Virtual Decadence

  • Martin Holt
Part of the Analecta Husserliana book series (ANHU, volume 90)


Representation View Original Situation Narrow State Rotten Apple Real Emotion 
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  1. 2.
    For a more detailed defence of object directed pleasure as an emotion, see Irving Thalberg, Perception, Emotion and Action (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977), pp. 37–41.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    The view that there is nothing wrong in enjoying decadent fiction is controversial among philosophers. For a sample of views counter to my own, see Paisley Livingston and Alfred R. Mele, “Evaluating Emotional Responses to Fiction”, in Emotion and the Arts, Mette Hjort and Sue Laver (eds.) (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997) particularly the example from Baudelaire, pp. 163–165; and also Kendal Walton, “Spelunking, Simulation and Slime”, in the same volume, pp. 43–46, and Richard Moran, “The Expression of Feeling in Emotions”, Philosophical Review 102 (1994). One problem is that fiction is often used to talk about and refer to real kinds, and sometimes real individuals. Birth of a Nation is a racist film — it refers to African Americans, and depicts them in a derogatory and demeaning manner. Baudelaire is arguably a misogynist, and sometimes, at least, in referring to women and depicting them in an unpleasant way, he is expressing this prejudice, and perhaps even promoting it. The spectator who does not hold such immoral views will not easily enjoy fictions that express and promote them. But I do not think either Hitchcock or Buñuel is a violent sadist, nor do they promote violent sadism in their fictions, anymore that Tarantino does in Kill Bill.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    See Plato, Ion, and The Republic, Books II, III, and X, for his discussion of art.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    An elaboration of this view is that in order for a subject to have an emotion of the first sort, for example love, the subject has to believe the target object exists — for example, that the person loved exists; and that in order to have an emotion of the second sort the subject has to believe the thought it is based on. These can be held as minimum requirements for a cognitive account of the emotions. See William Lyons, Emotion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), and Ronald De Sousa, The Rationality of Emotion (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1987).Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    I do not know of any philosopher who defends such an extreme no emotion view, though the ‘cheer up, it’s only a novel’ kind of response suggests that it is popularly held in some quarters that emotional responses to fiction are profoundly mistaken in some way. I state the extreme view mainly to show how inadequate it is, and what its shortcomings are — shortcomings I hope to overcome, since my own theory is based on a no emotion view. Both KendalWalton and Gregory Currie provide sophisticated versions of the no emotion view in their seminal works: Kendal Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe: On the Foundation of the Representational Arts (Boston, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990); Gregory Currie, The Nature of Fiction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990). Lately, they both make use of simulation theory; this approach makes an interesting comparison and contrast to my own; see note 15 below.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    Derek Matravers has a version of the emotion view in which fictions evoke the same emotional responses as reports. If we allow that documentaries are kinds of reports, then we can use his account with films. He admits that his account does not deal with all cases; I do not think it deals well with the examples I am considering, since, for example, a mass audience would presumably find snuff movies very upsetting, but is not as nearly as upset by, and I think on the whole enjoys, the violence in Kill Bill. But this report account does provide a possible response to the psychological implausibility of fiction providing the stimuli for real emotions, given the difference between fiction and reality. Fictions, so the argument runs, are like reports, after all, they are both kinds of representation, and sometimes fictions are very like reports, as in the novel of letters, or in diary form. This still leaves the problem that when we emotionally react to reports we believe them to be true, but in the normal case, we do not believe fictions to be true. This is as much a problem for plausible psychology for the report view, as it is a philosophical problem for that view. See Derek Matravers, “The Paradox of Fiction: The Report versus the Perceptual Model”, in Emotion and the Arts, Mette Hjort and Sue Laver (eds.) (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    See Peter Lamarque, “How Can We Fear and Pity Fictions”, British Journal of Aesthetics 21: 291–304 and Noël Carroll, The Philosophy of Horror, or Paradoxes of the Heart (London: Routledge, 1990) chpt. 2, for other versions of the same view.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    Tyler Burge, “Other Bodies”, in Thought and Object, Essays on Intentionality, Andrew (ed.) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), pp. 97–99. For a further discussion of his position see T. Burge, “Individualism and the Mental”, in Midwest Studies in Philosophy, Vol. IV: Studies in Metaphysics, P. A. French, T. E. Uehling and H. K. Wettstein (eds.) (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1979).Google Scholar
