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July 14, 2016


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First I want to express my enthusiastic gratitude to the people at PEA Soup who invited me to participate in this series of discussions: the invitation was like an unexpected gift in the mail. And I want to say how honored I am that Dan and Justin were willing to take the time to write the critical precis. I hope it is clear from the paper that I respect their work on these issues a great deal, and take it as a kind of model or standard.

I am not at all surprised that the main focus of their criticism has to do with the normativity of emotion-linked terms. This worry is bound to arise, given the analogy I make with color terms. Moreover, I explicitly claim that the normativity of ‘shameful’ and ‘fearsome’ does not come from the normativity of the sense of fittingness at work in my account, so there is a worry about where it does come from.

I provide a number of responses to the normativity objection in the paper, but Dan and Justin press it in a way that requires me to say more. Or, rather, it requires me to emphasize points that I left insufficiently clear in the paper. Here are the points that I want to emphasize:

First, as Dan and Justin themselves note, the notion of fittingness or appropriateness at work in my account is not statistical; it is normative. By itself this does not answer the normativity objection, since – to repeat – this notion is normative in the case of ‘blue’ as well. But the normativity of the notion of fittingness here does mean that even if it were statistically normal for homosexuality (or, to give a similar example, premarital sex by women) to elicit shame in a certain society – or even in all societies – it would not thereby follow, on my account, that homosexuality (or premarital sex by women) was shameful. This should blunt the initial force of Dan and Justin’s primary putative counterexample, and I’ll have more to say about the counterexample in a moment. I certainly admit that if it turned out that my account entailed that homosexuality (or premarital sex by women) was shameful, something would be wrong with my account.

Second, and relatedly, it is not merely human nature that determines the extensions of emotion-linked evaluative terms. Rather, it is also processes of ostensive teaching (p. 1026). These processes are sensitive to patterns in the set of things that elicit the emotion, since such teaching relies on a shared sense of what is relevantly similar. Some things that reliably elicit the emotion might nevertheless not get into the extension, because they have some salient dissimilarity from the other things that do. And some things that do not typically prompt the emotion might be regarded as saliently similar to such a degree that they get included in the extension despite this fact. In this way ostensive teaching “smooths out” the extensions of terms, even while those extensions resist description by a set of necessary and sufficient conditions. I discuss this point a little in other work, but I didn’t make it very clear in the present paper.

The two points I’ve just made allow me to say that the emotional responses to homosexuality in their example should be regarded as something analogous to visual illusions, even when they are, statistically, the norm. There are situations in which an object looks blue to almost everyone – that is, situations in which a statistically-normally-functioning visual system will yield a perception as of something blue – and yet the object is not blue. Analogously even a fitting-attitude theorist can regard widespread responses of shame and contempt at homosexuality as the result of something like an evaluative illusion.

The contribution of ostensive teaching explains why I am not simply being redundant in the following sentence, which Dan and Justin quote when explaining my notion of fittingness: ‘fear is fitting in the relevant sense if it is produced by an emotional mechanism that is functioning properly and that produces fear because its object actually has the relevant markers’ (1026). This claim is not redundant because an emotion can be produced by an emotional mechanism that is functioning properly, and yet the object of that emotion might nevertheless lack the relevant markers. What counts as a relevant marker is to some degree dependent on the salient similarities on which language learning depends. When a properly functioning mechanism produces a response in the absence of the relevant markers what we have is a reliable illusion.

