Emotions, Intentionality and Perspectives


(This is one of the three subprojects of the Sinergia network : Intentionality as the Mark of the Mental Metaphysical Perspectives on Contemporary Philosophy of Mind, which is to start from march 2010).

Project leaders: Dr. Julien Deonna, Dr. Fabrice Teroni
Olivier Massin, scientific collaborator (postdoc)
NN, PhD stude


One almost uncontroversial claim about emotions is that they are intentional: like a number of other psychological states (maybe all of them) they take objects beyond themselves. Just as any belief is a belief that such-and-such is the case, that every desire is a desire for something, that every wondering is a wondering whether such-and such, it seems that anger is anger about something or at someone, jealousy directed at a rival over someone, shame is shame of oneself because of some trait or act, etc. The language of emotions is ample testimony to the fact that emotions point in this way beyond themselves and onto the world.

Assuming this widely accepted view, this subproject wants to address a further question: are emotions intentional through and through? This question echoes one raised in the philosophy of perception about phenomenal qualia understood as non-intentional intrinsic properties of perceptual experiences (see subproject B, part II). Following Crane (1998), one can call weak intentionalism about emotions the view that emotions have some non-intentional properties beside their intentional ones. Intentionality is not all there is to emotions. Strong intentionalism about emotions, on the other hand, denies the existence of any non-intentional phenomenal residue in emotions. And one important virtue of strong intentionalism is often claimed to be its compatibility with a naturalistic picture of the mind since it tries to dispense with irreducibly subjective properties (cf. subproject B, section III). In this subproject, we propose to assess strong intentionalism about emotions.

Strong intentionalism is arguably more difficult to defend about emotions than about perception. The reason is that by contrast with perceptions, emotions seem to be essentially pleasant or unpleasant. Psychologists speak of their hedonic valence (Colombetti 2005): all emotions are either hedonically positive or negative. Now, pleasantness and unpleasantness hardly fit within the strong intentionalists’ picture. At first sight, they are typical qualia (intrinsic non-intentional properties of experience) that “colour” the experience without being represented by it: those “accompanying feelings” (Brentano 1995) have been dubbed hedonic tones (Broad 1930: 230). The hedonic tone theory is a typical version of weak intentionalism about emotion. We aim to investigate the way intentionalists about emotions, strong and weak, can account for pleasantness and unpleasantness. Can the hedonic valence of emotions be assimilated to some intentional phenomena or should it be kept non-intentional? The hypothesis we shall be working with is that the notion of perspective may shed new light on that question. First, the notion of hedonic perspectival contents (i.e., hedonic modes of presentation) may help the strong intentionalist to respond to the problem of phenomenal opacity within emotions: pleasantness might be a way the object is presented rather that a non-intentional hedonic tone of the emotion. Second, the notion of a perspectival formal object of emotions (i.e. the idea that values may be observer-dependent but yet emotion-independent) may help the strong intentionalist to make the naïve realism about values he tends to adopt more plausible. Third, that very same notion of perspectival value could be used in turn by weak intentionalists about emotion to avoid appealing to the suspicious notion of hedonic tone. Rather than identifying hedonic valence with some non-intentional quale, they may equate it with some sui generis type of hedonic value. So, can the notion of perspectival value help to understand the personal nature of hedonic value?

State of the research in the field

Recent philosophers have been led to strong intentionalism about emotions via two different routes. A first group came to apply to emotions the strong intentionalist theory formerly developed for perception and bodily feelings, while a second one came to espouse it independently of the study of perception, by focusing on the emotions themselves.

(i) Contemporary debates with regard to the existence of phenomenal non-intentional properties originated in the study of perception (Harman, 1990, Dretske, 1995; Tye, 1995;  Lycan, 1996; see Byrne, 2001 for a state-of-the-art article and a defense of strong intentionalism about perception). This debate then shifted to bodily sensations (Tye 2000; Dokic 2003; Bain 2003, 2007; Block 2005; Hall 2008), where the problem of “intentionalising” the painfulness and pleasantness of bodily feelings emerged as a particularly serious challenge to strong intentionalism. One of the main versions of strong intentionalism about bodily pains assimilates these to perceptions of bodily disturbances (perceptual versions of strong intentionalism about bodily feelings had been anticipated by Armstrong 1962 and Pitcher 1970). Recently, this strong intentionalism about bodily feelings has been applied to emotion. Tye (2008) identifies emotions with experiences of values plus some bodily feeling they cause (see Pitcher 1965 for an anticipation of that move).

