Sunday, July 14, 2019

Emotions and naturalism

On occasion, I’ve heard undergraduates suggest that naturalism faces a problem with emotions. They feel that a mere computational system would not have emotional states.

One might take this to be a special case of the problem of qualia, and I think it has some plausibility there. It is indeed hard to see how an emotionless Mary would know what it’s like to be scared or in love. Is it harder than in the case of ordinary sensory qualia, like that of red? I don’t know.

But I think it’s more interesting to take it to be a special case of the problem of intentionality or content. Emotions are at least partly constituted by intentional (quasi?) perceptual states with normative content: to be scared involves perceiving reality as containing something potentially bad for one and being in love involves perceiving someone as wonderful in some respects.

The standard materialist story about the content of perceptual states is causal: a perception of red represents an object as reflecting or emitting light roughly of a certain wavelength range because the perception is typically triggered by objects doing this. But on standard naturalist stories do not have room for normative properties to play a causal role. Post-Aristotelian scientific explanations are thought not to invoke normative features.

There is, of course, nothing here to worry an Aristotelian naturalist who believes that objects have natures that are both normative and causally explanatory.

Over the past year, I’ve been coming to appreciate the explanatory power of the Aristotelian story on which the very same thing grounds normativity and provides a causal explanation.

1 comment:

Michael Gonzalez said...

Have you spent any time on Peter Hacker's writing, specifically Human Nature: The Categorial Framework and The Intellectual Powers: A Study of Human Nature? His view is, of course, heavily influenced by Wittgenstein, but he emphasizes that one of our greatest missteps was to leave behind Aristotle's framework for dealing with this sort of issue. Especially the matter of first and second order active/passive powers. He thinks it's because the greatest philosophical minds from Descartes on have had a physics/mechanism bent, and there hasn't been a great biologist among them. Biology teaches us about the powers characteristic of different kinds of being, and the levels of explanation required to deal with living creatures (and, subsequently, animate, self-moving creatures) vs. dealing with machines. It's very interesting work.