Scott Kimbrough, Jacksonville University
What is an emotion? This question has picked up a lot of momentum in the last thirty years or so, as philosophers, psychologists, and neuroscientists offer competing answers. One of the more hotly contested questions in these debates concerns the role of judgment in defining emotion. “Cognitivists” maintain that judgments are essential to any adequate understanding of the emotions. 1 For instance, contemporary cognitivists follow Aristotle’s lead in claiming that anger involves the judgment that one has been wronged. Critics of cognitivism dispute the relevance of judgments to emotion. For example, reviving the James-Lange theory according to which emotions are perceptions of bodily states, philosopher Jesse Prinz contends that the physical bases of emotional response are faster and more neurophysiologically basic than those implicated in cognition. Thus, he concludes, judgments are not relevant to the definition of emotion. 2
I will argue that Prinz is wrong to deny cognitivism. To make the case, I will deploy a distinction developed by Peter Strawson in his well-known discussion of free will: the distinction between the “participant attitude” adopted within normal interpersonal interactions and the “objective attitude” adopted for scientific study. 3 In the process, I hope to clarify the basis for Strawson’s philosophical appeals to “ordinary language” or, as it is now misleadingly known in the philosophy of mind (thanks to a rhetorical victory by its philosophical enemies), “folk psychology.”
Begin by considering Prinz’s critique of cognitivism. He proceeds in two steps: first, he attempts to establish that the debate between cognitivism and its critics must be settled scientifically; second, he refutes cognitivism as a scientific hypothesis. For the sake of argument I am happy to concede the second step of Prinz’s argument. 4It’s the first step I will argue is too hasty.
In his effort to establish that science must settle the relevance of judgments to emotions, Prinz presents the only alternative to scientific studies as “philosophical reflection” that appeals to “intuitions” about examples. 5 Such intuitive appeals predictably do not compel agreement on all sides of the debate, leading Prinz to remark:
If intuitions can clash, as they almost always do, theories of emotion should also avail themselves of other kinds of evidence…. Reflection may reveal more about the person reflecting than about the phenomenon on which she is reflecting. If one wants to explain
something other than one’s own personal beliefs, one should exploit more objective methods. In particular, one should make use of scientific experiments. 6
Prinz goes on to praise empirical psychologists for their use of statistical methods, concluding that they “may have a methodological advantage over philosophers,” whom he discounts as “casual observers.” 7
Prinz’s form of argument proves rather more than it should. For example, suppose the subject of debate were a moral issue rather than the nature of emotions. Surely “intuitions” differ about examples. Is what we need at this juncture “other kinds of evidence” or “scientific experiments”? Shall we call in the empirical psychologists to exploit their “methodological advantage”? Clearly not, as scientific methods – however admirably suited for sifting causal hypotheses – do not confer expertise within a moral debate. Moral debate, as Strawson explained in “Freedom and Resentment,” requires us to maintain what he calls the “participant attitude.”
Strawson introduces the distinction between the participant attitude and the objective attitude in the following passage:
What I want to contrast is the attitude (or range of attitudes) of involvement or participation in a human relationship, on the one hand, and what might be called the objective attitude (or range of attitudes) to another human being, on the other. Even in the same situation, I must add, they are not altogether exclusive of each other; but they are, profoundly, opposed to each other. To adopt the objective attitude to another human being is to see him, perhaps, as an object of social policy; as a subject for what, in a wide range of sense, might be called treatment… 8
In contrast, when relating to another person with the participant attitude, we expect reciprocal goodwill and consideration, and respond with emotions such as resentment, anger, and indignation when we do not receive it. Strawson calls these emotions (and their more positive counterparts such as gratitude and appreciation) “reactive attitudes,” and emphasizes their critical importance to normal moral life. Ascriptions of moral responsibility presuppose that their target is capable of the expected reciprocal goodwill; a finding of incapacity, as in the case of the mentally ill, constitutes one good reason to suspend the participant attitude, including the emotions characteristic of it such as anger and moral indignation, in favor of the objective attitude. The desire to study causes scientifically is another reason to adopt the objective attitude. In the course of their studies,
scientists endeavor to suspend resentment, gratitude, moral indignation and other reactive attitudes characteristic of the participant attitude.