(ii) Other versions of strong intentionalism about emotions, advocated by philosophers and psychologists concerned mainly with emotions per se, have emerged independently of the debate about perceptual qualia.  Consequently, these philosophers rarely call themselves (strong) intentionalists, though they are clearly defending the view that every component of emotion, including their alleged “hedonic tone”, is indeed intentional. The first version of strong intentionalism about emotions developed in this field were conceptual: emotions were identified with evaluative beliefs or judgements (Solomon 1980, 1988; Neu 2000; Nussbaum 2001). This view indeed goes back to the Stoics (for one important interpretation of the Stoic account of emotions, see Nussbaum 1990). Having been found wanting, the strategy has next consisted in exploring non-conceptual versions of the view. The view that emotions are perceptions or experiences of value has been anticipated by De Sousa (1987) and different versions of it have been spelled out in some detail by Tappolet (2000), Goldie (2000, 2004), Prinz (2004), Deonna (2006), or Döring (2007).

Shouldn’t we consider the fact that these two independent routes have led to very similar views with regard to the fully intentional nature of emotion as one good reason to take these views seriously? We believe we should.

Previous work

Although the intentionality of hedonic valence is still to be fully explored, many publications by the members of Thumos (philosophy sub-project 10 within the National Centre for Competence in Research in the Affective Sciences based in Geneva) constitute an ideal basis for the study of this complex issue.  Deonna & Teroni (2008, in press) Mulligan (2008a, 2008b), Teroni (2007), Deonna (2006) Massin (PhD) relate to the metaphysics of emotions: their intentional nature and their relation to values, and their valence.

0. The problem: Are emotions intentional through and through?

The question “Are emotions intentional?” has received considerable attention from philosophers and psychologists alike, so that we now have a good grip on the various ways one can understand the question, the various responses that can be given to them, as well as their respective strengths and weaknesses (Mulligan 2007; Teroni 2007). However, the further question “Are emotions wholly intentional?” has, to a large extent, not been addressed until very recently. This question is however of crucial importance, for several reasons. Firstly, given that one key rationale for strong intentionalism about the mind (e.g. the view that all mental states are fully intentional, see subproject B, part II) is that it promises to offer a picture of the mental realm compatible with naturalism, the presence of some non-intentional constituents or properties of emotions such as their hedonic valence would undermine this naturalistic project. Secondly, apart from its consequences on philosophy of mind as a naturalistic enterprise, this question bears on fundamental issues in the philosophy of emotions proper. For instance, emotions are often said to be correct or incorrect, rational or irrational. One way to make sense of these claims is in terms of the following familiar schema: an emotion is incorrect if and only if it misrepresents the value of an object or state of affairs. Now if the hedonic valence of emotions is not intentional, then the incorrectness of having a positive emotion towards a negative fact (e.g. taking pleasure in somebody’s pain) cannot lie in misrepresentation.

The first historical version of strong intentionalism about emotions consists in the claim that emotions are value judgments (Solomon 1976, Nussbaum 2001). Fear is the judgment that there is danger, guilt the judgment that one committed a moral fault. While this view can claim the advantages of strong intentionalism, it faces serious difficulties. Firstly, it seems cognitively very demanding, since feeling an emotion would imply being able to deploy axiological concepts we may feel reluctant to attribute to animals or infants. Secondly, the analysis may also be insufficient. It indeed seems perfectly possible to make a value judgment without feeling the corresponding emotion. There clearly must be a difference between judging that living in L.A. is dangerous and being afraid of living there, a distinction the theory cannot account for. Thirdly and finally, the theory leads to a problematic account of emotional phobia and irrational emotions more generally. It seems indeed possible to fear a spider while judging it perfectly inoffensive, but the theory would imply that the subject makes incompatible judgments. For all these reasons, it is now widely recognized that strong intentionalism about emotions should not be cashed out in terms of doxastic states. Since these objections parallel well-known discussions about the differences between perceptual states and conceptual states (see subproject B), it is no surprise that philosophers of emotions have on their basis tried to model emotions on perception.

