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Justin D'Arms
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Thanks very much for all these comments, everyone. I'm afraid I need to turn back into a pumpkin at least for the next few days, but I have really enjoyed the dance. Matt, I think what you say is right, and very helpful. Francois, you may well be right that there is more to the concept of danger than just what merits fear, even if we are right that danger can't be adequately explained without appeal to what merits fear. I think that would be ok with us because compatible with the importance of the question what merits fear (i.e. the importance of fearsomeness), but we will have to think more about where that leaves things. Simon, I think Dan may get back to you about your last post. This has been extremely helpful, I really appreciate all the comments. Pea Soup and the Soupers are great!
Hi, Mark. I’m guessing that was intended for me, not Dan. (It would not be the first time someone swapped our names.) The important point for us is not about in principle specifiability in response-independent terms. We suspect that any accurate response independent specification of dangerousness (should one be forthcoming) will lack an interesting response-independent rationale for grouping together the things it does. And if that is right, it seems to us a good reason to suppose that what people care about in this vicinity is what it’s fitting to fear. You seem to be suggesting that we are setting things up in such a way that FA can only win and cannot lose, but I don’t think that’s true. The shadow skeptic tries to characterize danger (contamination, incongruity, etc.) in response-independent terms, and suggests that he has captured what people care about in the vicinity of fear (disgust, amusement, and so forth). If so then the shadow skeptic wins and the sentimentalist loses. So I don’t think the fight is fixed. We need to make a case that people are really interested in what feelings are fitting, and that it is what fixes what things count as dangerous, insofar as danger is the important property it often seems to be. And we try to do that about danger here, and to make a more abstract case about the importance of questions of fit elsewhere in the book we’re working on.
Hi Mark. As we understand the dialectic, the shadow skeptic wants to insist that it doesn’t much matter whether emotions are fitting; rather, people are interested in these other properties that have nothing to do with the emotions but are about risk and harm (or germs, etc.) So even if there is some other way of picking out those properties that does not trade on their emotion-meriting role, if what is of interest about such properties lies in their emotional-regulating role, then the shadow skeptic loses the argument.
Hi Simon. Thanks for this, and nice to hear from you. A central feature of your worry, if I am tracking, is that you think we are stretching the natural notion of merit to fit our theory when we say roller coasters don’t merit fear. You think there is a more intuitive notion of ‘merit’ on which fear is merited at things that people are naturally disposed to fear when their fear system is not malfunctioning, even when they know those things are not really dangerous. Now ‘merit’ is not an expression with a lot of ordinary language currency, at least as applied to emotions, so we thought it a term of art that we could appropriate. But we do want to be using it as our term for one natural and familiar way that people really do assess their emotions, and arguing that this assessment can explain certain kinds of evaluative thinking. So while we would not be bothered if there is another issue that has as good claim to being expressed with that term in English, we would be bothered if our claim that fear of rollercoasters is not merited (insofar as they are not dangerous) did not look like a familiar and natural thing one could say as a criticism of fear in such cases. But we think it is. We think it is a familiar question, not one we are inventing, that people ask when they wonder whether some normal emotional tendency is merited in a particular case or even in general. Another normal emotional tendency is the tendency to be ashamed in the face of the contempt of others. And perhaps the shame system is functioning as natural selection built it to when one feels such shame. But there are cases where people can be ashamed in such circumstances despite knowing that the thing they are being contemned for is not shameful. (Say it’s a teenager being abused for being gay.) If so, there is a stance that they have toward their shame, according to which it lacks support by certain sorts of reasons. And that is the stance we have from outside as well (though we can realize sympathetically that it is quite understandable to feel that way). That is the kind of stance we call thinking the emotion unmerited. Surely we are not making up that phenomenon. If someone said that it seemed intuitive to them to say that the person’s shame was merited in such a case, I would wonder what they meant. If they grant that it makes sense to take the sort of stance toward that shame that I am talking about, but they want to say it is merited anyway because they think ‘merit’ means something like normal (it’s to be expected that people would feel it and without any malfunction in their shame system), this is a merely verbal issue over which we don’t want to fight. If they disagree that there are strong reasons against being ashamed of being gay, we have a normative dispute. If they claim not to understand the issue we are talking about, then I guess we have to keep trying to point to the phenomenon in other cases and persuade them this is a form of assessment they go in for as well.
Hi David, Thanks for pressing this again, it is helpful. And we will be curious to see how you and others react on this point. Here are a couple of things we have wanted to say to support the claim that considerations of fit are reasons for emotions. First, distinguish reasons to feel from practical reasons to do things intentionally so as to affect one’s feelings (for instance, by bringing feelings about, suppressing them, preserving them, etc.). We see this as analogous to a distinction between reasons to believe and practical reasons to affect one's beliefs intentionally. The claim that there are reasons to feel afraid of a poisonous snake in your path is not the claim that there are reasons to do anything to see to it that you fear the snake. Much less is it the claim that the balance of reasons favors seeing to it that you fear the snake if you can. It is rather the claim that there are reasons supporting fear, and indeed they constitute an adequate justification of a certain sort, even if you would be better off without fear. One of the ways in which human beings can be sensitive to reasons is by feeling in ways that are supported by these sorts of reasons, and this is a form of reason sensitivity we don’t have to do anything intentional to exercise--it's like sensitivity to reasons to believe in that respect. If you fear a mouse, in contrast, you do not have available a certain kind of defense of yourself that would have been available were it a snake you were afraid of. Actually we think there are also some reasons to do things to bring about or preserve fitting feelings, but I’m saying that considerations of fit would still be reasons to feel even if they were not also practical reasons. Considered as practical reasons, we readily grant that reasons of fit are often outweighed. But we are inclined to embrace an ideal of how to be according to which there is always something to be said for registering affectively the things that matter. Consider the case of sadness over a loss. It’s painful, and that is a reason to take steps to avoid or suppress it if one can. But there is something to be said against that too. There is something good about experiencing the loss in that human way we have, by being sad about it. And that is a practical reason against suppressing sadness. So it seems like a practical reason in favor of sadness. But we don’t have much of an argument for this further claim about practical reasons supplied by considerations of fit, beyond the appeal to an ideal you may not find attractive. I’ll try to speak more directly to your other points tomorrow.
Yes, thanks Jussi. Just one more thing about independence. As Dan noted, we accept the (Wright/Miller/Suikkanen) independence burden on us, and that's why we're limiting these claims about sentimental values to the natural emotions, where we think we can meet it. But we also think there is a parallel burden on the shadow skeptical opponent, that we are trying to argue that he can't meet. That is, he has to be able to say what dangerousness is in a way that avoids appeal to fear. So the independence constraint we were adverting to for the shadow skeptic is the flip side of the one we accept as a constraint on us. The no-priority view would be the view that neither side can meet the relevant independence constraint, I guess.
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Feb 14, 2014