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Rational Emotion

Emotional Reason: Deliberation, Motivation, and the Nature of Value by Bennett W. Helm  (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy: Cambridge University Press) How can we motivate ourselves to do what we think we ought? How can we deliberate about personal values and priorities? Bennett Helm argues that standard philosophical answers to these questions presuppose a sharp distinction between cognition and conation that undermines an adequate understanding of values and their connection to motivation and deliberation. Rejecting this distinction, Helm argues that emotions are fundamental to any account of value and motivation, and he develops a detailed alternative theory both of emotions, desires, and evaluative judgments and of their rational interconnections. The result is an innovative theory of practical rationality and of how we can control not only what we do but also what we value and who we are as persons.

Excerpt: I have suggested that the assumption of the cognitive-conative divide and of the corresponding conception of rationality as either epistemic or instrumental underlies our conceptions of the motivational and deliberative problems and so has resulted in an unsatisfactory understanding of ourselves and how we can reason practically. Thus, on the one hand, the split between cognition and conation results in an understanding of the motivational problem as that of how to bridge the inevitable gap between cognition and conation. As I argued, this understanding of the problem seems to force us to see practical reason as only contingently and fortuitously connected with motivation, thereby undermining any resulting account of how we can rationally control what we do. On the other hand, this split results in an understanding of the deliberative problem in terms of a genuine paradox of simultaneous invention and discovery, a paradox which forces the choice between cognitivism and non‑cognitivism, between an emphasis on the cognitive and the idea of rational discovery and an emphasis on the conative and the idea of autonomous invention. No matter which of these options we choose, it seems, we are led to give up an important dimension of our understanding of ourselves: as autonomous and so responsible for the kind of persons we are, or as able non‑arbitrarily to reason about who to be and so to discover what has meaning in our lives.

In spite of their entrenchment in philosophical understandings of the mind, these conceptions of cognition, conation, and rationality are not obligatory. My aim in this book is to argue for an alternative conception of evaluative judgment, desire, and emotion as each being essentially both cognitive and conative in a way that cannot be analyzed into separable components. In essence, this is to undercut the traditional cognitive‑conative divide in a way that enables me to reconceive both the motivational and deliberative problems. As a result, we should not conceive of the motivational problem as that of figuring out how to bridge an inevitable gap between evaluation and reason on the one side and motivation on the other. Rather, I shall argue, potential (but not inevitable) gaps between evaluation and motivation can arise entirely within reason, so that nothing extra‑rational is required to bridge such yaps. Moreover, once we reject the cognitive­conative divide, we should not conceive of the deliberative problem as simply a choice between cognitivism and non­cognitivism. Rather, we can understand the standards of deliberation about value as partially within our evaluative sensibilities and so as in a sense invented by us, while still being genuine standards that enable us to discover personal value.

In each case, the reconception of the problem and so of what is heeded in order to solve it depends on an understanding of our emotions and desires as making a distinctive contribution to reason, thus enabling Its to see rationality as more than just epistemic or instrumental. In Part I, I aim to provide an account of our emotions and desires that makes this possible. My aim in chapter 2, "Emotions and the cognitive‑conative divide is essentially to clear the ground of competing accounts of emotion and desire so as to make room for the kind of account I shall offer. In attempting to solve the mind‑body problem, philosophers of mind typically offer accounts of the intentionality of desire that ignore a central feature of desire, namely that it views its object as worthy of pursuit or avoidance ‑ as having import. Making sense of such import, therefore, is central to solving the mind‑body problem, though this is a problem that is typically simply ignored within philosophy of mind. I suggest that we can achieve an account of import if we turn to a rather natural understanding of emotions as essentially pleasures and pains: to feel such a pleasure or pain is to "feel" an evaluation of one's situation, where such an evaluative feeling seems to be an appropriate source of the imports things have for us. This account of emotions, however, conflicts with standard cognitivist theories of emotions, which presuppose the cognitive‑conative divide. I argue that such accounts fail to be accounts of emotions, ultimately diagnosing their failure to lie with that presupposition. Consequently, I argue, solving the problem import presents is impossible under the assumption of the cognitive‑conative divide.