The existence of reliable illusions means that Dan and Justin slightly – though understandably – misrepresent my view when they edit a passage of mine from page 1023, and claim that, according to me, ‘if one’s “quick-and-dirty mechanisms” of emotional response are “functioning perfectly and get us ready to act in certain [characteristic] ways,” then fear or disgust will be fitting’. Presented in this way, I looks like I am offering a sufficient condition for fittingness of response. But I would reject this condition as necessary or sufficient. My unedited claim concerns the relevance of the presence of the focus of the emotion, and is that ‘on occasion–our quick-and-dirty mechanisms can be functioning perfectly and get us ready to act in certain ways quite regardless of the presence or absence of [the focus of the relevant emotion]’. It is true that when this happens, I say that the emotion is fitting – but only once I’ve restricted attention to cases in which we have ‘a normal human being in (otherwise) normal circumstances’. By way of analogy, circumstances that produce reliable visual illusions do not count as normal. That is, there is something abnormal – in the relevant normative sense – in viewing a patch of light brown when it is embedded in a two-dimensional picture that represents a three-dimensional object in shadow: in such circumstances the brown patch will reliably look to be orange. So I do not take perfect functioning by itself to validate all resulting responses as fitting.

I think that Dan and Justin take their primary difference with me to be that their notion of fittingness is more strongly normative than mine. Their notion includes an endorsement of the emotion. They may be right about the existence of this difference, but they exaggerate its size because they take me to equate ‘normal response’ with ‘fitting response’, which I don’t. They may well be right that my notion of fittingness is weaker, normatively, than theirs, in that I don’t think mine always includes an endorsement of the emotion that goes beyond what one might express by saying ‘yes, it really is embarrassing’. But it isn’t clear to me that in all cases there is a stronger form of endorsement. Now, in the case of shame, it may be that one of the salient similarities or family resemblances that help form the extension of ‘shameful’ is something normative. So I could agree with Dan and Justin not only in their conclusion, but also in their reasoning as to why a gay man shouldn’t feel shame even in the context they describe. But it seems an overgeneralization to say that all emotion-linked evaluative terms are like this. This may be one of the differences between the shameful and the embarrassing.

Great! Interesting topic.
Like Dan and Justin I'm a little confused about the Normativity Objection. Josh, why is it that the objector is supposed to provide a full account of normatively according to which it turns out that your view fails to vindicate it? Is it because you are just agnostic about whether 'shameful' and the like are normative?
Also: I would have thought, just without thinking about it too much, that a "fitting visual reaction" account of 'blue' would in fact make 'blue' normative. On that account, something's being blue immediately entails that it is fitting to see it as blue, right? But you think that's not sufficient to show that 'blue' is normative?

Hi Jamie!

Thanks for chiming in!

Here's a response to your first question.

I think Dan and Justin were right that my attempt at wholesale burden-shifting was too quick. What I should have said was that no one knows what 'normative' means, and that I suspect that it does not have a unified meaning. As a result, the objector needs to tell me more about the specific way in which my account misses something important about the meaning of, say, 'shameful'; something that someone might reasonably identify with the basis for its being a normative term.

So I concede that point. But I do consider, on the behalf of the objector, a handful of suggestions as to what the "something important" is, that is distinctive of normative terms. And it looks to me like my account allows 'shameful' and other emotion-linked evaluative terms to have that something.

Now let me think about your second question...

Thanks for that reply, Josh. So you also want to be able to deny that it is shameful to be homosexual n a society like the one we imagined. So we agree on another point. I was not sure how you would approach that sort of case and thought you might be more inclined toward a relativistic understanding of ‘shameful.’

I take your point about normalcy—your notion of fittingness is not statistical, so even a statistically normal tendency could be unfitting. So the fact that it is normal to be ashamed at something does not suffice to make it shameful. Some of what we said was a little too quick on this point.

I think I do not understand quite how you want ostensive teaching to work, though. I guess that in the visual illusion case you describe, part of the basis for saying that the patch which our visual systems lead us to perceive as blue really isn’t blue even though the visual mechanisms are working well has to do with the way the term ‘blue’ is taught. Perhaps people are taught that a patch’s actual color is not affected by its neighboring patches (or something), and thus that something that looks blue in good light can still fail to be so due to the interfering effects of its neighbors (or something). But things seem different in the shame case.

