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Knowing EmotionsReview - Knowing Emotions
Truthfulness and Recognition in Affective Experience
by Rick Anthony Furtak
Oxford University Press, 2018
Review by Robert Zaborowski
May 7th 2019 (Volume 23, Issue 19)

This is a nicely produced book (although the referencing is not always consistent), with an over 30-page bibliography, clearly structured in three parts, seven chapters, all pleasant to read. The first part is mainly polemical, the second is an attempt at repairing the current views, while the third, as long as the first and second taken together, contains more of Furtak's personal voice.

In the first part (ch. 1 and 2) Furtak makes an effort to show that the traditional opposition between the rational and the passionate is misleading. It is wrong to consider rationality alone as trustworthy cognitive instrument and affectivity as unreliable and as nothing more than unintelligent disruptions. Furtak refers to Pascal and Max Scheler and claims that there exist truths acquired only through affectivity which has a logic of its own. He then focuses on the logic of emotions, points to their epistemic indispensability in grasping the world's features neglected or ignored by reason. He makes a good point against fragmentation. He opts for taking emotions as unified experiences and not a combination of two or more components.

In the second part (ch. 3 and 4) Furtak focuses on reasonable feelings and embodied cognition, and introduces the category of axiologically salient aspects of the world. Yet it is not entirely evident what is the relation between axiologically salient aspects of the world and significant features of our world of concern (I am not certain if world is taken in the identical sense in both expressions). Furtak discusses the case of recalcitrant emotions which prove to several degrees of conviction or belief. Only the one which is wholeheartedly held (but is often kept hidden) motivates the so-called recalcitrant emotions. He also opts for constitutive rather than causal approach (e.g. to feel an emotion of grief is to perceive a loss of a beloved person rather than is caused by such a loss). Nevertheless, he is hardly able to overcome the current language of explaining emotion is terms of somatic feeling and cognitive judgement "integrated in a unified experience" (73) and recurrently refers to these notions. In doing so, he seems to say that, at least, conceptually, emotions are posterior to feeling and judgement insofar as emotions need these two categories if they be defined properly.

This is around this moment that it becomes undeniable that Furtak commits a generalization, for he speaks of the whole of affectivity in the following way: "through our emotions [...] we are able to discern whatever has meaning or significance for us" (75). It is not difficult to see that such simplification results in unsurmountable problems. Not only the degree of the meaning or significance in question is radically different in various emotions but also and more to the point in some cases emotions lead us astray due to a poor knowledge or are responsible for our deformed knowledge about the world. This group of emotions is not accounted for by Furtak apart from some extremely rare and rather implicit statements, such as: "When I am not emotionally agitated in the appropriate way, my understanding of what has taken place, in its significance, is deficient or incomplete." (78) I suppose that two things should be underlined here. First, we must certainly take the qualification in the appropriate way as crucial. The corollary is that when emotional agitation occurs in the inappropriate way, the claim is not true anymore. But Furtak does not touch upon it. Most often he omits the qualification in the appropriate way nor does he examine why and when emotional agitation is appropriate. Second, I think there are cases when emotional agitation has nothing to do with a complete understanding of what is going on. Instead Furtak takes what he claims for granted and inverts the inference: "If to know something adequately is to recognize and appreciate its meaning or significance, then (sic!) emotions have a distinct role to play in human cognition." (79) Now, as it seems to me, either a qualification in such cases is missing or the claim is patently false (probably as much false as a claim that emotions never play a vital role in cognition). Surely "[a]ffective experience has an "informational value" [...]" (81) in some cases, but to say that it is so in all cases is controversial to say the least. One may easily point to situations in which emotions misinform us, sometimes in rather painful way.

