Moods Are Not Colored Lenses: Perceptualism and the Phenomenology of Moods

Philosophia 45 (4):1497-1513 (2017)
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Being in a mood—such as an anxious, irritable, depressed, tranquil, or cheerful mood—tends to alter the way we react emotionally to the particular objects we encounter. But how, exactly, do moods alter the way we experience particular objects? Perceptualism, a popular approach to understanding affective experiences, holds that moods function like "colored lenses," altering the way we perceive the evaluative properties of the objects we encounter. In this essay, I offer a phenomenological analysis of the experience of being in a mood that illustrates the limitations of the colored lens metaphor and demonstrates the basic inadequacy of the perceptualist account of moods. I argue that when we are in a mood, it is common to experience a kind of "emotional disconnection" in which we perceive evaluative properties that would normally elicit strong emotional reactions from us, but nonetheless we find that, in our present mood, we remain emotionally numb to these perceptions. Such experiences of "seeing but not feeling" are difficult to understand from within the perceptualist paradigm. Building on the work of Martin Heidegger, I sketch an alternative, phenomenological analysis of moods that can better account for experiences of emotional disconnection. On this alternative account, being in a mood does not merely alter the content of our perceptions but, rather, alters the way we interpret the overall significance of what we perceive, relative to a certain situational context.
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