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Philosophy Emotion
by
Michael Brady

Introduction

Emotions occupy a central place in our lives and are increasingly the object of philosophical attention. It is not easy, however, to keep a grip on the literature on this subject, in part because the emotions are the focus of study in a number of disciplines. As a result, it is rather difficult to present an overview of the literature on emotion in general. In order to keep things manageable, then, this entry focuses on the issues that are central to the main philosophical debates. Reference is made to other approaches—from psychology, evolutionary theory, and social science—insofar as these have informed, and have been informed by, philosophical thinking.

General Overviews

There are relatively few general overviews of the central issues in the philosophy of emotion. Most of these are online, and only a few are particularly wide-ranging. De Sousa 2007 is the most comprehensive, accessible, useful and up-to-date guide, covering the psychology and biology of emotion, along with historical and more contemporary philosophical approaches. It also features very helpful short descriptions of the work of more than thirty philosophers of emotion. Most of the other resources, such as Rorty 1980, Solomon 1998a, and Solomon 1998b, are much shorter but are of some use as brief guides to central figures and contemporary issues. Goldie 2007 presents a good summary of different approaches, although this online resource is available only via subscription. Oatley 2004 provides a general history of emotion encompassing scientific and philosophical thinking.

Textbooks

There are, surprisingly, no obvious textbooks on the philosophy of emotion. One option for dealing with this dearth would be for teachers to base a course around one of the anthologies listed in the relevant sections that follow. Another option would be to center teaching on a contemporary monograph on the emotions, although these would be more suitable for advanced undergraduate students. A number of influential and important such works appear in this section. These monographs vary in difficulty and scope and of course offer partisan views. Ben-Ze’ev 2000, de Sousa 1987, and Solomon 1993 are wide-ranging but occasionally rather difficult, so they would need to be used selectively. Lyons 1980 is an important treatment, although cognitivist views have developed apace since the time this monograph appeared. Goldie 2000 might be the most accessible, although Nussbaum 2001 is extremely clear and well-written.

  • Ben-Ze’ev, Aaron. The Subtlety of Emotions. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000.

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    A wide-ranging, interdisciplinary approach providing a general framework for emotions, and an extremely helpful classification of many different emotions in light of this framework.

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  • de Sousa, Ronald. The Rationality of Emotion. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987.

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    A contemporary classic, defending the view that emotions can both be assessed for rationality and play a vitally important role in our rational lives. It is quite difficult in places, however, and it might be a stretch to work through the whole text in a single course.

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  • Goldie, Peter. The Emotions: A Philosophical Exploration. Oxford: Clarendon, 2000.

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    A subtle and sophisticated book that attempts to do justice to both the intentionality and affective nature of emotions. Well-written, empirically informed, and with a wealth of interesting examples from the arts. Possibly the best of the listed monographs to use as a course text.

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  • Lyons, William E. Emotion. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

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    Empirically informed and influential defense of a “cognitivist” account of emotion.

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  • Nussbaum, Martha C. Upheavals of Thought. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

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    The first part of this large and extremely impressive book is a very clear defense of a neo-Stoic account of emotion, and as such would be a useful basis for an advanced undergraduate course.

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  • Solomon, Robert C. The Passions: Emotions and the Meaning of Life. 2d ed. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1993.

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    A groundbreaking and highly original defense of the rationality of emotion, with a central existentialist theme. A difficult text in many places, however, which counts against its use as a stand-alone course text.

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Anthologies

While there is a shortfall of comprehensive general overviews and textbooks, there are a number of excellent anthologies available. The two best-known collections, Rorty 1980 and Solomon 2003, are essential reading, as is Solomon 2004 for more up-to-date approaches. There are several very good recent collections organized around narrower themes. Leighton 2003 focuses on judgmentalism and its critics, while Cruise and Evans 2004 collects a number of papers on emotion and evolution. Hatzimoysis 2003 is another excellent collection, although it lacks a central organizing motif. Lewis, et al. 2008 is an essential anthology in the psychology of emotion and contains many selections that will be of interest to philosophers. Sander and Scherer 2009 is a comprehensive new interdisciplinary volume of entries on emotion as studied by the numerous affective sciences.

  • Cruise, Pierre, and Dylan Evans, eds. Emotion, Evolution, and Rationality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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    Collection of high-quality essays centered on evolutionary approaches to emotions, from philosophers and psychologists.

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  • Hatzimoysis, Anthony, ed. Philosophy and the Emotions. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

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    High-quality collection of contemporary papers. Too disparate to be of great use as a course text, however, at least at the undergraduate level.

