What distinguishes an emotion from a nonemotion

As we noted at the beginning of the chapter, there is a considerable folk-psychological consensus about which mental states are the emotions, e.g., fear, anger, guilt, and so on. Likewise, there is general agreement that hunger, pain, itches, etc. are not emotions. The challenge for any model of emotion, we suggested, is to produce a conceptual framework from which these accepted distinctions between emotions and non-emotions emerge. The most difficult of these distinctions is that between emotions such as fear and sensations such as pain; if this distinction can be resolved, then the other distinctions should fall into place. In our opinion, this kind of question has received one of the least complete answers from the philosophical models reviewed. Most of these theories provide no conceptual basis for distinguishing emotions and non-emotions. Rather, they provide us with a priori lists of what are and are not emotions, with little or no discussion of how the lists were derived. This is a point that Lyons makes strongly in his 1980 book, so one might expect that the theory contained therein would suggest some form of solution to the problem. Lyons proposes that emotions are physiological changes caused by evaluative appraisals of internal or external events. However, at no point is he explicit as to how this differs from an analysis of sensations. One can attempt to make the distinction by proposing that pain is an awareness of a physiological change (the activation of pain receptors) and as such involves no causal cognitive evaluation or appraisal. At first blush this analysis is appealing; however, there are some problems with it in this simplified form.

The major problem is that if we describe pain as the feeling produced by a physiological state, we buy into all the problems of feeling theory that we raised in our discussion of Descartes. The principal problems are those outlined by Wittgenstein (1958) in his private language argument. So, according to this line of attack, the word "pain" cannot obtain its meaning as a label for a purely private experience because it is a concept that is only verifiable publicly. If it were such a label, we would have no way of knowing that what we call pain was the same as what someone else would call pain. As we noted earlier, the arguments around this point are immensely drawn out and complicated. We shall content ourselves with providing the functionalist attempt at a solution to the problem. In this analysis, pain is a functional state that alerts us to the possibility of physical damage. However, if we reject the feeling theory idea that pain is merely the label given to our experience of this physical damage, then we need to replace it with something. The standard functionalist line is that the physical damage activates a belief that we are in pain and it is the conscious awareness of this belief that gives pain its distinctive quality. So, there are two components here: the physical stimulus (activation of the pain receptors); and the activated belief. Under most circumstances, this belief will be due to the activation of the pain receptors by an event; for example, the gash in Susan's leg as she flees from the bear. However, the fact that there are two components means that potentially they can operate separately, and in some cases there will be no such pain receptor activation while still being an activated belief that we are in pain. This is psychogenic pain; here the experience of pain is an awareness of the belief that we are in pain, even when there is no corresponding physiological event.

This approach leaves us with a concept of emotion that is a combined awareness of both a physiological change and an associated appraisal, and a concept of pain (a sensation) that is an awareness of a belief that may or may not have been activated by actual physiological change. The fact that some form of cognitive evaluation or belief state is central to both sensation and emotion in this analysis means that any superficial analysis of the distinctions between emotions and non-emotions along the lines we have referred to above no longer holds any water.

We can perhaps make some progress towards answering this question of the difference between sensations and emotions by reconsidering some of Descartes' ideas. As we saw in Table 2.1, Descartes drew distinctions between sensations such as pain and emotions such as fear by suggesting that the object that they referred to was in the body in the former case and in the soul in the latter case. In our discussion of this framework we tried to point out that the notion of an object of emotions in the soul did not stand scrutiny. However, if we replace the idea of emotions having an object in the soul with the idea that emotions have an object that is cognitive, we have the beginnings of a model in which we can tease apart sensations such as pain and emotions such as fear.

We have so far tried to draw distinctions between: the event (in our familiar example this is the bear); the interpretation (e.g., that the bear will eat Susan); and the appraisal (that there is danger). As we have also seen, these distinctions are central to Lyons' theory of emotion as illustrated earlier in Figure 2.4. If we think of this in terms of the Cartesian classification system in Table 2.1, we can say that in the case of emotions the appraisal is always about the interpretation; in other words, the object of the appraisal is always something cognitive. In contrast, if we consider the sensation of pain, the appraisal is always a real or imagined bodily stimulus which is believed to be causing the pain. In other words, the object of the appraisal is always bodily. This argument is illustrated in Figure 2.5.

To summarise, it seems that we can begin to answer one aspect of the question as to what the difference is between emotions and non-emotions, namely the aspect that refers to the difference between emotions and sensations. This answer rests on the proposal that the object of appraisal in the case of emotions is always cognitive, whereas the object of the appraisal in the case of sensations is always bodily and hence sensations are always physically localised.

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Breaking Bulimia

Breaking Bulimia

We have all been there: turning to the refrigerator if feeling lonely or bored or indulging in seconds or thirds if strained. But if you suffer from bulimia, the from time to time urge to overeat is more like an obsession.

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