Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York
 


Scott O'Leary

Scott O’Leary

Dissertation Summary

Fordham University

(231) 590-8771 soleary@fordham.edu

In this dissertation, I offer a new account of emotions that clarifies their reciprocal relation to values and their indirect motivational role. This is developed in two main steps. The first is to provide a conceptual account of emotions that improves upon the leading contemporary theories. The second step is to distinguish several recognizable practical functions that emotions perform in order to show the ways in which emotions are an indispensible aspect of human agency and praxis. These functions include guiding practical deliberation, rationalizing intentional and expressive action, recognizing value complexity, and enabling collective action. Recently, there has been considerable interest in the philosophy of emotions coinciding with significant developments in metaethics concerning the nature and reality of value. Yet, the connection between these two areas of moral philosophy remains largely unexplored. My work illustrates that emotion and value are co-constituted and form a conceptual circle; therefore, we cannot properly understand the nature of emotion or value in isolation from one another.

The first step requires disentangling the traditional debate between "cognitive" and "feeling" theories of emotions. Through an analysis of the debate, I conclude that both feeling and cognitive aspects are essential to emotions. However, the way that these two terms are applied to emotions is frequently misunderstood and requires considerable clarification. I argue that the most fruitful and enlightening definition of "cognitive" follows trends in metaethics, where cognitive states are those that are truth-apt and non-cognitive states are not. Moreover, "feeling" an emotion must be distinguished from sensations, concomitant bodily feelings, and psychic feelings. Neither the feeling nor cognitive dimension is reducible to the other or to other mental states. Instead, I propose that emotions are occurrent mental states, not constituted by either beliefs or desires, which have their own standards of fit or appropriateness.

Among the different functions of emotions, the most important is the way emotions evaluate the world around us and ourselves. As Bob Roberts has said, emotions are evaluative construals. These construals are an important component of our evaluative position, which is comprised of these construals and evaluative judgments. It is therefore critical to recognize the normative force or authority of emotional responses in relation to evaluative judgment, and to find means of reconciling these two evaluative stances. I turn to Aristotle‟s account of the relation between courage and fear as a framework to understand the way character traits govern emotional responses and thereby enable us to reconcile our evaluative judgments with our emotions. I argue that this role of virtues in governing emotions allows for a unity of decision despite a duality of evaluative positions, provides resources to explain McDowell and Goldie‟s accounts of virtuous sensitivity, and yields a clearer account of the motivational role of emotions than Zagzebski or Helm. In addition, I propose that the interaction between emotional attitudes and character explains puzzles about moral complexity such as Williams‟ "remainder" feelings of regret in moral dilemmas. I also illustrate how emotional attitudes like trust enable practical solutions to real, and supposedly insolvable, collective action problems such as the "Tragedy of the Commons," where rational choice aiming at direct individual utility-maximization leads to the depletion of collective environmental goods such as clean air.

Chapter 1

provides a conceptual schema of emotion through an analysis of the "cognitive vs. feeling" debate in emotion theory. Following insights from Roberts and Ronald de Sousa, I develop a perceptual theory of emotion that remains truth-apt and is therefore a cognitivist theory, properly Scott O’Leary Dissertation Summary

understood. Yet, emotions also have a "feeling" component that is best understood not as sensations, proprioceptions of physical change, or as Michael Stocker‟s "psychic feelings," but rather in terms of the intentional directedness of emotions toward an object, similar to Peter Goldie‟s idea that emotions involve a "feeling-toward" an object. I then employ this schema to illustrate several important practical functions or roles emotions play that will be explored in the following chapters.

Chapter 2

I argue that the proper understanding of emotion and value can be developed along the lines of a normative dispositional model, similar to "response-dependent property" accounts provided by John McDowell and David Wiggins. While McDowell and Wiggins fail to provide any deeper explanation of the reality of value other than tradition and habit for the correlation between emotional response and axiological property, my account appeals to descriptive properties that emotions‟ formal objects or thick axiological properties are founded upon. Yet, appealing to descriptive properties does not lead to a naturalist form of realism since emotional response and axiological properties are co-constituted. Instead, the relationship is one of supervenience, where emotional responses and their evaluations supervene on a variety of different descriptive properties.

