Archive for November, 2010

“Philosophy is the thinking spirit in world history.”

Hegel’s rejection of a doxographical approach to the history of philosophy is rejecting that the history of philosophy can be described as a summary of opinions. The history of philosophy can be said to have started with the doxographical work of Diogenes Laertius who wrote biographical work on Greek philosophers. It is specifically this approach that Hegel is arguing against. He argues that the history of philosophy should be taken logically and not chronologically.

Doxography is a collection of thoughts or Ideas and similar matters of past philosophers. Philosophy embodies the spirit of reason of the philosopher from which further ideas are developed. Philosophy aims to try to uncover the truth but philosophy is enriched in a historical perspective. Historical literature is a point of reference from that “which has at one time existed”. There cannot be a number of truths which are all true, truth is eternal and the philosophers of times past have all tried to establish truth through reason. This paradox is criticised by Hegel who claims that each philosopher is speaking in terms of their historical perspective, that is, they are embodying history.

Truth is not something established in philosophical literature, truth is an endless succession of philosophies claiming what they believe to be the truth. It is impossible to overcome the historical context in which philosophical literature is saturated. As such, we can look at philosophical literature in a new way.

The history of philosophy shows a succession of thought and reason which wholly speaks of Truth, reasoned knowledge and other matters. Personality and character are not of importance in the historical context for Hegel. For Hegel an Idea exists in and for itself. This essay aims at showing Hegel’s overcoming of the doxographical approach to the history of philosophy and discusses the various problems with studying the history of philosophy.

Hegel’s Philosophy of History is based on world history. Hegel thought that world history represents the development of consciousness, the development of spirit’s consciousness of its freedom and the actualisation produced by that consciousness.

Hegel believed that all historical developments have three basic characteristics. First, they follow a course that is necessary, that is, they could not have happened in any other way. To understand a historical development in any area of human thought or activity, we must see why it happened as it did. Second, each historical development represents not only change but also development. Third, Hegel argued that one phase of any historical development tends to be confronted and replaced by its opposite.

Through the literature of philosophy we can see an “unfolding” of spirit. He describes Ideas in philosophy as the “spinning” of one opinion out of another. An opinion is subjective and it is also universal. Philosophy contains no opinions. “Philosophy is the objective science of truth, it is science of necessity, conceiving knowledge and neither opinion nor the spinning out of opinions.” Hegel speaks of conviction being opinion. Personal conviction is the “ultimate and absolute essential which reason and its philosophy, from a subjective point of view, demand in knowledge.” He distinguishes conviction further in that it may rest on personal feelings, speculations and perceptions. These are purely subjective and Hegel sees them as opinions. Conviction can also refer to the particular nature of the subject, “and when it rests on thought proceeding from acquaintance with the Notion and nature of the thing.” In everyday life we create opinions but there is a matter of universality of those opinions in context. Hegel describes this is a matter of the universal categories of the spirit.

There is no question in one’s opinion, it is what it is, it is about the things which we find around us. “The universal spirit develops within itself in accordance with its own necessity; its opinion is simply the truth.” History considers singulars and philosophy considers universals.

Hegel’s view was that the world was in the process of development. The philosopher has thousand years of literature to draw from. This inevitably broadens ones world view and is seen clearly, or inconspicuously embedded in their thought and development. Ideas such as liberty and equality can be seen in philosophies developed during the French Revolution. Hegel saw the philosophers of the time embodying or being manifestations of the world spirit or the Absolute. There can only be one philosophy according to Hegel, we must consider the relation of different philosophies to the one philosophy. We can look at the development of the different aspects of the one philosophy, but in essence it is the one philosophy whether it speaks of God, nature, language or revolution. The different philosophies come into consciousness of themselves thus it is in succession and development out of one another. We can see how: “Philosophy in any case always comes on the scene too late… when philosophy points grey on grey then has a shape of life growing old. Philosophy grey on grey cannot be rejuvenated but only understood. The owl on Minerva spreads its wings only with the telling of the dusk.”

Charles Taylor comments on Hegel: “Contemporaries…earn a right to enter the dialogue because they happen to offer good formulations of one or another position which is worthy of a hearing.” He says that philosophy and the history of philosophy is one and the same thing, as believed by Hegel. You cannot do philosophy without doing the second. “It is essential to an adequate understanding of certain problems, questions, issues, that one understands them genetically.”

