Theses Doctoral

Anatomies of Affect: An Examination of Emotions as Processes

Rickus, Katherine

Many philosophical accounts of emotions characterize them as reducible mental entities. Because of this, either they tend to fail to adequately individuate emotions from other mental states or they have very limited success in capturing the many dimensions of emotional experience. This dissertation offers a model of the emotions as processes individuated by their component affects and construed in terms of a narrativized causal history. The aim is to present a plausible statement about what emotions are and to ask how we should think about them philosophically. I also hope to give a rationale for how, in methodological terms, they can be most informatively examined if their putatively central role in human functioning is to be taken seriously. Descriptive, methodological and critical themes comprise approximately the first half of the thesis. I develop the process account, its structural requirements and advantages, and provide a theory that accounts for long- and short-term emotions that may occur with or without deliberation. The process account is compared to other prominent theories of the emotions, and the oft-conflated terms "emotion", "feeling" and "affect" are disambiguated.

In the second half, implications of the process view for self-knowledge and evaluative attitudes are considered, the regulatory features of emotions are described, and conclusions are drawn regarding first- and third-person epistemic authority on emotional states. I examine how introspection can come in varying degrees of reliability, and the introspective judgements relating thereto have authority only in virtue of the reliability of the mechanism responsible for their production. What consequences, I ask, does this have for authority on emotions? What symmetries and asymmetries obtain between the first- and third-person perspectives? How are third-persons subject to errors or other biases in the assessment of a subject's emotions, and how do these distortions undermine the authority of their interpretations of the emotions of others? I find that obtaining knowledge of emotions represents, for the most part, a considerable epistemic accomplishment.

As well as promoting the construal of emotions as "constructions" rather than "reductions", there is a further motivation for focusing on the processual nature of emotions, which is to clarify their roles and to relate them functionally to persons and to personal concerns. I address how philosophical conceptions of emotion connect to ideas about the "self": to self-knowledge, self-conception, self-regulation, and self-construction. I examine how an emphasis on the processual, and sometimes voluntary, character of emotion has particular implications for self-knowledge and for how we evaluate emotions. The thesis concludes with reflections on the role emotional processes play in the narrativized construction of a self.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Goehr, Lydia D.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
November 2, 2012