Now for the elephant in the room. Having insisted that emotions are evaluative attitudes only if they are sensitive to evaluative evidence, the attitudinalist must admit that she is in an uncomfortable position. The selling point of her approach is that emotions qualify as evaluations not in virtue of representing value, but in virtue of being the attitudes they are. If the characterization of the relevant attitudes turns out to make reference to value representation, which is surely the only way to make sense of a sensitivity to evaluative evidence, doesn’t that mean that the representationalist wins the day?
As we have reconstructed it, the debate between the representationalist and the attitudinalist concerns the sense in which emotions qualify as evaluations. We have seen that, according to the attitudinalist, emotions qualify as evaluations in virtue of being attitudes. We have considered several reasons for thinking this idea misguided and have found them inconclusive. So, at this stage, the contrast with the representationalist stays: the representationalist claims that emotions are evaluative attitudes in virtue of representing value, which the attitudinalist denies. The attitudinalist cannot deny, however, that the admission that emotions are reactions to evaluative evidence has the following two consequences. First, values must be represented and, second, this value representation is prior to the emotional reaction.Footnote 16 This is to say that, at the very least, the attitudinalist must admit that her emotional attitudes are not autonomous from value representation. The question now is the significance of this admission for the attitudinalist program.Footnote 17
In the context of the debate with the representationalist, the first thing to observe is that one of the driving intuitions behind the representational approach is out of the attitudinalist’s reach. We have in mind the idea that emotions end the quest for the justification of the evaluative beliefs based on them in just the same way as perceptual experiences end the quest for the justification of perceptual beliefs (Döring, 2007; Pelser, 2014; Tappolet, 2016). Clearly, if emotions are reactions to evaluative evidence, then in so far as they play a justificatory roleFootnote 18, this must consist in their transmitting justification from this pre-emotionally available evidence rather than in ending the quest for justification (Brady, 2013; Deonna & Teroni, 2012; Harrison, 2020). However, the intuition that emotions must play the latter role is far from widely shared, and the fate of attitudinalism is not settled by whether or not it can accommodate it.Footnote 19
The significance of the admission that emotions are not autonomous from value representation depends on what it means to appeal to a pre-emotional source of evaluative information (Deonna & Teroni, 2012: chap. 8; Mitchell, 2019c; Müller, 2019: chap.5) and whether it threatens any motivation for attitudinalism. To assess its significance, we will briefly explore three models of this pre-emotional source of evaluative information: the conceptual model, the common look model and the simple model. The aim here is not to provide definitive reasons to favour one of these models, but rather to get a sense of the costs and benefits that accrue to them.
The conceptual model is perhaps the first to come to mind: it has it that the pre-emotional source of evaluative information consists in aspectual perception or perceptual recognition under an evaluative guise. An episode of anger, for instance, would presuppose that the subject recognizes the relevant gesture or remark as offensive. All emotions would presuppose some such act of recognition under an evaluative guise. The hallmark of this first model is that pre-emotional value representation consists in deploying the relevant conceptual capacity: having an emotion is not autonomous because it presupposes that the subject recognizes that an object falls under the relevant concept.Footnote 20
The first thing to say is that any theory should admit that, for creatures like us, many emotion episodes do indeed answer to the conceptual model: we often recognize an object or situation confronting us as instantiating the relevant value before emotionally reacting to it. The question is rather whether we have to think of every instance of emotion on this model. Perhaps not, for this would imply that it is impossible to experience an emotion without mastering the relevant evaluative concept. This is a problem insofar as many think that subjects deprived of these evaluative concepts—some non-human animals and infants—do react emotionally to their environment.Footnote 21 So, if admitting that emotions are not autonomous sources of evaluative representation meant endorsing the conceptual model, this would be a substantial liability of the attitudinalist approach.
The common look model alleviates this worry. Recall how the representationalist about the emotions typically conceives of them as experiences of evaluative properties. This is a matter of the subject being receptive to the presence of the value in something like the way one is visually receptive to the presence of a colour, say. Why not recast this idea and make it into an account of pre-emotional value representation? The idea here may be that, while very diverse states of affairs can be offensive, they manifest their evaluative unity thanks to their having a common “phenomenological profile” or “look”; it is through this common look that we become pre-emotionally aware of offensiveness. Someone defending this view may recommend it by insisting that we are just facing one case of the richness characteristic of many perceptual experiences (on rich perception, see e.g., Siegel, 2010).
However, having taken this road, we now need to convince ourselves that we are receptive to offense thanks to the existence of a sensory impression that is common to all offensive objects or states of affairs. If we fail in this, we might try to defend the common look model by steering away from the traditional sensory modalities. There would be a non-sensory phenomenological profile common to all pre-emotional representations of a given value, which would explain why the emotion is elicited (Bengson, 2015; Massin, 2019; Mulligan, 2010). This may be reminiscent of the kind of intuitionism we are accustomed to in metaethics (e.g., Huemer, 2005).
