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Passionate EnginesReview - Passionate Engines
What Emotions Reveal About the Mind and Artificial Intelligence
by Craig Delancey
Oxford University Press, 2002
Review by Sam Brown
Sep 22nd 2005 (Volume 9, Issue 38)

Passionate Engines is not a conventional book, in terms of organization, writing style or publishing ethos; yet its main contribution to emotion theory, while no doubt welcome, is hardly radical. DeLancey appears to launch a fervent assault on cognitivism, but his preferred position is actually a dilute variant of it.

DeLancey begins by adopting the affect program theory of emotions, as championed by Paul E. Griffiths, from which he extracts a theme he calls subcognitivism. Subcognitivism differs from classical cognitivism (which he equates with propositional attitude theory) in that the intentional object of the emotion is a representation of a thing (e.g. a snake) rather than a proposition (e.g. "that snake may bite me"). DeLancey takes this refreshingly simple notion on a whirlwind tour of diverse topics in philosophy of mind, variously addressing questions of intentionality, rationality, morality, consciousness and artificial intelligence.

DeLancey's critical guns are aimed at philosophers more than scientists; he takes issue with a range of traditions in philosophy while adopting scientific concepts and empirical results without much criticism. Assaults on cognitivism inspired by contemporary neuroscience are quite commonplace these days, but a special feature of DeLancey's contribution is that he takes on the propositional attitude theorists at their own a priori game, supporting his vision of subcognitive intentional states with persuasive thought experiments and arguments from linguistic intuition. Taking a firm reductionist position, he dismisses the radical view that emotions are social constructions, and refutes other antirealist approaches, such as Davidson's interpretationism and Dennett's instrumentalism, that ascribe propositional contents solely for the purposes of intelligibility or prediction.

There is a notable absence of detailed reviews of individual theories or texts from the emotion canon. Philosophers of emotion such as Solomon, Lyons, Greenspan, Nussbaum and Sorabji (who each offer intricate defenses of the propositional view) are mentioned only in passing; their positions are swiftly rounded up as variants of "reductive" and "doxastic" cognitive theories with a common commitment to propositional attitudes. In many ways the absence of exegetical digressions is a virtue rather than a flaw, avoiding distraction from the central doctrines. Fortunately DeLancey's concise characterizations and summaries, whether in support or opposition, are generally accurate, fair and to the point.

DeLancey illustrates the difference between cognitive and subcognitive basic emotions by grammatical distinctions. If a person is frightened by the prospect of an event or state of affairs (e.g. "Adam is afraid he will flunk the exam"), he must be having a "cognitive basic emotion" because the object of his fear can only be represented by a proposition. However, if he is simply afraid of a material object (a 'concretum' in DeLancey's terms), then it exceeds the evidence to say he holds an attitude towards a proposition, whether believed or merely entertained. On the propositional account, people who are afraid of snakes are afraid that the snake may bite them; DeLancey contends that it is better to say they are simply afraid of the snake. The fear is directed at the snake and not at a proposition about the snake. But the relation cannot be a direct one. Where the object of fear is absent or imagined, there must be some intermediary representation that constitutes the intentional object. This representation is described by a simple 'concretum-term' ("snake", in this instance) that has no propositional content, and hence cannot be evaluated for truth or employed as a premise in cognitive inference. For DeLancey, cognition is to be defined as the processing of propositional content, so representational atoms without propositional content are not, strictly speaking, cognitive. On this analysis, basic reflex emotions involve representation processing, but not proposition processing, so they must be subcognitive processes rather than cognitive ones.

There is a distinct flavor of cognitivism pervading DeLancey's theory. His account of subcognitive emotions retains commitments to representations, intentional states and teleofunctionalism (goal-directedness) in order to explain their apparent rationality, and some theorists regard these properties as definitive of cognition. For example, Clore and Ortony contend "however archetypal the representation of a snake is when it is accessed through the direct, thalamic route, the fact remains that it still is some sort of representation of a snake, and this is sufficient to qualify the process as a cognitive one" (2000, p.42). For Robert Solomon intentionality is the essence of cognition: "One way of putting the point that emotions must have a cognitive component ... is to insist that they have intentionality" (2000, p.12). The arch-cognitivist Richard Lazarus pinpoints teleology: "Use of the language of goals rather than drives implies a concern with the means of goal attainment and defines this primary appraisal process as a cognitive one" (1994/2003, p.127). As we can see, each of these features is asserted by leading proponents of classical cognitivism as singularly sufficient for cognitive status, thereby licensing the cognitive label for their theories of emotion. As DeLancey's 'subcognitive' processes involve all three, his claims to offer a radical alternative to cognitivism look somewhat dubious.

