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Daniel Jacobson
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Hi Zac. Thanks for the helpful comment. Interesting point about disparity in elicitors. Our view about that is that although there is wide cross-cultural difference at the superficial level, there is often broader underlying agreement about the kinds of thing that merit emotions, and that these similarities can be captured by using the admittedly vague terms with which we describe the emotions’ concern. So although cultures (as well as individuals) differ about what counts as an insult, they seem to agree that insults merit anger. We find supporting evidence in the general accounts of the emotions that are given by Aristotle, e.g., which are quite familiar despite vast specific differences between antiquity and modernity. We do think the diversity is more evidence for sentimentalism over shadow skepticism, for something like the reason you suggest. As for anger and resentment, we didn’t bring them up in part because we’re unsure of exactly what we want to say about them. In particular, we are agnostic about the prospects for a sentimentalist theory of morality (along the lines suggested by Mill and Gibbard). We do think anger is a natural emotion, but we think it too broad to do the trick, and we suspect that resentment is not a natural emotion. This is more or less the view we put forward in “Expressivism, Morality, and the Emotions.”
This is the promised followup on Simon’s cases where people are typically (and normally) not afraid of what they judge dangerous — his example, which is also the one we’ve used in thinking about this issue, is smoking. Here are two possibilities: 1. Our initial gloss of fear was inadequate; it’s really about imminent dangers. Since smoking will harm you, if it does, only years down the road, it is not imminently dangerous and, hence, does not merit fear. That accords with what some philosophers have wanted to say about fear, but right now Justin and I are inclined to think it’s a mistake. Here’s why: Suppose that exposure to some poison will certainly kill you — there is no antidote — but not for x years. Suppose too that this poison has been put into your coffee mug by Dr. Moriarty. Thinking about your situation, it seems like I can be literally afraid on your behalf. (This is to suppose that I care so deeply about your fate that I am prone to fear for your life when it is in jeopardy.) Maybe you will have another sip and seal your fate. Or maybe you will leave the rest of the mug unfinished, and be safe. It seems like I can be afraid regardless of whether you will die instantaneously or in x years, and we see no reason to think it fitting only in the first case (as the imminence requirement implies). 2. We think there’s something else going on in the smoking case. In the first place, no single cigarette will kill you. One might imagine a case where either you will smoke that first cig, and then become addicted and later die; or else you won’t smoke it and will not die (as soon, of smoking related causes). Maybe this is more plausible if we change the case to smoking crack. But even if it is true that, having taken that first hit of crack, you are doomed — still, your fate still goes through your own agency. People don’t always go down the slippery slope, and you could have stopped yourself later. So it still seems odd to think that the first hit killed you, non-imminently, on analogy with the dose of poison. Hence we are inclined to think that the plausibility of this case (and most realistic ones) trades on a subtle slide surrounding “Cigarettes are dangerous to your health.” Yes, smoking (or cigs) are, as an activity or type of object, dangerous. But no particular cig, or act of smoking one, really is. Which is why we didn’t include imminence in our gloss of fear, originally. What do you think?
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Feb 15, 2014