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  • Leighton, Stephen R., ed. Philosophy and the Emotions. Calgary, AB: Broadview, 2003.

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    Excellent—although not widely available—collection including many of the classic papers in favor of and against a cognitivist approach to the emotions.

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  • Lewis, Michael, Jeannette M. Haviland-Jones, and Lisa Feldman Barrett, eds. Handbook of Emotions. 3d ed. New York: Guilford, 2008.

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    The standard reference work in the psychology of emotion; extremely comprehensive and wide-ranging, including social and neurobiological perspectives.

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  • Rorty, Amélie, ed. Explaining Emotions. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

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    Influential and wide-ranging collection of papers in the philosophy of emotion. Nearly thirty years old now, and many of the debates have since moved on, but could function as a good course text if supplemented by more contemporary papers.

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  • Sander, David, and Klaus Scherer, eds. Oxford Companion to Emotion and the Affective Sciences. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

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    Comprehensive and very recent volume on emotion as studied by psychologists, neuroscientists, social scientists, and philosophers. Contains overviews and encyclopedic entries, with more than thirty articles by philosophers.

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  • Solomon, Robert C. Thinking about Feeling: Contemporary Philosophers on Emotion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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    An essential selection of seventeen papers by major figures in philosophy of emotion, representing state-of-the-art contributions to philosophical debate. Wide-ranging and empirically informed, this would make a very good course text at the advanced undergraduate or postgraduate level.

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  • Solomon, Robert C., ed. What is an Emotion? Classic and Contemporary Readings. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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    Second edition of seminal collection, originally published in 1984 with Cheshire Calhoun as the second editor. A fantastic teaching resource, bringing together important works from the history and psychology of emotion, alongside philosophical approaches from the continental and analytic traditions.

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Classic Works in Philosophy and Psychology of Emotion

Selections from classic works by Aristotle, Seneca, and Spinoza can be found in the Anthologies section. Here the original sources are detailed in full, alongside other works that are generally regarded as changing the landscape of the philosophy and psychology of emotion. Of particular importance for contemporary debates are James 1884, Bedford 1956, and Kenny 1963, marking as they do the starting points for feeling theory on the one hand, and cognitivism on the other. Sartre 1938 and Scheler 2008 are central works in existentialist and phenomenological thinking about emotions.

  • Aristotle. Rhetoric. In The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation. Vol. 2. Edited by Jonathan Barnes. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984.

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    Aristotle’s seminal discussion of a particular emotion—anger—is in Book II of the Rhetoric. See also his Nicomachean Ethics, also in Complete Works, Vol. 2, for discussion of the role of emotion in virtue.

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  • Bedford, Errol. “Emotion.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 57 (1956): 281–304.

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    A trenchant criticism of “feeling” theory in the emotions, this paper was one of the spurs for the shift toward “cognitive” approaches.

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  • James, William. “What Is an Emotion?” Mind 19 (1884): 188–204.

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    Influential paper that still sets the scene for large parts of psychology and philosophy of emotion. Proposes that emotions were sensations of bodily responses generated by the perception of some stimulus, and that without such feelings there would be no such thing as an emotion. Although the view fell out of favor with the rise of cognitivism, the central idea has recently been revived, in differing forms, by Damasio 1994 and Prinz 2004 (both cited under Feeling Theories), among others.

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  • Kenny, Anthony. Action, Emotion, and Will. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963.

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    Foremost proponent of the view that emotions were intentional, which set the stage for the development of much of the cognitivist tradition.

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  • Sartre, Jean-Paul. The Emotions: Sketch of a Theory. Translated by Hazel Barnes. New York: Washington Square, 1938.

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    An existentialist account of the emotions, stressing their nature as active rather than passive and as effecting a “magical transformation” of the world itself.

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  • Scheler, Max. The Nature of Sympathy. Rev. ed. Translated by Peter Heath. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction, 2008.

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    In this classic text from the German phenomenological school, Scheler presents an analysis of the social emotions surrounding sympathy, including empathy, fellow-feeling, love, and hate. An important aspect of this treatment is the focus on the relation of such emotions to value, and on the importance of such emotions for our knowledge of each other. First published in 1913.

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  • Seneca. De Ira (On Anger). In Seneca: Moral and Political Essays. Translated by John Cooper. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

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    In this work Seneca presents his conception of anger as closed to reason and beyond self-control, thus representing a common Stoic conception of emotion as the enemy of reason. For a recent neo-Stoic account of emotion, see Nussbaum 2001 (cited under Textbooks).

