What are emotions? What role do they play? How should we respond to our own emotions and to what others are feeling? I am interested in answers to these questions that we can find in 17th, 18th and early 19th century philosophy. Understanding perspectives on the emotions in modern philosophy involves sorting through terminological differences. But the accounts and arguments to be found are worth the effort and the terminological differences often reveal substantial differences in how modern and contemporary philosophy respectively approach the emotions. I am often motivated by asking how the arguments and theories to be found in historical texts answer questions of contemporary interest. How do we distinguish between emotions and similar states? Should we opt for a cognitivist or a non-cognitivist theory of the emotions or should we reconcile both?
I have written on Kant’s theory of our emotional lives as it is presented in his anthropological works. Kant on occasion expresses hostility to our emotional responses. This seems to suggest that he does not allow for a role for our emotions in an ethical theory like his own. I show to the contrary that he has a philosophically and psychologically rich account of them. Recent scholarship on Kant’s ethics has provided suggestions for how to integrate our emotional lives into his ethical theory. But surprisingly there is no systematic treatment of Kant’s account of what emotions are. My research supplies such a treatment. And it shows that Kant’s focus on the emotions’ role for us as agents leaves us with a theory that is of interest to the contemporary debate. I also interpret theories and arguments in modern philosophy that are likely to have influenced Kant’s thinking on the emotions, moral motivation, aesthetic experience and philosophical anthropology. And I am interested in thinking on these topics that has been influenced by Kant. Examples of figures I work on are Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Christian Wolff, David Hume, Moses Mendelssohn, Maria von Herbert, and Johann Gottlieb Fichte.
- “Hutcheson’s and Kant’s Critique of Sympathy,” in Kant and the Scottish Enlightenment, Elizabeth Robinson and Chris Surprenant (eds.), Routledge, forthcoming
Hutcheson and Kant are both known for their evaluation of sympathy. Hutcheson for stressing its important role in our moral lives and Kant for criticizing its role. I show that Hutcheson’s and Kant’s positions on sympathy, contrary to our expectations, are similar. Both see sympathy as playing a morally positive role and both advocate its cultivation. But both also stress that sympathetic feelings come with risks: they are not by themselves an active attitude, they can become overwhelming and paralyzing, and they can be a cause of resentment. Being too strongly focused on whether there is room for moral emotions in Kant’s deontological framework can cause us to overlook that he has interesting thoughts on particular emotions and recommends a complex evaluation of them. This paper brings out his rich account sympathy by showing similarities and differences with Hutcheson’s theory of compassion.
- “Two Different Kinds of Value? Kant on Feeling and Moral Cognition,” in Kant and the Faculty of Feeling, Kelly Sorensen and Diane Williamson (eds.), Cambridge University Press, forthcoming
This paper looks at the relationship between feeling and moral cognition in Kant's ethics and anthropology. It argues that looking more closely at Kant's theory of feeling can help us better understand Kant's evaluation of our emotional responses. Kant clearly indicates, especially in his later works, that emotions play a morally positive role according to his account. But he also continues to express his suspicions. I argue that we can explain this ambivalent attitude once we see that Kant understands emotions as tracking value in a way that is analogous to the way moral judgments track value.
- “Moralism about Propaganda,” Proceedings of the European Society for Aesthetics, 2015, Vol. 7, pp. 137-147.
What is propaganda? What makes it morally subversive? And does the fact that it is morally subversive affect its value as a work of art? This paper characterizes a central feature of propaganda: it is emotionally manipulative. On the basis of this I argue that ethicism more plausibly applies to propaganda than to other forms of art. Ethicism is the claim that relevant moral defects also make a work of art aesthetically defective, that is make the work less valuable as a work of art. I point out an important difference between propaganda and other works of art by showing that a problem raised against the merited response argument for ethicism does not to apply when we apply the argument to propaganda.
- “Kant’s Pragmatic Concept of Emotions,” in Kant on Emotion and Value, Alix Cohen (ed.), Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, pp. 108-125.
Even though Kant does not use the term “emotion” I argue that there is a concept of emotions implicit in Kant’s anthropological works. It cuts across the different particular kinds of affective states he distinguishes. The set of states it picks out maps very well onto the set of states picked out by our contemporary concepts of emotions. I call it “Kant’s pragmatic concept of emotions.” This term is apt since the concept subsumes states that are especially important for us to consider when deciding how to act. Kant suggests two criteria for states that are of special importance in this respect. They a) are responses to complex values, concerned with broader contexts in our lives. And b) we can mediately control them by manipulating our bodily states and by changing, broadening and narrowing our attention.
- “Hume’s Calm and Strong Passions,” 41st International Hume Society Conference Proceedings, 2014, pp. 17-24.
The paper suggests a solution to a puzzle posed by Hume’s distinction between calm and violent passions. How is it possible for a calm passions to trump a violent passion? Or, how is a calm and strong passion possible? I show that solving this puzzle is important to Hume’s framework. And I argue that Hume takes two different factors to be essential for the strength of a passion: (1) vivacity, that is its connection to immediate and detailed impressions and ideas; and (2) its comparatively broad scope, that is its connection to more particular passions that motivates not only a single action but a whole pattern of behavior. What typically accounts for the strength of a violent passion is its vivacity while what typically accounts for the strength of a calm passion is its scope.
- “Sensations Without Cartesian Bodies: Idealism and Corporeal Substances in Leibniz’s Early and Middle Period”, IX. Internationaler Leibniz-Kongress Vorträge 1.Teil, 2011, pp. 227-235.
I give a reading of Leibniz’s concept of body and corporal substance in the early and middle period of his work. My reading brings a new perspective to the debate about whether Leibniz was an early idealist before introducing corporal substances into his account in the middle period. I introduce this perspective by giving what one could call a weak idealist reading of both periods. I argue that he takes body and corporeal substances to ultimately owe their reality to souls and substantial forms. But he does not take this to imply that they are reducible to souls and substantial forms. I point out that he, on the contrary, takes the irreducibility of body and corporal substance to be necessary to account for higher level perception.
- “Imaginary Works of Art and Real Emotions,” Proceedings of the European Society for Aesthetics, 2010, Vol. 2, pp. 78-87.
There has been some recent interest in Collingwood’s theory of expression as clarifying our emotional responses through art. But his theory appears to be problematic because of his idealist understanding of the artwork and his self-contained account of aesthetic experience. It seems that on his account art cannot teach us about the emotional responses we have in real life. And his theory seems to make communication of an emotional response between artist and audience impossible. I argue that the mind-dependent account of the artwork is not essential to Collingwood’s theory. I show it to be a remnant from his earlier Hegelian theory and argue that he holds onto it because he wants to distance himself from theories of art as characteristically arousing emotions. He fears that these vindicate art put into the service of the propaganda machinery.
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