The New LeDoux: Survival Circuits, and the Surplus Meaning of ‘Fear’

Philosophical Quarterly (forthcoming)
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LeDoux’s (1996) pioneering work on the neurobiology of fear has played a crucial role in informing debates in the philosophy of emotion. For example, it plays a key part in Griffiths’s (1997) argument for why emotions don’t form a natural kind. Likewise, it is employed by Faucher and Tappolet (2002) to defend pro-emotion views, which claim that emotions aid reasoning (de Sousa 1987, Damasio 1994). LeDoux, however, now argues that his work has been misread (2012, 2016, 2017, 2019). He argues that using emotion terms, like ‘fear’, to describe neuro-cognitive data adds a “surplus meaning”: it attributes phenomenal properties to survival circuits which they don’t possess. This paper aims to explore LeDoux’s new proposal, and examine the potentially devastating consequences that ensue for the aforementioned views. I end by addressing the worry that these lessons are conditional on LeDoux’s own higher-order theory of emotional consciousness being true.
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