The emotions accompanying our mental activities

It is time to put to rest the Platonic assumption that emotions are one kind of activity (or faculty) and reasoning another kind of activity (or faculty). They are not two forces vying against each other, and it is not that one is the ‘slave’ or the ‘master’ of the other: Hume holding that reason is the slave of the passions, Kant replying that passions had better be kept under watchful eye by our reason. This Platonic assumption concerning the divide between our reasons and our emotions has been carried forward into our conversations concerning ‘John’s being emotional’ or ‘Jane’s being quite cerebral.’ Granted, it may be that John has strong emotional responses to a range of things and it may also be that Jane’s responses tend to be more tempered, but neither has anything to do with a response’s being untethered to reasons.

Quite the contrary, believing a number of things is at least a prerequisite for emoting. For I cannot be angry with another unless I believe that this other has deliberately wronged me. And I can be angry with ‘the world’ only if the world consists of hostile people who are bound to harm me. In this, sadness is like anger: only if someone I value greatly has gone away can I feel sorrow. Even if I cannot verbalize this belief to others when the emotions comes on (and mostly we do not do so from a first-person perspective when we are experiencing anger or sorrow or whatever), still it does not follow that this belief is not a necessary condition for the possibility of experiencing this emotion. It is.

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Trying to understand mental activities

Last time, I wrote about the common category mistakes we make. We are in error when we think of minding as it if were like the body or some bodily organ. It is not. Since minding is not only not the body but also not like the body, it follows that minding cannot be healthy or ill (though the brain, a part of the body, can be healthy or ill), and it follows further that minding cannot be treated, diagnosed, prescribed, or cured. From erroneous conceptions and assumptions, we arrive at hazardous courses of action.

Now, if we are not warranted in speaking of mental activities as if they occupied a spatial location (where is the mind?), as if they were a kind of thing (what is the mind?), and as if they were a container (what takes place in there anyway?), then how shall we speak of mental activities?

Alva Noe, a philosopher of mind and cognitive science, has a nice way of speaking of mental activities. These are the complex mutual interactions of brain, body, and environment. Without a brain, there would be no minding. Without the kind of body we have (with our hands, our turning neck, our eyes, etc.), we wouldn’t experience the world in the way we do. And without the kind of environment we find ourselves in, we wouldn’t have minding–or at least not the kind of minding that is the one with which we are familiar. Of course, minding is not identical with the brain, the body, or the environment. Conceivably, a different sort of brain-body-environment configuration would produce a different sort of being, only not the one we recognize in our daily lives, in works of literature, and elsewhere.

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