Strawson expects that a scientific account of the reactive attitudes themselves is possible. Indeed, Strawson and Prinz both support a broadly Humean meta-ethics according to which emotions under-gird moral practices. 9 However, Strawson’s purpose is not to engage in such scientific research, but rather to point out that an objective account of reactive attitudes does not capture their importance for our lives:
It is one thing to ask about the general causes of these reactive attitudes I have alluded to; it is quite another to ask about the variations to which they are subject, the particular conditions in which they do or do not seem natural or reasonable or appropriate; and it is a third thing to ask what it would be like, what it islike, not to suffer them. I am not much concerned with the first question; but I am with the second; and perhaps even more with the third. 10
Strawson answers that a life without reactive attitudes would be inhuman, irrational, and impoverishing, depriving us of “the general framework of human life.” 11
Now, I don’t think Strawson is likely to meet much resistance to this claim. Prinz emphasizes the survival value of emotions in our evolutionary history, noting that anger for example “may be acquired because it helps us cope with challenges from conspecifics.” 12 However, I will argue that Strawson’s insight cannot be squared with Prinz’s rejection of cognitivism.
At this point, a brief summary of Prinz’s non-cognitive theory of emotion can no longer be avoided. Prinz calls his view the “embodied appraisal theory,” and promotes it as a synthesis of the James-Lange theory and appraisal theories. Emotions, as he understands them, detect states of the body. This is the Jamesian portion of his theory. However, emotions do not represent the bodily states they detect. Rather, these bodily states represent “core relational themes” – relations between an organism and its environment that pertain to well-being. 13 This is the appraisal part of the theory. Unlike appraisal theorists such as Lazarus, however, Prinz maintains that it is the bodily states themselves that represent the core relational themes, rather than cognitive judgments or “propositional attitudes” involving the relevant concepts. Fear, for example, is a non-cognitive, non- conceptual bodily state that represents danger without involving the judgment that danger is present. Of course, the judgment and the bodily state often co-occur. Indeed, the judgment can cause or, as Prinz often says, “trigger,” the bodily state. But the bodily state can also occur in the absence of the judgment, as when a snake-phobic person reacts immediately to the perceptual image of a snake.
Ambitiously, Prinz maintains that his theory applies not only to “basic” emotions the content of which is rooted in our evolutionary history, but also to “higher” emotions like jealousy that only cognitively sophisticated and culturally influenced creatures like ourselves are capable of experiencing:
I propose that cognitively elaborated embodied appraisals are not composite states at all. They are comprised of nothing but embodied appraisals. The cognitions that elaborate them are prior conditions, not constituent parts. When romantic jealousy occurs, there is first a judgment to the effect that one’s lover has been unfaithful and then an embodied appraisal. The emotion, jealousy, is comprised entirely by the embodied appraisal. 14
On this theory, thoughts about infidelity can trigger jealousy, but jealousy is a non-conceptual bodily state that represents infidelity independently of those judgments. 15
On the face of it, Prinz’s distinction between emotions and triggering judgments is forced, particularly because the existence of the bodily states with which he identifies emotions is, for the vast majority of emotions, speculative. However, Prinz’s distinction is admittedly not arbitrary: one main point, as I understand it, is to direct empirical research of the emotions away from higher cognition and towards non-cognitive brain systems. This may well be a more worthwhile direction for empirical research into the physiological aspects of emotional experience. It certainly strikes me as more promising than administering surveys, as many psychologists studying emotions do. Nevertheless, even if Prinz is right about how best to study the brain, it does not follow that he has captured all that matters about emotion. As Strawson’s discussion of the participant attitude reminds us, our daily concern with emotions plays a role in our moral practices, not just our scientific ones.
But might the advance of science change those practices? Strawson acknowledges that scientific study can affect our understanding of concepts within the participant perspective. 16 This has obviously happened already, as the medicalization of mental illness has substantially reduced the moral condemnation of people suffering from depression and other affective disorders. Would we all come to speak about emotions like Prinz if scientific research substantiates his theory about the bodily basis of emotion? Would it be pertinent to distinguish, with Prinz, between the emotion strictly so called and the judgments that merely “trigger” the emotion?
