One of the central aims of the discipline of cultural psychology is to develop a theoretical language for the comparative study of mental states that makes it possible to understand and appreciate the mental life of members of other cultures. In this chapter the author suggests that the language of the emotions is not an ideal theoretical language for making progress on the study of mental states across human populations. It is argued that the idea of an emotion is a complex synthetic notion, composed of wants, beliefs, feelings and values; and that human mentalities may vary in how they give shape, and lend meaning, to the more fundamental and direct experience of wanting certain things, valuing certain things, knowing certain things and having particular somatic and affective feelings. The chapter considers the advantages of temporarily privileging the study of “feeling” over the study of the “emotions.”
What types of cross-cultural variations in “feelings and emotions” are we able to imagine, given our understanding of what it means to be a person (that is, a mentally endowed human being)? And what types of evidence on mental functioning in other cultures would we want to collect to convince us that those imaginable (and hence logically conceivable) variations in feelings and emotions are actually real? What predictions, if any, follow from the idea of having an “emotional” life?