By doing philosophy, we inevitably recover previous philosophies, “precisely the ones we need to give an account of the origins of our present thoughts, beliefs, assumptions and actions.”

Hegel gives a coherent narrative to a historical approach to the history of philosophy although it may not be legitimate. Hegel gives structure to the history of philosophy and connects philosophy and the history of philosophy. He also speaks of who to include in the history of philosophy. However, Hegel has been criticised as being too deterministic and too formulistic. His system was viewed as being the “end” both of history and of philosophy. There is no possibility of going back to material in historical texts for they are redundant. We have evolved from them and if they were fundamentally wrong, they do not qualify as Reason for it is only through Reason that we can try to uncover Truth. Hegel is also criticised as being too dependent on the notion of spirit.

In Coppleston’s On the History of Philosophy, we see a description of “outstanding” philosophers whose succession may be unnecessary for the description of their philosophy. This does not have an impact on individual’s living outside of the thinker’s age or culture. Coppleston suggests it is because such thinkers expressed possible ways of seeing the world and man’s place in it and it is not relevant to individuals living outside it. Hegel described the end of history as the final reconciliation of the Idea with its self, that is, that the history that knows its self. History is understood by Hegel as the movement of spirit toward the attainment of self-consciousness. To comprehend world history as a progress of the consciousness of spirit, it is necessary to get at a conceptual grasp of the three constitutive elements, that of Idea of spirit; the means of actualization; the state as the final and perfect embodiment of spirit. Reason guides history and is singular. Reason is a humanistic approach and the “divine element of man”. Philosophy is reason apprehending itself in thinking, bringing itself into consciousness so that it becomes an object in itself or knows itself in the form of thought. There is only one way of thinking, one reason and therefore one philosophy. He comments on a lot of attempts of philosophy being insignificant in the whole of philosophy, as there are few thinkers who truly philosophize and are worthy of mention.

Philosophy at one time had been religiously orientated. This religious orientation has an impact on our understanding of truth and we must make the distinction between religion and philosophy. That being said, it is incredibly difficult to define religion. The fact that a document is considered “religious” is irrelevant if it presents a conclusion to a philosophical argument it is necessary. We can define what is “religiously oriented philosophy” which is essentially philosophy and “religious beliefs which are the expression of faith” resting on what is deemed to be “divine revelation.” This is inconsistent as the historian respects the ideas of philosophy current at the time at which he is writing. The parting of mathematics from philosophy has not brought about the failure of mathematics; in fact it is nothing of the sort. As such, history for Hegel must be separated from philosophy, not to say that the historian cannot account for philosophy. The subject-matter of the historian of philosophy should be the historical development of philosophical thought. This implies that the doxographical approach is defective rather than valueless. The reference to philosopher’s intentions may be relevant to understanding their thought, although culture and personal details of their lives are not necessarily the best depictions of their intentions. If we look at De Beauvoir and Sartre – their personal lives have no ground for undermining their philosophical thought, especially De Beauvoir’s work on feminist theory. Kierkegaard attacked the Hegelian system of philosophy but that does not mean he is not a philosopher. Likewise, we do not need to know anything about Wittgenstein to read and evaluate his Tractatus, nor Spinoza’s Ethics. However the historical situation of the philosophers can be considered. The French enlightenment period and the French revolution have been linked. We can see conflicts between scientific and religions approaches in philosophical literature in the middle ages, but we do so in a prolonged manner. We can argue back and forth in an endless discussion. Take for example Descartes – he has been said to develop traditional concepts, however he gave them new meaning. An “ideal history” may reveal all the factors relevant to the development of philosophy but it is at the historian’s discretion. The historian is free to interpret what is relevant in our understanding of philosophical literature which is itself determined by the historical perspective. The historian chooses what is important enough and Hegel remarks that only a certain number of philosophers argue their point to be worthy of inclusion in the “succession of noble minds” that add up to what is philosophy. Hegel himself is an integral part of a philosophical movement taking this approach; that of absolute idealism. Diogenes Laertius chose to include anecdotes and stories of philosophers, stating various opinions of philosophers relying on secondary sources for information and interpretation. This for Hegel does not constitute the history of philosophy. Hegel claims that there is no past in philosophy, only present. Those who adhered to this was worthy of mention for Hegel. Descartes was mentioned in the history of philosophy. It can be said that it was his rejection of past philosophies that enabled this. There is no consensus about philosophies past and future accomplishments.