According to these recent ways of developing strong intentionalism, the connexion of emotions with values should be understood along the following lines. Emotions are non-conceptual cognitions of values, for example perceptions, apprehensions, experiences or feelings of values. These refined versions of strong intentionalism about emotions allow us to escape the above criticisms, but they face three other very serious problems. The aim of this project is to assess these problems so as to determine whether emotions are intentional through and through. One hypothesis we plan to evaluate is the idea that appealing to the concept of perspectival facts coming from metaphysics (see subproject A) may shed light on the way we should solve these problems. Here they are:

1. The motivational problem: Emotions have a motivational push that perceptions lack. Emotions being essentially positive or negative, always matter to us, and therefore, different from many perceptions, they move us in distinctive ways. Equating emotions with perceptions of values would appear to deprive them of their motivational power. This problem becomes especially salient in the context of debates about the connection between the direction of fit and the motivational power of mental states (e.g. Smith 1994). Indeed, the claim that emotions are similar to perceptions in having the mind to world direction of fit appears prima facie difficult to reconcile with the claim that they are motivational states.

2. The transparency problem: perceptions have a phenomenal transparency that emotions lack. Emotions, being essentially pleasant or unpleasant, are phenomenologically opaque or translucent: there is always an objective and a subjective side to them. Emotions are Janus-faced (De Sousa 2007). One can focus on the object of the emotion, but also on its effects on us, on the way we feel or affectively react to that object. But such a switch of attention is not obviously possible in the case of perception. Indeed, strong intentionalists about perception urge that perception is phenomenally transparent: the phenomenology of the object perceived exhausts the phenomenology of perception (the typical strategy of strong intentionalists about perception is to argue that qualia are not properties of the experience but of their content or object). The only thing we can attend to is the object of the perception. If so, there is an important disanalogy between the phenomenology of perception and of emotion: the former is transparent, while the latter is not. To put it in another way: perceptual theorists of emotions appear to have forgotten about emotions’ hedonic valence, for perceptions are not essentially valenced.

3. The value problem: Perceptual objects are real in a strong sense, while one is more reluctant to ascribe full-blooded reality to the formal objects of emotions, namely values. The sounds, shapes, pressures we hear or touch have a good claim to be physical constituents of the external world. But values, which are the formal objects of emotions according to perceptualist theories, raise important ontological worries. Firstly, values appear to contradict the physical picture of the external world. One common argument against full-blooded value realism (especially relevant in the context of perceptual and hence causal accounts of emotions) is that values must have causal powers on pain of becoming inaccessible to us, but cannot have such causal powers without violating the causal closure of the physical world. Secondly, following Mackie’s famous argument, values are queer in that they are supposed to be objects outside of us that nevertheless motivate us: external prescriptive facts appear dubious. Thirdly, many values appear to depend on the observer: the axiological properties of being dangerous, shameful, or attractive do not, pace Moore, supervene on the intrinsic properties of their bearers: the same situation can be dangerous for John but not for Mike. The formal objects of emotions do not share the mind-independence of the material objects of perception.

This project comprises three sub-parts. In the first part, we plan to address the transparency problem by considering the view that the hedonic valence of emotions may be an hedonic mode of presentation of value rather than an hedonic tone. In the second part, we address the value problem by assessing the hypothesis that most values are real and perspectival. The motivational problem will not be addressed in a specific part since it is transversal to the other two. Indeed, the way emotions can move us is a problem for the simple perceptual model both because perception essentially lacks hedonic valence, and also because values as perceptual objects are ‘too worldly’ entities to be prescriptive. So we can reasonably expect that solving the transparency and value problems will lead to a solution of the motivational problem. In the third part, we want to ask whether some weakly intentionalist theories of emotions, according to which hedonic valence is not intentional, could still be tenable. One hypothesis we want to investigate is that hedonic valence should be identified with a sui generis type of hedonic value rather than with a qualitative hedonic tone. As we shall see, the idea of perspectival facts should help us to make sense of the intuition that such hedonic value, if it exists, is a personal value.

