[Paleopsych] TLS: Thomas Dixon: Why I am angry

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Thomas Dixon: Why I am angry
The Times Literary Supplement, 4.10.1

    The return to ancient links between reason and emotion

    NOT PASSION'S SLAVE. Emotions and choice. Robert C. Solomon. 259pp.
    Oxford University Press. £25 (US $35). 0 19 514549 6

    THINKING ABOUT FEELING. Contemporary philosophers on emotions. Robert
    C. Solomon, editor. 297pp. Oxford University Press. £34.50. (US
    $49.95). 0 19 515317 0

    PHILOSOPHY AND THE EMOTIONS. Anthony Hatzimoysis, editor. 252pp.
    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 idea that passions are evaluative judgements with the Sartrean
    suspicion that emotions are things we use to manipulate ourselves and

    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 whom contribute to both. They reveal that contemporary
    philosophers of emotion divide very roughly into two groups: the
    cognitivists (including Solomon, Susan James, Jon Elster, Peter
    Goldie, Jerome Neu, Martha Nussbaum and Amelie Oksenberg Rorty) and
    the physiologists (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

    There are four central questions that the essays in these fascinating
    collections attempt to answer: whether emotions are cognitive; whether
    they are rational; whether we are responsible for them; 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 one 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

    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 generalizations.

    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 summarizes 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. The Stoics, for instance, distinguished between
    three things: physical "first movements", 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: primitive, hard-wired "affect programs"; and
    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 recognize, 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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