Table of Contents

The Logic of Emotion ©

by Bill Tomlinson (e-mail)



The Theory

The Emotions

Are These Emotions?

Implications and Related Concepts


Outline and Overview



Why is understanding emotions important?


The only thing that we value in our lives (either individually or collectively) is our experiences.

Some of these are valued for their own sake, the others are valued as instruments for providing or enabling experiences.

There are only two dimensions to experience: Quality and quantity

The quality of our lives is measured by the quality of our experiences.

One kind of experience, maybe the most important kind, is our feelings.

One kind of feeling is emotion.

Thus, emotions are important.

Is it important to understand things that are important?

If the answer is yes, then it is important to understand emotions.


Is 'The Logic of Emotion' an oxymoron, i.e. contradiction in terms?

A list of rhetorical questions:

To answer 'no' to any one of these is to agree that there are implications (and thus a logic) in the language of emotion. So, what I will attempt to do is sort out the implications of emotional terms when they are correctly used in ordinary language. It is likely that we would not even be able to learn the language of emotion and apply the concepts successfully and consistently unless the language has a logic.


The theory of emotion is at least partially a semantical theory not a psychological one.

For example: When I seek a definition for 'anger' I am not trying to discover what it is like to feel 'angry'. Also, I am not trying to discover what causes anger or what anger causes. Instead, I am attempting to discover the role that the term 'anger' plays in natural language. From that we can get its meaning. One may be inclined to suppose that the role of the term 'anger' is a report about the kind of behavior associated with that emotion, i.e., angry behavior. I would like to suggest an alternative, possibly a supplement, to how we might be able to recognize and apply a term of emotion correctly.

Because the approach attempts to explain the role of a collection of terms , the theory is more a theory about the use of a part of our language (the part with the terminology of feelings) than a psychological theory. And in particular I propose that the function of emotion language is to convey information about satisfactions and dissatisfactions of a certain sort. More about this later.


The Theory:

An emotion is the pleasure or displeasure associated with the process of thinking. I shall break 'thinking' down into what I call 'cognitive states'. Usually 'I think that...' means 'I believe that' But let us take 'thinking' as a larger category. So, by thinking or cognitive state I mean to include things like believing, questioning, counting upon, expecting, wondering, preferring, etc., the objects for all of which are events or states of affairs.

All of these thinking states are really activities or processes that on occasion have the property of being pleasurable or displeasurable. With respect to beliefs, it is because we have the preference to be in that state (or not) and so when we are (or not) a pleasure or displeasure sometimes arises.

For most emotions, the relevant cognitive state is 'belief' and so most emotions of this sort, which I will call 'emotions(b)', or emotions whose cognitive state is based upon belief, are to be identified with the pleasure or displeasure of the attention to a belief about whether a preference is satisfied or not.

(To see examples of non-belief based emotions look ahead a few pages to the section on "What is thinking (A cognitive State)?")

To be more specific, let us break the definition in two and define negative emotions(b) and the positive ones separately.

A negative emotion(b) is to be identified with the displeasure of the attention to the belief that a preference is not satisfied. D(A(B(P)))

A positive emotion(b) is to be identified with the pleasure of the attention to the belief that a preference is satisfied. P(A(B(P)))

So, at the core of an emotion(b) we have a preference. Then one level out we have a belief about whether or not the preference is satisfied. On the next level we have the attention to that belief. On the last level we have the pleasure or displeasure of that attending.

One can imagine many other kinds of feelings besides emotions, like moods, sensations, primal feelings, but I would claim that the feelings of the sort that satisfy my theory above are in a special category. In particular, any feeling that I call an emotion can be accessed and possibly changed by reflection. Since emotions are thought based, we may change an emotion by reflection on our beliefs, our preferences and other thought states (attitudes like questioning, hoping etc.) about the world that are at the heart of that emotion. The belief based kind of emotion is the most accessible since it relies directly upon specific beliefs.

