This is a collection of 14 papers 10 of which were published in French in 2011 as Les Ombres de l'Âme: Penser les Émotions Negatives. The current collection is published in honor of Kevin Mulligan, one of the leading scholars in the area of the philosophy of emotions. As a whole, mainly because of the brevity of the chapters this is a volume pleasant and easy to read. The downside of that is, however, that the reader is faced with shortcomings and simplifications.
In the Introduction the three Editors draw on a distinction between negative and positive emotions. The distinction is rather sketchy and limited either to the devastating consequences of the emotions in question or their negative valence (the polysemy will be better presented by Teroni (see 11-12) and Rodogno (see 113)). We are also told that "[m]ore generally, the exploration of negative emotions [...] presupposes a grasp of the way we distinguish negative and positive emotions" (2), but with that said, no rationale for these distinctions or any way of approaching them is provided. This may be all the more insufficient if one takes into consideration that according to some applying such labels as negative and positive to emotions is itself ill-grounded.
In Emotionally Charged - The Puzzle of Affective Valence Fabrice Teroni focuses on the positive and negative valence of an emotion. He understands it as "a basic aspect of emotions" (10-11). On his view valence is better explained by means of evaluation rather than by reference to hedonic states. This means that positive versus negative emotions are better understood as emotions directed at positive versus negative values rather than as pleasant versus unpleasant emotions. In a word, "the valence of emotions is due to their relation to values" (17). Teroni's conclusion is that negative or positive valence of an emotion reflects a kind of attitude towards negative of positive value respectively.
In Nasty Emotions and the Perception of Values Christine Tappolet introduces a rather vague and non-technical term of nasty emotions (mauvaises émotions in French). The notion of nastiness seems to be twofold and refers either to unpleasantness or to moral questionability of emotions. The distinction makes sense insofar as there are two kinds of defects of an emotion: extrinsic and intrinsic. Tappolet who is a supporter of a perceptual theory of emotions analyses why emotions being so close to sensory perceptions differ from them in that they may be nasty which is not the case of perceptual sensations. Yet in spite of this distinction between emotions and perceptions the perceptual theory of emotions itself is not in danger. This is because the asymmetry is unimportant since, Tappolet concludes, "if, in contrast to sensory experiences, emotions can be intrinsically irrational and painful as well as immoral, it is because the latter possess distinctive characteristics" (27-28). I must say this sounds like a surprising claim.
Anne Reboul in Negative Emotions, Values and Fiction touches upon the inability of imagining moral beliefs contradictory with one's own convictions. This imaginative resistance of sorts she explains through the content of negative emotions. However after distinguishing beliefs about fiction ('quasi-beliefs') and beliefs about reality - whether they lead to action or not (the former do not, the latter do) - Reboul does not say much about negative emotions. She rather draws on Mulligan's claim that there are no quasi-beliefs. She says that imaginative resistance is depending on cultural beliefs and, for that reason, they may vary with space and time and concludes with "the idea that fiction can have an influence on our perception of values or, in other words, on the formation of our evaluative judgments" (37).
In Who is Afraid of Contrary Emotions? Clotilde Calabri and Marco Santambrogio deal with contrary emotions felt simultaneously. As such this topic goes beyond the concept of negative emotions proper. The main argument of this chapter is that emotional attitudes are propositional and parallel knowledge and other cognitive states. Although they call "a set of episodes of emotions inconsistent if the propositions that are their objects are inconsistent, i.e., cannot all be true altogether" (41), in what follows they analyze a case of being both pleased and displeased not of a contrary sets of episodes but of an example of Mary who doesn't get the job his friend Sam gets. I think that Calabri and Santambrogio are mistaken when they insist repeatedly that in this case the object of being pleased and displeased is the same and are right when they remark that what is the same is the event. In point of fact Mary is displeased for a different reason than she is pleased (which they acknowledge in the conclusion (see 46-47)), and by isolating the reason from the description of the object and claiming that "Mary's emotional states consist in being pleased that Sam got the job and being displeased that Sam got the job" (48) they commit, in my view, a patent simplification in description[].
Olivier Massin (Bitter Joys and Sweet Sorrows) argues in favor of mixed feelings. Throughout his discussion, however, he consistently refers to cases of two feelings which are not strictly speaking simultaneous or, more often, to two feelings which are of different types (or of different levels in Scheler's wording[]). Massin's argument about the non-existence of resultant feelings is interesting and convincing. Should they exist, this would lead us to an infinite regress (Massin does not call it so): for if there were pleasure and displeasure and a resultant mixed feeling of both, then one could also expect yet another resultant feeling of all three, and then of all four and so on ad infinitum. In the end Massin examines cases of fusions of feelings. He says that fusions are possible under certain circumstances (in the same way as hot and cold water). According to Massin "only objectless feelings may fuse" (56) with the proviso that they be not of the same level (another reference to Scheler). This is one of the best chapter of the collection despite the fact that the only example of fusion of feelings given by Massin is that of pleasure and displeasure (e.g. "[t]he theory of fusions of feelings is only valid when it bears on pleasure and displeasure that have no objects." (56)). I wonder if his arguments and conclusions could be applied to other emotions and, more precisely, to moods.