The “endless conversation” of philosophy helps us approach philosophy in an exciting way. Hegel clearly makes the distinction between philosophy and the philosophy of history. It makes philosophy a worthwhile discipline essential for development of human reason. He may be too deterministic in his approach but its merits outweigh its shortcomings. Philosophy being concerned with Thought which comprehends itself is concrete and is the self-comprehension of Reason. Reason tries to give existence a further determinacy. The concrete conceptions of reason transcend thought to philosophy, whereas opinions do not necessarily make it through this process and therefore do not merit mention in philosophy. This enables philosophy to rise above the history of philosophy as the history of philosophy discards nothing and is concerned with opinions. What it states at the beginning is still taken into account at the present; therefore it is nothing more than noting the succession of opinions of man. The history of philosophy is no less concerned with the present than the past.

We can take no interest in what is “dead and gone,” but we must understand what motivates the human spirit because without it there would be no discipline. Every philosophy must have appeared out of necessity. “All of them have comprehended the spirit of their own time in thought.”  Therefore earlier philosophies are unrepeated but we can see the “spinning” out of one Idea from another. Philosophy is not the succession of these ideas but the overall spirit of necessity of development – every philosophy is at least philosophy. We will see them as being very different to one another but the truth in them is the one in all of them. When we look in more detail we will see the merits in them but the differences arise by putting them in opposition to one another. Man consists of both universal and particular, thought and feeling. Truth is in both but they appear one after another in opposition to one another. We need to identify the principles of philosophical systems and to realise that each principle is necessary – because it is necessary it arises in its time as the highest principle. As such, the earlier principle is only an ingredient in the newer and further determined principle but it is not discarded, it is taken up into the new one. Whatever advances in Reason simply advances in Reason’s unity. Past or historical material is redundant, for we have developed from them. Hegel does not state that the study of history is of any less importance as studying any other discipline. If we are to study the history of philosophy in a meaningful way, we must be supportive of philosophy in understanding the development of the position of philosophical argument. Truth lies not in knowledge but in “presenting it with our own spirit.” It is only through thought that we can get an understanding of what is meant by Truth.


  • Coppleston, F. On the History of Philosophy, Search Press Ltd. London, 1979
  • Hegel, G. Introduction to the Lectures on the History of Philosophy, trans. T. M. Knox and A. V.
  • Miller, Oxford University Press, New York, 1985.
  • Hegel, G. Philosophy of Right. Oxford University Press, New York, trans. T. M. Knox. 1967
  • Houlgate, S. The Hegel Reader, Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Oxford, 1998
  • Kelley D. R. History and/or Philosophy, in J. B. Schneewind (ed.), Teaching New Histories of Philosophy (Princeton N. J.: University Centre for Human Values, 2004), 345–59.
  • Lepenies W. Interesting Questions in the History of Philosophy and elsewhere, Philosophy in History: Essays on the historiography of philosophy, ed. Rorty, Schreewind and Skinner, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1984 p. 141-171.
  • Lewis, J. History of Philosophy, English Universities Press, London, 1962.
  • Mash, R. How Important for Philosophers is the History of Philosophy? History and Theory, Vol. 26, No. 3 Oct., 1987, pp. 287-299.
  • Taylor, C. Philosophy and its History, Philosophy in History: Essays on the historiography of philosophy, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1984. p. 17-48.

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Aristotle develops the Doctrine of the Mean in Book II of the Nicomachean Ethics (NE). The mean is not an arithmetical mean, but a point on a scale between two extreme dispositions which represent the excess and deficiency of a virtuous trait. Aristotle distinguishes between two types of virtue, intellectual virtues which involves choice, knowing a situation and what it demands, but moral virtues refers to that which comes from character. A virtue is something which is learned through practice. Aristotle discusses a table of virtues which outlines on a scale the virtuous traits. To each of these he describes the effects of excesses or deficiencies of the traits. The mean relates specifically to moral virtues.

