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Fact and Value in EmotionReview - Fact and Value in Emotion
by Louis C. Charland and Peter Zachar (Editors)
John Benjamins, 2008
Review by Angela Bird
Dec 2nd 2008 (Volume 12, Issue 49)

Emotion research in neurobiology, empirical psychology and other scientific disciplines is frequently grounded in the assumption that it is possible to tease apart the factive, descriptive aspects of emotional states from their prescriptive component and provide us with a mental phenomenon amenable to objective investigation. The theme of the papers in this volume, many garnered from or influenced by those working within field of the philosophy of psychiatry,  is to problematize this assumption and examine the degree to which we can make a scientifically respectable distinction between the evaluative and factive aspects of our emotional experiences.

 The emotion of anger within the context of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is the topic of Potter's contribution.  Anger here is characterized as a moral emotion where the patient feels that some wrong or harm has been done (though many would argue that to be a truly moral emotion anger it ought to be provoked by the violation of a moral standard). The best way to diffuse someone's anger is to first establish what triggered the emotion and show that you recognize the impact that the harm has on them as a person. This is often problematic because not infrequently we view another's anger as unwarranted or somehow disproportionate. We expect displays of anger to be appropriate and rationally tempered to the circumstances. Many clinicians posit BPD anger as a regression to primitive irrational defenses (and therefore unwarranted and maladaptive) but, Potter argues, it is necessary to be sensitive to the possibility of personally warranted anger directed at responses to perceived present harms co-occurring with maladaptive anger in response to past harms Anger at the present and past harms can then become interwoven and amplified. Potter then goes on to discuss the influence of gendered stereotypes. Women who display even minor expressions of anger will typically be more likely to be characterized as "aggressive" than men displaying similar behavior, who are more likely to be judged "assertive". If women are more readily labeled as "aggressive" then their denial that they are angry will be seen as further evidence of regression, making it more difficult for female clients to persuade their clinician that a present hurt or injustice has been done.  Potter concludes by making a persuasive case for the therapeutic benefits that would accrue following the adoption of a richer, philosophical understanding of anger.

Salmela's paper addresses the problem of the situational warrant of emotion and, like Potter, emphasizes the importance of considering the personal history of individuals when making evaluations about whether their emotional response is appropriate.  Clinical Psychology typically characterizes emotional warrant in terms of adaptiveness whilst in the field of philosophy the focus is on determining whether an emotional response is rationally apposite (for example, fear in the presence of a boisterous, playful puppy would be appropriate behavior for a small child but not warranted behavior in a typical adult). Salmela considers two classes of emotional appropriateness: emotional authenticity and emotional truth. It seems right that we need to acknowledge the individual appropriateness of emotional reactions, embedded within the cognitive, evaluative and motivational perspective of the subject. How ought I to respond to this situation, given my unique mental and physical constitution, personal history and this cognitive, perceptual and sensory evidence? This is what characterizes emotional authenticity, when the evaluative content of the emotion coheres with the individual's internally justified mental state. On the other hand a person's emotional reaction may be inappropriate from a more progressive perspective that has external, publically acknowledged warrant. This is what characterizes emotional truth. Based on Wright's proposal that emotions ought to meet the syntactic and disciplinary requirements for truth aptness, Salmela suggests that emotional truth is warranted by reasons that remain undefeated no matter how much our knowledge about the relevant facts is or will be enlarged or improved.  He concludes by arguing that emotional authenticity and truth offer practical standards for evaluating the situational warrant of emotions in psychotherapies, especially within the cognitivist and constructivist perspective.  