For example, suppose that scientific research of the sort favored by Prinz yields a “treatment” for anger––an injection that prevents the onset of anger’s typical physiological manifestations. 17At the same time, suppose that the injection has no effect on judgments, allowing the patient to continue to make the judgments emphasized by cognitivists as necessary to anger (e.g., hat one has been wronged, that the wrong was inflicted intentionally, etc.). Would the invention of such a treatment prove that anger does not involve judgments? It certainly seems natural enough for an injected patient to report his experience by saying: “I see that he wronged me on purpose, but I just can’t get angry about it.” But this shows at most that physiological arousal is necessary for emotions, a thesis that most cognitivists (excepting notable hold-outs such as Nussbaum) do not dispute.
To determine how or whether judgments are also essential to our understanding of emotions like anger, consider this question: How would we decide whether to prescribe the injection? This question clearly draws on moral, not merely physiological concerns. The injection would have to be reserved for patients who get angry in inappropriate circumstances, and whose subsequent behavior proves destructive to themselves and others. In other words, to judge whether a person’s anger is normal orpathological, we must examine the judgments the person makes when angry. 18Only a person with a frequent habit of becoming angry for the wrong reasons, and acting on that anger in the wrong ways, would be a candidate for the treatment. 19 Even in a medical context, discussions of anger must draw on judgments of reasonability, appropriateness, proportionality, etc.
Solomon’s cognitivist theory emphasizes such judgments. He argues that theories of emotion like Prinz’s lead to a morally irresponsible conception of emotions as out of our control: What has always centrally concerned me is what Sartre captured in his famous concept of ‘bad faith’ (mauvaise foi), that is, our tendency to deny responsibility by making excuses for ourselves. One of the most prevalent modes of bad faith is our blaming our behavior on our emotions and so excusing ourselves from any responsibility. 20
Prinz certainly plays into Solomon’s concern. Although he concedes that emotions can be evaluated via criticism of the judgments that trigger them, he maintains that emotions themselves cannot be criticized. Commenting on a person whose “calibration file” (i.e., set of triggering causes, including judgments) for amusement includes others’ misfortune, Prinz writes:
It may be wrong, in some sense, to have such a file. But now ask, is it wrong to laugh in the face of adversity assuming such a calibration file is already in place? Put in this way, the answer may be negative. It is not wrong to feel amusement when one encounters something that matches the contents of your amusement file. Nor is it right. Once a calibration file has been set up, we cannot help but react to its contents. This is one source of emotional passivity. The response to items in our calibration files is automatic, and falls outside the jurisdiction of normative assessment. Viewed in this light, emotions are really arational. 21
In Strawsonian terms, what we have here is Prinz insisting that emotions must be evaluated objectively, not from the participant attitude.
To highlight the disagreement between Prinz and Solomon, consider the legal case of Kansas v. Borman (1988). 22 Borman killed his girlfriend after she went on a date with another man. He sought to defend himself by appeal to his “intermittent explosive disorder” – an angry personality. Given his personality, the defense argued, Borman could not control his anger when he discovered his girlfriend’s infidelity. He admitted to killing her, but claimed “diminished capacity.” We can imagine Prinz serving as an expert witness in the case, testifying that Borman’s personal history had set up a calibration file for anger and jealousy that automatically generated an overwhelmingly angry and jealous response when his girlfriend was unfaithful. 23 However, the judge instructed the jury to evaluate the diminished capacity claim as follows:
The criminal law concept of diminished capacity requires the presence of a mental disease or defect not amounting to legal insanity which a jury may consider in determining whether the defendant has the specific intent required for the crime charged. Mere personality characteristics such as poor impulse control, a short temper, frustration, feelings of dependency, “snapping,” lack of concern for the rights of other people, etc., do not constitute a mental disease or defect bringing the doctrine of diminished capacity into play.
Despite the testimony establishing Borman’s “impulsive and immature” character, the jury concluded that he could not avoid criminal liability: he was convicted of second degree murder (intentional, but unpremeditated murder). 24
The court’s reasoning echoes ordinary examples of moral assessment. When a person is angry, he may sensibly be asked “Why are you so angry?” To this question, a reference to one’s “calibration file” constitutes the wrong sort of answer. What’s expected is an explanation of what the object of one’s anger did to deserve such a reaction. The focus on judgment in these contexts is not a focus on causes of anger, but on reasons for anger. When relating to other people normally from the participant attitude, we expect (in the normatively freighted sense of ‘expect’) the angry person’s anger to be bound up with understandable reasons. If it isn’t, we hold them responsible. To retreat to talk of causes at this point is, like Borman, to offer unacceptable excuses. 25 Accordingly, Prinz’s effort to shave judgments off of emotions doesn’t square with how responsibility is
attributed in actual practice. These practices make much less sense if we follow Prinz in characterizing emotions as non-cognitive, arational states. 26
None of this is meant as an attack on psychology. Rather, the point is that psychological study is one of the things we do, and that the significance of that research is something that must be interpreted in the light of our other interests, goals, and purposes. When philosophers like Strawson draw our attention to our extra-scientific judgments, they are not typically engaged in “folk psychology,” an armchair attempt to explain and predict behavior. Nevertheless, their concern is and always has been truth. But what kind of truth is it?
