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