To do justice to Furtak it needs to be said that he does offer a discussion on the varieties of affective recognition. There, however, he deals with various affective modi, i.e. emotions different in view of their formal object. He also says that "[o]ur fear, then, is either an emotional awareness of that actual danger, or a false sense that something is dangerous when it is not." (83). But, again, nothing is said about the conditions for one or another. What sufficiently warrants that the world reveals itself correctly in emotional cognition is the wholeheartedness of an emotion together with "inseparability of consciousness and embodiment" (Furtak's borrowing from Merleau-Ponty)[[1]]. All he has to say against the evidence that emotions in some circumstances happen to be blind is this: "all of these arguments have the effect of triviliazing our emotions, by encouraging us not to take their content seriously" (97-98)[[2]]. And again, no argument is provided to the idea that all emotions have equally rich content, nor that every single emotion "provides us with a crucial means of being in touch with the world" (99).

In the third part (ch. 5-7), the bulk of the material is similar to what we have seen in part 1 and 2, but it is presented in new light. Furtak, first, focuses on emotional dispositions and episodes of emotion and argues that the latter are explainable and determined by the former. As for emotional dispositions, e.g. love, care, or concern, they are explainable by "the emotional or affective a priori [...] [which] performs this basic function by opening us to what is of value, enabling what is meaningful or significant to be disclosed to us" (108). I wonder if Furtak is adopting a Platonic stance here (note that Plato is used very sparsely in his book), for what else than Plato's idea/s may be the ground of a priori, especially one which guarantees an accurate epistemic relation to the world. Now, in one place (see 110) Furtak specifies that he has a particular kind of love in mind: an unselfish love (here Kierkegaard and Scheler are Furtak's mentors). This is a kind of love in which what is loved matters "for its own sake or as an end in itself" (114). Love is then spelled out in terms of care or concern, which are the maximal extent of interest (unfortunately we are not told what kind of interest hatred is and in what sense it reveals the world).

Next, Furtak makes an attempt toward an account of love. This is another chapter with interesting material, yet, again it is rather lacking in argument and, again, sliding into one-sidedness and circularity[[3]]. It opens with another catalogue of names whose works inspired Furtak. His attempt seems to me unsatisfactory insofar as he once explains love as care, but elsewhere speaks about love or care on one occasion while about love and care on another[[4]]. In one place Furtak remarks that "the fact that love makes us aware of the significance of things does not necessarily entail that this significance is projected onto the world by our own minds" (128), yet he does not reflect upon the circumstances when it does. There follows a section on loving one's neighbour. Here, since Furtak asserts that loving means to take an interest in the interests of another, we risk an infinite regress: imagine Thomas who loves Laura who loves Peter who loves Gloria who loves Diana - in the end, it would amount for Thomas to take an interest in Diana and this only if Diana has no interest in anybody else. In the section on valuing a more fundamental question emerges: if, as Furtak says, "real features of the world [...] can be detected only by those who are capable of taking in them", this means that "the world presents itself as meaningful in ways that elicit our emotional responses" (143). But this, in turn, presupposes that the ontic structure of the world is inherently affective in a similar way as it is, say, optical and acoustic. And this should be proved or at least hypothesized. This chapter ends with a section on personal love in which "we are oriented toward the truth of the world" (149). The most important support to this thesis are quotes from Heidegger and Frankfurt, among others.

Finally, we are told that "our affective dispositions - loves, cares, and concerns - define our sense of what has reality and value" (159). There is no indication of what defines these affective dispositions though. Furtak looks how to place the subjective (e.g. pervasive moods, idiosyncratic passionate outlooks) within an account of emotions aiming at truth. He is not worried by the fact that moods influence cognition. He simply says, if I understand him correctly, that a person's any (sic!) mood is a part of the world and as such it captures important truths about the world. Furtak seems to deny that "a mood is just an inner somatic and affective state that stretches out into the world, tainting our sense of things and persons" (169) and wants the burden of the proof to lie on those who claim so. What does Furtak make of the difference between an observable thing and hardly visible moods, I do not know. Furtak praises the qualities of a vantage point but he does not mention its limits or, else, he remarks that it is impossible to get a mood-free perspective[[5]]. This shows that Furtak adopts or takes for granted a one-level approach in which every mood is worth just as much. It looks as if all feelings, moods and emotions were equally accurate and/or of similar cognitive value. But this flies in face of experience. Think about occurrences of weaker or stronger obscuring factors of which some emotions may be victims while reasoning resists them. The problem is that Furtak limits himself to examples which give strength to his claim while numerous counterexamples are at hand. The penultimate section introduces a category of emotional authenticity, understood as affective openness to revision and change. One's emotions are authentic, if they are consistent between themselves and, more importantly, with one's whole life.