In chapter 3, "Constituting import," I fill in the account of emotions sketched in chapter 2 in terms of a more fundamental notion of a felt evaluation in such a way as to solve the problem of import. At the core of this account is a distinctive analysis of the notions of pleasure and pain. Emotions are pleasures and pains not in that they somehow involve bodily sensations; rather, I argue, emotions can be redescribed as pleasures and pains: to feel fear just is to be pained by danger. The point of this redescription is twofold. First, it highlights the idea that emotions are evaluations. I argue that such evaluations are best made sense of as a kind of intentional awareness of import, for the rational warrant of emotions depends in part on whether they are properly responsive to the imports things have. Consequently, import must have a kind of objectivity that is presupposed by particular emotions. Second, the redescription of emotions as pleasures and pains makes intelligible the fact that emotions motivate us in certain ways. I argue that talk of pleasure and pain in these two contexts of evaluation and motivation is univocal, for to feel pleasure and pain ‑ to feel the import of one's situation in this way ‑just is to feel a motivational pull. In this respect, emotions involve both cognitive and conative elements, though these elements are not intelligible as isolable components. Indeed, I argue, this same account applies as well to desires and, surprisingly, to bodily pleasures and pains. This understanding of emotions, desires, and bodily pleasures and pains as simultaneously responsive to import and motivating in a way that rejects the cognitive‑conative divide is part of what I intend in calling them "felt evaluations."

I have said that particular felt evaluations presuppose import as a feature of the world to which they can be correctly or incorrectly responsive. Yet import is also subjective insofar as my cares and personal values need not be shared by others. How is this dual objectivity and subjectivity possible? The answer lies in understanding import as emerging in part out of patterns of felt evaluations. Such patterns should not be understood as mere dispositions to feel emotions or desires; rather, the patterns are rational both in that they are imposed by rational commitments among emotions and desires and in that they are partially constitutive of the warrant of their constituents. In this way, import is both objective insofar as it is ontologically prior to particular felt evaluations, which are responsive to it, and nonetheless subjective insofar as it is partly constituted by the rational patterns of one's felt evaluations; indeed, this is another fundamental feature of felt evaluations made possible by the account I provide of their mutual rational commitments. (Of course, this account of felt evaluations has not yet made intelligible a deeper level of objectivity needed for a solution to the deliberative problem, namely that it is possible to discover what imports things should have for you. More on that in Part II.)

In chapter 4, "Varieties of import," I extend this account of import in two ways. First, I articulate more clearly the intuitive distinction between our cares and values and offer an account of this distinction, and so of the relative "depth" of values, in terms of a distinction between reflexive and non‑reflexive felt evaluations, which define different kinds of rational patterns. Second, I examine the ways in which the imports of different things are related to each other, both instrumentally and in terms of degree of import. In part, the notion of degree of import can be understood in terms of the strength or intensity of the desires and emotions that constitute the relevant pattern, thereby complicating our understanding of the kind of rationality these patterns involve. Yet relative importance involves more than just a difference in intensity, and I argue that it can be properly understood only by expanding our understanding of felt evaluations to include a sense of relative import as a distinctive kind of responsiveness to particular situations.

The upshot of Part I, therefore, is a new conception of emotion and desire as neither cognitions nor conations (nor compound states of cognition and conation). Rather, given their connection to import, emotions and desires share features of both cognition and conation in a way that requires rejecting those categories of mental state and replacing them with a new one: felt evaluations. It should be clear, however, that this new understanding of emotions and desires as felt evaluations requires as well a new understanding of the kinds of rationality that apply to them. In articulating the kinds of rational patterns of felt evaluations constitutive of import, I am in effect articulating a distinct kind of rationality: a rationality of import.

