Philosophy of Emotion (Spring 2012) - Syllabus

The Philosophy of Emotion

PHIL 350-01 | ID 21504 | MR 12:30-1:50 | Room: Alger 106 | Spring 2012

Course Syllabus

Instructor: Dr. Aaron Smuts | | office hours: 219 Alger Hall, 12-1 T


It seems plausible that genuine, rational emotions require a belief in the reality of their objects. And it seems equally plausible that we fear the monsters of horror movies, even though we know that they are mere fictions. Is this irrational? Or is the fear not genuine? Or is it that people believe in Jason, Freddie, Count Dracula, and their kin while watching horror moves?

This problem is known as the "paradox of fiction". To solve the paradox we need to get a better handle on the nature of the emotions. And we need a way to evaluate the rationality of emotion.

This course is divided into three sections. Each addresses a different topic:

Part I: The Nature of the Emotions

Part II: Rationality and the Emotions

Part III: Morality and the Emotions

The course spans issues in the philosophy of mind, practical rationality, moral philosophy, the philosophy or art, and free will. We will address issues such as: What's the difference between an emotion and a mere mood? Do emotions involve judgments or are they non-cognitive? Is it sometimes wrong to have certain emotions? Can we be morally responsible for our emotions? What if they are involuntary? Are emotions always irrational? Or might they play an important role in decision making? What makes an emotion authentic?

Required Books

There are five books for this course:

  1. Justin Oakley, Morality and the Emotions. New York: Routledge, 1992. [out of print]

  2. Amelie Oksenberg Rorty (Ed.), Explaining Emotions. Berkeley: UCLA Press, 1980. [buy] [info]

  3. Robert Solomon (Ed.), What is an Emotion?: Classic and Contemporary Readings. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. [buy]

  4. Jenefer Robinson, Deeper than Reason. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. [buy] [info]

  5. Jesse Prinz, Gut Reactions. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. [buy] [info]

I will post numerous additional readings on Blackboard. [BB]

Course Page:


There will be two different forms of coursework: (best 20 out of 26) daily quizzes and three take-home examinations. I will give a short quiz at the beginning of each class that will require one or two sentence answers. The quizzes are closed-book, but open-note. The bulk of your grade comes from the take-home exams. All assignments must be completed to pass the course.

Quizzes (10%) + first exam (25%) + late-term exam (30%) + final exam (35%).

I encourage students who are doing well to write a term paper in place of the final exam. If you chose this option, please let me know before Spring break. I'll help you refine your topic and develop an outline. You must give me an abstract and a rough outline one month before the final exam period (e.g. by Monday 4/9). I will not accept a term paper otherwise.

Attendance Policy

Although I record every class meeting, attendance is required. If you miss 6 or more classes, you will receive a 0 for your quiz grade. If you miss 12 or more classes, you will receive an F for the course. (There are no excused or unexcused absences. But please talk to me if something major comes up that dramatically effect your attendance.)

Academic Honesty

Plagiarism—claiming someone else’s ideas or written work as your own—will not be tolerated. The tests are not collaborative. All sources must be cited. Anyone caught cheating will be given a failing grade in the course.

Class Schedule

(There will be a quiz every class on the required reading for that day.)

C1 (M: 1/23): Goldie, "Emotion" [BB]; {Optional: Shaffer, "An Assessment of Emotion" [BB]}

Topic: Paradox of Fiction

C2 (W: 1/25): Radford, "How Can We Be Moved by the Fate of Anna Karenina?" [BB]; {Optional: Walton, "Fearing Fictions" [BB]}

C3 (M: 1/30): Carroll, "Fearing Fictions: On the Paradox Thereof and its Solution" [BB, Philosophy of Horror pp.60-88]; {Optional: Neill, "Fiction and the Emotions" [BB]; Gaut, Art, Emotion and Ethics, Ch.9 "Emotion and Imagination" [BB]}

Part I: Theories of the Emotions

Topic: Cognitive Theories

C4 (W: 2/1): Solomon, "Emotions and Choice" [EE]; {Optional: Sartre "From The Emotions" [WIE]; Roberts, "Solomon on the Control of Emotions" [BB]}

C5 (M: 2/6): Taylor, "Justifying the Emotions" [BB]; {Optional: Descartes, "From Passions of the Soul" [WIE]}

C6 (W: 2/8): Nussbaum, "Emotions as Judgments of Value and Importance" [WIE]; {Optional: The Stoics [WIE]}

