Feelings and Emotional Evaluation

Dissertation, Stanford University (2004)

Abstract
This dissertation argues that emotions are best seen as a form of evaluation in which feelings play a central role. These "felt evaluations" should not be construed as beliefs, and, precisely because they are felt, they serve a distinctive and crucial role in our mental lives. In contrast, many philosophers who take emotions to be evaluative beliefs have argued that feelings are at best only a necessary accompaniment, serving to distinguish emotional from unemotional beliefs, while contributing next to nothing to the nature of the evaluation, nor its motivational or rationalizing role. ;This line of thought is supported by an unsatisfactory understanding of emotional feelings first proposed by William James. While the phenomenological observations made by James are compelling, his contention that emotions are nothing more than the experience of physiological processes in the body seems inadequate. This picture of emotional feelings suggests that the intentional objects of emotional responses are not the object or person we fear, or at whom we are angry, but rather the goings-on in our body while we are afraid or angry. Moreover, it is hard to see how the experience of physiological processes could be held accountable to the sorts of normative constraints to which we think emotions are usually subject. Thus these philosophers contend that emotions are evaluative judgments. ;I reject these arguments, arguing that a view taking seriously James' insights can answer such objections. Drawing upon certain perceptual analogies, particularly feelings such as the feeling of the weight of an object in ones hand, I argue that feelings of physiological processes can, when combined or "fused" with appropriate concepts, produce feelings with different intentional objects and phenomenal character. For emotions, these concepts are the evaluative ones we typically associate with fear, embarrassment, grief, and the like. I argue that feeling these evaluative contents is a form of evaluation that is particularly well suited to impressing upon us, and constituting, the importance or significance of a person, object, or situation. Emotions, as felt evaluations, thus play a vital role in our mental lives, one distinct from the role played by evaluative beliefs
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