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VIII. The significance of recalcitrant emotion (or, anti-quasijudgmentalism)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 January 2010


Sentimentalist theories in ethics treat evaluative judgments as somehow dependent on human emotional capacities. While the precise nature of this dependence varies, the general idea is that evaluative concepts are to be understood by way of more basic emotional reactions. Part of the task of distinguishing between the concepts that sentimentalism proposes to explicate, then, is to identify a suitably wide range of associated emotions. In this paper, we attempt to deal with an important obstacle to such views, which arises from the dominant tradition in the philosophy of emotion. We will be attempting to steer a middle course between the traditional view and some recent, empirically-minded criticism.

Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy and the contributors 2003

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1 ‘Hume on Moral Judgement’, p. 76, in Foot, Philippa, Virtues and Vices (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978)Google Scholar. The 20th century noncognitivists are addressed directly in ‘Moral Beliefs’ and ‘Moral Arguments,’ ibid.

2 For an attempt to defend a version of sentimentalism that is expressly circular, see Wiggins, David, ‘A Sensible Subjectivism?’ in Needs, Values, Truth: Essays in the Philosophy of Value (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987)Google Scholar.

3 We consider a variety of sentimentalist proposals elsewhere, in D'Arms, and Jacobson, , ‘Sentiment and Value,’ Ethics 110 (2000), pp. 722–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 See Aristotle, Rhetoric, Book II Chapter 5 (1382a20). There are grounds for doubting whether Aristotle himself was fully a judgmentalist, but this is how he has commonly been understood.

5 Foot, ‘Hume,’ p. 76.

6 Fear of flying, and perhaps other phobias, might be explicable consistently with judgmentalism and without requiring the ad hoc postulation of conflicting judgments. That would be so, for instance, if the phobic is best described as suffering panic attacks when faced with the prospect of flying, rather than as being straightforwardly afraid of it. Furthermore, one who is subject to panic attacks under certain predictable circumstances can, without conflict of judgment, be afraid of being put into those circumstances—where the object of this fear is the panic itself rather than the eliciting conditions per se. These are complex issues, which deserve more attention than can be afforded to them here. Suffice it to say that judgmentalism needs to do more to accommodate the phenomena of recalcitrant emotion. Our thanks to Robert Solomon for pressing us on this point.

7 The great challenge for judgmentalist accounts of recalcitrant emotion is that the behavioural evidence supporting the attribution of the evidentially suspect belief is problematic. As these brief examples show, the phobic's behaviour, taken as a whole—as it must be—is less like that of the ordinary frightened person than it appears to be if one focuses exclusively on the aversive behaviour.

8 No doubt there is some tendency to rationalize these feelings, but it is usually weak and not long sustained.

9 At least one self-described judgmentalist, Robert Solomon, is better considered a quasijudgmentalist in our terminology, since he does not deny the claim that one can be afraid despite believing oneself to be safe. For Solomon, emotions are ‘hasty and dogmatic’ judgments, which can conflict with one's considered belief or evaluation. See Solomon, , ‘On Emotions as Judgements,’ American Philosophical Quarterly 25 (1988), pp. 183–91Google Scholar. Perhaps other philosophers conventionally thought of as judgmentalists would be more charitably construed as quasijudgmentalists. In any case, our arguments here apply against both views.

10 Greenspan, , ‘Subjective Guilt and Responsibility,’ Mind 101 (1992), p. 293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

11 We take it to be a burden of the quasijudgmentalist position to better explain the nature of the construals claimed to be necessary for being in an emotional state. They need to make plausible their central claim that recalcitrant episodes, which are granted not to involve belief, must nevertheless involve some other, independently specifiable propositional attitude toward the characteristic thought.

