Noncognitive affect: A study of mind and emotion
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In the philosophy of mind emotions have historically been assigned a secondary importance compared to other mental facilities such as thought and perception. Sometimes they have even been denigrated as obstacles to sound reasoning and untrustworthy distorters of facts. However, contemporary views on the topic have done much to change this perception. Today emotions are commonly regarded as essential to the proper function of our mental capacities as well as important determinants of the quality and meaning that shape our lives. In the present study I examine the principal controversy in the philosophy of emotion involving the interaction between cognition and emotion. Cognitivism, the theory that emotions require a cognitive act such as judgment, belief, or thought in order to occur, is a widely held point of view – perhaps the most widely held among contemporary philosophers. Among its proponents are luminaries such as Robert Solomon, Martha Nussbaum, Ronald de Sousa, and Jerome Neu. The position common to each, that cognition is in some way necessary for an emotion to occur, is the subject of my dissertation. I argue against cognitivist theories of emotion on grounds that involve the neuroscientific and psychological study of emotion. I ultimately make two claims: (1) Noncognitivism, the denial that cognition is essential to emotion, is the more empirically justified position. (2) An appropriately informed account of noncognitivism shows that it easily rivals cognitivism in communicating philosophical depth both aesthetically and existentially. Cognitivists normally deny both points, regarding noncognitive affective states as either insufficiently proven or untenable. To the extent that such states might exist they are often dismissed as philosophically uninteresting or even denied the status of true emotions. Such views are in keeping with larger aims, such as the intention to prove the rationality of emotion. However, cognitivists also hold that the rival position is unsupportable empirically and fails to accommodate fully the power of emotion in our lives. I begin in the introduction with an overview of issues important to the study of emotion. Why a theory of emotion is important and what puzzles still confound us are a few of the matters I begin to address. I then offer a preliminary definition of emotion as an affective whole made up of physiological, mental, and behavioral constituent parts. Later we see that an emotion's trigger is the most important factor in the debate over cognition. In chapter one I provide an extensive survey of the cognition debate in emotion theory. Beginning with the observations of Charles Darwin, I trace the development of cognitivism through the work of Wilhelm Wundt, William James, Sigmund Freud and others. The development of ever more refined positions also brings up questions about the precise definition of cognition. I address the skepticism of Jesse Prinz on the topic and then introduce a number of plausible senses in which cognition might be defined. None, however, offer prima facie reasons to reject noncognitivism. The next two chapters help to spell out the principal methods of studying emotion. Chapter two explores emotion from the perspective of philosophical psychology. I use Jenefer Robinson's affective appraisal theory to demonstrate the depth of noncognitivism with respect to complicated emotional engagements with art. Chapter three uses a neuro-philosophical approach to examine a particular emotion type: amusement. The state of amusement is commonly regarded as a non-emotion, however I argue that due to the resemblance of its neuroanatomical structure to better recognized emotion types we have solid grounds to dispute this exclusion. Both chapters demonstrate the depth and plausibility of noncognitivism. Finally in chapter four I articulate the last best case for cognitivism, the position I dispute. I offer three points, a refined concept of cognition, the intelligence of emotion, and emotion's depth of meaning as the most compelling grounds for its support. I find problems with each contention, however. First, even the most refined understanding of cognition is not compatible with the concept of an affective appraisal as it is posited by noncognitivists. Second, emotion's supposed intelligence is only appropriate for emotions that fit what I call a recognition-response model. Exceptions to this undermine many of the cognitivist's assumptions. Lastly, I demonstrate that noncognitive emotions have personal significance in ways that cognitivism is unable to match. This last claim puts the final touch on my vindication of a noncognitivist approach to emotion.