A most interesting thing about the nature of the most common type of emotion (emotions(b)) is that they depend upon our opinion as to what is true, not on what is in fact true. All emotions depend upon our cognitive states about the world, not the world itself. Thus hunger, for instance, is not an emotion, but still it is a feeling. It is the feeling that one has when one is not nourished in a certain way. It is not an emotion because, believing that one is nourished or changing one's attitude towards nourishment does not satisfy hunger. Only actual nourishment will satisfy hunger. The primary test as to whether something is an emotion of the belief based sort is to ask this question: If the belief that a preference was satisfied or not were to change would the feeling go away? If 'yes', then the feeling is an emotion(b). The major test as to whether something is an emotion of the more general sort is found by asking this question: Is it possible that a change in a belief or attitude would make this feeling go away? If 'yes', then the feeling is an emotion.

With every emotion it is our attitude towards reality, not reality itself that is the determiner of emotion. As an example, ask yourself the following: If someone has died but you believed they have not, will grief follow the truth of the matter or the belief? Compare that to the situation where you believe someone has died but in fact they have not. You get the same answer with both questions, that is; the emotion follows the belief in the matter, not the truth of the matter.

What are Beliefs?

I propose that 'beliefs' are an abstraction from the process or activity of believing. So, it is an activity that really is pleasant or unpleasant. Beliefs characterize what we are willing to believe about statements. Specifically, a belief is an attachment of a probability by a person to a statement which represents the likelihood of truth that the person assigns to the statement. The probability corresponds to the degree that the evidence supports the statement in question. (This is more like a consistency criterion than a definition). Thus, beliefs may change with new evidence or new reflections upon old evidence. Also, it follows that beliefs come in degrees. Because of 'beliefs' relationship to emotions, what this means is that the stronger the belief the stronger the emotion (or weaker if it is a belief in the other direction with respect to that emotions definition)

One cannot choose beliefs, except possibly in the sense of choosing to be in an environment that would promote the belief, a personal deception analogous to self brainwashing.

Only one method is recommendable for changing beliefs: Changing one's awareness of evidence for the belief. We can do this through reflection aimed at reevaluating the strength of the belief or by gathering new evidence.

So, I take any claim by P that a certain belief has a 50% chance of being true, together with the claim that P believes it 100%" as a self-contradiction. P believes it 100% in words only. Maybe assertions of this kind are meant to express that P wishes to believe it 100% or that P is committed to acting as if the belief were certain. In my definition of emotions, belief is meant as one's actual belief not what one hopes to believe or what one espouses. It is most important for the sake of clearness of thought about emotions (and anything really) to remind oneself of a distinction between what one wishes to be the case and what one is justified in believing. Hoped-for truths are the major source and force behind self-deception.

So, for example, if someone truly assesses the probability of an afterlife as 50% but espouses a 100% belief in it, one will still feel grief when the loved person dies. That is to say, emotions will correspond with the actual belief. However, if one truly believes that the probability of an afterlife is 100% then one would not feel grief. One might still miss a person and wish they were around, but that is not all the grief is. Thus one could use the theory in two different ways.

1) Gain insights into emotions by examining beliefs

2) Gain insights into beliefs by examining emotions 

What are Preferences?

An individual's preferences can be thought of as an ordering of all the states of affairs the person believes to be possible from best to worst. So, in general to prefer X means that in the context of all the situations believes possible, one ranks the situations where X is true higher than the situations where X is false, holding everything else constant.

Because preferences are in the context of beliefs, some preferences change when the beliefs change. You may change your preference to go to the beach, for instance, if you discover that it will be cloudy at the beach. This does not negate your preference for a certain kind of experience, for example, the experience of feeling the Sun's rays and cool wind on your skin.

Conclusion: some preferences will change if the presuppositions of the preference change, possibly by reflection upon those presuppositions (being beliefs themselves), as in the earlier explanation.