Julien A. Deonna in The Emotion of Being Moved introduces a specific meaning of being moved. It is a discrete affective phenomenon on a par with other emotions rather than a general sense of being moved by any emotion such as shame, anger, or fear. In order to support its distinctness Deonna analyses five criteria of the specificity of an emotion. Accordingly, being moved (i) is directed at objects, (ii) is characterized by a specific formal element ("the appreciation of the overall goodness", (63)), (iii) has a distinct phenomenology (a momentary suspension, a kind of contemplative state), (iv) has a distinct action tendency ("distancing [...] with beneficial features that are more diffuse and delayed" (65)), and (v) has a common general function ("a reminder, or often a discovery, of the values that we hold most dear" (65)). This is a fine paper but one might wonder what it has to do with negative emotions. Being moved is explicitly called positive emotion (e.g. (65), (66)) and it is only in the conclusion that Deonna considers negative cases proper and semi-negative cases, as he calls them. He focuses there on being moved in the sense of being moved by plight or suffering. In his view being moved by suffering not only includes sympathizing with "the plight of an individual" but also means being moved "by the positive value that succeeds" (66).
In The Uncanny and Other Negative Existential Feelings Jérôme Dokic draws on Freud's essay The Uncanny and on Ratcliffe's definition of existential feelings. This is where he begins investigating the nature of uncanniness common to both ordinary life and psychiatric cases. To understand uncanniness as absence of feeling of familiarity is not, according to Dokic, satisfactory because it doesn't explain, inter alia, the Capgras delusion. It is more accurate to take it as an existential meta-feeling, that is as a feeling about cognitive dissonance between the feeling of familiarity one expects and that of unfamiliarity one faces. Dokic ends with a remark on the role of negative existential feelings which is to "reflect a significant change in the lived relationship between oneself and the rest of the world" (73).
Disgustingly Handsome. Nausea in the Face of Physical Beauty by Anita Konzelmann Ziv examines an apparently contradictory character of experiencing beauty as disgusting. After making sure that the expression is not purely rhetorical and that disgust in the face of beauty is not moral, she makes the claim that such disgust is a mediated one. It is neither satiation nor excess (or exaggeration) which mediates disgust but rather a kind of reflexive feeling towards oneself. According to Konzelmann Ziv disgust towards one's beauty is explainable only by a "complex cognitive base" (81). To develop her thesis she uses the material of the novel Belle du Seigneur by A. Cohen. In this particular case the cognitive base for disgust towards beauty is formed by narcissism, vanity, and the exploration of love.
Vivian Mizrahi in Stench and Olfactory Disgust argues that stench is the object of olfactory disgust. Stench is a subject's disposition to feel disgust for a particular smell (one of her examples is the smell of Camembert - pleasant to some and unpleasant to others). Accordingly, Mizrahi places smell on the perceptual level and stench on the emotion level. One might wonder, however, if it is correct to say that "the unpleasant character of a smell is not perceptual but derives from the unpleasant character of the emotion (disgust) associated with the smell" (90) or, rather, if it is correct in all cases. Certainly it may be so in the case described, i.e. of a gourmet eating Maroilles. But imagine a stench entirely new to a person she feels in a dark without knowing where it comes from. In this case, it seems to me, stench is perceptual, unless one associates it with another stench one already knows, and no emotion is formed. This may be the case of a white liquour-like Bordeaux wine too: I have met several persons who either like or dislike its smell without knowing about anything rotten in it.
In the following chapter (Anxiety. A Case Study on the Value of Negative Emotion) Charlie Kurth's starting point is that "negative emotions matter" (95). On a more detailed level, they are important instrumentally as well as aretaically. Anxiety is an example to illustrating this and to prove it Kurth introduces Aristotelian qualifications (Aristotle is quoted by him but for another purpose) such as the rightness of time and the rightness of the way anxiety is experienced. Qualified in this manner, anxiety is "an admirable emotional attunement" (99), a kind of epistemic sensitivity in particular situations. But it is also valuable on a more general level, insofar as it is a component of a virtuous character or attitude. It is a part of someone's self-criticism: sensitivity to uncertainty, awareness of the limits of knowledge and extent of fallibility, in a word - of moral concern.