In Part II, I turn my attention to our ability to reason about what to do and who to be and so to the ways our understanding of this ability has been transformed by the account of felt evaluations, import, and the rationality of import. As I indicated above, the account of import offered so far is incomplete. For, we cannot yet make sense of there being reasons to change what has import for you and so of what should have import; this is, in essence, the deliberative problem. Moreover, we cannot yet make sense of how we can have control over what we do, for the account of motivation, tied as it is to seemingly passive states of emotion and desire, so far makes no room for deliberation; this is, in essence, the motivational problem. Remedying these deficiencies re­quires examining how evaluative judgment is connected to the sort of felt evaluations discussed so far.

In chapter 5, "Single evaluative perspective," I argue that emotions and evaluative judgments are rationally interconnected in that each can, in a way, correct the other. In particular, a general failure of the sort of emotional response called for by evaluative judgment tends to undermine the rationality of that judgment and so make it that one ought to reconsider that judgment. In virtue of these rational interconnections, I argue, emotions must be understood as concept‑laden, passive assents, and evaluative judgments must be understood as having (or lacking) a kind of emotional depth; evaluative judgments and emotions therefore normally constitute a single evaluative perspective. In this way, evalua­tive judgment is brought into the same rational pattern of felt evaluations constitutive of import.

l exploit this account of a single evaluative perspective in chapter 6 ("Rational control: freedom of the will and the heart") in offering a solution to the motivational problem. For, other things being equal, having deliberated and arrived at an evaluative judgment, the evaluative perspective that judgment provides will ipso facto be an emotional perspective as well, on pain of undermining the rationality of that judgment. Insofar as emotions (and desires) are felt evaluations, they are in part motivational states. So there is a conceptual, rational connection between deliberative judgment and motivation, a connection that enables us to exercise rational control over our motivations by deliber­ating and judging.

Of course, the devil is in the details, for the brief description of the account I have given so far makes it look as if weakness of the will --being motivated to act contrary to your deliberate choice -- is impossible. By exploiting features of the precise nature of the rational interconnec­tions among evaluative judgments, emotions, and desires, I show how it is possible for our evaluative perspective to be divided in such a way that we are motivated contrary to our deliberative judgment. Attaining rational control, therefore, is in large part a matter of being able to regain a single evaluative perspective (and not by merely capitulating in judgment to our emotions and desires). This requires an account of the nature of the will -- of how through evaluative judgment we can control our actions directly - and, snore fundamentally, of how we can thereby rationally control our emotions and desires and so achieve a kind of freedom, distinct from freedom of action and freedom of the will, which I call "freedom of the heart;," Consequently, the idea that we generally have rational control over what we do is not threatened by the possibility of weakness of will, and the motivational problem is thereby solved.

In chapter 7 ("Deliberation about value"), I turn to tackle the deliberative problem. Here I exploit the account of the rational inter­connections among emotion, and evaluative judgments, including the account of the concept-ladenness of emotion, to provide an account of import as an evaluatively thick property, and so as a potential object of discovery, that nonetheless as not rationally prior to the rational patterns of our judgments and emotions and so is also an object of invention. Central to the account is an understanding of how we can elucidate and refine the evaluative concepts in terms of which we deliberate about, criticize, and justify what has import to us. For, given the rational interconnections among emotions and judgments, such a refinement must ultimately be answerable to how much sense it is able to make of our emotional responses partially constitutive of import. Insofar as the patterns of our emotions do not cohere with our understanding in judgment of the values things have, we have reasons to rethink our deliberative conclusions and the concepts on which they are based. Consequently, the standards of criticism are in this way partially internal to our evaluative sensibilities.

The upshot is a radically clew account of the nature of practical reason and of our mental states quite generally. Although, in presenting the case for this account, I try to present clear reasons for each step along the way, in the process criticizing alternative accounts and responding to imagined objections, these reasons taken one by one are not likely to satisfy my opponents, given the fundamental nature of the dispute. In the end, the best justification for the view I present is the way the whole view hangs together and enables us to resolve persistent and seemingly intractable problems.

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