It is useful to reflect upon the fact that our preferences change. We might ask why that is. One answer is that our beliefs change over time. But sometimes our preferences change at a fundamental level because our needs are different. A particularly interesting way that our preferences might change over time is when they do so because we have acquired a different sense of what all the possibilities are. Our focus on what we value can also be narrower at some times and broader at others. This gives us an interesting and immediate way to change a preference, or at least our perception of what our true preference is. When we see ourselves getting too narrowly focused, we may remind ourselves of our more persistent preferences by considering The Bigger Picture.

Because of the definition of emotion, (i.e. having to do with belief as to whether a preference is satisfied or not), an emotion will follow what one believes one's preference to be not what one's preference really is. Thus instead of D(A(B(P))) a more accurate formula for emotions would be D(A(B(B(P))))

This is very important. The effort to take in the big picture is the most direct way we have to push ourselves in the direction of wisdom and the technique of forcing ourselves to a larger perspective is a useful tool in shifting our perception of our preferences and thus the intensity of our emotions. Just as with beliefs, the intensity of our emotions is directly related to the intensity of (our perception of) our preferences.


So I have four approaches to changing a preference.

1) Reflect upon the presuppositions of the preferences. You do this by asking yourself a series of questions about why you prefer X.

2) Secondly reflect upon a broader perspective that attempts to take in your life as a whole including all those things you value, instead of what your are immediately addressing.

3) Switch contexts of your preferences. Example: Instead of focusing upon what happened compared to what used to be, reflect a bit on what happened compared to what negative thing could have happened. (This more changes the focus on the preference than it does the preference)

4) Consider whether the preference is one you really want to have. Sometimes awareness that you don't really want that preference can make it go away. However, it might not go if the preference from time to time provides some rewarding satisfactions.


What is Thinking? (a Cognitive State)

The general definition of an emotion is dependent upon thoughts or cognitive states, but what is a cognitive state? These are our attitudes towards the world, but not how we feel about the world. They all have a common form exemplified by the following:

Let us consider one of these. "John hopes that such and such is true". This is likely to be able to be broken down into statements about John's beliefs and preferences, and what he is prepared for, thus it is not atomic in this sense, but 'to hope' is not itself an emotion. However, when a person attends to that hope and gets pleasure from that attending, then we may very well say that the person is in the emotional state of feeling hopeful.
Notice that all of these examples have a state of affairs as their object of cognition. Let us consider something like "I am afraid that such and such will be true". Is this a cognitive state? Notice that this is not usually a statement that describes emotional fear. I can say, "I'm afraid you didn't get the job.", or "I'm afraid I'm not going to finish the marathon.", and as such these are expressions of cognitive states but not emotions as such. This 'fear' is likely expressible in more fundamental cognitive states.

However, if we care about the potential result and not prepared for the potential negative result, and if we attend to this, and it this attention is unpleasant; then we may very well be talking about the real emotion of fear.

When surprise is not about a preferred or unpreferred outcome, it still may be a pleasant experience as in a book or movie when you are delighted by a surprise element. This kind of surprise is also an emotion. It is probably my clearest example of an emotion that is not based upon belief. Sometimes we are delighted by our thoughts when something unexpected happens, just because it was unexpected. Of course, surprise on some occasions may be a negative emotion, if, for instance, we are not in the mood for surprises.

It is interesting to note the differences between those cognitive states which are compound or complex and those cognitive states which are simple. We will explore this distinction.


The Definitions

A major portion of my book is an attempt to define particular emotions. Using the general definition of emotion, many specific emotions(b) are defined by identifying the preferences and beliefs at stake in that emotion. I am especially happy with my definitions of disappointment and anger.

Let me show these as examples:

A person P is disappointed about x if and only if,

1) P had an expectation (belief about a possible future event) that x occur and P has a preference that x occur, and

2) P has prepared for that expectation, and

3) This preference is not satisfied by a belief, and

4) P has displeasure arising from attending to the fact that P believes his/her preference is not satisfied.