As we imagined the shame case, the culture in question was inculcating shame for homosexuality. So I was imagining that ostensive teaching is training people there to apply the term ‘shameful’ to homosexual behavior. When we said that his shame mechanism is “responding to markers that match the input conditions for which his environment calibrated it” I was thinking of that calibration as something that was effected by ostensive learning. And I was thinking that, if so, homosexuality is one of the ”relevant markers” in such an environment. Where was I going wrong in this line of thought? If the linguistic training were going in the way that I am supposing here, wouldn’t homosexuality be a relevant marker in your sense? If not, why not? I think that would help me understand the picture better.

Hi again, Jamie,

Your second question seems to presuppose a certain account of normativity; one according to which the presence of a term like 'fitting' in an account of some other term entails that that the second term is normative. I don't have a general account of normativity - because I don't think any such account is possible. But I don't think the implicit account in your question is very plausible - or, better, very useful for that many purposes - given how I am understanding 'fitting'.

The sort of fittingness or appropriateness of response that I have in mind for 'blue' is one that I think simply comes along with the notion of representation: with the idea that chromatic visual responses can be accurate or inaccurate. These notions - representation, appropriateness, accuracy - become applicable for pragmatic reasons (the usefulness of asking for things by reference to their colors, for example) and depends also on there being sufficient uniformity in human responses. Since this sort of fittingness seems to me to underlie all referential language, it doesn't seem very useful to say that it brings normativity with it. On the other hand, I could see some philosophical contexts, and purposes, for which one might use 'normative' in a stipulative sense that would entail the normativity of 'blue', and all other referential terms.

Hi Justin,

Thanks for pressing me on this. I think it is possible for ostensive teaching to use certain paradigms when teaching a term, and then for it to turn out that those paradigms weren't after all in the extension of that term. Whales might be used in this way to teach the term 'fish'. What ends up excluding whales from the extension of "fish" is an explicit theory, and explicit "smoothing out" of the extension, in line with principles like explanatory usefulness in the sciences. But there are implicit theories too, and other sorts of "smoothing out." In claiming that the people in the society you are envisioning are making an error, I am assuming that the concept they are teaching ostensively is our concept "shameful" (otherwise I would simply say that they are using a defective term). And I am assuming that something explains why they are making the error they are making - something other than homosexual behavior actually having the relevant properties. By way of analogy, I think that there are a number of culture-wide moral illusions (many of which have to do with sex) that are explained by the fact that the church co-opted moral concepts to enforce a set of norms that in fact have nothing to do with morality. A clear view of the historical origins of these moral attitudes would, I think, function to debunk them.

I might mention, at the risk of seeming (being?) self-promoting, that I provide a more complete answer to Jamie's second question in Normative Bedrock, in section 3 of chapter 3. And I provide more discussion of evaluative illusions in section 4 of my paper "Colour, Emotion and Objectivity."

I thought you chose 'blue' because lots of people think it is a response-dependent concept. No? Would 'square' do just as well? If all there is to fittingness in our perceptual reactions is accuracy, then 'square' should be just as good.

I don't have an account of what normativity is, but I think it's pretty plausible that if a concept has, let's say, a normative constituent, then it is itself normative. Do you disagree?

On a slightly different topic:
One thing I like about Justin and Dan's view is that it promises to explain fittingness in terms of reasons. Other views (I recently heard Chris Howard give a paper like this) offer to explain reasons in terms of fittingness. But Josh's view does neither of these things, as far as I can tell -- is that right Josh?

Interesting discussion! In their critique Justin and Dan write, "Gert’s strategy in analogous cases is to replace what he thinks are misguided questions about reasons for emotions with a different question, about what to do," and they then go on to criticize this alternative (i.e. the appeal to reasons for action).

Perhaps there is another option here though?

Gert could accept that shame is apt, for example in the homosexual case, but argue that the agent nonetheless has no reason to believe he is bad, unworthy of respect, etc. Often he will also have reason to criticize and try to reform the social practices that make shame apt even if his reasons to actively flout the standing norm are swamped (as in the cases Justin and Dan mention). But there is at least reason for belief.