Next comes Grief by Carolyn Price. Again, we are invited to consider in a more positive light what is used to be regarded as a negative feeling. Price's argument centers on the value of grief of which she analyses some contradictory forms. The case against grief is linked to its irrationality, that is "a refusal to face up to the situation as it is" (106). But Plato whom she quotes to this end is not in favour of eradication of grief altogether: he rather makes the case against an exaggerated form of grief. In this sense seeking a friend who died is irrational but not so missing and remembering him (vide Epicurus' famous advice; Price ponders over a similar advice later on (see 109)). This is why - once again, as in Kurth's paper - we arrive at postulating a kind of metriopatheic view (Price doesn't employ this label): anxiety and grief are negative only when exaggerated whereas they are positive when felt in a right time and right way. This is what comes out in Price's argument in favour of grief. An absence of grief understood in this way, that is of grief felt in right time and right strength, would be a refusal to face up the world because it would amount to deny or neglect a significant fact: that someone important, say a beloved person, died. Price's conclusion is, therefore, that grief is a complex phenomenon (but maybe that may be said about many other emotions), that there are many forms of sorrow (this again may be said about many emotions), and that its value depends on what kind of response it is (again true in the case of various other emotions)[].
Raffaele Rodogno in The Moral Shadows of Shame and Contempt first makes a remark about various senses in which emotions are labeled positive or negative. For instance, an emotion may be pleasant (hence positive) but base (hence negative) at the same time and vice versa. Then he discusses two meanings in which emotions pertain to the moral realm. Important distinctions follow: first between moral vs immoral and moral vs non-moral emotions, then the three distinct ways in which moral vs non-moral emotions may be understood (an emotion is moral i) if it involves moral concept/s, ii) if the evaluations it incorporates fulfil some constraints of moral discourse, iii) if it determines people's moral interactions). Next Rodogno comments on the methodology of empirical studies on shame. In the last part of his paper Rodogno presents several views claiming that shame (and contempt) is or is not a moral emotion. No conclusion is appended to this chapter.
In Negative Emotions and Racism Luc Faucher takes to task the theories explaining racism as emerging from one emotion only (monistic theories). He argues that racism results from different emotions (pluralistic theory). Hence, a form of racism depends on the type of emotion it comes from. He discusses Helm's theory of import and respect and Sternberg's studies of hate, among others, to conclude that racial prejudice is not a unitary phenomenon. For instance, racism takes one form when determined by hate or contempt and another if determined by fear, anger, envy or disgust.
The last chapter by Ronald de Sousa (How to Think Yourself Out of Jealousy) focuses on sexual jealousy and makes a plea for a more benign attitude. As such this paper may be read not only as the analysis of an emotion but also as a therapeutic advice. In point of fact, de Sousa suggests that it is not only possible but also recommendable to transform jealousy into compassion, i.e. a pleasure felt because of one's beloved having pleasure with another person.
The main reason for that is that jealousy is most often counterproductive. De Sousa stresses that the ideological requirements of romantic love are untenable and that the promise of fidelity is utopian.
This is a confusing book. The best chapters, in my view, are those not about negative emotions proper. If my impression is correct then the subtitle of the collection is misleading. Next, as it often happens, the history of philosophy of emotions is quoted in a random way[]. But the general message - perhaps too implicit - is correct: it adds to a more and more common belief -- that emotions as such are not negative per se -- another one: there are cases in which the so-called negative emotions are positive. This is why this is a valuable contribution for our understanding of the meanders of emotions, yet, given the number of books on emotions available on the market, the price of the volume may prevent many from buying it, especially if one thinks that it is badly produced (after reading it I have now my hardcover copy disintegrated into the cover and separate sheets).
[] For a more precise description see the next chapter authored by Massin: "For the relation of contrariety to be violated, we would need the very same mental episode to be at once a pleasure and displeasure: this would amount to saying that the same person can take pleasure and displeasure in the same object, under the same aspect, in the same way, at the same time. it is doubtful that such cases really do exist" (52).
[] Scheler is strangely presented. There is no "Scheler 1955" (51 - quoted en passant) in the bibliography. It is only in the penultimate paragraph where his concepts of "level/strata/depth" are explicitly quoted, even though earlier his approach is already discernible (e.g. the example of pleasure because of springtime versus sadness because of the death of somebody close is Schelerian in spirit; same for "exhausted and happy" (53) - Scheler's examples for vital and psychic feelings, respectively). I don't know if in Scheler, esp. Scheler (1973), there is such thing as spiritual displeasure (51). Surely it may be said displeasing.
[] This rings of platonic-cum-aristotelian tones. Neither of them worked on such specific questions as in this collection, but their positions may be summarized by means of similar claims.
[] E.g. the idea that "one must love good and hate the bad" (25) is present in Plato; the idea of logique du cœur (see 40) is present in Pascal; the idea of "both lov[ing] and hat[ing] the same objects [...]" (46) is present in Brentano. Plato and Aristotle when quoted are quoted in an unusual way (references to pages of given translations).