“Are Emotional Feelings Perceptual?” (In progress)

In his "Origins of Objectivity" (2010), Tyler Burge describes in some detail what he takes to be the lower border of mental representation. On the non-representational side of this border lie mere bio-functional sensory registrations of information. Although such registrations are caused by environmental impingements on the organism's sensory surfaces (and are capable of guiding adaptive behaviors), they lack non-trivial veridicality conditions: no explanatory purpose is served by viewing them as accurately or inaccurately representing anything. On the representational side of the border, prior to thoughts with propositionally structured contents, lie sense perceptions properly so-called. Such states are produced by processes that take sensory registrations as initial inputs, but subsequently utilize perceptual constancies - capacities for objectification inferable from the organism's behavior - to produce representations of a mind-independent, perspective-independent reality. Such states have accuracy conditions that are more specific than the conditions of biological success that help to explain capacities for sensory registration. I believe that this way of distinguishing between sensory registration and sense perception has much to recommend it. However, Burge does not address the question of whether emotional feelings should be viewed as mere sensory registrations or whether, on the contrary, they might qualify as perceptually representational. In this paper I begin to answer this question by considering how Jesse Prinz's (2004) perceptual theory of emotion fares under Burge's framework. I argue that, despite the apparent disanalogies between perception and emotion, and despite the stringency of Burge's view of perception, there are at least three ways in which emotional feelings (as Prinz conceives of them) could qualify as perceptual within Burge's framework: one autonomously and two intermodally.

Edited versions of this paper-in-progress have been (or will be) presented at the Emotions In Language, Culture, and Cognition workshop at the ICL in Geneva Switzerland, Summer 2013, and at the Wisconsin Philosophical Association Conference in Madison, WI, April 2014.


“On Knowing How I Feel About That: A Process Reliabilist Approach” (In progress)

Experimental psychologists routinely presume that subjects can reliably report both the types of their emotional states and the objects, events, or situations at which those states are directed. Yet philosophical discussions of self-knowledge have almost entirely ignored the question of the conditions on which such a presumption might be justified, focusing instead on the conditions of self-knowledge of one's propositional attitudes, where constitutivist analyses can plausibly compete with process-reliabilist ones. I have previously argued that constitutivism cannot provide an adequate analysis of what I here call "affect-direction knowledge": knowledge of one's emotional state, and of what one's emotional state is about. In this paper, I begin to develop a process-reliabilist analysis of such knowledge that is loosely modeled after similar analyses of noninferential perceptual knowledge. I find, however, that the complexity of "directed affect" significantly complicates the analysis of affect-direction knowledge, and the disanalogies between perception and introspection pinpoint areas where further empirical and conceptual research is needed before the psychological presumption of such self-knowledge can adequately be justified.

A preliminary version of this paper was presented as a Symposium paper at the 2013 Central Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association.


”To Blend or To Compose: A Debate About Emotion Structure“ (Invited contribution to Wilson, P. A. (ed.), Dynamicity in Emotion Concepts. Lodz: Studies in Language, Volume 27. Frankfurt a. Main: Peter Lang, pp. 73-94, 2012)

Note: because this book is currently unavailable in many libraries, and its chapters are not yet in the usual online databases, I've made my contribution available here.

An ongoing debate in the philosophy of emotion concerns the relationship between two prima facie aspects of emotional states. The first is affective: typically felt and/or motivational. The second, which I call object-identifying, represents whatever the emotion is about or directed towards. "Componentialists" - such as R. S. Lazarus, Jesse Prinz, and Antonio Damasio - assume that an emotion's object-identifying aspect can have the same representational content as a non-emotional state, and that the two aspects are dissociable. Some further hold that emotions have no object-identifying aspects of their own, and can properly be said to be about particular situations only in virtue of their associations with other mental states. By contrast, "blenderists" - such as Peter Goldie, York Gunther, and Matthew Ratcliffe - insist that the two aspects are indissociable: the affective aspect "infuses" the object-identifying aspect, and as a result the latter's representational content cannot possibly be the same as any non-emotional state's. I argue that the strongest blenderist arguments fail to rule out plausible componentialist alternatives, and that the blenderists' broader motivations are orthogonal to structural issues.