Early in my pursuit of emotions I enjoyed thinking that disappointment was the result of a conflict between expectation and reality. This still has a nice poetic ring to it, but it is not technically correct for several reasons, one of which is that reality has little to do with the logic of disappointment It is our perception of what is real that determines an emotion and when expectations are involved it is the change in perception that is key.

The newest addition to my definition of disappointment has to do with clause #2. That is, we are not disappointed with some positive expectation not appearing if we did not in some way prepare for it. This could be a weak sense of 'prepare for'. Sometimes we prepare for something merely by making mental plans for it on the basis of the possibility of that future situation arising. Thus the uniqueness in this definition points to at least two ways of addressing possible future disappointments. Reflecting upon our method of arriving at expectations and reflecting upon to what extent and when we begin to prepare for the possible positive outcome.

Here's another example:

A person P feels anger with Q, if and only if,

1) P has a preference that Q be sufficiently harmed or removed,

2) P believes that Q is not sufficiently harmed or removed, and

3) P has displeasure arising from attending to the fact that P believes his/her preference is not satisfied.


Summary of the definition and Note.

Anger is the feeling we have when we have a unfulfilled desire for someone (or something) to be harmed or removed. One can be angry at objects. Often this desire to have an object removed is because it is a source of frustration. But note that not all anger is caused by frustration for there may be other reasons why we have a preference to harm or remove something. We can also think we are angry at a person but really we are angry at the person's behavior or type of behavior. This behavior may be the object of the anger and the object that the person wants removed. Thus, in this case strong assurance that the kind of behavior will not reoccur will make the anger go away.

These definitions are not based upon empirical research but are derived purely from counter-example methodology together with my experience as a person who has feelings and has learned like any user of the language how to use feeling terms in common experiences. This is why I regard my thesis as much semantical as empirical. One of my methods for gaining insight into a definition was to ask 'under what conditions would this emotion resolve or dissolve?' So, for instance, since I believe that sometimes indignation will go away when someone makes a sincere apology, indignation is more complicated than merely being based upon the preference that someone had not done something wrong. Sometimes indignation will go away when the right price is paid, and so I build this into the definition.


How can the pre-definition of a particular emotion be helpful?

It may be that not all emotions have been named, but if an emotion is common enough in our collective experience to have a name, then when we are having that emotion it might be helpful to see what definitions have been given for that emotion. If one of the definitions does fit the feeling then the definition will suggest an approach for possibly resolving or dissolving the feeling. If not, then you are no worse off. For instance, if we find that something meets the definition of indignation, not only can we ask what appropriate price might be paid, but we can also ask why we have a preference that a price be paid.


The Value of Negative Emotions.

It might appear that negative emotions are always to be avoided whenever possible, but I would like to suggest at least one positive function of negative emotions (if the emotions are not excessive to the point of being counter-productive). When we look at our definitions we can see that many may be highly dependent upon Metaphysical and Ethical views. It is clear, for instance, that in order to have guilt or shame one has to have a sense of right and wrong. Anger in some cases is enhanced by a sense of retributive justice. Thus, we can view our emotional events as opportunities to reexamine our Metaphysical and Ethical views.

The second reason that negative emotions are important is that they are often necessary to be able to have positive feelings. So, for instance, if one could get rid of grief by deciding not to care about the one lost, most of us realize that this may be too high of a price to pay


What is a Mood?

I would like to propose that moods are a propensity to fall into certain emotions under specific conditions. So, for instance, an angry mood makes it more likely that one find something to be angry about. Emotions have an object, moods do not. In turn moods may be caused by physiological states or one could fall into an angry mood by first having an angry emotion and having the feeling linger on.