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  • Spinoza, Benedict de. Ethics. Translated by G. H. R. Parkinson. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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    Spinoza’s treatment of the emotions. Spinoza identifies three primary emotions of desire, pleasure, and pain, which are related to increases or losses of power, and he defines many others. His treatment of the emotions occupies a central place in the Ethics. The Ethics in general is, however, an often difficult and challenging read. First published in 1677.

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Feeling Theories

The classic expression of a “feeling theory” in emotion stems from James 1884, a work with enormous influence. Such views fell out of favor with the development of cognitivist views and the effect of Schacter and Singer 1962, but they are now making something of a recovery. Antonio Damasio has developed a version of the feeling theory in Damasio 1994 and Damasio 1999, while Jesse Prinz defends a version of the James-Lange theory in Prinz 2004. A proponent of the view that feelings are an essential part of emotions and not just an “add-on” is Goldie 2000.

  • Damasio, Antonio R. Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. New York: Putnam, 1994.

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    An important popular interdisciplinary book by a prominent neurologist, stressing the centrality of emotions to our rational lives, and in particular to our decision-making. A central feature of Damasio’s revival of a Jamesian approach is his appeal to “somatic markers,” feelings that associate certain behavior patterns with certain situation types.

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  • Damasio, Antonio R. The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1999.

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    Damasio further develops the feeling theory initially proposed in Damasio 1994. Another influential and popular work in the neurology and psychology of emotion.

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  • Goldie, Peter. The Emotions: A Philosophical Exploration. Oxford: Clarendon, 2000.

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    A subtle and sophisticated book that attempts to do justice to both the intentionality and affective nature of emotions. Well written, empirically informed, and with a wealth of interesting examples from the arts.

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  • James, William. “What Is an Emotion?” Mind 19 (1884): 188–204.

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    Enormously influential paper that still sets the scene for large parts of psychology and philosophy of emotion. James proposed that emotions were sensations of bodily responses generated by the perception of some stimulus, and that without such feelings there would be no such thing as an emotion.

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  • Prinz, Jesse J. Gut Reactions: A Perceptual Theory of Emotion. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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    Ambitious, wide-ranging, and empirically informed philosophical defense of a feeling theory, according to which emotions are perceptions of bodily responses, which themselves represent object and events in the external world. The most sophisticated recent resurrection of the James-Lange theory, although the jury is still out on its ultimate plausibility.

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  • Schacter, Stanley, and Jerome Singer. “Cognitive, Social, and Psychological Determinants of Emotional States.” Psychological Review 69 (1962): 379–399.

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    A well-known and much-discussed paper attacking the James-Lange theory on the basis of experimental evidence purporting to show the centrality of cognition to emotional experience.

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Cognitive Theories: Pro and Con

Following on from the groundbreaking Bedford 1956 and Kenny 1963 (both cited under Classic Works in Philosophy and Psychology of Emotion), “cognitivism” in the philosophy of emotion developed apace. Central works include Lyons 1980 and Taylor 1985. Solomon 1993 is a particularly deft—though rather difficult—development of a “judgmentalist” position, which has found a recent defender in Nussbaum 2001. Deigh 1994 argues for a modified version of cognitivism, and Neu 2000 argues for the importance of thoughts, rather than judgments, in emotion. Cognitivism, and especially judgmentalism, have prompted serious and sustained criticism; see especially Greenspan 1988 and Griffiths 1997.

  • Deigh, John. “Cognitivism in the Theory of Emotions.” Ethics 104 (1994): 824–854.

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    Deigh argues in favor of form of cognitivism but argues that emotions are not to be reduced to complexes of beliefs and desires. One virtue of this account is that he can accommodate the thought that young children and animals have emotions.

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  • Greenspan, Patricia S. Emotions and Reasons: An Inquiry into Emotional Justification. New York: Routledge, 1988.

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    In the first part of the book, Greenspan raises a number of serious objections to a judgmentalist account of the emotions, focusing on the idea that emotions and judgments can diverge, and that emotions are not subject to the sorts of rational constraints that govern belief. Of particular importance is her subtle account of the epistemic and practical roles that emotions play.

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  • Griffiths, Paul. What Emotions Really Are: The Problem of Psychological Categories. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

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    A provocative and influential book bringing developments in evolutionary biology and cognitive science to the debate on the nature of emotion. Griffiths argues that philosophers and psychologists are mistaken in thinking that emotions form a scientifically respectable natural kind—here reflecting a view held by Rorty 1980 (see Perceptual Models of Emotion)—and maintains, against cognitivist views, that the “basic” emotions at least involve nothing in the way of propositional attitudes.