When Aristotle states that the mean comes from moral virtue, the mean is not in the middle of two states. To use the example of courage which is a moral virtue, it is not located directly between rashness and cowardice. The courageous person is not in a fixed position between the two; he acts in accordance to the mean as the situation demands. In essence, it is the capability of acting the right way at the right time. The mean may be nearer to one extreme than to the other, or seems nearer because of our natural tendencies. The mean acts as a guide to moral action. Aristotle states the importance of moral virtues. It is necessary to live in a morally virtuous way to achieve life in eudaimon.

Eudaimonia is often equated with happiness. It is the highest state of being, lived by the morally virtuous outlined by Aristotle. This essay will discuss Aristotle’s mean and argue that the mean is a useful guide to moral action. While the practicality of the mean may have its faults, Aristotle’s contribution to ethical theory gives us insight into a higher state of being of an individual opposed to unvirtuous state of beings. (Table 1 below illustrates some of the key virtues outlined in NE)

Eudaimonia is often translated as “happiness” identified with living in a morally virtuous state. Identifying life in eudaimon is subjective as an individual who lives in accordance to moral virtues cannot be wrong in estimating whether they are happy. Living life engaged in physical pleasure is not virtuous. Physical pleasures and wealth deceive us into unvirtuous activities and behaviours. With the Doctrine of the Mean, Aristotle guides toward living a morally virtuous life through morally virtuous activities. We cannot become consumed in physical pleasure and Aristotle suggests that it is a human tendency to become consumed by it. To develop a virtuous character one must avoid the extreme which is more contrary to the mean.1 We must notice the errors into which we ourselves are liable to fall and we must, in every situation, guard especially against pleasure and pleasant things because we are not impartial judges of pleasure. By following these guidelines we shall have the best chance of hitting the mean. Pleasure is not a happy life although Aristotle does not deny that it is a part of the happy life. A life consumed by pleasure is not a happy life as the human being is not using their faculty of reason.

Aristotle describes the differences between classes in that people of a lower class may aspire to achieve happiness through pleasure as pleasure is more difficult to attain than a more „cultured‟ class of people. This ties into Aristotle‟s notion of contemplation being the highest virtue of man, described in Book X. He goes on to explain that moral qualities are destroyed by deficiencies and excesses but preserved by the mean. Pleasure induces us to behave badly and pain to shrink from fine actions. Outlined briefly are three factors that make for choice: the fine, the advantageous and the pleasant. Three factors that make for avoidance are: the base, the harmful and the painful. To be virtuous one must act in a certain state. One must know what he or she is doing; choose it and choose it for its own sake; and do it from a fixed and permanent disposition. “Man becomes just by the performance of just.”  The best mean is one which is relative to us.

Aristotle goes on to state that the mean is relative to the object. The mean relative to us is not exactly clear and this further distinction of the mean relative to the object needs further clarification in terms of guiding moral action. The mean relative to an object involves an evaluative element. Aristotle previously states the mean as existing on a continuum of excess and deficiency. Bringing in this “evaluative element” allows us to see that the mean is relative to us. The mean is not generalized as a specific course of action to follow in order to act morally.Morals cannot by any means be reduced to a set of universal principles. The “Good” is something that which “all things aim”.  The good is the highest of all practical goods and is achieved through a mean.

Loosely translated, Eudaimonia refers to an ultimate happiness state. “Ordinary” people identify the “Good” with pleasure or money. „Cultured‟ people identify the “Good” with honour. Honour is seen as the goal of political life. The “happy” man is one who “is active in accordance with complete virtue, and who is adequately furnished with external goods, and that not for some unspecified period but throughout a complete life.” To evaluate “good” Aristotle uses the example of a “good” eye should see correctly, it fulfills its purpose.