One answer often floated to this question by both critics and proponents of “folk psychology” draws on a distinction between empirical truths and truths about meaning – truths that any competent speaker comes to know in virtue of learning the language. Griffiths’ eliminativist polemic features this view, which he rejects on the grounds that “conceptual analysis” of emotion concepts only tells you what people currently believe about emotions rather than what is true. 27 Ordinary language philosopher Oswald Hanfling encourages this reading as well, frequently adverting to linguistic competence as the source of justification for claims concerning “what we say” about topics like freedom, knowledge, etc. For example, Hanfling insists that platitudes of “folk psychology” are not empirical truths within a proto-scientific theory, but logical truths known by anyone who has learned the language. 28
I agree with scientifically minded critics of “folk psychology” that appeals to the meanings of emotion terms are unhelpful. The right way to counter the over-reaching claims on behalf of science is not by declaring everyone an expert in the logic or (even more obscurely) the “grammar” of English. For such a strategy makes it mystifying how disagreements among competent speakers are possible, and thereby encourages philosophers like Prinz to dismiss non-scientific “intuitions” as arbitrary and subjective. I agree with Prinz and Griffiths that “conceptual analysis” does not yield a priori truths forever immune to criticism that draws on empirical discoveries: defending claims about the meaning of emotion terms is neither more nor less difficult than defending claims about the emotions themselves. Nevertheless, I do not conclude, as Prinz and Griffiths do, that science can therefore claim sole authority to determine the nature of emotion. Appeals to ordinary practice, including Strawson’s appeal to the participant attitude, work by emphasizing contexts in which we do not in fact accept scientific evidence as decisive. When making and defending an ethical judgment, for example, appeals to causal factors are, if not always irrelevant, frequently wide of the point. When an otherwise normal person insults me, I do not care to hear that his calibration file includes contempt for college professors. His rudeness deserves a rebuke despite the causal
provenance of the remark. This is an ethical point, not an effort at armchair psychology or a “grammatical” point backed by my status as a competent speaker.
The value of ordinary language philosophy, as I see it, lies in reminding us of the point of our concepts in their normal uses. As Wittgenstein insists, it’s a mistake to suppose that there is a general form of explanation underlying these reminders. 29 Solomon provides another puzzler for those seeking causal theories when he states that emotions are “subjective engagements in the world” (Solomon, “Emotions, Thoughts, and Feelings,” 77). To ask how this terminology fits within an empirical psychological theory is to miss its point.
[/note] But Strawson is not using the term “attitude” to denote a causal mechanism; rather, he is drawing our attention to the fact that we aren’t primarily interested in causal mechanisms when discussing emotions in many ordinary contexts. 30As examples like Borman’s remind us, the practices we participate in commit us to drawing non-severable connections between emotions, judgments, and moral evaluation.
In conclusion, I don’t know whether cognitivists like Solomon would welcome my associating their work with the ordinary language tradition. Solomon’s heroes are Sartre and Nietzsche, not Austin and Wittgenstein. But he does echo Strawson by making the connection between emotion and responsibility central to his work:
I want to rest my case on practical and moral considerations, and I would urge that these should always be kept in mind. The main consideration is this: how we think about our emotions – as something we suffer or as something we ‘do’ – will deeply affect both our behavior and our understanding of our behavior. In other words, theses about emotions tend to be self-confirming. If one thinks of oneself as the victim of irrational forces, one need not examine the reasons and motives for acting as one does. 31
As Solomon makes clear, the problem with Prinz’s efforts to separate emotions from judgments is that it prevents us from saying things about people and their emotions that we need to say. 32 Borman is responsible for his action: there is no room for the excuse that his anger is “automatic” or “arational,” nor accordingly for a theory of emotion that characterizes his anger exclusively in those terms.