DeLancey is in fact advocating a naturalistic form of "weak content cognitivism" (p.117), according to which "basic emotions often have or are caused by propositional content, but that content need not be believed". This is hardly the trailblazing assault on cognitivism heralded in the early chapters. DeLancey actually accepts the traditional propositional account for the majority of emotions. His account may be attractive to the many cognitive theorists who have been seeking a brand of content cognitivism shorn of explicit commitments to propositional states in problematic cases.

Occasional glancing allusions to noncognitive explanations suggest there may be room for a more radical anti-representationalist account in the spirit of sub-symbolic connectionism or dynamical systems theory, where the norms of rationality could be provided by reliabilism or adaptationism, without reference to content. If that more mechanistic project were to succeed, DeLancey's theory would be vulnerable to the same criticisms he levels at interpretationism: it attributes spurious content and is not the most parsimonious explanation.

DeLancey constantly runs alongside the embodiment bandwagon - which had already gained considerable momentum by the time Passionate Engines was first published - but makes no attempt to jump on it. Advocates of the embodied, embedded and enactive mind in philosophy and cognitive science - for example Brooks, Clark, Haugeland, Lakoff, Hurley, and van Gelder - have also offered strong critiques of representationalism; but, aside from a couple of brief nods, DeLancey neglects them. Some reference to the great representation debate may help to clarify the status of the "subcognitive" representational entities central to his thesis.

Others theorists have tried to reconcile cognitivism and noncognitivism from a phenomenological or perceptual perspective (e.g. Goldie and Roberts), but DeLancey's subcognitivism is a superior synthesis for the philosophical naturalist. As he points out, we may need the notions of intentionality and functional role to make sense of our emotions and explain what they're for, if not to explain how they work. His intriguing theory could prove useful in the interpretation of recalcitrant actions and attitudes and perhaps could even supplement or replace propositional cognitivism as the choice form of psychological analysis.

DeLancey's broad and ambitious naturalist manifesto could take a prominent place amongst the emerging literature on embodiment and enactivism in cognitive science, if only the argument were better integrated and cross-referenced with that large body of kindred work. As it stands, it appears somewhat disconnected and isolated, and this edition is unlikely to elicit the attention it deserves.

The methodology and tone is squarely in the tradition of analytic philosophy, though the author has tried to make the text more accessible by interspersing the arguments with occasional box-outs clarifying technical terms and concepts for a non-specialist audience. The resultant style is an odd blend of popular and scholarly writing. The panoramic coverage of huge philosophical issues that are "not necessarily related to each other" (p.viii) makes the book seem more like a patchwork summary of loosely connected projects than a dissertation on a single focused theme.

Interestingly, DeLancey has taken a novel approach to authorship by declaring his book an "open source" project and encouraging his readers to make contributions. He disclaims sole intellectual copyright of any future collaborative work, in spirit if not in law. Readers who require further clarification or augmentation can contribute a revision. Unfortunately, the dearth of submitted commentaries on the dedicated website (see http://www.passionateengines.org/PEOPlab.html) suggests there has been a lack of enthusiasm amongst the readership so far. Perhaps philosophers would be more likely to respond if the arguments engaged more directly with the contemporary work in philosophy of emotion and cognitive science.

DeLancey's exploration of the implications of subcognitivism is competent and comprehensive, and the book has considerable potential to inform focused debates on the role of cognition in emotion. It could be very useful material for a graduate reading group, and students could perhaps be motivated by the possibility of contributing their comments to the next edition.

 

References

Clore, G. L.  and Ortony, A. (2000). 'Cognition in Emotion: Always, Sometimes, or Never?'. In R. D. Lane and L. Nadel (eds.), Cognitive Neuroscience of Emotion, pp.24-6. Oxford: OUP.

Griffiths, P. E. (1997). What Emotions Really Are. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press.

Lazarus, R. (2003). 'The Minimal Cognitive Prerequisites of Emotion'. In R. C. Solomon (ed.) What Is An Emotion? Classic and Contemporary Readings, pp.125-30. Oxford: OUP. Reprinted from P. Ekman and R. Davidson (eds.) The Nature of Emotions: Fundamental Questions. Oxford: OUP, 1994.

Solomon, R. C.  (2000). 'The Philosophy of Emotions'. In M. Lewis and J. M. Havilland-Jones (eds.), Handbook of Emotions, pp.3-15. New York: Guilford Press.

 

© 2005 Sam Brown

 

 Sam Brown is currently completing a PhD on the cognitive science of emotion. He has an MA in Philosophy and an MPhil in Cognitive Science.


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Welcome to MHN's unique book review site Metapsychology. We feature over 7800 in-depth reviews of a wide range of books and DVDs written by our reviewers from many backgrounds and perspectives. We update our front page weekly and add more than thirty new reviews each month. Our editor is Christian Perring, PhD. To contact him, use one of the forms available here.

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Metapsychology Online Reviews
ISSN 1931-5716