That is not to say that fulfillment can be equated with ultimate purpose. A “good” should be an end in itself. Human goodness can be equated with human rationality as rationality is said to be a unique quality of humans. A clever person knows the best means to any end. A wise person knows for which ends are worth striving. On the path to virtue, the individual must know what they are doing, choose it and choose it for its own sake and do it from a fixed and permanent position. The individual must have the right feelings at the right time on the right grounds towards the right people for the right motive and in the right way. “It’s easy to be angry, but to be angry at the right time, for the right reason, at the right person and in the right intensity must truly be brilliant.”We can see that Aristotle’s Doctrine of the mean acts as a useful guide to moral action. The merits that the mean gives rise to outweigh the criticisms. It suggests to us that the “good” life consists of an individually acting morally in everyday life to each and every situation. If the courageous individual were to act with the same courageous convictions in every situation, the individual cannot be said to be acting in the mean. Some situations demand the courageous person to act less or more courageous. Aristotle acknowledges this in the doctrine of the mean which other branches of Ethics disregard. We can compare this to Kant‟s argument with the position that one must adherently follow moral duty. The individual may not flourish in their intellectual capacities and evaluate the situation.



http://www.anus.com/zine/articles/draugdur/golden_mean/. Accessed 07/03/105Referenceshttp://www.anus.com. (n.d.). Retrieved March 7, 2010, from http://www.anus.com/zine/articles/draugdur/golden_mean/

Hursthouse, R. (2006). The Central Doctirine of the Mean. In R. Kraut, Blackwell Guide to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (pp. 96-115). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Kenny, A. (1978).The Aristotelian Ethics. Oxford: Clarendon Press Ltd

Thomson, J. A. K. (1976). Aristotle’s Ethics. Penguin Books Ltd. 1976

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A lot has been said on emotion theory in psychological literature. There is an emerging trend however, that it may be wholly unfeasible to generate a satisfactory account of what emotion actually is with traditional cognitivist accounts of mind. The problem of emotion is certainly an issue that has been the main focus of philosophers, psychologists and other natural scientists for quite some time. Griffiths (1997) proposed that the term ‘emotion’ is scientifically redundant, as we refer to so many different processes and components when we refer to emotion; perhaps the term should be replaced with the specific process of the emotional experience we refer to, such as appraisal, motivational aspects, valence, intensity and so forth. However, with emotion touching practically every aspect of our lives, and the relevance of phenomenological research becoming apparent, emotion may now be a problem to which we can contribute many important and interesting insights. Emotion will certainly be a contentious issue for the foreseen future, but for now we can hope to find some meaningful insights from contemporary trends in psychological and philosophical approaches to mind. Lewis (2005) also makes a very interesting point, in that psychological theory tends to gravitate to a level of description that is subordinate, global and functional; and this makes it difficult to form true explanations.

While philosophy has focused on the qualitative aspects of emotion, much of psychology has focused on empirical investigations. Current trends are noticing that emotion consists of intrinsically qualitative features that have been previously overlooked (Lewis, 2005; Colombetti, 2005; Slaby, 2007). As a result, there is a heated debate between theorists over what emotion might actually be. For this piece I am going to focus on the qualitative aspects of emotion while trying to remain aware of the criticisms of all that a qualitative approach entails. We must also realise that there may not be one thing to which we can refer to as an emotion, given its qualitative nature.

Most theories of human emotion are deficient in terms of phenomenological adequacy (Slaby, 2007). An important phenomenological term in emotion research is ‘intentionality’. Intentionality has been defined by Slaby (2007) as the mind’s capacity to be directed at something beyond itself. This is not a purely cognitive process, but constitutively feeling-involved in the sense that the feeling body is taking part in a world-directed activity. From this instance, emotions are experiences of significance. This relies on a bodily sensitivity to the world which is an integral part of our experience of the world. In this we can see that the concept is inextricably linked with embodiment. This alludes to the point of seeing emotion as a sense-making activity of an organism and its world.

Emotions and feelings are seen as overlapping concepts. For the purposes of this piece, I will make a very general distinction between the two, although research is quite divided on where the two concepts overlap. A predominant issue is that the two overlap on a number of levels, and it is at this level at which I wish to discuss, not necessarily the differences between them.

From this point, feelings are seen as intentional as they are not just directed at one’s body and its physiological changes, but also at the world beyond the body. Slaby (2007) distinguishes two categories of feeling, but here I am concerned with encompassing the important aspects which generally concern emotional experience; not neglect crucial aspects of feelings in emotion.