I. Strong intentionalism about emotions, the transparency problem: hedonic modes of presentation to the rescue?

The transparency problem for perceptualist views of emotions, as we understand them here, is phenomenological. Assuming, for the sake of the argument, that perception is phenomenally transparent (i.e. that describing one’s perceptual experience amounts to describing the perceived objects), the problem we confront is that emotions do not seem to be transparent. Facing an aggressive dog, we naturally focus on the danger it exhibits, but we can also turn our attention ‘inwardly’ to the unpleasant feelings that this situation causes in us. Indeed, this hedonic feature of emotions has often been proposed to be essential to them, because it allows for a classification of emotions as either positive or negative. If so, it seems that strong intentionalism about emotions errs in simply equating them with cognitions of values: it has to tell a further story about their hedonic valence. In this sub-part, we assess the different options available to strong intentionalism to account for these difficulties: in short, can emotional valence be understood in intentional terms?

A first set of proposals tends to equate valence with an extrinsic property of emotions, i.e. the property of being the object of a given second-order pro-attitude. For instance, for an emotion to be pleasant would be for it to be desired (Sidgwick 1981; Brandt 1979; Edwards 1979; Parfit 1984; Heathwood 2007) or liked (Hall 1989). Since this boils down to analyse valence in terms of intentional second-order pro-attitudes, a proposal along these lines qualifies as a fully intentional theory of valence. However, any such theory will have to address the following issues. Firstly, as it stands, the proposal entails anti-realism about hedonic valence: the pleasantness or unpleasantness of an emotion is not only extrinsic to it, but depends on the attitude we have toward it. One promising rejoinder would be to include the pro-attitude in the emotion itself: emotions would then be complex intentional episodes constituted by a cognition and a second-order desire or liking. Secondly, to the extent that the view requires second-order mental states, it implies that only creatures capable of meta-representations can feel emotions. This cognitive requirement poses serious problems for some infants and animals to which we are willing to ascribe emotions but not the capability to think about their own mental states (Deonna & Teroni, 2008). Thirdly, and most importantly, it seems that such a view implies that the attitude directed towards the first order cognition (i.e. the emotion being liked or desired) is doomed to remain a brute fact. Yet, intuitively, when asked why we desire such and such a mental state to continue, one would plausibly answer “because it is pleasant”. That is, the hedonic valence of emotions appears to be what grounds their being liked or disliked, desired or averted. But such an answer is not open to that view. A further potential worry is that on this view the relation between the valence of the emotion and the value of its object is too loose. It seems to be contingent that we have positive attitudes towards emotions that present us with positive values. One possible reply would be to argue that we like an emotion insofar as it represents a positive value. But why should it be desirable to represent positive values? Is it not rather the case that what we desire or like is the value itself and not its being represented? If so, then the proposal collapses into an analysis of valence in terms of our attitudes towards external values and is for this reason of no help for a better understanding of hedonic valence.

Rather than trying to reduce hedonic valence in term of non-hedonic intentional states, one proposal is to accept sui generis hedonic phenomena but to deny that they are non-intentional. The alleged hedonic tone of emotions should rather be conceived as a primitive mode of intentional reference, sometimes called attitudinal pleasure (Feldman 1997) and captured by the expression “taking pleasure in”. Positive emotions would not be merely perceptions of positive value, but appreciations of those values. To put it another way, emotions would not be mere neutral presentations of values, but presentations of values under a hedonic mode of presentation. This view does not exclude that values can be presented under some other, non-hedonic, mode of presentation (indifferent perception for instance). But what is required in order to “emote” a value is a hedonic perspective on it.

