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A perceptual theory of moods

Abstract

The goal of this paper is to offer a new theory of moods, according to which moods are perceptual experiences that represent undetermined objects as possessing specific evaluative properties. I start by listing a series of features that moods are typically taken to possess and claim that a satisfactory theory of moods must be able either to explain why moods genuinely possess these features or to explain these appearances away in a non-ad hoc way. I show that my account provides a plausible explanation of all the main features of moods. I conclude by addressing some objections against my account.

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Notes

  1. An exception is represented by the substantial literature on moods that originates in the phenomenological tradition, especially in the work of Heidegger. For recent works in this tradition, see Ratcliffe (2008, 2010), and several papers in the special volume ‘The Meaning of Moods’ appeared in Philosophia in 2017.

  2. See, for instance, Lormand (1985), Price (2006) and Tappolet (2018).

  3. See Lormand (1985, pp. 385–386).

  4. See, for instance, Lyons (1980) and Deonna and Teroni (2012).

  5. It is an open question whether all emotional episodes have a phenomenological character. Arguably, some emotional episodes may occur unconsciously.

  6. On this point, see also Haybron (2008), who distinguishes between occurrent moods and mood propensities.

  7. See Tappolet (2018) and Mitchell (2019).

  8. Clearly, in the same way as occurrent emotions (e.g. an episode of fear toward a dog) can be grounded in emotional dispositions (e.g. a disposition to experience fear when encountering dogs), so can occurrent moods be grounded in mood dispositions, i.e. an occurrent mood may be grounded in a disposition to experience moods of a particular type.

  9. As I will argue in Sect. 4.4, this might involve discarding some of the data as faulty.

  10. See, for instance, Goldie (2000), Price (2006), Gallegos (2017) and Tappolet (2018).

  11. See, for instance, Sizer (2000), Price (2006) and Tappolet (2018).

  12. As for emotions (see fn. 5 above), it is an open question whether phenomenology is essential to occurrent moods. Arguably, some mood episodes may occur unconsciously.

  13. See, for instance, Goldie (2000) and Price (2006).

  14. See, for instance, Sizer (2000) and Tappolet (2018).

  15. This is compatible with the recognition that moods have sometimes a slower onset than emotions, being elicited not by a single event, but by a multiplicity of not so easily traceable factors (see Stephan 2017). Thanks to an anonymous referee for drawing my attention to this feature of moods.

  16. Thanks to an anonymous referee for pointing this out.

  17. See, for instance, Searle (1983), Isen (1984), Lormand (1985), Morris (1989), de Sousa (1987), Armon-Jones (1991), Frijda (1994), Siemer (2009) and Deonna and Teroni (2012).

  18. See Davidson (1994), DeLancey (2006) and Krebs (2017).

  19. See, for instance, Morris (1989), Frijda (1994), Sizer (2000), Siemer (2009) and Kind (2013).

  20. See, for instance, Isen (1984), Lormand (1985), Morris (1989), Sizer (2000), DeLancey (2006), Price (2006), Siemer (2009), Krebs (2017) and Gallegos (2017).

  21. See, for instance, Goldie (2000), Price (2006), Morton (2013) and Krebs (2017).

  22. See, for instance, Lormand (1985) and Deonna and Teroni (2012).

  23. See, for instance, Lormand (1985), Sizer (2000), Roberts (2003) and Deonna and Teroni (2012).

  24. I take reasons for emotions to be facts that provide a justification for being in a particular emotional state. Such facts may also be invoked as considerations that count in favour of being in that emotional state.

  25. Thanks to an anonymous referee for inviting me to clarify this point.

  26. In fact, this is the account of moods that Price seems at times to have in mind. In describing a mood of apprehension, for instance, Price claims that it is based on an appraisal such as: “It is more likely than usual that a threatening situation will arise in the near future” (Price 2006, p. 63). This is very close, if not equivalent, to saying that apprehension is about an undetermined possibility of a threat. Similarly, Tappolet writes that “the mood of anxiety concerns the likelihood of fearsomeness to be instantiated by something or other” (Tappolet 2018, p. 186) [my italics].

  27. Thus, for instance, Kevin LaBar (2016, p. 751) describes anxiety in these terms: “Anxiety is a state of unease about a distal, potentially negative outcome that is uncertain or unpredictable (Lake and LaBar 2011). In contrast to fear, anxiety is longer lasting, is more future than present oriented, often has a less specific elicitor or terminator (Lang, Davis, and Ohman 2000), and functionally prepares the organism to confront a threat—albeit reluctantly—rather than withdrawing from it (McNaughton and Corr 2004). Fear can become anxiety if active coping mechanisms fail and the fear remains unresolved (e.g., when a specific source of threat in the environment is not identified)” [my italics].