Intentionality, taken from the definition described above can be described as a ‘feeling toward’ activity. This has been discussed extensively in Goldie’s (2005) review of the feeling body. This concept can be seen as an awareness of significant events, situations or objects in the emotors environment. This is supported by empirical studies where even the outline of an actual object was enough to elicit an emotion in the individual (Lewis, 2005). In this, it can be argued that the felt body is resonating in specific ways that disclose the subjective significance of the event perceived (for example, an outline or image of a spider will not elicit the same emotional response in each individual, it would be expected that an individual with arachnophobia would elicit a different response in physiological and phenomenological ways). Emotional content of perception presents the world as being a certain way for the emotor.

There seems to be an emerging consensus that cognitivist views of emotion are entirely insufficient (Lewis 2005; Colombetti & Thompson 2005; Slaby 2007 and others). For many, cognitivist theories of emotion fail to make clear what is specific about emotions that distinguish them from non-emotional judgements of significance. Slaby (2007) and Goldie (2005) argue that this is due to an over-intellectualisation of the processes of perception. In doing so, aspects of human experience are getting lost. An emotion is essentially an embodied experience (Slaby, 2007). The importance of bodily nature is not a separable aspect that can be simply added to an otherwise purely intellectual appreciation of what is going on in emotional experience. This is precisely what Slaby argues against Prinz’s account of embodied emotion, which as Slaby sees it, falls victim to over intellectualising the issue and can be critiqued of generalising human cognition to zombie like states (Prinz’s notion of emotions being like smoke detectors for the individual cognisor). Prinz’s notion of emotions being ‘set up to be set off’ sees the body as a vehicle through which they fulfil a task and completely lacks the experiential nature of emotion. When we attempt to intellectualise this (reduce the process to an intellectual operation outside the head) we lose the quality that made it specifically an emotional content and meaning begins to break down.

Phenomenological works of Merleau-Ponty puts forward the notion of the ‘lived-body’. Important phenomenological and empirical studies are arguing that the lived-body is not merely a static sense of an embodied state from which cognition can be described. Current research is putting forward a notion of a ‘living-body’, in the sense that the individual is a living autonomous system by which sense-making occurs through experience. From this, we ‘are’ our body. We are a ‘feeling’ body and the vehicle of existential evaluations. Cognitivist accounts at present cannot account for this ‘feeling’ state.

From the phenomenological notion of intentionality, emotions can be considered as dynamical dispositions for action, rather than some inner state of being. That is, to experience an emotion is to relate or to ‘enact’ a property of the world, not just ourselves (Baerveldt & Voestermans, 2001). However, phenomenological notions can only take us so far. I mentioned previously that neurobiological research was important for the problem of emotion. Most phenomenological traditions fail to recognise that human action is consensually coordinated. People are involved in an ongoing flow of mutual adaptations. Baerveldt and Voestermans (2001) raise the issue that emotion is involved in consensually coordinated actions with other human beings (this is also seen in the enactive literature, DiPaolo & De Jaegher in particular). Emotions certainly play a central role in the establishment of the cooperative domains of interaction. An emotor has the ability to identify that there are other experiencing individuals who have their own unique experience about a similar situation, or more abstractly, the ‘same’ world accessed through experience. Emotions may be the faculty by which we make-sense of the world, recognising the experiential capacity of the other. In essence, people need people in order to make their own experience real, particularly their emotional experience.

Ellis and Newton (2000) suppose that ‘self-organising’ systems are stable systems, but essentially are thermodynamically ‘open’ systems. By this they propose that the system exchanges energy and material with their environment (a physical interaction) while maintaining constant patterns of activity by appropriating and replacing the needed substrata for their definitive patterns of activity (the dynamical system of self-organisation). Lewis (2005) sees self-organisation as the emergence of novel patterns or structures, the appearance of new levels of integration and organisation in existing structures, and the spontaneous transition from states of lower order to states of higher order.  Emotions, as understood as self-motivated activities, are caused by the individuals self-organising behaviour which uses objects in the environment to maintain the systems autonomy and continual organization (the process itself is part of the autonomous agent, for the agent and is constructed by the agent). The purpose of this is suggested as arising from a self-motivated drive of the system to attain a holistic equilibrium in the face of real or imaginary circumstances in the environment.