Can this idea of “hedonic perspective” be spelled out in more details? The idea of a primitive attitude of “taking pleasure in” may seem unsatisfying. One problem with it is that it is not clear how it “feels”. Feldman insists that, precisely because it is an attitude, it does not feel in any way. If this is the case, however, we are back to the transparency objection: what do we focus on when we switch our attention from the value of the object to the subjective side of the emotion? As the contemporary revival of Jamesian theories of emotions (James 1952; Prinz 2004) testifies, a fundamental feature of emotions consists in their specific bodily profiles. Yet, within these approaches, bodily profiles and their subjective impact play no intrinsically representational role with respect to values. However, it may turn out that these bodily profiles do indeed play such a role. Drawing on this feature of emotions, one relevant proposal sketched in Deonna & Teroni (2008) that we plan to investigate further is that hedonic modes of presentation are essentially linked with, or even constituted by, patterns of bodily feelings.

One potential virtue of such an appeal to bodily feelings is that they may not only allow us to give an answer to the transparency objection against simple perceptual views of emotions, but also to the first motivational objection: indeed, the reason why emotions are, as opposed to perceptions, motivational states may depend on the presence of bodily feelings. Besides presenting us with values, such patterns of bodily feeling may be kinds of preparation to actions, or may even present us with prescription for action (Hall 2008).

II. Strong intentionalism about emotions and the value problem:  perspectival values to the rescue?

The simple perceptual model of emotions relies on the assumption that values, like perceptual properties such as shapes, colours or odours, are mind-independent monadic properties of external objects. For many values however, the idea that they supervene upon the intrinsic properties of external object makes little sense. Consider danger again: what makes something dangerous for some creature does not supervene on the properties of the dangerous thing alone, but also on the properties of that creature. Nothing is dangerous simpliciter: danger is always danger for some type of being. Here the value is relativised to a species or type of things. But the problem may even go deeper. For many values appear to depend not only on the kind of creature one is, but on one’s very identity, sentiments or traits of character. For instance, for the very shy, public exposure may exemplify a specific negative axiological property it does not exemplify for the confident person.

This kind of dependency is often interpreted as a strong reason to buy into subjectivism about values. From the claim that (i) to be valuable is often to be valuable for some subject, one hastily concludes that (ii) to be valuable for some subject is to be the object of a positive attitude of that subject. According to the hypothesis we want to explore, while the premise is indeed correct, it does not always imply the conclusion. The value properties may indeed depend on subjects without for all that depending on the attitude that the subject has toward them. This is of some importance, for only the later kind of dependence represent a serious threat to axiological realism. The fact is especially clear in the case of danger. That being dangerous is relative to kinds of creatures does not imply that something is dangerous if and only if creatures of that kind fear or are disposed to fear it. Being dangerous is an axiological property that supervenes upon the natural properties of external objects and the natural properties of the given creature (such as their survival conditions). It is a relational but perfectly objective, fear-independent, value.

Can such a strategy be generalized to other subject-dependent values? This seems plausible in the case of sentiments. A given situation involving a beloved (or a person one hates) may exemplify a specific disvalue or value for the lover (the hater), but not for the indifferent person. Suppose that I take pleasure in the suffering of my enemy. True, that very same suffering, while valuable for me, may be disvaluable for one of his friends, or indifferent to some impassive person. This however does not entail that the goodness of my enemy’s suffering depends on my taking pleasure in it. Rather, what makes that suffering good for me is its occurrence and my hatred for my enemy. That goodness, although it supervenes on a relation between my sentiment and an external episode, does not depend on my taking pleasure in it. One could reply that the goodness for me of my enemy’s suffering still depends on my attitude of hating him. But this is not the case either: what is good for me is the suffering of my enemy, and this suffering is not the object of my hatred. Only my enemy is. Thus, we seem to be led to the conclusion that we have here no value whose existence depends on some attitude towards it.

In the second part, we intend first to determine the extent as to which a strategy along these lines can be generalized. Are there any kinds of values that are non only subject-depend but also attitude-dependent? In order to answer this question, we will have to rely on a classification of affective phenomena in general as well as on typologies of more specific states such as emotions, feelings, sentiments, moods, characters traits. For this important and too often neglected taxonomic enterprise is required in order to assess case-by-case whether the above strategy can be applied. Such a classification of affective phenomena however is not yet a matter of agreement among philosophers and psychologists. One preparatory work will therefore be to establish it, relying notably on previous work by (Ryle 1949; Kenny 1963; Goldie 2000; Doris 2002; Roberts 2003; Deonna & Teroni in press(b)).