Interestingly, this looks close to the approach that Cheshire Calhoun advocates in "Apology for Moral Shame" (reprinted as chapter 2 of her recent book Moral Aims). She plausibly tells us that, "members of subordinate groups quite often reject substantial chunks of the evaluative commitments, styles of reasoning, and assumptions about group difference embedded in the dominant social practice of morality," but that the, "dominant practice of morality generally continues to be one of the moral practices that members of subordinate groups share." Because they share in these practices, members of subordinate groups remain vulnerable to feeling shame for things that they do not believe are bad. Although I'm not sure she speaks to the specific issue, Calhoun might well accept that in such cases the shame is fit but point out that the subjects of shame can and should also reject the related "chunks" of evaluative commitments, styles of reasoning, etc.

Hi Jamie,

Yes, I chose the analogy with blue because of its response-dependence. For me, blue counts as response-dependent because it is only because we humans have a certain uniformity in response that we have the concept of blue. On the other hand, one might expect other beings to come to have the concept of squareness: indeed, we might have come to it if we'd been only gifted with sight, or only gifted with touch. The many varied avenues to a concept of squareness or water mean that there are criteria for something counting as square or water that go beyond our response being appropriate - though it is also true that if something is square it's appropriate to see it that way. In the case of response-dependent concepts, it is our responses, and our judgment that the response is appropriate, that does all the work. I want to say the same sort of thing about emotion-linked evaluative terms, so an analogy with 'square' wouldn't have served my purpose.

With regard to your claim that if a concept has a normative constituent, it is normative, I might agree. But I don't think that the concept BLUE has appropriateness as a constituent. Indeed, I think it is a primitive, unanalyzable property. But I also think that something is blue if and only if normal people, in normal conditions, have "blue experiences" when viewing it. And I think that's an informative claim, about the nature of blueness.

With regard your last point, in fact I do provide an account of reasons in terms of fittingness. That's the account of basic normative practical reasons I defend in Normative Bedrock. I take practical rationality to be a response-dependent property, and in that particular case I think that the extension turns out to allow us to talk about facts that make systematic contributions to it. These are reasons. But I think there are lots of other response-dependent properties that have extensions that are not determined systematically in this way. And in those cases, I don't think we can provide an account of reasons in terms of fittingness.

Hi Brad,

Thanks for the suggestion; I'll have to take a look at the Calhoun. In the particular case of the shameful, however, I am not strongly inclined to go that route. And I think that although Justin and Dan may be right that in some cases I would replace questions about reasons for emotions with questions about action, that's not the way I deal with their particular example. Rather than saying 'this person has no reason to act as shame prompts' I agree with them that the person should not feel shame in the first place. Do you think there's some advantage in coopting Calhoun to deal with this case?

Hi Josh,

I see why you want to say that even in a culture where certain norms -- those we do not accept -- are inculcated, and people typically respond in accordance with them, they might nevertheless be mistaken. Hence these typical responses are not fitting, you can say. But I'm not sure I understand when you get to say that about any particular case. Such as ours.

Do you agree that this is something your position does not allow: It does not allow you to wield an independent notion of what is an isn't shameful (funny, fearsome, etc) and then declare these typical responses to be unfitting on the grounds that they do not accord with your independent conception of when shame (etc.) is fitting. That would be to undermine any claim that you're really using a notion of normality, even one that is not statistical normality.

Assuming we agree about that, my question then is: On what grounds do you get to say that shame at being gay or having premarital sex, or whatever, is unfitting; that these typical responses are like optical illusions in being predictable errors. Evaluative illusions, as it were.

Is it that you owe an argument that coherence with other norms, or perhaps with other putatively shameful things, suffices to rule out these responses as unfitting? But perhaps you think such a coherence-based argument -- one based on "salient similarities" as you put it -- can be found for these and similar cases.

Am we on the same page about how your argument would have to go, putting aside the question of whether any such argument can be made persuasively under these ground rules?

