Fear and Loathing in Deliberation: One Connection Between Emotion and Rationality

Dissertation, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (2003)

Hans D. Muller
American University of Beirut
It is widely believed that rational deliberation must be dispassionate. I argue that this is a mistake. The traditional divide between intellectual and emotional faculties is a false dichotomy. In my analysis, I focus on the two emotions that seem most in tension with rationality---fear and anger---and explain how they bring resources to decision-making that go beyond the capacities of bare reason. ;I critique two distinct historically significant arguments for the thesis that emotions have no legitimate role in rational deliberation. One is based on the claim that emotions are non-cognitive and are thus incapable of engaging reason, while the other identifies emotions as false judgments, so they count as cognitive but serve only to undermine rational deliberation. At least three philosophers---Augustine, Hobbes, and Hume---have resisted the conclusions of those traditional arguments. ;Their leading idea is that affect contributes to deliberation in ways that unaided reason cannot. My tools for expanding on this insight are the concepts of "choice-situation" and "emotional content". A choice-situation involves a two-part relation; comprising both the external environment in which a choice must be made, as well as the cognitive and conative resources the agent brings to the situation. Emotional content is intentional content that is not just the intentional content of beliefs and desires. I use the model of aspect perception to explain the unique properties of emotional content. ;In certain choice-situations, emotions contribute positively to deliberation. The contribution can be to make deliberation more efficient; to increase the likelihood of its delivering the right result; or to make it possible to reach any decision at all. These contributions are not merely causal, but are rational in the same sense in which pure belief-desire deliberation is rational, viz., by working through intentional contents and logical relations between them. Emotions are intentional in a special way: they have emotional contents that cannot be reduced to the content of any other psychological state or states. And it is in virtue of their contents of that distinctive type that they play their positive role in deliberation.
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