The second question we intend to address in that part of the project is the precise way this kind of dependency of values upon subjects can be captured. It is here that we expect the notion of perspective to prove especially helpful. Going back to the examples of the danger and of the pleasure in my enemy’s suffering, one remarkable thing in both cases is that the value is not ascribed to its supervenience basis. While danger supervenes upon the properties of both the external situation of the natural constitution of the subject, it is ascribed only to the external situation. In the same way, while the goodness of my enemy’s suffering supervenes on both my hatred of him and his suffering, it is only ascribed by me to his suffering. Those values, therefore, appear to violate the Moorean thesis (Moore 1903) that values always supervene on the intrinsic properties of their bearers. Philosophers of value call this special kind of values ‘final extrinsic values’ (Rabinowicz & Ronnow-Rasmussen 2000). What is typical in the present cases is that even though the subject (his biological constitution, his sentiments…) is essential to the value, he nevertheless remains out of the picture when it comes to value ascription. This, we submit, may be one typical feature of perspectival facts. There is in this respect an interesting analogy with sight, to be further explored in subproject A. Although the point of view is essential to the way things appear to us, it remains most of the time unmentioned in our perceptual reports. In the same way that we most often use spatial predicates such as “being far away” or “being on the right”, “being approaching” without mentioning “from me”, we used axiological predicates such as “being dangerous” or “being good” without mentioning “for me”. To take up one expression from Perry (1998), the subject remains an unarticulated constituent of such perspectival thoughts. While perspectives involve relations between objects and points of view, reference to the point of view or to the subject remains implicit in the description of the perspective. In close collaboration with subproject A, we plan to further investigate this process of elision of the subject in perspectival thought. One proposal for understanding the logical structure of such phenomenon is that it results from the monadic reduction, or derelativisation, of relations between subject and object. Relations between the subject or point of view and the object are reduced to monadic property of the external object by bounding the variable corresponding to the subject or point of view. This might be usefully applied to axiological properties, in order to formulate a perspectival account of the so-called personal values, the value “for me”. Personal values could be understood in terms of axiological perspectives, such perspectives being understood in turn as completely independent of the attitude we have toward them (though they are clearly dependent on other properties of the subject). This appeal to perspectival values may therefore be a promising way to address the value problem raised against strong intentionalism about emotions: while strong intentionalism about emotions does entail realism about values (the thesis that values exist independently of our attitude toward them), it does not entail the strong view that values are monadic intrinsic properties of external objects, deprived of any dependence on the subject.

This strategy may as well be used as a solution the motivational problem also raised against strong intentionalism about emotions. Indeed, what makes values queer according to Mackie, is that there are both external and prescriptive. According to the perspectival view of value we intend to develop, values have indeed a motivational impact, and are indeed fully real, but there are far less external or worldly that the naïve axiological realist would have it. Their dependence on us makes it easier to understand how they can motivate us.

III. Weak intentionalism about emotions: hedonic values to the rescue?

The motivational, transparency and value problems may not give rise to decisive objections to strong intentionalism about emotions. On the other hand, it is clear that they do not even constitute prima facie problems for the hedonic tone theory of emotions (Goldstein 2002), according to which emotions are complex states involving some cognition (judgment, belief, perception…) of natural state of affairs, those cognitions exemplifying some hedonic qualia (see subproject B part II on the notion of quale). Fear would not be the perception of danger in the aggressive dog, but an unpleasant perception of this dog. Such a view easily dismisses the above worries: (i) it is quite plausible to ascribe motivational power to hedonic tones; (ii) emotions are not transparent because we can focus either on their object (the threatening dog) or on their hedonic tone (the unpleasantness of that perception); (iii) this theory of emotion does not entail any particular view about the metaphysics of value, since emotions are defined independently of any reference to axiological properties. Despite these apparent advantages of the hedonic tone theory of emotion over strong intentionalism, other important objections have been raised against it. In the third part of the present subproject, we intend to assess these objections and to see whether the appeal to perspectival axiological facts could also be used by weak intentionalists to develop a more solid version of their view.

The hedonic tone theory of emotions faces at least three important problems.

