Does the Problem of Variability Justify Barrett’s Emotion Revolution?

Review of Philosophy and Psychology 14 (4):1421-1441 (2023)
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The problem of variability concerns the fact that empirical data does not support the existence of a coordinated set of biological markers, either in the body or the brain, which correspond to our folk emotion categories; categories like anger, happiness, sadness, disgust and fear. Barrett (2006a, b, 2013, 2016, 2017a, b) employs this fact to argue (i) against the faculty psychology approach to emotion, e.g. emotions are the products of emotion-specific mechanisms, or “modules”, and (ii) for the view that emotions are constructed from domain-general “core systems” with the aid of our folk concepts. The conjunction of (i) and (ii), she argues, heralds a paradigm shift in our understanding of emotion: emotions aren’t triggered but made. In this paper, I argue such a shift is premature for a faculty psychology framework can accommodate the neurobiological variability of emotion. This can be done by treating emotions as developmental modules: non-innate systems which behave like modules, but form as a product of ontogenetic development.

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Raamy Majeed
University of Manchester


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