Austin, J. L. “A Plea for Excuses.” In Philosophical Papers, Third Edition. Ed. J. O. Urmson and G. J. Warnock. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1961.
Cavell, Stanley. “Must We Mean What We Say?” In Must We Mean What We Say?: A Book of Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1969.
Damasio, Antonio. Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain. New York: Harvest Books, 2003.
Descartes, René. The Passions of the Soul. In Selected Philosophical Writings of René Descartes. Ed. & trans. John Cottingham et. al. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 1649/1988.
Griffiths, Paul E. What Emotions Really Are. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1997.
Hanfling, Oswald. Philosophy and Ordinary Language: The Bent and Genius of our Tongue. London:
Lazarus, Richard S. Emotion and Adaptation. New York: Oxford UP, 1991.
Miller, William I. The Anatomy ofDisgust. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1997.
Nussbaum, Martha. Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2001.
Prinz, Jesse J. Gut Reactions: A Perceptual Theory ofEmotion. New York: Oxford UP, 2004.
Solomon, Robert C. “Emotions, Thoughts, and Feelings: Emotions as Engagements with the
World.” In Thinking About Feeling. Ed. R. C. Solomon. New York: Oxford UP, 2004. Solomon, Robert C. Not Passion’s Slave: Emotions and Choice. New York: Oxford UP, 2003.
Solomon, Robert C. The Passions. New York: Doubleday, 1976.
Strawson, Peter F. “Freedom and Resentment.” In Free Will. Ed. Gary Watson. Oxford, UK:
Oxford UP, 1982.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations, Third Edition. Trans. G. E. M. Anscombe. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1958.
- Some cognitivists, such as Robert Solomon in The Passions (New York: Doubleday, 1976) and Martha Nussbaum in Upheavals of Thought (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2001), maintain the strong thesis that emotions are constituted by judgments alone. On these views, certain feelings or physiological states may co-occur with emotions, but are not relevant to their individuation. Solomon has since declared his earlier view too extreme on the grounds that it neglects other aspects of emotions, including their behavioral and physiological aspects (e.g., see Robert Solomon, Not Passion’s Slave [New York: Oxford UP, 2003], 196). For a prominent cognitivist theory in the empirical psychology literature, see Richard Lazarus, Emotion and Adaptation(New York: Oxford UP, 1991).
- Jesse J. Prinz, Gut Reactions: A Perceptual Theory of Emotion (New York: Oxford UP, 2004). Paul Griffiths argues for an even more radical, eliminativist conclusion in What Emotions Really Are (Chicago: Chicago UP, 1997): that the concept of emotions has no good place in empirical psychology, so emotions do not really exist. Although I will focus on Prinz, my subsequent defense of cognitivism also applies to eliminativist views like Griffiths’.
- Peter F. Strawson, “Freedom and Resentment,” in Free Will, ed. Gary Watson (Oxford, UK: Oxford UP, 1982).
- Prinz’s argument features the claims that scientific cognitivists such as Lazarus lack neuroanatomical support and cannot account for direct physical induction of emotion (e.g., by drugs or manipulation of facial expressions) (Prinz 40). My main reservation about these arguments is Prinz’s assumption throughout that the presence of typical physiological symptoms of an emotion constitute the presence of the emotion. Depending on the case, this may or may not be a plausible assumption. Prinz complains, fairly enough, that any experience that feels like fear is fear. But in the absence of any judgment that something is dangerous, is it so clear that the physiological arousal characteristic of fear (assuming there is one such kind of arousal) will alwaysfeel like fear? For example, Solomon (Not Passion’s Slave, 221) notes that physiological reactions can last longer than the corresponding emotions. Commenting on the example of a close encounter with a rock-slide, he points out that the “sweating and palpitations” can continue after the fear is gone. In this case, the same physiological reactions that accompanied the fear during the episode are experienced differently once the danger subsides. It might turn out that, in all such examples, the physiological mechanisms in play differ before and after we say the fear has gone. But I don’t think we have to wait for the results of further empirical study to accept the accuracy of Solomon’s description of the case.
- Prinz 28.
- Prinz 29.
- Prinz 30.
- Strawson 66
- Strawson 79. Prinz is working on a book to be entitled The Emotional Construction of Morals.