Nesse & Ellsworth (2009) state that different emotional states may correspond to the adaptive challenges encountered in different situations. This certainly follows from Ellis and Newton’s proposal of emotion as a self-motivated activity of the individual; however Nesse and Ellsworth approach emotion from an evolutionary perspective. They place functional significance of emotions in individual lives, and also place emphasis on intensity of emotions felt and valence as essential properties of emotional experience. This research can certainly be seen as providing interesting developments and important contributions for an enactive approach to the problem for a number of reasons. It highlights some intrinsic properties of emotion including the autonomous nature of the self-organisational process, and emotion can be interpreted as essential to sense-making for the individual.

Appraisal generally can be seen as the evaluative component of emotion (Colombetti 2005). Lewis (2005) states that appraisal processes identify aspects of a situation that direct toward what is important for the self. He also suggests that a variety of neural subsystems interact to produce appraisal and emotion processes that become coupled in a macroscopic emotion-appraisal state. The notion that higher cognitive aspects of appraisal may refine core emotion meanings is also particularly interesting. Colombetti and Thompson (2005) note that appraisal and emotion are so inextricably interconnected that they cannot be mapped onto separate brain systems. Nevertheless, research has shown that the amygdala is an essential structure involved in emotion elicitation (LeDoux, 2000). Other research has shown that the prefrontal cortical structures are involved in physiological emotional response (Damasio, 1999) as well as affective feelings. However, appraisal is often associated with higher systems (corticolimbic regions) (Lewis, 2005).

Colombetti (2005) raises an important point on valence: what is positive and what is ‘negative’ depends on one’s concerns. If this is true, then valence is intrinsic to emotional experience. Colombetti goes on to evaluate a number of different types of valence, each of which describes some aspect to which valence refers. Valence generally refers to the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ properties of an experience.  For current purposes, I am focusing on the general use of the term valence and how it can make significant contributions to understanding the problem of emotion.

Valence is certainly an important notion for emotion theory. However, it certainly oversimplifies the problem of emotion and de-intellectualises the issue to the point where it may not be compatible to daily lived emotions. Colombetti notes that valence dichotomises emotion generally into positive and negative, however an interesting insight from DiPaolo (2005) can be interjected here to clarify some of the problems of a valenced approach. DiPaolo introduces the notion of grades of meaning for autonomous systems; it can be generally understood and adapted that subjective experience can be valenced according to a grade of meaning for the individual. While this approach could be promising, a neuroscientific empirical investigation could be exhaustive and unfruitful.

Lewis (2005) applies dynamic systems principals to the process of appraisal in emotion in an attempt to connect emotion theory to neurobiology. In his review of emotion theory, he highlights the dynamic, distributed, nonlinear and emergent aspects of cognition. This is a step away from cognitivist approaches to emotion.

Lewis argues that cognition is self-organising in that it builds on itself – it biases its outcomes and moves with only partial predictability from moment to moment. He notes spontaneous emergence from multiple feedback cycles. This, in my opinion, is an interesting accompaniment to a phenomenological view of emotion. In the next section I am going to discuss the overlapping brain structures and evidence from neurobiological accounts of emotional experience that I think will certainly be a good starting point for progressing emotional theory.

Neuroscientific research on emotion elicitation has had many interesting insights to the problem of emotion. LeDoux (2000) has made important contributions to the understanding the process of fear elicitation in humans, referring to the amygdala as an essential structure for the experience. LeDoux also criticises some of the topics of phenomenological research such as ‘affect’, ‘hedonic tone’, and ‘emotional feelings’. While LeDoux is completely justified in criticising these concepts, he overlooks a key feature which the three aforementioned topics place central to their concern: experience. However, LeDoux remains optimistic that these topics can be built on and expanded to give important insight into the problem of emotion. He states: “by focusing on a psychologically well-defined aspect of emotion, by using an experimental approach that simplified the problem in such a way as to make it tractable, by circumventing vague and poorly defined aspects of emotion, and by removing subjective experience as a roadblock to experimentation” (LeDoux, 2000, p.177) we can overcome the problem of ‘affect’, ‘hedonic tone’, and ‘emotional feelings’ and make significant advances in the field. However LeDoux also notes that the amygdala is not the answer to how all emotions work. The role of the amygdala in emotion behaviour is still poorly understood. LeDoux concludes that unless we embrace spiritualism, emotion must happen inside the brain.

