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What Emotions Really Are The Problem of Psychological Categories cover
  • ISBN: 9780226308722
  • ISBN10: 0226308723

What Emotions Really Are The Problem of Psychological Categories

by Paul E. Griffiths

  • Binding: Paperback
  • Publisher: Univ of Chicago Pr
  • Publish date: 09/01/1998
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Paul E. Griffiths argues that most research on the emotions has been as misguided as Aristotelian efforts to study "superlunary objects" -- objects outside the moon's orbit. Such objects exist, of course, but studying them as a group produces no useful results because they share no traits other than an arbitrarily defined location. Similarly, Griffiths shows that "emotion", as currently defined, groups together psychological states of very different, and thus not comparable, kinds.

Some emotions, such as a brief flaring up of anger in response to some immediate experience, are evolutionarily ancient, reflex-like responses that appear insensitive to culture. Others, like moral guilt, differ importantly across cultures despite their long history in humans and affinities to behavior seen in other species. Still other emotions appear to be the acting out of today's psychological myths, just as ghost possession acted out the metaphysical myths of past centuries. These three kinds of responses have different evolutionary origins, different adaptive functions, different biological bases, and different roles in human psychology. The concept that groups them together -- emotion -- plays no useful role, because there is no object of scientific knowledge that corresponds to it.

According to Griffiths, theoretical research on emotions took a wrong turn by not fully exploring the relevant empirical evidence. Griffiths provides a detailed overview of this material, drawing on ethology, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and anthropology of the emotions. He identifies and assesses the relative merits of three main theoretical approaches -- affect program theory, evolutionarypsychology, and social constructionism.

"Paul Griffiths has written an exciting and important book that offers a bold new account of the emotions and a convincing critique of other views". -- Stephen Stich, Author of Deconstructing the Mind

"This is the best book on the emotions that exists.... The emotions are a domain where evolution matters. Until now we have had little by philosophers that explains why and how it matters". -- Owen Flanagan, Author of Self Expressions: Mind, Morals, and the Meaning of Life

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