Topic: Non-Cognitive Theories

C7 (M: 2/13): James, "What is an Emotion?" [WIE]; Cannon, "Bodily Changes in Pain, Hunger, Fear and Rage" [WIE]; {Optional: Schachter and Singer, "Cognitive, Social, and Physiological Determinants of Emotional State" [WIE]}

C8 (W: 2/15): Prinz, Ch. 2 "Feeling Without Thinking" and Ch.3 "Embodied Appraisals" [GR]

C9 (M: 2/20): Robinson, Ch.1 "Emotions as Judgments" and Ch.2 "Boiling of the Blood" [DR]

C10 (W: 2/22): Robinson, Ch.3 "Emotions as Process" [DR]; {Optional: D'Arms and Jacobson, "The Significance of Recalcitrant Emotion"}

Topic: Perceptual Theories

C11 (M: 2/27): Goldie, The Emotions, ch.1 "Introduction", ch.2 "What Emotions Are" (pp.11-28), and ch.3 "Emotions and Feelings" (pp. 50-62 and 72-83) [BB]

C12 (W: 2/29): Roberts, "What an Emotion Is: A Sketch" [BB]; {Optional: Roberts, "Is Amusement an Emotion?" [BB]}

C13 (M: 3/5): de Sousa, The Rationality of Emotion, ch.5 "Emotions and Their Objects" (skip pp. 123 ½ - 130 ½) [BB]

Part II: The Rationality of the Emotions

C14 (W: 3/7): de Sousa, The Rationality of Emotion, ch.7 "The Rationality of Emotion" [BB]; {Optional: de Sousa, The Rationality of Emotion, ch.6 [BB]}

SPRING BREAK (3/12-3/16)

C15 (M: 3/19): Greenspan, "Reasons to Feel" [WIE]; Greenspan, "A Case of Mixed Feelings" [EE]; {Optional: Rorty, "Explaining Emotions" [EE]}

C16 (W: 3/21): D'Arms and Jacobson, "The Moralistic Fallacy: On the 'Appropriateness' of Emotion" [BB]

C17 (M: 3/26): Jones, "Emotional Rationality as Practical Rationality" [BB]

C18 (W: 3/28): Stocker, "How Emotions Reveal Value" [BB]; {Optional: Stocker, "The Irreducibility of Affect" [BB]}

C19 (M: 4/2): Helm, "Emotions as Evaluative Feelings" [BB]; {Optional: C. Taylor, "Self-Interpreting Animals" [BB]}

C20 (W: 4/4): Wolf, "The True, the Good, and the Loveable: Frankfurt's Avoidance of Objectivity" [BB] {Optional: Frankfurt, "The Importance of What We Care About" [BB]; Frankfurt, "On Caring" [BB]}

Part III: Morality and the Emotions

C21 (M: 4/9): Oakley, Ch.1 "The Nature of Emotion"; Oakley, Ch.2 "The Moral Significance of Emotions" [BB]

C22 (W: 4/11): Blum, Friendship, Altruism, and Morality, Ch.7 "The Intrinsic Value of Altruistic Emotions" [BB]

C23 (M: 4/16): Hurka, "The Recursive Account" [BB]; Hurka, "Attitudes, Beliefs, and Love as a Condition of Value" (secs. 1-2; pp.162-180) [BB] {Optional: Smuts, "Pleasurably Regarding the Pain of Fictional Others" [BB]}

C24 (W: 4/18): Williams, "Morality and the Emotions" [BB] {Optional: Sankowski, "Responsibility of Persons for Their Emotions" [BB]; Fischer and Ravizza, "Moral Responsibility for Emotions" [BB]}

C25 (M: 4/23): Blum Friendship, Altruism, and Morality, Ch.8 "Will, Emotion, Self" [BB]; {Optional: Smith, "Responsibility for Attitudes: Activity and Passivity in Mental Life" [BB]}

C26 (W: 4/25): Oakley, Ch.4 "Responsibility for Emotions" [BB]; {Optional: Sankowski, "Love and Moral Obligation" [BB]}

C27 (M: 4/30): Adams, "Involuntary Sins" [BB]; {Optional: Beardsley, "Determinism and the Moral Perspective" [BB]; Schlossberger, "Why We Are Responsible for Our Emotions" [BB]}

C28 (W: 5/2): Oakley, Ch.5 "Moral Assessment of Persons for their Emotions" [BB]; {Optional: Schoeman, "Responsibility and the Problem of Induced Desires" [BB]}