How Emotions Grasp Value

Philosophical Issues 34 (1) (2024)
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It’s plausible that we only fully appreciate the value of something, say a painting or a blameworthy action, when we have a fitting emotional response to it, such as admiration or guilt. But exactly how and why do we grasp value through emotion? I propose, first, that a subject S phenomenally grasps property P only if what it is to be P is manifest in the phenomenal character of S’s experience. Second, following clues from the Stoics, I argue that the phenomenal character of emotional experience is constitutively linked with its having directive content. More precisely, emotional experience directs us both to adopt a maxim for action – take certain characteristic kinds of action for an emotion-specific end – and to treat something about the object as a presumptively decisive reason to take such action for such end. If we assent to what the experience proposes (or rational control gets bypassed), we are motivated to take the relevant action and have a corresponding evaluative belief. This picture of emotional cognition yields a natural conception of the evaluative fittingness conditions of emotions without the problematic assumption that they have a presentational phenomenology. Instead, it is precisely in virtue of the directive and valenced phenomenology of emotion that values are only fully manifest in emotional experience, since values are essentially action- and attitude-guiding properties.

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Antti Kauppinen
University of Helsinki


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