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Philosophy of emotions


Several emotions appear to emerge without thinking and deliberation of the ... conscious, deliberate, and under volitional control, the other automatic, ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Philosophy of emotions

Philosophy of emotions
  • The primacy of affect and cognition in emotion
  • 12.11.08
  • Mikko Salmela

The problem
  • Several emotions appear to emerge without
    thinking and deliberation of the eliciting
    situation recalcitrant and phobic adult human
    emotions as well as the emotions of animals and
    human infants.
  • appraisal as a functional term threatens to
    trivialize the claim that emotions involve
  • Is there a distinct affective system of
    information processing that is functionally and
    anatomically independent from cognition?

The Zajonc-Lazarus debate
  • Are there independent systems for emotion and
  • Can emotion be activated without prior activation
    of cognitive processes?
  • Robert Zajonc (1923-) Feeling and thinking.
    Preferences need no inferences, American
    Psychologist (1980) On the primacy of affect,
    American Psychologist (1984)
  • Richard Lazarus (1922-2002) Thoughts on the
    relations between emotion and cognition,
    American Psychologist (1982) On the primacy of
    cognition, American Psychologist (1984)

Zajoncs arguments
  • Empirical evidence we can form likings and
    aversions to objects on the basis of mere
    exposure to them.
  • We can like something or be afraid of it before
    we know precisely what it is.
  • Emotion constitutes an information processing
    system that is functionally and neuroanatomically
    independent from conscious thinking.
  • Separate brain structures, neural pathways, and
  • Cold cognition vs. hot cognition
    discriminanda vs. preferanda
  • Feeling is a representational system that is
    demarcated and defined by its own special
    representational categories and principles, and
    governed by its own special ways and
    regularities This system operates on
    representational items that are informationally
    less complex than the standard propositional ones
    involved in cognition. (Charland,1996)

Lazarus arguments
  • Information processing alone cannot constitute
    relational meaning without some kind of
    evaluation of the information for its relevance
    for the subjects well-being.
  • Cognitive activity does not imply deliberate
    reflection, rationality, or awareness.
  • An appraisal can operate at all levels of
    complexity, from the most primitive and inborn to
    the most symbolic and experience-based.
  • All instances of physiological arousal are not
    emotions startle, exposure effect, physical
  • ZAJONCS RESPONSE Lazarus broad definition of
    cognition is overly inclusive and arbitrary.
  • If we accept Lazarus position, all distinctions
    between cognition, perception, and sensation
    disappear (Zajonc, 1984, 179).

Resolution Leventhal Scherer
  • The issue of the primacy of emotion or cognition
    is a semantic controversy focus on actual
    processes and mechanisms that produce emotions.
  • Lazarus all processes of meaning generation are
  • Zajonc cognition involves post-perceptual
    transformation of sensory input by mental work
  • Three levels of emotional processing
  • Sensory motor
  • Innate, automatically stimulated expressive-motor
    programs and cerebral activating systems
  • Schematic
  • Automatic linkage of the current situation to the
    prototype of prior emotional episodes
  • Conceptual
  • Reflexive evaluation of the current situation in
    terms of propositionally structured information
    and memories.

Two-level appraisal theories
  • E.g. Lazarus (1991) Power and Dalgleish (1997)
    Elster (1999) Ben-Zeev (2000) Clore and
    Ortony (2000) Smith and Kirby (2001) Scherer
    (2001) Nussbaum (2001).
  • The core idea there are two modes or systems for
    the transformation of sensory or semantic input
    into psychological representations of personal
    significance, one conscious, deliberate, and
    under volitional control, the other automatic,
    unconscious, and uncontrollable (Lazarus 1991,
  • Gerald Clore Andrew Ortony Cognition in
    emotions always, sometimes, never? (2000).
  • The bottom-up route of online computation vs. the
    top-down route of appraisal reinstatement.
  • Associated dichotomies two modes of
    categorization two types of processing and two
    functions of emotions.

Clore Ortony (in detail)
There seem to be two fingers on the emotional
trigger one controlled by early perceptual
processes that identify stimuli with emotional
value and activate preparation for action, and a
second controlled by cognitive processes that
verify the stimulus, situate its context, and
appraise its value (Clore Ortony, 2000, 41)
Challenges to two-level appraisal theories
  • Empirical evidence on two functionally and
    anatomically distinct neural pathways for the
    processing of emotionally relevant information,
    the low road and the high road.
  • Antonio Damasio Descartes Error (1994) The
    Feeling of What Happens (1999) Joseph LeDoux
    The Emotional Brain (1995).

Sensory cortex
The high road
Sensory thalamus
The low road
Emotional stimulus
Emotional response
LeDoux 1995, 164
The low road the quick and dirty system
  • Amygdala as the emotional computer that
    processes the emotional meaning of individual
    stimuli as well as complex situations.
  • Operates on crude images of the external world.
  • Capable of responding before conscious
    recognition of the stimulus.
  • Appraisal mechanism influenced by ancestral and
    individual past.
  • Affect programs as modular systems (Fodor)
    cognitively impenetrable, informationally
    encapsulated, domain specific, innately
    specified, opaque, mandatory, and neurally

The high road the slow and careful system
  • More elaborate, propositionally explicable
    representations of the eliciting situation and
    its emotional significance.
  • Accessible to consciousness even if need not be
  • Flexible both on the input and output side as the
    emotional response depends on reasoning and on
    culturally variable social roles and norms.
  • Capable of lasting longer and motivating
    long-term, planned action.

Griffiths on two-level appraisal theories
  • The hierarchical structure of emotional
    processing provides evidence for the theoretical
    distinction between affect programs and
    cognitively complex emotions.
  • The hierarchical structure of emotional
    processing violates against the basic assumption
    of multi-level appraisal theories that instances
    of the same emotion at all levels share the same
    or similar content.
  • Low-level appraisals involve action-oriented
    representations that exhibit collapse of the
    attitudes (Millikan)
  • Low-level representations differ from high-level
    ones in terms of their impoverished inferential

Cognitivist responses to Griffiths
  • Unity of emotional system, in spite of
    hierarchical structure
  • Pure affect program is an ideal type as far as
    human emotions are concerned as all our emotions
    are influenced by cultural display rules
  • The dynamic nature of emotional appraisal
  • Emotions can be elicited by low-level appraisals,
    but higher-level appraisals are recruited at
    later stages of emotional response.
  • Emotion regulation as an aspect of emotion.
  • In examining only the earliest part of an
    emotion sequence, such studies are not in fact
    dealing with real, full blown emotions at all.
    (Clore Ortony)
  • Sequential appraisal theory (Scherer) appraisal
    as a continuous process where appraisals are
    followed by reappraisals that revise the
    evaluation result on the basis of more thoroughly
    analysed information.
  • The integration of the quick and dirty and the
    slow and careful processing in the emotional

Article 2 Jesse Prinz Emotion,
Psychosemantics, and Embodied Appraisals, in A.
Hatzimoysis (ed) Philosophy and the Emotions.
Cambridge Cambridge University Press (2003),
  • Questions for reading 
  • What problems are involved in noncognitive
    theories of emotion?
  • How Zajonc criticized cognitive theories?
  • How Lazarus responded to Zajoncs criticism?
  • What is The Emotion Problem?
  • How is representation understood in informational
  • What are embodied appraisals?
  • How emotions represent particular objects
    according to Prinz?
  • What are calibrating causes?