One might think that some emotions are caused by drugs or physiological states. I would like to claim instead that drugs or hormonal states may bring about moods and that in turn the moods may make some emotions more likely. An example might be a drug that brings on a fearful mood. The person is then more ready to find something to be fearful about or be more ready to attend to it. Some have argued that because emotions can be brought about in this way that emotions cannot be defined in purely cognitive terms. But the thesis herein does not rule out the possibility that core preferences are physiologically based nor does it determine when or why we decide to focus our attention on their satisfaction, and thus this thesis is compatible with the view that emotions may result from physiological stimulus.

Most moods have the same name as the emotion they are likely to bring about.

So, my two main conjectures regarding moods are that moods are sometimes caused by emotions and are sometimes a contributing cause of an emotion.


What is the Language of Character?

Many character traits have the same name as a mood or emotion. So, for instance, we may describe someone as being an anxious person. This probably means no more than that person has frequent moods of anxiety. Some character traits are indications of life strategies for dealing with emotions. Courage and cowardice are example of habits or life strategies for dealing with fear. Shyness may be a strategy for dealing with embarrassment (not putting oneself in potentially embarrassing situations). I believe we could trace most of the language of character traits fairly directly to the language of emotions or feelings.

The language of character is important for conveying information to another about a third person. It helps us tell others, whom we may care about, what they can expect from a third person. To tell someone that a third person is a coward, for instance, is to suggest that in threatening situations, the person would be well advised to not count on that third person.

What is Ethics?

I propose that the language of ethics is a language concerned with conveying information about character and whose primary function is to give advice or recommendations on acts, kinds of acts or policies. Most of the time advice-giving is in the context of caring about the character or a person or the consequences of the action. If there were no ethical language, it would develop immediately from the need to convey character information and make recommendations

Often advice is of the strategic sort. When you tell someone to look both ways before crossing, this is advise that assumes the goals of the person and is attempting to be helpful in suggesting ways to accomplish those goals (goals like staying alive). There are three kinds of advice that are not strategy-advice. Non-strategy advises are the essence of ethical advice. Ethical advice is a suggestion about what goals be adopted or what character traits be developed. Here are the three types:

In every society when someone is referred to as a good person, either the focus is upon him/her being a person who exemplifies one of these kind of advise or a person who is judged to follow all of these advises and decide well when they are in conflict. There are degrees of goodness and a fuzziness associated with when two advises of similar strength are in conflict. My position is that the fuzziness comes from the incommesurability of the concepts. The degree of goodness, fuzziness of concept and the mixing of these three meanings for 'good person' has brought some to the conclusion that ethics is relative. One may as well believe that biology is relative because there are different meanings to the term 'animal'. The framework of relative ethics is seriously flawed and can be harmful to the individual and to society.

There are character traits associated with being a person who exemplifies each of these kinds of advice.

In general when we say of a person that they are good, we are recommending to those we care about that they would do well to associate with this person or emulate that person. What would our self-interested reason be for wanting to be a good person? Because we cannot without cognitive dissonance (bad faith?) recommend to someone that they not associate with a particular kind of person (i.e. bad) and suggest that they associate with us even though we are that kind of person. Most of us, almost all of us, want to be the kind of person that we would be able to recommend to those we care about. Because this is only true of most of us, this reason for being moral might not be an acceptable motivation for all.


One of the major features of my book is an emphasis on the close relations of many aspects of our lives. I attempt to tie our feelings in with our character, our ethics, our beliefs and our actions. The background believe that form the general understanding of the world are probably the most important. They are persistent and enter into most decisions, often without reflection. Many of these background beliefs are metaphysical, about the nature of ourselves, of others and the world.

In constructing a life, one could start with a concern with any one of these and use it as a criterion for generating the others. For instance, you could let the process of seeking the truth determine what kind of experience, feelings and person you are to become. Or you could go the other way: decide what kind of person you wish to be and let that determine what you believe and what kind of emotional experience you will be capable of.

In my view the wisest way to proceed when developing or attempting to change any of these entities, is to pay attention to what it means to all of the other aspects of one's life. I regard it as unwise to seek truth, with no regard for consequence. The mad scientist may be there paradigm of this. One can become a monster by focusing upon to narrow a concern, even if that concern is truth. I would also regard it as unwise to believe whatever it takes to become the kind of person you would like to become.