  28. For example, in a remarkable passage in The Brothers Karamazov, the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevski describes the anguish felt by Ivan Karamazov in these terms: “Above all, this anguish was vexing and annoyed him by the fact that it had some sort of accidental, completely external appearance; this he felt. Somewhere some being or object was standing and sticking up, just as when something sometimes sticks up in front of one’s eye and one doesn’t notice it for a long time, being busy or in heated conversation, and meanwhile one is clearly annoyed, almost suffering, and at last it dawns on one to remove the offending object, often quite trifling and ridiculous, something left in the wrong place, a handkerchief dropped on the floor, a book not put back in the bookcase, or whatever” (Dostoevski 1879–1880/1990, Part II, Book V, Chapter 6). If one conceives of Ivan’s anguish as a mood, then this passage offers an example of a mood directed at a particular object that the individual is unable to identify. For a more detailed analysis of this passage, see Rossi and Tappolet (manuscript).

  29. The argument in this section makes crucial reference to our ordinary experience of moods. Its main claim is that the standard intentionalist accounts of moods do not capture an important feature of our ordinary experience of moods. Indeed, all these accounts conceive of moods as being directed at recognisable objects of various sorts. For example, the account of moods as generalised emotions conceives of moods as directed at a disjunction of specific and epistemically determined objects; Price’s and Tappolet’s accounts conceive of moods as directed at specific and epistemically determined evaluative possibilities; and so on. I claimed, however, that it is a feature of our ordinary experience that moods do not allow for such a level of determinedness. The question is whether I am entitled to this particular characterisation of our ordinary experience of moods. What if someone disagrees, for instance, and insists that in experiencing (e.g.) irritability, they have the subjective experience of being irritated against one or the other of the objects that constitute the ‘world as a whole’, such as their colleagues, office, students, computer, clothes, and so on? What can be said in response? Support for the characterisation of our ordinary experience of moods adopted in this section comes primarily from the empirical research conducted by Beedie et al. (2005) on how ‘non-academic’ individuals understand and experience moods. Beedie and his collaborators have shown that ordinary people typically understand and experience moods as lacking any specific object or identifiable source. This does not sit especially well with the standard intentionalist account of moods. Within Beedie et al.’s framework, for instance, the experience of the irritable individual described above would count as atypical. Note that the evidence offered by Beedie and his collaborators does not entail that the folks experience moods as being directed at undetermined objects. It is, however, compatible with this possibility. It appears, then, that when assessed with respect to ordinary people’s typical understanding and experience of moods, the standard intentionalist accounts of moods stand on less solid grounds than the account offered in this paper. Having said that, it is important to emphasise that the argument in this section should not be seen as a decisive argument against the standard intentionalist accounts of moods. It only serves to motivate interest in the account offered here. It remains to be shown that the latter is theoretically satisfactory (I will do that in the rest of this paper) and that it offers a better explanation of the data than its competitors.

  30. See Kriegel (2019) for a theory of moods as evaluative attitudes.

  31. There are good reasons to think that the perceptual theory is the most promising theory of emotions currently on offer. This is not to deny that the perceptual theory faces some important objections (see, e.g., Brady 2013; Salmela 2011; Dokic and Lemaire 2013). Nevertheless, I think that the perceptual theory has the resources to satisfactorily deal with all the main objections raised against it. For a discussion, see Tappolet (2016) and Rossi and Tappolet (2019).

  32. In this respect, the perceptual theory has a clear advantage over other cognitive theories of emotions, such as judgemental and quasi-judgemental theories, according to which emotions require the possession of evaluative concepts.

  33. See Kind (2013) for some reasons to opt for impure representationalism.

  34. Thanks to Denis Fisette for drawing my attention to this point.

  35. What about other seemingly paradigmatic affective states, such as sentiments and emotional dispositions? I think that their status as affective states is derivative. Indeed, insofar as these states are dispositions to experience specific emotions or a plurality of specific emotions, then their status as affective states derives from the affective status of their manifestations.

  36. See Tappolet (2012) for an account of the recalcitrance of emotions.

  37. One implication is that the sense in which emotions have specific objects is not that they can be directed only at particular objects (e.g. particular items, persons, or states of affairs). In fact, emotions may also be directed at general, indeterminate, and plural objects. Rather, the sense in which emotions have specific objects is that they have epistemically determined objects.