Hi Josh,

I can't do justice to Calhoun's very interesting arguments but one of her main points is that our moral identities or, I would say, characters are shaped by social-psychological practices that are largely independent of our attempts to think things through normatively. Shame is part of these social-psychological practices. When agents are embedded in practices that they only half-heartedly accept and that they don't want to, or can't, just leave behind these practices, then it makes sense for them to feel shame in the face of social pressure - even social pressure that they wish was not there. Saying that their shame is inapt or that they should not feel shame is problematic because it implies they should detach from the relevant practices (and perhaps that feeling the shame is their mistake rather than a reflection of the flaws in the practice). It is better to say that their shame is apt but that they have good normative views about why it would be better to live in a world with practices that made the shame inapt. Their shame does makes sense in their actual world though, given the flawed practices they quite sensibly inhabit (it might be the best of their actual options). This is my *attempt* to convey Calhoun's position as I understand it now and why I find it tempting.

Here is a cobbled together quote that might be of interest:

"Morality is, in part, a critical, normative enterprise conducted by individuals who use their own best judgment to arrive at moral standards and practical conclusions...Shame, as I have characterized it, does not serve this dimension of the moral enterprise....While hypothetical moral worlds of ideally rational agents are heuristically useful in evaluating the justifiability of moral principles and norms, morality is only practiced in real social worlds. Even if particular social practices of morality seem flawed from the individual’s critical, normative perspective, the social practice of morality is the only moral game in town. It is only in real social worlds that I have a moral identity. Who I am, morally, is who I am interpretable and identifiable by others as being. That I fancy myself (even with what I take to be the best reasons) to be one kind of person rather than another does not give me an identity as that kind of person....As moral philosophers who have been trained to think of moral agents primarily as critically reflective, autonomous persons, it is tempting to conclude that the subordinated would be best served by becoming more thick-skinned and refusing to give others’ shaming criticisms practical weight. It is tempting, that is, to focus on altering the emotional responsiveness of the socially subordinate moral agent. This is a mistake, though. From both moral and political points of view, the social practice of morality needs to be taken more, rather than less, seriously. From a moral point of view, taking the social practice of morality seriously is central to taking morality seriously. Thus it is no error on the part of the subordinated that they feel the practical weight of their fellow participants’ moral criticisms. From a political point of view, taking the social practice of morality seriously is central to the pursuit of social justice."

Hi Daniel,

First I'm going to take what I think I can get from you: that my account at least allows for cases in which typical responses are mistaken. The question then is about what argument I can offer that this is the right thing to say about what's going on in your example. Your worry is that I am sort of in the position of someone who doesn't want to count whales as fish, BEFORE any theorizing has happened that gives support to that claim. Or - even worse - that if my view is correct, I might well be in the position of someone who doesn't want to count trout as fish, and is stipulating that there is some story that will make trout go the same way as whales.

About the permissibility of my wielding an independent notion of what is and isn't shameful, here's my answer. I take 'shameful', like 'blue' and other response-dependent terms, to name properties that are not subject to analysis. What they get, instead, is a genealogy - an explanation of how they come to appear in the language and function as they do. So blueness is not to be analysed in terms of responses or fittingness; it is a primitive concept. The biconditional that relates blueness to normal people, normal conditions, and experiences of blue is something that results from how 'blue' gets taught (and 'normal' too). But we don't have to figure out anything about how people see things in order to apply the concept BLUE to something once we've learned it. We just see things as blue, say 'That's blue', and usually we are right. In the case of 'shameful', I want to say something similar. Even without anything like theory that unifies and rationalizes those responses (excluding some as unfitting, and classifying others as fitting even if I don't actually experience them), I have competence with the concept SHAMEFUL, which does the same work.