The relation of emotion to evaluation or value has led several contemporary theorists such as John McDowell, Linda Zagzebski, Sabine Döring, and Bennett Helm to turn to emotions in explaining the motivational problem in moral psychology. This motivational role of emotions is the focus of

focuses on the core function of emotion, which I call emotion‟s existential function. This function highlights emotions‟ role as evaluative construals, and requires specifying the relation between emotion and value. This leads to an analysis of several emotional theories of value including emotivism, expressivism, natural and normative dispositionalism (classical sentimentalism and neo-sentimentalism), and forms of moral realism which appeal to emotions for epistemological access to value. Realist proposals fail to explain the practical import and motivational significance of value while projectivist accounts like expressivism and emotivism cannot provide an independent account of emotion apart from emotion‟s evaluative significance. Thus, the anchors that realists and projectivists seek – value and emotional response respectively – are illusory. Instead, emotions and value are co-constituted and form a virtuous conceptual circle.Chapter 3. According to the motivational problem, if a practical judgment is cognitive, then the connection to motivation cannot be anything but contingent. Yet, if practical judgment always motivates, how can it be cognitively assessable for validity claims? According to a psychology of mind tracing back to Hume, beliefs and desires have different roles and their own direction-of-fit. Beliefs are representational and truth-apt but not motivational; desires are motivational but not truth-apt. These theorists posit emotion or emotional sensibilities as a middle term that effectively bridges the divide between cognitive and conative mental states. Each argues for a variety of cognitivist internalism – the claim that moral judgments are truth-apt and motivating. On these views, emotions provide the solution to the motivational problem since they are cognitive and affective. However, each author fails to recognize the difference between affectivity and conativity, accepting a false truism prevalent in philosophy that emotions are directly motivational; e.g., fear prompts us to flee, guilt to make amends. My position is that emotions do not necessarily motivate in any particular way. While fear might lead to flight, it might also prompt us to fight. Guilt leads to acts of contrition and apology, but also to reparations, redirected anger, or ressentiment. Some emotions, like aesthetic awe, may have no motive-component whatsoever. Unlike desires, emotions are not directly motivational, although emotions are Scott O’Leary Dissertation Summary

usually

indirectly motivational and provide the motivational basis for rationalizing intentional action as well as accounting for what Rosalind Hursthouse has called arational or expressive action. Thus, while emotions can motivate action, this indirect motivational role cannot solve the motivational problem.

Chapter 4

The final two chapters extend the core account of emotions to related affective states such as moods and affective attitudes. Drawing on the analysis of regret as a remainder feeling in moral dilemmas,

connects the discussions of evaluation in Chapter 2 with the indirect motivational role of emotions introduced in Chapter 3, claiming that appealing to virtues which govern emotions solves a lingering unification problem. Although emotions are evaluative, they are distinct from evaluative judgments – something reflected in the possibility of inverse-akrasia, situations where emotional evaluations come apart and are more appropriate than our best all-things-considered evaluative judgment. Yet, this leads to a problem of unifying the distinct sources of evaluation. I explain how unification works through an analysis of Aristotle‟s account of courage governing the emotions of fear and confidence. Using Aristotle‟s framework, I claim that this governing thesis unifies our evaluative perspective and also provides resources to explain McDowell‟s account of virtuous sensitivity and Goldie‟s explanation of the epistemic role of virtue. A proper account appeals not only to the virtues, but to emotions governed by virtues. This expands upon my analysis of the epistemic role of emotions in Chapter 1 and is supported by significant empirical research in evolutionary and developmental psychology.Chapter 5 argues that similar feelings of practical doubt and hesitation provide valuable resources for recognizing and responding to instances of moral complexity that call for further phronetic action. Like regret, practical doubt can be divided into situational and agent forms. Situational doubt provides the agent epistemic resources for recognizing competing non-compossible goods that must be decided between. Agent-doubt functions as a proto-virtue or accompanies a proto-virtue, which calls for Socratic ignorance or humility in reflecting on the agent‟s own motives or character. Both agent and situational doubt have their vicious forms, but these are parasitic on the more valuable forms and the threat of disabling or paralyzing doubt can be countered by using our imagination and experiencing „as if‟ emotional experiences in thought experiments, literature, film, and perspective-taking.

Chapter 6

brings my argument to a close by analyzing the role of trust in collective action problems, especially the "Tragedy of the Commons," the environmental problem of depleted shared limited resources such as the ocean‟s fisheries, fresh water, and clean air. An analysis of trust as an affective attitude provides states of pre-commitment, which limit opportunities to defect or reject cooperative solutions in favor of short-term individual benefit, effectively transforming a competitive Prisoner Dilemma type game into a cooperative Stag Hunt. Yet, unlike approaches favored by Robert Frank and Jon Elster, appealing to emotional attitudes like trust for pre-commitment does not lead to (beneficial) irrationality. Instead, trust can be a rational disposition that we ought to cultivate due to shared pre-existing evaluative frameworks and forms of life. In addition, since the default attitude is not distrust but an intermediate state between trust and distrust, the possibility of bootstrapping into trust arises, which, combined with the benefits of trust, motivates cultivating trusting others in the Commons. This enables us to retain a link between rational, intentional action and collective intentionality rather than resorting to a model of emotions as the affective glue that holds society together.

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