What we most easily understand (and so can program) is what we have most recently invented; tasks we ourselves perform best, by contrast, are a lot harder to understand. Classical AI has modelled the former; connectionism tries to tackle the latter. I end with some speculations about the possible implications of these considerations for our understanding of understanding. (shrink)
Abstract This paper turns the tables on the criticisms of sociobiology that stem from a sociological perspective; many of those criticisms lack cogency and coherence in such measure as to demand, in their turn, a psycho?sociological explanation rather than a rational justification. This thesis, after a brief exposition of the main ideas of sociobiology, is argued in terms of four of the most prominent complaints made against it. Far from embodying tired prejudices about the psychological and sociological implications of biology, (...) sociobiology actually reverses a number of naive assumptions about the consequences of natural selection. I surmise that what really provokes the critics of sociobiology is a certain philosophical relevance of sociobiology both in the broad sense (the application of natural selection principles to behaviour) and in the narrow sense (the insistence on the centrality of certain mechanisms, such as gene selection). In both cases, taking biology seriously affects our philosophical vision of the nature of human beings. At the deepest level, however, the distinction between the level at which rational criteria apply and those where we must have recourse to psycho?social explanations probably breaks down. (shrink)