An edited version of this paper was presented at the 2012 Mid-Winter Meeting of the Society for Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology.


“Direction, Causation, and Appraisal Theories of Emotion” (Philosophical Psychology, Vol. 22, No. 2, April 2009)

Appraisal theories of emotion tend to accept the relatively uncontroversial view that emotions are "directed at" objects, events or situations. However, they also tend to presuppose that emotions are normally directed at the contents of the mental representations that triggered them, the corollary being that one need only retrace an emotion's triggering process to determine its direction. I argue that this "retracing view" is too narrow, and that appraisal theorists should consider the contrary thesis that emotional direction is the product of two functionally distinct sub-processes. The first ("affect-causation") produces states with motivational - and perhaps representational - properties on the basis of certain triggering representations. The second ("affect-direction") usefully guides those motivational properties by associating them with representations whose contents might be quite dissimilar from those of the triggering representations'. By provisionally adopting this "independence thesis" and empirically investigating affect-direction as closely as they have investigated affect-causation, appraisal theorists could open up a promising new field of research.


“Constitutivism, Belief, and Emotion” (dialectica 62:4 December 2008)

Constitutivists about one's cognitive access to one's mental states often hold that for any rational subject S and mental state M falling into a specified range of types, if S believes that she has M, then S has M. Some argue that such a principle applies to beliefs about all types of mental state. Others are more cautious, but neither clearly delineate the principle's range, nor explain why it should be restricted at all. In this paper I argue that the principle is plausible when M is a belief, but not when M is an emotion, leaving open the issue of whether it applies to other mental state types. I account for the asymmetry between belief and emotion by focusing on differences in the commitments they conceptually involve, and then briefly sketch out a psychological explanation of those differences. I conclude that one can reasonably split one's epistemological loyalties between constitutivism regarding meta-beliefs and non-constitutivism regarding beliefs about one's emotions.

An early, edited version of this paper, entitled "Constitutivism and Knowing One's Emotional State", was presented at the 2005 Pacific Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association.


Genetic Enhancement and Parental Obligation” (Philosophy in the Contemporary World 14:2 Fall 2007)

In From Chance To Choice (2000), Buchanan, Brock, Daniels, and Wikler argue that parents can be morally obligated to procure genetic treatments for their intended child, but stop short of arguing that they are ever obligated to procure genetic enhancements for it, even though some enhancements might be permissible. By contrast, Heyd argues in Genethics (1992) that while parents can be obligated to procure enhancements (as well as treatments) for their intended child, they are so obligated only if the intervention would not alter the child's personal identity. In this paper I take the case for enhancement a step further by arguing on deontological principles that parents can be morally obligated to procure genetic enhancements for their intended child, regardless of whether the intervention would alter the child's personal identity.

An edited version of this paper, entitled "A Parental Obligation to Genetically Enhance Intended Children in 'Same Number' Cases", was presented at the 2007 Wisconsin Philosophical Association annual meeting at St. Norbert's College.


“A Puzzle About Emotion, Perception, and Rationality” (Presented at the 2007 Pacific Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association)

Two overlapping strands of recent work in the philosophy of emotion present a prima facie puzzle. The first recognizes that emotions are properly evaluated in terms of their rationality. The second holds that types of emotion are literally kinds of perception. When one tries to weave these strands together, a puzzle is generated by the fact that perceptions are generally held not to be evaluable in terms of their rationality, on the grounds that such normative assessment requires a responsible subject, and subjects are not responsible for their perceptions. In his book Gut Feelings: A Perceptual Theory of Emotion (2004), Jesse Prinz accepts these grounds but tries to weave the strands together anyway. I argue in this paper that the solution he offers to the puzzle is, at best, incomplete, but that his theory of emotion contains the resources necessary for a more adequate solution.