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Abstract: There is a view of the emotions (I might tendentiously call it ‘cognitivism’) that has at present a certain currency. This view is of the emotions as playing an essential role in our gaining evaluative knowledge of the world. When we are angry at an insult, or afraid of the burglar, our emotions involve evaluative perceptions and thoughts, which are directed towards the way something is in the world that impinges on our well-being, or on the well-being of those that matter to us. Without emotions, we would be worse off, prudentially and morally: we would not see things as they are, and accordingly we would not act as we should. Emotions are, according to this view a Good Thing. No wonder we have evolved as creatures capable of emotion.
Abstract: Aesthetics is a normative domain. We evaluate artworks as better or worse, good or bad, great or grim. I will refer to a positive appraisal of an artwork as an aesthetic appreciation of that work, and I refer to a negative appraisal as aesthetic depreciation. (I will often drop the word “aesthetic.”) There has been considerable amount of work on what makes an artwork worthy of appreciation, and less, it seems, on the nature of appreciation itself. These two topics are related, of course, because they nature of appreciation may bear on what things are worthy of that response, or at least on what things are likely to elicit it. So I will have some things to say about the latter. But I want to focus in this discussion on appreciation itself. When we praise a work of art, when we say it has aesthetic value, what does our praise consist in? This is a question about aesthetic psychology. I am interested in what kind of mental state appreciation is. What kind of state are we expressing when we say a work of art is “good”? This question has parallels in other areas of value theory. In ethics, most notably, there has been much attention lavished on the question of what people express when they refer to an action as “morally good.” One popular class of theories, associated with the British moralists and their followers, posits a link between moral valuation and emotion. To call an act morally good is to express an emotion toward that act. I think this approach to morality is right on target (Prinz, 2007). Here I want to argue that an emotional account of aesthetic valuation is equally promising. There are important differences between the two domains, but both have an affective foundation. I suspect that valuing of all kinds involves the emotions. Here I will inquire into the role of emotions in aesthetic valuing. I will not claim that artworks express emotions or even that they necessarily evoke emotions..
Abstract: In one of the most frequently quoted passages in the history of emotion research, William James (1884: 189f) announces that emotions occur when the perception of an exciting fact causes a collection of bodily changes, and “our feeling of the same changes as they occur IS the emotion.” The same idea occurred to Carl Lange (1984) around the same time. These authors were not the first to draw a link between the emotions and the body. Indeed, this had been a central theme of Descartes’ exquisite opus, The Passions of the Soul. But James and Lange wanted to push things farther than most, suggesting that emotions are exhausted by bodily changes or perceptions thereof. Other kinds of mental episodes might co-occur when we have an emotion state. For James, an emotion follows an exciting perception. But the exciting perception is not a part of the emotion it excited (Ellsworth, 1994, reads James differently, but see Reisenzein et al.’s 1995 convincing response). The majority of contemporary emotion researchers, especially those in philosophy, find this suggestion completely untenable. Surely, emotions involve something more. At their core, emotions are more like judgments or thoughts, than perceptions. They evaluate, assess, or appraise. Emotions are amendable to rational assessment; they report, correctly or incorrectly, on how we are faring in the world. Within this general consensus, there is a further debate about whether the body should figure into a theory of emotions at all. Perhaps James and Lange offer a theory that is not merely incomplete, but entirely off base. Where they view judgments as contingent and non-constitutive concomitants of emotions, it is actually bodily perceptions that deserve this demotion. Perhaps emotions can be, and often are, disembodied in some fundamental sense