12 See Greenspan, Patricia, Emotions and Reason: An Inquiry into Emotional Justification (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1988)Google Scholar; Roberts, Robert, ‘What an Emotion Is: A Sketch,’ The Philosophical Review (1988), pp. 183209.Google Scholar

13 Hume, Treatise, p. 416.

14 Hume, ibid., p. 416.

15 See D'Arms, and Jacobson, , ‘The Moralistic Fallacy: On the “Appropriateness” of Emotion,’ Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 61 (2000), pp. 6590CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Also see D'Arms, and Jacobson, , ‘Sentiment and Value,’ Ethics 110 (2000), pp. 722–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

16 Griffiths, Paul, What Emotions Really Are (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), pp. 4143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

17 See Roberts, Robert, ‘Jealously and Anger’ (MS) and ‘What is Wrong with Wicked Feelings?,’ American Philosophical Quarterly 28 (1991), pp. 1324.Google Scholar

18 Taylor, Gabrielle, Pride, Shame and Guilt: Emotions of self-assessment (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985), p. 91.Google Scholar

19 Foot, ‘Moral Beliefs,’ p. 113.

20 Foot, ‘Hume on Moral Judgement,’ p. 76.

21 The guarantee is provided, in effect, by the logic of ascriptions of this sort. See Gordon, Robert, The Structure of Emotions (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987)Google Scholar, for a detailed and helpful discussion of this logic.

22 It is also possible to circumscribe or ‘sharpen’ natural emotion kinds in other ways, for instance by their causes or motivations. We are inclined to think that such attitudes as spite and vengefulness, which are sometimes included on lists of the emotions, are better understood as motivational sharpenings of one (or more) natural emotions.

23 See Paul Ekman, ‘All Emotions are Basic‘ and Richard Lazarus, ‘Appraisals: The Long and the Short of It’ in Ekman, Paul and Davidson, Richard J., The Nature of Emotion: Fundamental Questions (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994)Google Scholar. See also Tooby, J. and Cosmides, L., ‘The Past Explains the Present: Emotional Adaptations and the Structure of Ancestral Environment,’ Ethology and Sociobiology 11 (1990), pp. 375424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

24 These phrases are due to Ekman, Johnson-Laird and Oatley, and Tooby and Cosmides, respectively.

25 Tooby and Cosmides, ‘The Past Explains the Present,’ pp. 407–8.

26 LeDoux, Joseph, The Emotional Brain (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996).Google Scholar

27 And there are empirical reasons for doubting this, several of which are catalogued by Paul Griffiths.

28 We suspect that envy is a natural emotion kind, in part because of the ubiquity of social hierarchy in human (and primate) groups, but whether it is best articulated in terms of possession or position will likely differ according to contingencies concerning the degree of materialism in a given culture.

29 Seligman, Martin, ‘Phobias and Preparedness,’ Behaviour Therapy 2 (1971), pp. 307–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Nesse, Randolph, ‘Evolutionary Explanations of Emotions,’ Human Nature 1 (1990), pp. 261–89.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed

30 By ‘risk’ here we mean something that can be studied actuarially, such as the relative probabilities of dying on a car trip and a plane trip. One could call this danger, but the cost of that semantic decision is to make certain questions senseless. We cannot then ask whether it is dangerous to take up a hobby that often proves habit-forming. The question at hand is not just the chance that one forms the habit, but whether being so habituated is something to fear (as it may appear from outside) or not (as it is likely to seem upon immersion in the activity). The crucial choice is whether to leave ‘danger’ as an ambiguous term, or to pin it down by associating it either with risk (the empirical concept) or with fearsomeness (the evaluative concept). To make the first choice is to forego analysing the fearsome in terms of the dangerous, whereas to make the second choice is to render such an analysis uninformative.

31 We are not claiming total independence, which would amount to denying that perception is to some degree theory-laden. Nevertheless, one's knowledge that the stick is straight does not keep it from appearing bent when partially submerged.

32 Deigh, John, ‘Cognitivism in the Theory of Emotions,’ Ethics 104 (1994). pp. 850–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Emphasis added.

33 Earlier versions of this paper were presented to the Ohio Reading Group in Ethics, the Franklin & Marshall Colloquium in Moral Psychology, and the Royal Institute of Philosophy. We wish to thank those institutions for their support, and the audiences for their comments. We are especially grateful to Talbot Brewer, Janice Dowell, Bennett Helm, Karen Jones, Sigrun Svavarsdottir and David Velleman.

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