Of course, the members of the community in your example think they have the same competence, and make different judgment than I do. The result is a disagreement, and I think you think it’s a stalemate for me, and that I should retreat until I can find some argument. I don’t think that’s right. In the case of blueness, there are sometimes disagreements about when it applies. That we use the words 'true' and 'false' in connection with claims about the colors of things depends to a large degree on the fact that there are pretty effective ways of resolving the conflicts by pointing out certain things about the viewing circumstances of one of the disputants, and that there are practical benefits that flow from using truth-talk to get everyone to classify the same things as having the same colors. I think the same is true of shamefulness. So I think I am using the word ‘false’ in its normal sense when I claim that it is false that it is shameful to be gay. And my talk of falsity here brings with it a commitment to the idea that something is messing up the responses of the people who think it’s true.

So I don't think I would say that I "owe an argument that coherence with other norms, or perhaps with other putatively shameful things, suffices to rule out these responses as unfitting." At least I would deny this if doing so involves offering something like a theory of shamefulness, justified on grounds of coherence. I think that response-dependent notions don't yield to theorizing in that way. Of course, it is true that in some cases it is possible to offer some local consideration (local in the sense that it is relevant given the context, but doesn’t form the basis for sweeping generalizations) that should persuade people that a response is unfitting. Maybe that’s all you mean by ‘an argument’. For example, in the case of disgust, if we can tell a story about the coopting of the disgust mechanism in a community by a certain religion, which worked by explicitly associating members of other religions with genuinely disgusting things, then people might be expected to take their own disgust at members of that other religion as unfitting; or at least we, looking at things from outside, could be expected to do this. I could come up with an argument of this very weak sort; I would just mention some of the things that make it seem to me that being gay isn’t actually shameful. But I think you think I need to do more than this.

Okay, it is late here. Let me see if sleep brings any more clarity. If so, I’ll share it in the morning.

Thanks for the response, Josh. This is very interesting.

You write:

I could come up with an argument of this very weak sort; I would just mention some of the things that make it seem to me that being gay isn’t actually shameful.

That's exactly what I want to say. And you're right that I thought you needed to do more than that. Does the issue between us come down to whether you've really got a normality criterion here at all, rather than a correctness criterion?

Hi Brad,

Thanks for that. It sounds more than interesting. My general take on normativity also very strongly emphasizes the social aspect of not only morality, but rationality and all other normative and evaluative domains. Still, I think I might resist Calhoun's claim that shame is fitting for the agents you describe, at least in the sense of 'fitting' that makes it true that what is shameful is what is fitting to feel shame at doing. There are loads of other senses of 'fitting', of course, and the quote you put together suggests an important one. The reason I would resist your suggestion is that the way in which these agents might contest the particular standards could be by saying that it ISN'T shameful to X or Y. That claim is itself part of a social practice; the "talking about what is true and false" practice, which is also distorted when one fails to think of it as social. All of this is consistent with subordinated people still being - unless they are pathological - susceptible to a very understandable shame when people criticize them for having X-ed or Y-ed.

Hi Dan,

I don't think the normality/correctness distinction is really the issue between us - or anyway not the really important one. I've been using 'normal' and 'appropriate' and 'fitting' somewhat interchangably, because participants in the discussion know what role the term is meant to play in a certain claim: that what is shameful is what it is fitting/appropriate/normal to feel shame at having done. But of course there are other senses. In your precis, 'normal' sometimes meant 'statistically normal'. Still, sometimes it is a lot more apt to use 'fitting' or 'correct' than to use 'normal', and I've probably used 'normal' in some places in which it would have given a more accurate view of my position to have used 'fitting' or 'appropriate', since those terms connote something more like accuracy - which is my model, given the analogy with secondary qualities like color.

I am beginning to think that the real issue between us has to do with the concept of a reason. For me, when reasons do philosophical work in determining a normative status – like ‘morally permitted’ or ‘irrational’ – they do this by making systematic contributions to those statuses. That is, any given basic reason has a set of normative capacities – essentially, strength values – that it keeps from context to context, and contributes. Unless this or something very similar is the case, I’ve argued elsewhere (as has Selim Berker, in “Particular Reasons”), it becomes impossible to talk about the strength(s) or weight(s) of the reason even in a fixed context, so that explanatory appeals to how the reasons determine the status in the given case are empty. That is, unless reasons make systematic contributions to what is shameful, it isn’t explanatory to identify shamefulness with what there is reason to feel ashamed of. And I don’t think there are any considerations that make systematic contributions to shamefulness. Part of the point of the paper was to make this plausible, by reference to the quick-and-dirty nature of the emotions, and the contingent and pragmatic ways in which language-learning combines with the emotions to yield the extensions of the emotion-linked evaluative terms.