Having said that, I must confess, I am perplexed. Although I am sympathetic to the topic of Furtak's book and generally agree with a lot of what he says, there is also a great deal of generalizations and simplifications which, as such, imperil the whole content. Furtak's definitely avoids overintellectualization (Goldie's term) but he falls into overemotionalization (e.g. 77, 79). Is this progress from a philosophical point of view? As it is, the book is an enthusiastic apology of emotions but this is problematic insofar as the whole of affectivity is remarkably rich. This intricacy of affectivity demands for a more nuanced approach than one-sided praise. Furtak does not answer or even does not touch upon the question on what the correctness and incorrectness of emotions depends or how much one or another emotion is rooted in the world. For instance, Aristotle thinks that only a virtuous person's emotions are accurate and grasp the world in an appropriate way, otherwise not because they are either too strong or too weak. Furtak from the very beginning disapprove of reductionism and very well so, e.g. the reductionism of affective science, among others. But he himself performs a different kind of reductionism: by avoiding differentiation of the world of emotions he flattens the affective landscape. Instead of valleys and mountains we are given a plain. Given the names he refers to, it is surprising to observe how much the vertical approach and the concept of affective hierarchy are absent from the book[[6]].

Furtak's book is better understood as about the so-called positive emotions (if I may use this unfortunate label). As such it is only half right but it is also, a fortiori, half wrong. This is because it provides us with only a part of the truth about emotions. If so, a study which will explain why different emotions present such a variety of features, in some cases corresponding to Furtak's description and in others not, and yet they all still fall under the same umbrella term of emotions, remains a desideratum.

A criticism may be made also about Furtak's recurrent practice to send the reader to what will follow (e.g. 99: "I shall proceed to argue", 108: "I will explore", p. 129: "we shall return", p. 151: "about which, more later", p. 156: "as I will argue"). Finally, it is characteristic that Furtak devotes more energy to develop observations and comments on authors of his choice, many of which are referred to as authorities, rather than to specific arguments. Therefore, although cleverly written and impressively enriched with attractive pictures, Furtak's book is rather a relatively modest step toward advancing our analysis and understanding of affectivity. It makes me think, mutatis mutandis, about Agathon's speech in the Symposium. For that reason, I think, it is more correct to use Furtak's own word from his last sentence and to take his book as "an invitation" to think about affectivity and "what can be known through our emotions" (197).

 

____________________________________________

 

[[1]] Given the importance of Furtak's bibliography, the absence of Shaun Gallagher's work, e.g. Enactivist Interventions. Rethinking the Mind (2017) is incomprehensible.

 [[2]] To say without stipulation that "dispassionate reason is blind" (138) is, again, too big a generalization.

 [[3]] When Furtak says that "our emotions are capable of making known to us what is significant, thereby placing us in touch with whatever matters to us" (21), he does not ask the question why something is significant and matters to us. As long as we limit ourselves to say that a "meaningful truth is at stake in our affective experience" (21) and we do not explore why is this so, we are doomed either to begging a question or mysticism. His aim is to "explain how our felt recognitions of significance incorporate a sense of what is the case, and therefore how meaningful truth is at stake in our affective experience" (21) but he seems not to be aware that he walks (e.g. 10, 83, 111) on the edge of the Euthypho paradox.

 [[4]] The formula "love [...] a disinterested concern" (129) sounds particularly odd in this light.

 [[5]] Here especially, and in this part more generally, a recent book by David Sobel, From Valuing to Value: Towards a Defense of Subjectivism (2016) would be of much help.

 [[6]] It is strange that Furtak does not use nor even alludes to Scheler's model of four well-delineated levels of feeling.

 

© 2019 Robert Zaborowski

 

Robert Zaborowski, [email protected], University of Warmia and Mazury


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