• [Required] Martha Nussbaum (2004). Emotions as Judgments of Value and Importance. In Robert C. Solomon (ed.) Thinking about Feeling: Contemporary Philosophers on Emotions. Oxford University Press. HKU intranet
  • [Required] Lau (2007). The nature of emotions - Comments on Martha Nussbaum's Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions.


  • What are emotions? How are they related to thoughts and rationality?
  • Are there universal emotions, or are emotions culturally specific?
  • What is the best way of studying emotions? Philosophical / sociological / psychological approaches.

Emotions as feelings

  • James Lange theory - emotions are perceptions of bodily changes. See extract.

@Without the bodily states following on the perception, the latter would be purely cognitive in form, pale, colorless, destitute of emotional warmth.@


  1. Seems to leave out the intentional elements of emotions. When I am angry and my heart beats, I am not angry at my heart.
  2. The packaging problem
    • Which package of feelings constitutes an emotion? e.g. shivering from the cold, muscle spasm.
    • It does not seem to be the case that each type of emotion corresponds to a distinctive type of bodily feeling.
  3. Are bodily feelings necessary?
    • Disembodied agents with emotions? "And the Lord's anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness for forty years." Numbers 32:13
    • Paralysis after spinal-cord injury does not diminish emotions.
      • Reisenzein (1983)
      • Cobos P, Sanchez M, Perez N, et al. (2004). Effects of spinal cord injuries on the subjective component of emotions. Cognition and emotion, 18, 2, 281-287. Abstract:

@Responses to a structured interview by 19 patients with spinal cord injuries (SCI) (7 women and 12 men) concerning their past (pre-injury) and present emotions were analysed and compared with responses by 19 SCI-free controls matched for sex, age, and education. In addition, subjects assessed the valence and arousal of 10 pleasant, 10 neutral, and 10 unpleasant pictures selected from the International Affective Picture System. The results indicate that there is no decrease in emotional experience among individuals with SCI compared with those without. For all the emotional scales (joy, love, sentimentalism, positive emotions as a whole, fear, anger, sadness, and negative emotions as a whole) the SCI group always showed either no change or an increase; this increase was significantly higher in SCI than in control subjects for sadness.@

Cognitivist theories

  • Emotions are cognitive states / propositional attitudes - judgements, beliefs, cognitive evaluations.
  • Nussbaum's theory: Emotions are personal judgments of value.
    • judgment of value - that something is good / bad.
    • personal judgment - these are judgments about values that I care about.

@I do not go about fearing any and every catastrophe anywhere in the world, nor (so it seems) do I fear any and every catastrophe that I know to be bad in important ways. What inspires fear is the thought of damages impending that cut to the heart of my own cherished relationships and projects.@

Typical objections

  1. Emotions should be studied empirically, not through conceptual analysis.
  2. Some emotions do not have objects, e.g. depression.
  3. Emotional responses to imagination do not involve judgments, e.g. fiction.
  4. The intensity of emotions can be divorced from our evaluative judgments, e.g. grief, fear.
  5. Animals have emotions, but are they capable of making judgments of the required kind?
  6. Reflex emotions do not involve higher cognitive states, e.g. fear
    • Fear trigger→thalamus→amygdala→sub-cortical structures→autonomic, hormonal responses→motor changes

Image linked from

Replies to these objections

  • More fine grained analysis of the cognitive states. (non-transparent object, oscillating judgments ... e.g. Necker cube)
  • Distinguish between higher and lower cognitive states.
  • Distinguish between real judgments and near-judgments. (See visual illusions)
  • Distinguish between emotions and emotional feelings.

Occurrent thoughts and mental imagery

  • Jackendoff: Thoughts are not conscious, but we are indirectly aware of them through mental imagery. See LOTAndNaturalLanguage.
  • Implications for cognitivism - Emotions are never conscious. What we are conscious of are emotional feelings, which are different.