- Strawson 64.
- Strawson 70.
- Prinz 66. Similarly, on empirical grounds, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio argues, in Looking for Spinoza (New York: Harvest Books, 2003, 140f), that “social emotions” such as embarrassment are essential to rational decision making: people with lesions to the parts of the brain controlling social emotions cannot manage mundane matters such as financial affairs despite the fact that their higher cognitive abilities (mathematical ability, etc.) remain intact.
- Prinz 16.
- Prinz 98-99.
- Prinz maintains that “From a brain’s-eye point of view, basic and nonbasic emotions are alike” (Prinz 158). Nevertheless, Prinz’s strategy for defining “higher” emotions is to identify a basic set and then derive others from processes of blending and calibration. Shame, for example, is “a sadness that has been calibrated to one’s own violations of a moral code” (Prinz 148). The project here is in some ways analogous to René Descartes’ effort, in Passions of the Soul, in Selected Philosophical Writings of René Descartes, ed. & trans. by J. Cottingham et. al. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 1649/1988), to define all emotions as mixtures of joy, sadness, desire, love, hate, and wonder.
- Strawson’s point echoes J. L. Austin, the paradigmatic ordinary language philosopher. Austin acknowledged that our ordinary understanding of concepts can be improved by scientific study. See Austin’s “A Plea for Excuses” in Philosophical Papers, third edition, ed. J. O. Urmson and G. J. Warnock (Oxford, UK: Oxford UP, 1961), 189. Austin also advises study of examples from the law (Austin 187), a recommendation I will adopt later.
- This exercise is in the spirit of Strawson’s question, quoted above, of “what it would be like, what it is like, not to suffer [reactive attitudes].”
- Note the difference here between anger and pain (and other medical conditions the definition of which does not involve judgment). Ethical deliberation does enter into treatment decisions regarding pain, as when one must decide if lessening one’s pain justifies the risk of addiction to the medication. But there is no need to assess the appropriateness of pain, as there is for anger. Cognitivism earns its keep with respect to those judgments.
- Of course, a person who received the treatment would not exactly be restored to health. The anger-elimination treatment is an amputation: it eliminates the pathology, but not by making the patient whole. The patient could in principle be “cured” if the dosage of the injection could be modulated so that the physiological arousal necessary for anger were reduced rather than eliminated. What would count as a cure could only be determined by judging the patient’s ability to get angry appropriately – when, and only when, he is able to restrict his anger to situations in which he reasonably judges that he has been wronged, that the wrong was inflicted on purpose, etc.
- Solomon, Not Passion’s Slave, 198.
- Prinz 240.
- The text of the decision is available online at: http://www.kscourts.org/kscases/supct/1998/19980417/76131.htm.
- Recall the passage quoted above in which Prinz claims that jealousy can be triggered by judgments about infidelity. Prinz does have a strategy for maintaining that Borman’s action is blameable. He can say that the judgments that caused Borman’s anger were unfounded, or emphasize Borman’s ability to restrain his behavioral response to his anger. My question for Prinz at this point, however, is this: If the objective attitude is the appropriate attitude to take to Borman’s anger, why not the rest of his psychological states? After all, a completed cognitive psychology will presumably treat cognition and behavioral response in no less causal terms than emotional reactions. To insist on the objective attitude with respect to emotion, while allowing the participant attitude with respect to judgment, is not sustainable. In any event, the case of Kansas v. Borman shows that ordinary moral evaluation from the participant perspective does not follow Prinz in withdrawing emotions from normative evaluation.
- Borman’s sudden anger does help excuse him from the charge of first degree murder – a crime which requires premeditation; but it does not release him from criminal liability altogether, nor even reduce his charge to manslaughter. The “heat of passion” may sometimes reduce the charge to manslaughter if the emotions and actions involved are relatively reasonable. For example, a man who fatally punches another man who deeply insults him is more likely to be convicted of manslaughter than murder. If the fatal blow is administered with a tire-iron, however, a murder conviction becomes more likely. And if the insulted man hunts down and fatally shoots his victim after his anger simmers for a week, a murder conviction is all but assured. Obviously, the test here is not the presence or absence of strong emotion, as the defendant is enraged in all three scenarios (as was Borman). The question juries must decide is not whether the defendant acted in anger, but the reasonableness (or lack thereof) of both the anger and the actions motivated by it. My thanks to lawyers David and Patty Barksdale and Brian Foley for helping me sort out the legal issues.
