Adam Pelser
United States Air Force Academy
In contrast to the widely held view that emotions are obstacles to ideal epistemic functioning, emotions, as evaluative perceptual states, can contribute in significant ways to our achievement of valuable epistemic goods including justified beliefs, understanding, and wisdom. That emotions are evaluative perceptual states – call this the perceptual thesis of emotion – is evidenced by the extent of the structural and functional parallels between emotions and sense perceptions. Emotions, like sense perceptions, can be both original and acquired and are distinct from the sensory inputs that give rise to them; they also resemble sense perceptions in being passive, intentional mental states with propositional content and they are sources of belief, while yet not themselves beliefs. Emotion also functions in parallel ways to sense perception with respect to the achievement of epistemic justification. Emotions, like their sense perceptual analogues, can and do function as justifying reasons or evidence for beliefs – call this the justificatory thesis of emotion. The justificatory thesis of emotion best explains plausible cases of justified beliefs formed on the basis of emotional experience, as well as the fact that we enjoy justification for evaluative beliefs bearing conceptual content indicative of emotional experience. Moreover, the justificatory thesis is not undermined by any of the strongest objections raised against it; namely, that emotions seem too unreliable to justify beliefs, that emotions themselves can be justified, and that we rarely cite emotions as our reasons for believing as we do. In another significant epistemic parallel between emotion and sense perception, emotional experience is necessary for the best and deepest human understanding of value just as sense perceptual experience is necessary for the best and deepest human understanding of the physical world. Emotion as evaluative perception is also essential to our achievement and actualization of wisdom. Wisdom is deep, appreciative ontological understanding of that which is good and it essentially involves virtuous concerns and emotion-dispositions. Indeed, not only is our initial pursuit of wisdom often prompted by an emotional experience , wisdom is also partially constituted by and initially exemplified in virtuous emotional perceptions of value
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