Emotions and the problem of variability

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In the last decades there has been a great controversy about the scientific status of emotion categories. This controversy stems from the idea that emotions are heterogeneous phenomena, which precludes classifying them under a common kind. In this article, I analyze this claim—which I call the Variability Thesis—and argue that as it stands, it is problematically underdefined. To show this, I examine a recent formulation of the thesis as offered by Scarantino (2015). On one hand, I raise some issues regarding the logical structure of the claim. On the other hand, and most importantly, I show that the Variability Thesis requires a consensus about what counts as a relevant pattern of response in different domains, a consensus that is lacking in the current literature. This makes it difficult to assess what counts as evidence for or against this thesis. As a result, arguments based on the Variability Thesis are unwarranted. This raises serious concerns about some current empirical theories of emotions, but also sheds light on the issue of the scientific status of emotion categories.
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Archival date: 2020-06-11
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