- Causal answers to the question why one has a particular belief are often out of place as well. Oswald Hanfling provides an instructive example in his book, Philosophy and Ordinary Language (London: Routledge, 2000), 257:
Asked why S believes that the thoughts of Chairman Mao can enable us to surpass all obstacles, one might give an empirical explanation: ‘He was brought up and indoctrinated in the People’s Republic of China.’ (It is an empirical fact that such believes can be caused in such a way.) But usually this is not what is wanted – especially when the question is addressed to the believer. Asked why he believes that p, he would probably be expected to justify the belief, as one that is likely to be true.
Notice that Hanfling emphasizes the context in which one is actually talking politics with the person who reveres Chairman Mao. This is the participant perspective emphasized by Strawson. Hanfling’s example involving belief illustrates Strawson’s point that the objective attitude is opposed to the participant attitude.
- The relevance of judgment to emotion becomes even more apparent when socially sophisticated emotions are considered. For example, take contempt, which presupposes nuanced judgments about one’s position in social hierarchies. In his book The Anatomy of Disgust (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1997), 207ff., William Ian Miller distinguishes various styles of contempt that are at home in different social organizations, including what he calls “upward contempt” (i.e., the contempt of social superiors by social inferiors). Even upward contempt admits of distinct species, depending on the social order. The contempt of the aristocrat’s servant for his master differs from the contempt of the brick mason for the “unmanly” law professor (to use Miller’s own self-deprecating example) in a contemporary democracy. Miller’s deeply insightful discussion does not observe Prinz’s distinction between emotions and triggering judgments, and I submit it is a richer account as a result.
- Griffiths 5. Prinz’s rejection of “intuitions” is similar.
- Hanfling 251-2. Griffiths puts the point the same way (23), though of course he disagrees with it. Hanfling’s distinction echoes some figures from the ordinary language philosophy tradition. For example, in Must We Mean What We Say? (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1969), 4 and 13, Stanley Cavell writes that native speakers of English do not need evidence for their claims about “what we say,” as if such claims were sloppy efforts at field lexicography. According to Cavell, being a native speaker is all the qualification one needs to make such pronouncements.
- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G.E.M. Anscombe (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1958), §109.
- Griffiths acknowledges that the ordinary use of emotion terms is not purely descriptive, but “contains prescriptions about how people should behave, and collective pretenses about how people do behave” (Griffiths 10-11). He goes on to say that “These mythical aspects of emotion cannot be smoothly integrated into a developing scientific understanding of human psychology” (emphasis added). Strawson anticipates such reactions. Griffiths’ eliminativism about emotion is similar to scientifically motivated incompatibilism about free will, to which Strawson responds as follows:
[The] prestige [of science] is great, and is apt to make us forget that in philosophy, though it also is a theoretical study, we have to take account of the facts in all their bearings; we are not to suppose that we are required, or permitted, as philosophers, to regard ourselves, as human beings, as detached from the attitudes which, as scientists, we study with detachment. This is in no way to deny the possibility and desirability of redirection and modification of our human attitudes in the light of these studies. But we may reasonably think it unlikely that our progressively greater understanding of certain aspects of ourselves will lead to the total disappearance of those aspects (Strawson 80).
- Solomon, Not Passion’s Slave, 232. Nussbaum strikes a similar note in favor of her cognitive theory:
The cognitive/evaluative view implies that emotional content is itself part of a creature’s pursuit of flourishing. Given the fact that human beings deliberate ethically about how to live, it implies that emotions are part and parcel of ethical deliberation. If we see emotions as impulses, we will think that we can educate or change them only by suppression…Indeed, a great advantage of a cognitive/evaluative view of emotion is that it shows us where societies and individuals have the freedom to make improvements. If we recognize the element of evaluation in the emotions, we also see that they can themselves be evaluated – and in some ways altered, if they fail to survive criticism (Nussbaum 172-3).
- A similar point can be made about eliminativists like Griffiths. Eliminativism about emotions prevents us from taking seriously many of the things we need to say – like that irritability is a character flaw, that people have a responsibility to control their anger, etc. Advances in science will not obviate the point of these assertions, even if irritability and anger are not the terms in which finished science is couched.