Thursday, 14 June 2018

Shadows of the Soul: Philosophical Perspectives on Negative Emotions

This post is by Fabrice Teroni, Associate Professor in philosophy at the University of Geneva, and Christine Tappolet, Full Professor in philosophy at the University of Montreal.

Try to name as many types of positive emotions as you can. Now do the same for negative emotions. You will probably agree with the often-heard claim that the vocabulary we have at our disposal is especially rich for negative emotions: we distinguish between sadness, fear, disgust, regret, remorse, despair, resentment, indignation, contempt, jealousy, hatred, etc. Many of our everyday discussions turn around these negative emotions, aiming at a better understanding of their causes and moderation of their sometimes devastating effects.

That being said, we harbor ambivalent attitudes towards negative emotions; we do not always undergo them reluctantly, for instance. Not only do we think that some situations or objects merit negative emotions, but we also actively pursue them—the aim of many recreational and artistic activities is to elicit fear, and we sometimes enjoy undergoing emotions such as anger and disgust. So, if we do often try to get rid of negative emotions, we certainly do not aim at a purely positive affective life, a life whose interest and coherence can itself be questioned. Indeed, the interest and depth of episodes of satisfaction and joy often appear to be enhanced by the negative emotions to which we are prone.

Moreover, is it not difficult, perhaps even incoherent, to attribute the sorts of attachments to values (justice, generosity, friendship), persons and institutions that prove so central in our self-conception to an individual deprived of negative affect? What would remain of a sense of justice if we lacked the disposition to be outraged when confronted with a blatant injustice?

Shadows of the Soul is the first volume to consider negative emotions as a topic of philosophical study in its own right. It gathers fourteen original contributions (approx. 5000 words each) written by experts in the field and aimed at a non-specialist audience. These articles allow the reader to explore the diversity and complexity of negative emotions, as well as some of the fascinating philosophical issues they raise. The book opens with the exploration of the most fundamental amongst these issues: what makes an emotion negative, and how does the existence of negative emotions affect philosophical approaches to the emotions?

Next, it explores the role of negative emotions in imaginative resistance – the fact that we have a hard time imagining evaluative contents that contradict our convictions (e.g., that killing girls at birth is a good thing) – and in emotional ambivalence – how should we explain the fact that we often have negative and positive attitudes towards a given event? Is this irrational? Beyond these broad theoretical issues, the study of any negative emotion raises a variety of more specific but no less important questions.

The remainder of the contributions allow the reader to explore a fair share of them: the nature of being moved, negative existential feelings, nausea and its relation to aesthetic properties, the distinctive relation between disgust and stench, the value of anxiety, the rationality of grief, the moral standing of shame and contempt, the role of negative emotions in racism, and the irrationality of jealously.  Our hope is that the volume showcases both the intrinsic interest of exploring negative emotions as well  as its potential impact on theorizing about the emotions, which must give due attention to the richness and complexity of our affective lives.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Poetry, Philosophy and Mental Health

Lynn-Marie Harper participated in the Philosophy of Mind workshop series for people with various interests in, and experiences of, mental health that Project PERFECT ran in partnership with Mind in Camden in the autumn of 2017. 

Here, she shares some of her poetry. She has always written but started to share her poetry when taking workshops with the poet, novelist and confidence inspiring tutor Aoife Mannix in 2010. Some of the poems below are a direct response to the philosophy workshops, and some address life-experience more generally.

The two poems I presented at Conway Hall at the conference on our last meeting of the Philosophy of Mind course were both written during the workshop series. The first, ‘Rocking the Foundations” was written initially as a response to an assignment on metaphor set by a poetry class tutor, Poet Philosopher Alan Murray.

It served a purpose beyond the assignment though in that I could express my feelings and reactions to a longstanding and ongoing situation involving the house I live in, in what sounds like an exaggerated form, however there was truth lingering within it and hence I could present it as it uses the language of mental distress to describe feelings elicited by movement and deficiencies in building structure.

Rocking the Foundations

The overwhelm elicited by cracking walls
coving covering not only fissures but fear

Doorjambs jamming against doors
hearing voices telling truths and lies in split partitions

Mania in moments of discovery
of uneven floors, ill fitting windows

Party walls suffering from personality disorders
reflecting back onto the experiencing entity’s sanity

In anxious episodes, ceilings and skirtings
intact, subsidence heaving with panic

Gaping crevasses only imagined in manic hysteria
paranoia of costs and sectioning, in both senses

Looking to each in despair, depression
creeping along fault lines, foundations undermined

November 2017

The second poem, Or Should I say……… was written immediately I returned home from the last session of the course in response to the question Sophie asked about what impact the course had and I answered in an image ridden poem, which is that it became increasingly evident that we are all on a continuum between mental illness and wellness, both individually and as a greater society of seeming parts, the communal I, we, in fact, all of us, together. It’s a very relieving recognition…

Or should I say……………

Across a broad continuum I float on the sea of dreams
Or should I say I paddle in a round boat of my own seeming making
which I realise is not my own at all but part of that big picture of oneness
or should I say we float, we paddle, we live, we are,
and that we ness, we we weness is all we are waiting for
for the ship to re arrest us as we glide motionless on the sea of expectation

dreams have turned, become some other some else, something nightmarish,
coated in overwhelm sweetened with saccharinous jargon and vicious labelling
overladen with yellow light and electrical voltage, imaged accordingly

Its so simple really. We are all on this continuum, we and all, on and are
arranged in an order that tells of despair and easy reckoning
we look at each other and say we, we talk of how it has been, what we’ve done

thought, felt and name it I. It is the one I, we, and we move along the conveyor belt
at different speeds and in varied configurations but none is left out of this vast continuum
we are all more or less ill, more or less well and at last it is recognised for what it is.

December 14th 2017