There is another sense of ‘reason’, which is perfectly fine, and which I think of as ‘something salient one might cite in trying to get someone to see things one’s way’. But the concept of this sort of reason cannot do much philosophical work. That is, if we think of reasons in this way, there isn’t a set of reasons of the relevant sort (shamefulness-relevant reasons, as it might be) that count in favor and against something’s being shameful. Rather, there is a practical skill – identifying something as shameful. And when two people exercise this skill in different ways, they can try to persuade each other to change their view by mentioning things that they found salient.

I discuss this more in section V of “Color Constancy and the Color/Value Analogy.”

Hi Dan and Justin,

It seems like we are coming closer and closer. That’s nice. But here is what I take to be a significant difference between our views.

As I understand your view, the reasons of fit are the ones that have to do with the focus of the emotion. And, as you say, 'much of the importance of questions about whether fear or shame are fitting in our sense hangs on what (and how) these emotions motivate'. But then I think that for your reasons of fit are really a subset of reasons for action. The fact that an action is shameful means that there is a certain kind of prima facie case to be made for acting as shame prompts. This prima facie case can be overridden by other reasons. Or there might be no such prima facie case, even though a different sort of case could be made for the same behavior. The latter is what is going on in the case you describe, in which concern about punishment motivates hiding one’s sexual preference. My view differs from yours in that I think that for some emotion-linked evaluative terms, on some occasions, no prima facie case at all is available for acting as the emotion prompts, even though the emotion is fitting, and the emotion-linked term applies.

I think you think the extensions of emotion-linked evaluative terms have simpler and more unified explanations that I do. I am happy to admit that the existence or non-existence of a prima facie case for acting as the emotion prompts, based in a conception of what the focus of the emotion is, will have some influence on the extension of the emotion-linked evaluative term. But I think that salient similarity to paradigm “rough and ready” triggers will have a similar effect on the extension too. And there will be other influences as well. If one views the extension of ‘admirable’ and tries to give an account of it without reference to admiration and when it is appropriate, I don’t think there’s any hope. But for you two, that isn’t right. Admiration has a motivational profile that allows you to come to a view as to what its focus is, and then you’ve got a conception of that focus which can do – you think – the work of explaining why certain things are admirable, and others aren’t. Of course, you wouldn’t have come up with that focus without thinking about admiration. But the description of the extension need not mention admiration, for you, once you’ve got ahold of what the focus is.

Probably I’ve distorted your view here somewhat. But I do think that I’m getting at a genuine difference between our views.

Hi Josh,

Sorry to be slow. I’m leaving tomorrow and have had to get a lot done today. It does seem like we agree about more than we thought. We thought that your talk of normal responses, and of whether emotional mechanisms are functioning properly, were an attempt to flesh out the notion of fittingness by appeal to notions that were distinct from correctness—trying to give an account of emotional correctness, or offer a substitute for it, in order to explain fittingness. It sounds from your penultimate like that was not your goal, at least for normality. Is the same true for function? It is now not clear to me what work function or normality do in your view. For instance when you say ‘fear is fitting in the relevant sense if it is produced by an emotional mechanism that is functioning properly and that produces fear because its object actually has the relevant markers’ I am not sure what the part about the emotional mechanism adds. Could you have simply said that fear is fitting when the object has the relevant markers?

