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Classifying Objects of Acts and Emotions1

  • Roger A. Shiner (a1)

Anotion employed very frequently by contemporary philosophers is that of the object of acts and emotions, as distinct from their cause. This paper assumes that the notion of objects of acts and emotions is viable, even though it has been plausibly argued that one cannot hope to pin down the notion with any generality or conciseness. I am concerned here with attempts to classify objects of acts and emotions, as a means to clarifying the logical behaviour of the notion. My purpose in the first two sections is to remove some obscurities in the classifications which have been proposed, without challenging their basic structure. In the third and longest section, I argue that this structure, though largely sound, does in fact stand in need of some modification if it is to be as useful as philosophers have hoped.

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2 cf e.g. Gosling J. C., “Emotion and Object”, Philosophical Review, LXXIV (1965), 486503; Ellis A. J., “Causes and Objects of Emotions,” Analysis, XXX (1969–70), 201–5.

3 Specifically those of Kenny A. in Action, Emotion and Will, (Routledge, London, 1966), and MissAnscombe E. in her paper “The Intentionality of Sensation”, printed in Analytical Philosophy vol. II, ed. Butler R. J. (Blackwell, Oxford, 1965). All references to Kenny and Anscombe are to these items.

4 Wittgenstein consciously exploits this sort of ambiguity in his celebrated remark, “Why can't a dog simulate pain? Is he too honest”? (Philosophical Investigations §250; but cf §357, §650, p. 174e, p. 229e). The point Kenny is making forbids us to interpret him as executing the same manœuvre.

5 ‘Material’ is throughout this section to be understood as ‘materialk’ in terms of the notation of section II.

6 Rhet. 1378330–4. His Ars Rhetorica is a manual for the aspiring rhetorician, and is directed solely towards the techniques for the effective practice of rhetoric in the situation as it obtained when he was writing. This was that the purpose of rhetoric in Athenian political and legal assemblies was to win agreement to one's point of view, and that rational argument in a strict sense was but one means, and an infrequently effective one, that might be employed to achieve that end. In Book II, Aristotle embarks on a Humean project with Stevensonian overtones; he describes the nature and workings of the emotions, in order that the rhetorician might, by using this knowledge, persuade more effectively. The knowledge Aristotle seeks to supply he classifies under three heads, about the state of mind of a person having a given emotion, about the kinds of things or persons towards which the emotion is felt, and about the kinds of circumstances under which it is felt (Rhet., 1378322–4).

7 This example is borrowed from Prof. John Wisdom. I make little apology, as it is an unsurpassably good example.

8 Cf. J . L. Austin, How to do Things with Words (O.U.P., 1965), 1–4, 147–50.

1 I have benefited from the criticisms by Dr. William Eastman of an earlier draft of this paper.

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Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review / Revue canadienne de philosophie
  • ISSN: 0012-2173
  • EISSN: 1759-0949
  • URL: /core/journals/dialogue-canadian-philosophical-review-revue-canadienne-de-philosophie
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