  9. 14.
    Nelson Goodman, Languages of Art (Brighton: Harvester Press, 2nd edition, 1976), pp. 68–85.Google Scholar
  10. 15.
    Is the simulation view a version of the narrow narrow states view? It can be used this way. We might simulate mental states simply by having mental states that are internally functionally equivalent to those states, or we might simulate mental states using narrowly internally equivalent states that are inoculated, somehow, from making broader internal connections to other mental states or external connections to behaviour and bodily reactions — the result of this inoculation is usually called an “offline” state, by simulation theorists. So in the Alfred case, he perfectly simulates state one, when in state two — let us call this Alfred equivalence — though his belief, relationally construed, changes: it was true, and of wholesome apple 1, it is now false, and of rotten apple 2. Unfortunately for Alfred, this simulation is not offline, and he takes a bite of the apple. If simulation in reaction to fiction worked exactly like this, but was offline, it would be very accurate. But it is hard to see how Alfred’s second belief could be so closely functionally equivalent to the first and offline, given the nature of the belief. Similarly, it is hard to see how in our reaction to fiction the ‘beliefs’ that our ‘emotions’ are based on can be Alfred equivalent to real beliefs, and offline. Given that the spectator knows it is fiction, then it seems to me that either a perplexing cognitive conflict is bound to occur in the hapless spectator, or, more likely, the functionally equivalent ‘belief’ just will not be able to arise. Either way, the spectator cannot simply go offline with this kind of ‘belief’ — the functional equivalence is too strong to the counterpart real belief. (See my example, in the main text just before this note, of such a conflict of belief.) Another version of the simulation view is used by Kendal Walton and Gregory Currie. Key ‘beliefs’ and other cognitive states that are part of these mental simulations are not real, by which I take it that they are not equivalent as to semantic relations, or Alfred equivalent as to function, to real beliefs, but that they have some functional similarity to them. Now we have no problem with the simulations being offline, but this change rather undermines the grounds for these simulations. Why should they be accurate? And why should they be very like real emotions? Like a simulation of the weather in a supercomputer, we have a more or less reliable means of finding out about something, but not the thing itself, and perhaps something not even very like the thing itself. See Kendal Walton, “Spelunking, Simulation and Slime”, in Emotion and the Arts, Mette Hjort and Sue Laver (eds.) (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997); Gregory Currie “The Paradox of Caring”, in Emotion and the Arts, Mette Hjort and Sue Laver (eds.) (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).Google Scholar
  11. 16.
    I have stolen this plot from the 1947 film, A Double Life, though I have added the unhappy ending.Google Scholar
  12. 17.
    Edward Bullough, “‘Psychical Distance’ as a Factor in Art and an Aesthetic Principle”, British Journal of Psychology, 1912, reprinted in The Philosophy of Art: Reading Ancient and Modern, Alex Neil and Aaron Ridley (eds.) (London: McGraw-Hill, Inc, 1995); see p. 301.Google Scholar
  13. 18.
    Ernst Gombrich, Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation (Oxford: Phaidon Press, third impression, 1983) for the original statement of his view, and also “Visual Discovery in Art”, in The Image and the Eye (Oxford: Phaidon Press, 1982) for interesting alterations and improvements. In particular, he replaces the condition of illusion with the weaker condition of recognition; although I am still calling this an illusion account, it is this weaker account that I support. On pretence theory see Kendal Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe: On the Foundation of the Representational Arts (Boston, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990).Google Scholar

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© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin Holt
    • 1
  1. 1.City UniversityLondon

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