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  • Lyons, William. Emotion. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

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    Empirically informed and influential defense of a “cognitivist” account of emotion.

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  • Neu, Jerome. A Tear Is an Intellectual Thing: The Meanings of Emotion. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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    Neu argues that thoughts are what give emotions intentionality and are what distinguish one emotion from another. This view underlies his comprehensive explanation of a number of emotions, and the central place he gives to emotions in the formation of our identity.

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  • Nussbaum, Martha C. Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

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    A beautifully written and very clear defense of a neo-Stoic account of emotion, according to which emotions are constituted by value judgments.

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  • Solomon. Robert C. The Passions: Emotions and the Meaning of Life, 2d ed. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1993.

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    A groundbreaking and highly original defense of the idea that evaluative judgments are essential elements of emotions.

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  • Taylor, Gabrielle. Pride, Shame, and Guilt: Emotions of Self-Assessment. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

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    A development of a sophisticated cognitivist—but not clearly judgmentalist—line through consideration of the nature of three central emotions. It is a short but impressive and influential contribution to the debate.

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Noncognitive Theories

Skepticism about cognitive theories has grown among philosophers, psychologists, and neurophysiologists. Rival noncognitive theories have developed as a result. According to these views, cognitions—typically understood as propositional attitudes—are not necessarily part of emotional experience. In psychology, the idea has been expressed with significant empirical support in Ekman 1977, Zajonc 1984, and Zajonc 2001. Lazarus 1984 stressed, against Zajonc, the necessity for some form of cognitive appraisal in emotion. The ensuing debate generated a great detail of interest. A neurophysiological perspective on the issue was provided by LeDoux 1996. More recently, Paul Griffiths has followed Ekman in his development of a noncognitive account of basic emotions (Griffiths 1997), while Prinz 2004 stresses that emotions are “embodied appraisals” that can represent without involving propositional attitudes or thoughts.

Perceptual Models of Emotion

A number of philosophers have attempted to capture the intentionality or world-directedness of emotion by proposing that emotions are (or are akin to) perceptions of value. This idea is sometimes traced back to Aristotle 1971. Perceptual models of emotion have the putative advantage of representing a middle ground between judgmentalism on the one hand and noncognitivist and feeling theories on the other. De Sousa 1987 is a classic exploration of what is right and what is wrong with this approach. An early exploration of the view is Rorty 1980. The perceptual model is briefly discussed in Elgin 1996 and is treated at much greater length in Tappolet 2000 and Roberts 2003. Johnston 2001 stresses the epistemic importance of emotions, while Prinz 2004 is a novel development of this approach along Jamesian lines.

  • Aristotle. De Anima (On the Soul). In The Complete Works of Aristotle. Vol. 1. Edited by Jonathan Barnes. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971.

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    Classic presentation of the idea that emotions—such as anger and desire—are a form of perception.

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  • de Sousa, Ronald. The Rationality of Emotion. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987.

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    A classic treatment of the rationality of emotion and an important contribution to the debate over perceptual theories. De Sousa’s monograph helpfully indicates the similarities and differences between emotions and perceptions.

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  • Elgin, Catherine Z. Considered Judgment. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996.

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    An interesting development of a perceptual theory of emotion, with particular reference to its role in coherentist epistemology.

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  • Johnston, Mark. “The Authority of Affect.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 53 (2001): 181–214.

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    A stimulating recent journal article in which the author argues that “affective engagement” is necessary if we are to have access to—in a way akin to seeing—certain values in the world.

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  • Prinz, Jesse J. Gut Reactions: A Perceptual Theory of Emotion. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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    According to Prinz, emotions are perceptions of bodily responses, which constitute noncognitive evaluative representations of objects and events in the external world.

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  • Roberts, Robert C. Emotions: An Essay in Aid of Moral Psychology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

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    Roberts presents a penetrating, detailed, and subtle analysis of the nature of emotion, arguing that emotions are “concern-based construals” and as such are more akin to perceptions than judgments or beliefs.

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  • Rorty, Amélie. “Explaining Emotions.” In Explaining Emotions. Edited by Amélie Rorty, 103–126. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

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    Important and subtle discussion of the intentional elements in emotions, in which the author argues that emotions involve patterns of “intentional salience” that are akin to perceptions.

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  • Tappolet, Christine. Emotions et Valeurs. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2000.

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    An important monograph, building upon ideas in Scheler and Meinong, that defends the idea emotions can be conceived of as perceptions of value, and which are therefore essential to our knowledge of value.

