Emotionless Animals? Constructionist Theories of Emotion Beyond the Human Case

Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society (forthcoming)
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Abstract

Could emotions be a uniquely human phenomenon? One prominent theory in emotion science, Lisa Feldman Barrett’s “Theory of Constructed Emotion” (TCE), suggests they might be. The source of the sceptical challenge is that TCE links emotions to abstract concepts tracking socio-normative expectations, and other animals are unlikely to have such concepts. Barrett’s own response to the sceptical challenge is to relativize emotion to the perspective of an interpreter, but this is unpromising. A more promising response may be to amend the theory, dropping the commitment to the abstract nature of emotion concepts and allowing that, like olfactory concepts, they have disjunctive sensory groundings. Even if other animals were emotionless, this would not imply they lack morally significant interests. Unconceptualized valenced experiences are a sufficient basis for morally significant interests, and such experiences may occur even in the absence of discrete, constructed emotions.

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Jonathan Birch
London School of Economics

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