Being wise is mostly a function of a broad perspective, the ability to see things as connected and the ability to be attuned to our persistent values and to balance all of our concerns. There is no easy formula but developing a balanced perspective is what the wise person tries to do. If there is one thing that characterizes wisdom it is the ability to see The Big Picture, to see how the important things in one's life are connected and to act and feel accordingly. It is my hope that my views on feelings, beliefs, ethics, metaphysics and character may be a contribution to our personal quests for wisdom.


The most general and important thesis of this book is that a careful examination of the evidence for certain of our beliefs and a reflective assessment of certain of our preferences can result in a significant change in our feelings and emotions, and hence in the quality of our lives. In this book I attempt to be more specific on what kind of reflective experience that might be and how we might bring it about.



An Introduction

In my logic classes I often try to make the business of solving logic problems into a mechanical procedure, so that even the student that understands nothing can follow a flowchart to work through the problems. The flowchart attempts to address the question: If you are stumped, what is the proper question to ask yourself? My hope is that if the student begins to realize that for each problem there are questions one can ask oneself that they will begin to understand the reasons that the procedure works and maybe then there will be some carry-over into life. Do you have a new problem? To solve it, maybe you just have to ask yourself the right question. At least this was my initial thought.

In another area of my life, I have my VCR. I am not a person that would have trouble programming a VCR but even my complete understanding of the process is unable to prevent me from making mistakes from time to time that would lead to the failure of capturing the intended program. I developed a checklist. I had to make sure that...

The speed was correct.

There was enough tape remaining for the speed chosen.

The tape was not write-protected.

The clock on the VCR was correct, including the year.

The date of the onset of the recording was correct.

The time of the onset was correct, even the A.M./P.M. part.

The channel was correct.


But for most of our lives there are no flowcharts, there are no checklists. The most chaotic area in life may have to do with the area of emotions and feelings. What is the most successful way of dealing with emotions? If you have a feeling or emotion that you do not want to have, is there a question you can ask yourself that will make it go away? Is there a way to decide what the proper response to an emotion is?

Most people think that emotions are so illogical that there is no way to even address these issues in a coherent fashion. Thus, some have told me that my title for this book is an oxymoron. But there is an actual logic to emotion. If there were not, we would not be able to identify person's emotions by their behavior as accurately as we do. Could someone be jealous without thoughts on two other people? Could one be envious without thoughts about the possessions of another (whether those possessions are of a material nature or merely some envied trait of the person)? I wish to claim that if one answers "yes" to either of these questions, one is misusing the language and does not understand the terminology of emotions. In a way my theory of emotion is a semantical theory, where criticism of a definition should be of the form 'Would we say that Emotion Y is the correct label for someone who is experiencing X?'. This can be addresses in classical counter-example methodology. I will try, as much as possible, to stay away from any empirical thesis, except to the extent that I may be making an empirical claim as to how people use language.

The definitions of particular emotions will play a key role in my attempt to make sense of this area, but we should realize that the language of emotions as it exists right now might need to be straightened out. Some terms denoting emotion may refer to many few different kinds of feelings and some emotions may have no term at the present time to identify it.

When we start looking more carefully into the language of feelings, we will realize that most people do not have much understanding of feeling terms at all, even though feelings may be one of their most common experiences and possibly one of the most important experiences. But what is the difference between a feeling, a mood, an emotion, a desire or a sensation? We use these terms, mostly successfully, without having been told very explicitly what they are. Sure, the most general of all these terms is "feeling", which includes all the rest, but how are the different? Even within an area that includes only emotions there are common mistakes. For instance, many times we have heard people use the word 'jealous' when they meant 'envious'?