 Radden argues for a clearer conceptual clarification of the distinction between the sort of pain arising from a grazed knee or paper cut, which she classes under the term sensation pain (s-pain) pain (though sensation pain is, Radden points out, not the mere activation of pain receptors since without the perception of painful sensations the activation of the nociceptive pathway would not be classified as pain) and the sort of pain that arises from mental anguish, such as feelings of grief, depression or anxiety, which she classes as emotional pain (e-pain).  Both types of pain involve negatively valenced affectivity and individual experiences of both emotional and physical pain can vary in degree of intensity. The intensity of jealousy I feel when reading an e-mail from a partner to a perceived rival might vary as a function of the amount of intimacy between the two that I believe the message represents, and a burn will vary in intensity as a function of the degree of tissue damage sustained.  But, Radden argues, we can distinguish s-pain from e-pain in important and useful ways. Unlike e-pain we can typically localize physical pain to a specific area of the body (a grazed knee, a scalded hand), we are prepared to acknowledge that the injured person has privileged introspective access to the experience and can ostensibly offer self-reports that are immune from correction (though not error). We do not enjoy the same reportal authority when it comes to e-pain. A further distinction, Radden argues, is that s-pains are minimally intentional, they are about themselves, i.e., they are intransitive whereas e-pains can be transitive or intransitive. Radden also argues that onset and cessation of s- pain appears to be more closely localized temporally; emotions are less like episodes or occurrences and more like dispositions to act or feel. This claim in particular seems disputable. Whilst jealousy can adopt a dispositional form that lasts for months or years, (in its extreme form leading to morbid preoccupation with a partner's infidelity or suspected infidelity) there are surely episodes of painfully heightened, acute jealousy with very specific onset (it could also have a very specific point of cessation, for example learning that your beliefs were unwarranted, i.e. a wife stops feeling jealous when she discovers her husband is about to have dinner with his male boss not his attractive secretary as she mistakenly thought). In the conclusion of her paper Radden raises some worries about the conceptual conflation of physical or s-pain and emotional pain within the field of psychiatry and makes a strong case for the necessity of subjecting these concepts to a more scrupulous analysis.

   To what extent we are, as moral agents, able to control, cultivate and modify our emotions is question of both personal and ethical significance and is the subject of Faucher and Tappolet's paper.   They offer explicit models of emotional plasticity on a continuum ranging from the rigidly hardwired to the increasingly more malleable. The first is the fully equipped model, where you come equipped at birth with a fully functional emotional system ready for use as soon as you come into the world, or have to wait for other non-emotional components to develop. There is, on this account, zero plasticity. The marble model claims we basically come equipped at birth with a system of well defined emotional dispositions that get shaped, following existing fault lines, by the environment. The avocado pear model (identified by Peter Goldie) states that emotions have a basic (neurologically hard-wired) core but a pliable outer core that is amenable to change by cultural influence and life experiences, such a model (like the marble model) will appeal to the biological determinists. On the other hand, the clay model argues that like clay our emotions are malleable at first but, like clay after drying, they lose their plasticity; so the emotion system is malleable during the early years of life but then loses its plasticity. The wax model analogy suggests that our emotional system  as not only malleable at birth but, in the same way that wax loses its plasticity when cooled but can be reheated and reshaped endlessly, our emotional system can be continually restructured. On this model emotional development is possible, even late in life, an appealing model for those advocating a dynamic systems approach to the emotions as is the silly putty model. The silly putty model embraces full plasticity; our emotion system is open to direct cultural influence, can alter its functions or take different forms and retains malleability throughout life. The plasticity question is relevant to whether we can achieve moral progress and become more virtuous agents and, of course, whether we can educate children to develop virtuous emotional dispositions.  Faucher and Tappolet's conclusion is modest; there is room for optimism, since there are reasons to believe that appraisals are importantly plastic, the intentional objects of fear, disgust and so on are not fixed but the role of the social environment in changing emotional dispositions suggests that perhaps the most we can do as agents to achieve moral progress is to make sure we embed ourselves within the right cultural milieu.  The authors seem to be arguing that it is possible to adopt some sort of transcendental stance by stepping outside our own moral system. Whilst there might be a great deal of convergence between moral systems cross culturally there is also a significant amount of moral diversity and it might be thought that we can simply weigh alternatives between competing moral theories. However, it seems likely that moral progress will always have to be viewed from within the framework of our own current values.

Other papers of particular note in this collection are the chapter from Landreth assessing the evidence from neuroimaging in support of sentimentalism, Ellis' paper on alexithymia (emotion blindness) and Rudnick's chapter reflecting on the issue of moral evaluation in the field of psychiatry.  Although obviously aimed at an academic audience many of the papers in this collection are remarkably accessible and will be of particular relevance to those who are interested in psychiatric issues relating to the study of emotion (not the least of which will be Charland's opening chapter on the competing views of Pinel and Crichton developed in the infancy of clinical psychology). All in all, the book represents a valuable contribution to the discussion of an interesting and relatively neglected aspect of emotion theory.

© 2008 Angela Bird

Angela Bird, Sheffield University


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Metapsychology Online Reviews
ISSN 1931-5716