Welcome to our latest installment of the NDPR Forum, a place for authors to discuss their books and the NDPR reviews of them. Today we welcome discussion of Christine Tappolet’s recent book Emotions, Values, and Agency, reviewed a few months ago by Benjamin De Mesel in NDPR.
From the OUP description of the book: “The emotions we experience are crucial to who we are, to what we think, and to what we do. But what are emotions, exactly, and how do they relate to agency? The aim of this book is to spell out an account of emotions, which is grounded on analogies between emotions and sensory experiences, and to explore the implications of this account for our understanding of human agency. The central claim is that emotions consist in perceptual experiences of values, such as the fearsome, the disgusting or the admirable. A virtue of this account is that it affords a better grasp of a variety of interconnected phenomena, such as motivation, values, responsibility and reason-responsiveness. In the process of exploring the implications of the Perceptual Theory of emotions, several claims are proposed. First, emotions normally involve desires that set goals, but they can be contemplative in that they can occur without any motivation. Second, evaluative judgements can be understood in terms of appropriate emotions in so far as appropriateness is taken to consist in correct representation. Third, by contrast with what Strawsonian theories hold, the concept of moral responsibility is not response-dependent, but the relationship between emotions and moral responsibility is mediated by values. Finally, in so far as emotions are perceptions of values, they can be considered to be perceptions of practical reasons, so that on certain conditions, acting on the basis of one’s emotions can consist in responding to one’s reasons.”
From De Mesel’s review: “Tappolet’s book is to be recommended, first of all, for the way in which it shows how her theory of emotion interlocks with plausible theories of value and agency, and how these interlocking theories mutually support each other. The project is ambitious, as it requires a grasp of the difficulties in different and vast fields of inquiry, but the book lives up to its ambition: it is rich, accessibly written, well-structured, and extremely well-informed. It is focused, in the sense that in many cases it provides just the right amount of information about the theories discussed.”
“An important disanalogy between emotions and sensory experiences is that ‘unlike the latter emotions can be assessed in terms of rationality’ (p. 31). Tappolet provides an explanation of this difference that I endorse. The question is, however, what place such an explanation can take in an argument that purports to show that emotions are perceptual experiences. There are, I think, two options. First, the irrationality disanalogy can be presented, as Tappolet does, as a disanalogy between emotions and sensory experiences. If it is only that, it is not clear why it would threaten the Perceptual Theory, given Tappolet’s earlier claim that a disanalogy with sensory experiences does not mean that something cannot be a perceptual experience, because not all perceptual experiences are sensory experiences. Secondly, and more plausibly, the irrationality disanalogy is a disanalogy between emotions and perceptual experiences. However, Tappolet’s explanation of the disanalogy will then amount to an implicit recognition of the fact that emotions are not perceptual experiences. It will then count against, and not in favor of, the Perceptual Theory. What the Perceptual Theory needs, in this case, is not for the difference to be explained, but for it somehow to be explained away: contrary to how things seem, there is in fact no disanalogy between emotions and perceptual experiences. Such an explanation is not attempted, but seems necessary: if emotions can be (ir)rational, (un)reasonable and/or (in)appropriate, and emotions are perceptual experiences, then how can it seem conceptually incoherent to say that perceptual experiences are (ir)rational, (un)reasonable and/or (in)appropriate?”1