(i) The problem of dualism: In so far at it is committed to irreducible subjective qualia, it is incompatible with any naturalistic picture of the mind.

(ii) The heterogeneity problem: the hedonic tone theory of emotions relies on the phenomenological assumption that all hedonically positive emotions share a common quale. But this assumption is at least debatable: is there really a hedonic tone common to the pleasures of entering in a hot bath, of hearing music and of being congratulated? Positive emotions (as well as negative ones) appear to be phenomenologically heterogeneous.

(iii) The problem of subjectivism: the fact that hedonic tone theory escapes the value problem by avoiding any reference to values may indeed be one major drawback of that version of weak intentionalism. The axiological emptiness characteristic of such a view is indeed suspect. The claim that our fear has nothing to do with danger is difficult to believe. But the only apparent option to secure the presence of an intimate link between emotions and values if we subscribe to the hedonic tone theory consists in appealing, faute de mieux, to a strong form of subjectivism about value. As as result, one is for instance led to claim that  “x has a negative value = S dislikes/takes displeasure in x”.  The difficulty faced by the hedonic tone theory is in this respect opposite to the one faced by the perceptual version of strong intentionalism: while perceptual views of emotions are, so to speak “too realist” about values, hedonic tone theories of emotions are not realist enough. They need to tell us a more plausible story about the way values enter into their picture of emotions. One reply to that last problem for the hedonic tone theorist is to adopt a more sophisticated theory according to which emotion are unpleasant cognitions of axiological states of affairs (and not only of a natural one). The price to pay, however, is that the valence of the emotion (understood as hedonic qualia) and the value of its object appears as a result to be quite independent from one another: it appears to be contingent that that we take pleasure in valuable facts, and displeasure in disvaluable facts. This unpalatable consequence constitutes a further important motivation for strong intentionalism.

At this juncture, one hypothesis we will study in detail is the following. We can keep the structure of the refined hedonic theory (a cognition that exemplifies pleasantness and bears on a value) but reject the claim that pleasantness is a phenomenological property.  Pleasantness, some philosophers have claimed, may be rather a kind of axiological property: hedonic value (Scheler 1916; Meinong 1917; Von Wright 1963; Mendola 1990; Mulligan 2008b). Replacing the hedonic tones by hedonic values yield another version of weak intentionalism about emotions: hedonic valence is still a non-intentional property, values being un-intentional. The aim of the part of the project is to articulate this new version of weak intentionalism about emotions and to determine whether it may be more solid than the above refinement of the hedonic tone theory.

According to this hedonic value theory, the question raised above about the relation between the valence of the emotions and the value of their objects would then amount to a question about the relation between two values: hedonic value of the emotional act on the one hand, the value of the intentional object on the other hand. Such a claim raises important issues in value theory. It may indeed be argued that even though this relation is contingent from a natural point of view, it is nevertheless normatively necessary (see Fine 2005c, on the notion of normative necessity). It is incorrect to perceive with pleasure a disvaluable fact, incorrect to take displeasure in valuable fact. It may also be incorrect to take intense pleasure in a moderately valuable fact, or the reverse. The relation between the object’s value and the emotion’s valence could therefore be normative.

As regards problem of subjectivism problem, the hedonic value version of weak intentionalism has an easy card to play. Whether or not it assumes that emotions are directed at axiological facts, as long as pleasantness is a value, there is at least one real value. One first potential difficulty we will have to address is that pleasantness may become in that way “too far” from the subject. If pleasantness is an axiological property of emotional acts it may become difficult to explain why that Paul’s own pleasure matter to him more than Julie’s one. The sense in which pleasantness could be a personal, or an “agent-relative” value has to be clarified (Ronnow-Rasmussen 2007). Here again, we expect the concept of perspectival value mentioned in part II of this sub-project to prove helpful. Pleasantness may be a perfectly objective, attitude-independent but yet subject-dependent value. There may be no need to make pleasantness dependent on the awareness of it in order to secure its agent-relativity. A second related issue we shall explore is the intuitive idea that pleasure is necessarily conscious. While this intuition is easily dealt with by the hedonic tone theory of emotions, reconciling it with the hedonic value theory proves much more difficult. In particular, can this view make room for it without falling into subjectivism, i.e. by claiming that hedonic values are dependent on the awareness of them? A first answer would be to reject the problematic intuition so as to end up claiming that pleasure is not necessarily conscious (this question shall be addressed in collaboration with subproject B, part I on the thesis that all mental states are conscious).  However, assuming there is something to this intuition, we would like to explore and develop an alternative answer that relies on the distinction between essence and modality introduced by Fine (1994). According to this answer, the reason why pleasure is necessarily conscious might not lie in the nature of pleasantness, but in the nature of consciousness, since consciousness may be essentially attracted by pleasure. In other words, the correct explanation of the alleged fact that all pleasures are conscious may refer to the essence of consciousness rather than to the essence of pleasure. Pleasure would be necessarily conscious not because it is what it is, but because consciousness is what it is.