  38. Note that this is not the only possible case of irritability. In some instances, irritability consists in a perceptual experience as of there having been something offensive. In some other instances, it consists in a perceptual experience that something offensive might happen.

  39. Perhaps, this is also part of the explanation of why moods appear to be more cognitively impenetrable than emotions.

  40. It is important to notice that Maguire restricts his attention to so-called reasons ‘of the right kind’ for having an emotion. His argument does not apply to reasons ‘of the wrong kind’, such as the reason you have when an evil demon threatens to kill you unless you take on a particular emotion. For the distinction between right kind and wrong kind of reasons, see Rabinowicz and Rønnow-Rasmussen (2004).

  41. At least not essentially. See Maguire (2018, section 5.5).

  42. In this sense, fittingness is akin to ‘correctness’ (see also Tappolet 2016), which is typically considered a non-gradable property (e.g. an answer to a mathematical question is either correct or incorrect, not in/correct to a particular degree).

  43. An additional question is whether moods can enter into explicit practical reasoning, that is, whether they can be premises in a practical inference. This is different from the question of whether moods can rationalise behaviour. In fact, in order for moods to rationalise behaviour, it is sufficient that they provide an individual with what seem, from her perspective, to be reasons to act in one way or in another and that the agent act on the basis of such reasons. It is not necessary that moods enter into explicit reasoning about how to act. Having said that, if moods rationalise behaviour in virtue of their content, then it appears that moods can also enter into practical deliberation and figure as premises of an individual’s reasoning.

  44. See Tappolet (2016, chapter 1).

  45. The first two objections were raised by Hichem Naar. The third objection was raised, in different ways, by two anonymous referees for this journal.

  46. The example of Nichole feeling anxious while walking in the streets of her neighbourhood, which I considered in Sect. 4.4, is thus an example of Nichole experiencing a particular mood of anxiety only if Nichole’s state corresponds, mutatis mutandis, to the state described in (III), but not if it corresponds to the states described in (I) and (II).

  47. According to my account, dispositional emotions and dispositional moods are both dispositions to perceive evaluative properties. They differ, however, in one important respect. Emotional dispositions are dispositions to perceive evaluative properties that are attached to epistemically determined objects. For instance, a disposition to be afraid of dogs is a disposition to perceive dogs as fearsome. By contrast, mood dispositions are dispositions to perceive evaluative properties even when the object to which they are attached cannot be identified. Thus conceived, mood dispositions have the function of making the individual dispositionally alert to evaluative properties, even when she is not able to identify the bearers of such properties.

  48. Perhaps, these kinds of states are also responsible for what various authors in the phenomenological tradition call ‘existential feelings’. See Ratcliffe (2008, 2010).

  49. Thanks to an anonymous referee for pointing this out.

  50. An anonymous referee has raised the following issue. It makes sense to say that an individual can be elated about some specific object, e.g. her recent string of successes. Does this mean that elation too can be both a mood and an emotion? If so, what distinguishes an emotional episode of elation from an episode of the emotion of joy? As stated above, my account distinguishes emotions and moods in terms of the epistemic determinedness of their objects. Accordingly, elation about one’s recent string of successes counts as an emotional episode, since it has an epistemically determined object. This brings us directly to the second question. In my view, two emotion tokens can be distinguished as belonging to different emotion types if and only if they are directed at different evaluative properties. For instance, an emotional episode of anxiety and an emotional episode of fear can be seen as instances of two different emotion types provided that anxiety and fear are directed at different evaluative properties—as they arguably do. By contrast, if two emotion tokens are directed at the same evaluative property, then they are instances of the same emotion type. This is, indeed, the case of emotional episodes of elation and joy. As characterised in this paper, elation and joy are directed at the same evaluative property: the joyful. More specifically, according to the present account both elation and joy represent their objects as being joyful. It follows that an emotional episode of elation and an episode of joy are instances of the same emotion type, despite the fact that we can use two different terms (‘elation’ and ‘joy’) to describe them.

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Acknowledgements

I am very grateful to Hichem Naar, Christine Tappolet, Fabrice Teroni and three anonymous referees for their very helpful comments on previous drafts of this article. I would also like to thank Laurens van Apeldoorn for some stimulating discussions about moods at the early stages of writing.

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Rossi, M. A perceptual theory of moods. Synthese 198, 7119–7147 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-019-02513-1

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Keywords

  • Moods
  • Emotions
  • Perceptual experiences
  • Undetermined objects
  • Evaluative properties
  • Christine Tappolet