Next, what are the relevant markers of the shameful and fearsome? We all agree that whatever there is to be said about this must be informed by the relevant emotion. So any account of shame’s ‘focus,’ or any interpretation of its appraisal as we would put it, in order to be adequate, will ultimately have to be informed by the kind of emotion shame is. But it’s true we hold out some hope that there may be a way of saying informative things about that appraisal all the same—things about which anyone subject to shame could be expected to agree, even if they disagree about what things are shameful—what things really possess the markers, so to speak. There is no a priori guarantee that there will be an informative way of describing such appraisals in terms other than ‘fearsome,’ ‘shameful’ and such. But there sometimes seems to be, and we try. Your latest seems pessimistic about that project. Is there nothing systematic to be said about these sorts of questions, beyond that what is shameful is what it is fitting to be ashamed of, on your view?

On the question you raise of whether there is always some (pro tanto) reason to do something (say, make reparations, or retaliate) whenever it is fitting to feel an emotion that motivates you to do that kind of thing (guilt, or anger), we are indeed inclined to say yes. So that is a point of disagreement. We have gone back and forth a bit on this question, and I don’t think the answer we now want to give is entailed by understanding fittingness in terms of reasons for anger or guilt etc.. Getting to reasons to act requires supplemental premises. They are controversial but seem plausible to me. But that is a topic for another time…

Anyway, thanks for the discussion, it has been very interesting. I look forward to more of them.

Hi Justin (and Dan),

I realize you are travelling, and won’t see this until next week, but here’s my response anyway.

You say that you and Dan thought my talk of normal responses, and of whether emotional mechanisms are functioning properly, was an attempt to flesh out the notion of fittingness by appeal to notions that were distinct from correctness—trying to give an account of emotional correctness, or offer a substitute for it, in order to explain fittingness.

You are right that I was not trying to analyze emotional correctness in terms of anything like evolutionarily proper functioning. My focus is more linguistic. My appeal to evolutionary considerations was meant to suggest that the set of things that elicit the responses on which processes of language-learning operate is going to diverge pretty significantly from the set of things that provide the basis for a prima facie case for acting as the emotion prompts. As I result, it seemed to me extremely plausible that the extension of the emotion-linked evaluative term would diverge from any set that could be explained in terms of special set of practical reasons. That is the basis for my skepticism about your view and other views that attempt to solve the WKR problem. My view of when a response counts as fitting or correct is taken from Pettit, as I note in the paper.

You ask whether I could simply have said that fear is fitting when the object has the relevant markers, omitting reference to the proper functioning of an emotional mechanism. I believe that when I wrote the sentence to which you refer in asking this question, I had the following thought in mind: it isn’t fitting to be afraid of something when one is not even aware that it has the relevant markers. So just having the markers isn’t enough.

You say that you and Dan ‘hold out some hope that there may be a way of saying informative things about that appraisal all the same—things about which anyone subject to shame could be expected to agree, even if they disagree about what things are shameful’. I agree with something very much like this. That is, my account explains why people can be expected to agree that when one feels shame, one feels like doing such and so sorts of things: things for which a prima facie case could be made, if the object of their shame really had (which it might or might not) the characteristics that are the focus of the emotion. It would not be at all surprising that they would also largely agree to something like the following: that it feels as if there are good reasons for acting in that way. If they say that, I think they are sometimes wrong.

You ask whether I think there is anything systematic to be said about the focus of an emotion. Yes, as I mention in the paper, I think that evolutionary theory might explain why we have certain emotions: because we need quick-and-dirty responses to certain kinds of situations. In characterizing those situations, one specifies the focus of the emotion. What I deny is that there is anything like a direct line from an account of such a focus and the extension of the related emotion-linked evaluative term. That’s why I say that ‘the focus of an emotion is both more objective, and of more remote and theoretical interest’. What I am pessimistic about is a systematic account of the extension of emotion-linked evaluative terms.

Thanks again, to both of you, for your attention to my paper. It is very interesting to me that we are as close as we are, and I think we’ve narrowed down the sources of our disagreement pretty well. I also very much hope we can continue these discussions later – or, indeed, sooner rather than later.

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