The hedonic value theory of emotions and its assessment should also help resolve the heterogeneity problem. While phenomenology does not provide us with clear evidence that all positive affects have any common feel, it is far more plausible that all positive affects share some kind of goodness. Indeed, the very “positivity” of positively valenced emotions may well be nothing else than the goodness of emotional acts. One first question that shall be addressed relative to this issue is whether pleasantness is (i) a simple thick value, (ii) a plurality of thick values (being enjoyable, rejoicing, delightful… see Mulligan 2009c) or, on the opposite, (iii) a thin value exemplified by some typical bearer: maybe pleasantness could be equated with the goodness of mental acts?

In the end, we except that the three parts of this subproject will together produce not only a better overview and weighting of the different possible answers to the crucial question “Are emotions wholly intentional?”, but also to the formulation of new answers, more solid than the currently existing ones. In particular, we think that the view that pleasantness is an hedonic non-conceptual mode of presentation of value, if suitably developed, could become one of the most promising version of strong intentionalism about emotions (i.e. of the positive answer to that question). On the other hand, we also anticipate that the opposite view that pleasantness is a specific type of hedonic value could become one of the most serious version of weak intentionalism about emotions (i.e. of the negative answer to that question). Though deeply incompatible, both views of emotions heavily rely on the notion of perspectival values that is at the core of the second-part of this subproject.


The three sub-parts of the emotion project shall start simultaneously. The three main participants in the emotion part of the project (two project leaders, one PhD student) will take the lead in one of the three sub-parts of the project and, and in collaboration with the rest of the team, will be responsible for the writing and ultimately publication of two articles in peer-reviewed international journals (per sub-part of the emotion project). The whole team will of course meet regularly, among themselves and with the other members of the Sinergia project, to discuss and share the progress accomplished in each of the three sub-parts and try to gain input and feedback from the others. We plan thus to be able to publish six articles on the temporal metaphysics of emotions during the duration of the project. We anticipate that the three first articles will be focused quite narrowly on each of the three sub-parts of the project while the three next ones, thanks to regular meetings, discussions and collaboration with the other sub-parts of the project will be focused on how the different temporal dimensions of emotions interact with one another. We thus expect to have three papers published and three submitted by mid 2011.

Significance of the Research

Emotion research in the empirical sciences (in particular empirical psychology and neuroscience) is characterized by its lack of interest in folk concepts of the affective domain and the kinds of explanation common-sense offers in this area. This attitude has been given further credence by some philosophers (Griffiths 1997, Prinz 2005) who have championed the idea that philosophers should stop dwelling in the conceptual analysis of affective concepts and adopt instead the categories posited by the scientist  – in particular the concept of an ‘affect program’. Robert Roberts (2003) and our team (Deonna & Teroni 2008) have shown that this approach, while understandable given the difficulty of disentangling the ways we speak of affect, is bound to neglect a whole series of questions and concerns that only commonsense psychology can provide us with. Not all these questions and concerns should be taken seriously, but some definitely should be. One of these concerns has to do with the temporal dimension of the affective domain and by focusing on this topic – which is often alluded to in passing but never addressed head-on - we are convinced that we can produce original research by taking a serious step in bridging the gap between the ordinary ways we talk of affect and the manner in which science tends to study it.