From this coarse description of these variants of the common look model, it does not seem particularly promising (Deonna & Teroni, 2012). Still, the worries raised by the conceptual model provide a motivation to explore it further (Ballard, 2020). If the common look model is viable, then it may provide indirect additional reasons for favouring attitudinalism about the emotions. Indeed, representationalism may be thought to be tailored to account for the nature of this pre-emotional experiential route to values rather than for the sense in which emotions themselves are evaluations. In turn, this provides the motivation to explain differently the evaluative nature of emotions and, more specifically, to explore the nature of emotional attitudes.
The simple model takes the middle route. Its point of departure is the thought that objects and states of affairs are valuable in virtue of their natural properties (e.g., Foot, 2001; Thomson, 1997). The model has it that, for pre-emotional representation of value to take place, it is enough that the subject be aware of a constellation of natural properties that, in the circumstances, constitutes an instance of a given value (Deonna & Teroni, 2012, 2021; Echeverri, 2019; see also Setiya, 2012). In the case of anger, being aware of someone’s stepping voluntarily on one’s feet, say, would in specific circumstances be a case of pre-emotionally representing offense. Why? Because these properties are partly constitutive of an offense. Someone sympathetic to the simple model need not of course claim that there is no other, more demanding, form of pre-emotional value representation. He simply insists that the simple model applies to many basic cases, which are not derivative of the more demanding ones (Deigh, 1994). As compared to the two previous models, the simple model tries to do a lot with a deflationary understanding of pre-emotional value representation: neither concept deployments nor potentially problematic “common evaluative looks” are required. It seeks in that way to circumvent the worries raised in the foregoing.
Not surprisingly, these benefits turn easily into shortcomings. The advocate of the simple model must show that being aware of the relevant constellation of natural properties is indeed sufficient for the resulting emotion to count as a reaction to the object’s value. While this comes for free in the other models, the challenge for the simple model is substantial: it is after all unclear how an emotion can count as a reaction to a value which is neither conceptually represented nor phenomenally accessed. It might be that appealing to the fact that an emotion counterfactually depends on the presence of this value—the emotion is elicited if the value is present, not elicited if it is absent—is enough to conclude that the emotion is a reaction to the value. Emotions may sometimes—often, perhaps—manifest this form of counterfactual sensitivity without prior conceptual representation of value or quasi-perceptual access to it.Footnote 22
Whether or not this strategy can be worked out, another worry is that the simple model might not be able to do justice to the fact that emotions are responses that are (typically) intelligible from the first-person perspective. The deflationary approach to pre-emotional value representation characteristic of the simple view cannot, it is claimed, deliver on this score (Mitchell, 2021). The intelligibility at stake would consist in the subject’s understanding that his anger, say, is a response to what he takes to be offensive.Footnote 23
The first thing to say is that it is far from clear that we should think of first-person intelligibility as a key phenomenon in an account of the emotions. Arguably, the awareness of the relation between a psychological response and what it responds to is absent in creatures that do have emotions, yet are not capable of this perspective taking on their own mental lives. Be that as it may. First-person intelligibility surely exists for creatures like us, and we should try to accommodate it. Initially, it seems that the simple model is at a disadvantage here, since the other models portray emotions as reacting to value representations that are typically first-personal. We obviously cannot do justice to this complex question here, but let us close our discussion with a few words explaining why the issue is not that clear-cut.
First, being aware of a value is often insufficient to account for first-person intelligibility. Perhaps you react with anger, perhaps this is a reaction to your awareness of the offensive, but your response will still not be intelligible unless you have some idea why you represent the relevant situation as offensive. A response as to why you do so will likely make reference to those constellations of natural properties around which the simple model is built: the remark is offensive because it alludes to some unsavory event of your past, say.Footnote 24 Second, if this is along the right track, the friend of the simple model may wonder as to the need for a more substantial kind of pre-emotional value awareness in addition to the awareness of the relevant natural properties. The answer is, presumably, that such additional awareness provides the needed understanding of what different types of situations have in common—grasping a situation under the guise of the offensive is grasping what it has in common with situations that may radically differ from it at the natural level. Let us grant this. Still, it is not clear that such an understanding must be deployed prior to the occurrence of all and every emotions. All here depends on whether the friend of the simple model has a story to tell regarding how we progressively move from particular emotional responses to different constellations of natural properties (all constituting instances of a value) to acquiring the concept of the value which unites them. This, however, will have to be taken up at another occasion.