From the research presented here, what we mean by ‘emotions’ is often ambiguous. Formulating a clear definition is somewhat problematic. Extensive qualitative research conducted by Gilbert (2001) suggests that emotions refer to feelings, sensations, drivers, personally meaningful experiences; something that comes ‘from within ourselves’ (Gilbert, 2001, p.9) and that which makes us truly human. These descriptors lack clarity yet aim at describing something which is innate to human experience. We come to realise that emotions may be culturally defined and socially constrained. They guide our interpretations of what we experience and are shaped by our life experience (Gilbert, 2001). Gilbert also raises a key issue that is commonly discussed in phenomenological literature, yet it was not elaborated here. That issue is with bodily intersubjectivity. Harris & Huntington (2001) discuss that as we engage in an interpersonal interactions on the basis of hierarchical roles (in lab-based settings: experimenter and participant), reciprocal roles are being held. This will have significant influence when it comes to formulating a set of methodological procedures for empirical studies of emotion.

In this piece I wanted to highlight some interesting and often overlooked research on the problem of emotion. Emotion is an expansive topic in psychology, and one can certainly be intimidated by the diversity of the research. However, the issue is an essential and intrinsic property of human nature and a fascinating issue that requires further research. The enactive approach to emotion allows research to move in a new and interesting direction, namely a neurophilosophical investigation to the problem. We have seen that neuropsychological researchers are certainly resilient to the idea of a somewhat phenomenological approach to the problem, and their concerns are certainly justified. Clarification and further elaboration is needed on many of the topics that will certainly be brought up with a neurophilosophical and neuorphenomenological investigation of emotion.


Baerveldt, C., & Voestermans, P. (June, 3-8 2001). An enactive view on emotions. Paper to be presented at the 9th conference of the International Society fpr Theoretical Psychology (ISTP). Calgary.

Colombetti, G. (2005). Appraising Valence. Journal of consciousness studies, 12, No. 8-10 , 103-126.

Colombetti, G., & Thompson, E. (2005). Enacting emotional interpretations with feeling (A response to Lewis 2005). Behavioural and brain sciences , 200-201.

Ellis, R. D., & Newton, N. (2000). The interdependence of consciousness and emotion. Consciousness and emotion , 1-10.

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There has been a long silence on this blog for quite some time and for that I’m really sorry!  I hate making excuses and people who make excuses but academic work piled up quite a bit the last few months.

The good news is I’m back and writing, the bad news is that this is the one area I can put on the long finger. There will definately be more posts over the next few months however, and I will hopefully uplaod a blog up in the next few hours if I get my butt into gear and finish edediting a piece I’ve been working on.

I’ve settled into life as a researcher and graduate student and think I’ve finally gotten a grasp on the direction my research will take! (I guess it took the best part of 6 months, year and a half to go until deadline of 60000 word thesis!)

So my research is fucusing on enactive perception and phenomenological emotion interpretations. I’m not sure where my empirical studies will take me (there will be two of them, methodologies should be ironed out after xmas) but I’m pretty confortable with the research – it’s actually what I wan’t to be researching and probably the most exciting time to do so. In other news, I’ve gotten a teaching assistantship so a great deal of my free-time is taken up finding interesting articles to discuss with my class. It is also healping me a great deal through funding, which is in itself a complete nightmare!

Slight bad news, my article has been rejected for publication from Cognition and Emotion, however my colleague is confident that a few tweeks should make all the difference to submitting a second draft to the publishers. I’m not bothered about the rejection as much as I am relishing the experience of peer review! It’s a pretty exciting time, despite the economic crisis that threatens my sustainability! 

So there should be a new post up here very soon, but Starbucks is calling me at present – especially a peppermint  mocha with a double shot of espresso, so we’ll see if my motivation increases or decreases to complete and upload my next blog post.

If anyone is actually reading the posts I’ve already submitted, Thank you for your time and I hope they have been somewhat interesting (even if hastily and poorly written!).

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