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Evolutionary and Social Constructionist Approaches

An evolutionary approach aims to explain emotions in terms of natural selection: emotions evolved because they served biological and social needs. The classic statement of an evolutionary approach to the expression of emotion is found in Darwin 1998. Pioneering work on “basic” emotions has been done by Ekman 1992. Plutchik 1980 and Frank 1988 developed evolutionary approaches with respect to certain core and moral emotions. Cosmides and Tooby 2008 presents an excellent and comprehensive overview of evolutionary approaches. Lazarus 1991 focuses on adaptive roles that emotions can play, although this is only a relatively small part of the book. Social constructionism is a rival to an evolutionary approach; per this view, emotions are social constructions, the products of the histories of particular cultures and individuals rather than the biological history of the species. Two important contributions to the social constructionist literature are Averill 1980 and Armon-Jones 1986. A good recent critical discussion of this approach can be found in Griffiths 1997 (cited under Cognitive Theories: Pro and Con and Noncognitive Theories).

  • Armon-Jones, Claire. “The Thesis of Constructionism.” In The Social Construction of Emotions. Edited by Rom Harré, 32–56. Oxford: Blackwell, 1986.

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    An influential presentation of the view that all emotions are non-natural and socially constructed attitudes, whose central role is to reinforce and promote the values and practices of a society.

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  • Averill, James. “A Constructivist View of Emotion.” In Emotion: Theory, Research, and Experience. Edited by Robert Plutchik and Henry Kellerman, 305–339. New York: Academic Press, 1980.

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    Another early and well-known account proposing that emotions are “transitory social roles” determining appropriate behavior in social contexts and are governed by social values.

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  • Cosmides, Leda, and John Tooby. “The Evolutionary Psychology of the Emotions.” In Handbook of Emotions. 3d ed. Edited by Michael Lewis, Jeannette Haviland-Jones, and Lisa Feldman Barrett, 114–137. New York: Guilford, 2008.

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    Clear, comprehensive, and wide-ranging presentation of evolutionary approaches in the standard reference work on the psychology of emotion.

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  • Darwin, Charles. The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals. 3d ed. Edited by Paul Ekman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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    Extremely influential statement of the idea that emotional expressions are (or at least were) adaptive and play an important communicative role. Originally published in 1872.

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  • Ekman, Paul. “An Argument for Basic Emotions.” Cognition and Emotion 6 (1992): 169–200.

    DOI: 10.1080/02699939208411068Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Groundbreaking presentation of the idea that basic emotions have evolved because of their adaptive value in dealing with certain fundamental life tasks.

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  • Frank, Robert H. Passions within Reason: The Strategic Role of Emotion. New York: Norton, 1988.

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    Frank argues that emotions have evolved to play a strategic role in competitive social situations. Emotions, which might often appear to be irrational or dysfunctional, can in fact help us to secure (mutual) long-term benefits in circumstances where self-interest might dictate otherwise.

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  • Lazarus, Richard S. Emotion and Adaptation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

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    A comprehensive summation of Lazarus’s many years of important research on emotion, and in particular of the function of emotion in our lives.

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  • Plutchik, Robert. Emotion, Psychoevolutionary Synthesis. New York: Harper and Row, 1980.

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    Important evolutionary approach proposing that there are a small number of basic emotions that are adaptations and are to be found in both humans and animals.

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Psychological Approaches

The psychological literature on emotions is vast. Good sources for an overview of the literature are Lewis, et al. 2008 (cited under Anthologies), a massive and extremely comprehensive volume on the current state of play in psychology of emotion, and Ekman and Davidson 1994. Scherer, et al. 2001 is an excellent volume on current work in appraisal theory, an area of research that has developed rapidly in recent years. Frijda 1986 is another seminal work in the psychology of emotion, with Frijda 2007 constituting an important update of the author’s earlier work.

Rationality, Value, and the Emotions

A central issue in the philosophy of emotion, from the Stoics onwards, has been the relation between emotion and reason. Traditionally regarded as irrational or arational, contemporary theorists have tended to stress the importance of emotions to our rational lives. In philosophy, de Sousa 1987 and Greenspan 1988 are of particular interest. Elster 1999 is an excellent interdisciplinary monograph on this topic. In recent years, increased attention has been paid to a related topic, namely the relation between emotion and value. Gibbard 1990 is an important treatment of centrality of feelings to an expressivist account of value, while Mulligan 1998 presents an interesting account of the relation between emotion, value, and valuing. Sentimentalist accounts of value are ably criticized in D’Arms and Jacobson 2000. Stocker and Hegeman 1996 and Helm 2001 are excellent book-length treatments of the various connections between emotions and values.

LAST MODIFIED: 05/10/2010

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195396577-0039

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