Let's us look at some examples of these 'feelings'.. When I have hunger, I can say "I feel hungry" (sensation). I might also say I feel a need for food (desire). If I have a low spirit, it could be said "I feel depressed" (mood). If I have an opinion, I say "I feel that it is true that..." (belief) and when I feel pissed off I might say "I feel angry at..." (emotion). These are all examples of experience that for some reason have been put together into one category: feelings.

The theory presented herein will make distinctions between these areas and hopefully bring about some understanding to a rather fuzzy area of major importance. Feelings are important and understanding feelings may be the first step to answering the questions: What do we do with them? How do we change them? And what is an appropriate response to them? In particular, we will discover that there are rather definitive questions that we can ask ourselves when trying to wrestle with an emotion.


Value and experience:

Let us begin by considering this: If you were to assess your life, what would you look at? Wouldn't it be most directly a connection to your experiences? If, on the whole, you have had good experiences, then you would assess your life in positive terms. However, if, on the whole, your experiences have been negative, then you would probably assess your life negatively. If you were tempted to assess your life positively because you have made contributions but think that you have had mostly negative experiences, then I would suggest that the positive value assessment is because you believe you have created instruments for yourself or others that enabled positive experiences. But your experiences (as opposed to other's experiences) have a special place for you since you are in the best position to assess their value and usually in the best position to do something about them.

Why is the evidence that experiences are the bearer of real value? It's mostly a 'what else can it be' sort of argument. That is, it's not easy to find an example of something that has value that is not either an experience itself or identifiable as an instrument in creating or enabling valuable experience. You might think 'being a good person' is of intrinsic value. But notice that if being a good person always or frequently led to negative experiences for everyone involved, we wouldn't value it very much. It is because 'being a good person' contributes either to our experiences in a positive way or to the experiences of those whom we touch that we regard this character trait as recommendable.

In a very real sense, experiences are the only things of value in our lives. As the Eastwood character in the movie "The Unforgiven" said: When you kill a man, you take away all he has and all he ever will have. He may not talking just about the guy's material possessions. Instead we can see that the important thing that we take away from a person by killing him is his ability to experience anything ever again.

Now, of experiences there are at least three types:

1) Sensory experience: The perception of the world outside ourselves.

2) Experience of emotions and other feelings: The perception of needs, desires, satisfactions or dissatisfactions.

3) Imagination and reflective experience: The perception of thought.

It may be, and we may find out, that category #2 is really a combination of categories one and three. But my point is that when you refer to the quality of a person's life you are referring to the quality of their experiences, and category #2, i.e. feelings, is an important part of these experiences, and maybe the most important part.

Let us break this down in another way. In assessing your life, there are only two features of importance: quality of experience and quantity of experience. Feelings are a kind of experience, possibly the most important kind. Emotions are one kind of feeling. And so it is my hope that I might shed some light that could influence the value of a life by attempting to understand this important emotional area of our life.

In doing so, I hope to indicate what the connections are between our emotions and other areas of our life, including our character, our views of right and wrong, our metaphysical views and background assumptions and our actions. I am convinced that these areas are related in such a way that if one area were to change then the others would also be affected. I will try to be less vague about the exact relationships later in this book. In short, I will argue that in some cases if by reflection we can understand an emotion, we may be able to change it, if we wish to. I would also suggest that by preparing for future emotions we may actually affect the kinds of emotions that we are capable of, and may even change our very nature and become a different kind of person.

Furthermore, clarity about emotions can help us in the communication process. We may be able to express to others more exactly what are feelings are and why they are. This could be important in any relationship when emotional difficulties arise. Also, emotional clarity might be useful is in teaching children to understand their own feelings, possibly enhancing what has been recently referred to as 'emotional intelligence'. Most of the time children learn the language of feeling by seeing someone in an emotional state and then discovering the classification that the person has for the state. Or someone else might identify a child's apparent state by classifying it, helping the child learn the meaning of the label. This way of learning does not provide the child with great insight as to what the emotions really is.. However, if a child were to learn the language of emotions through definitions, instead of instances, (1) there is an opportunity for a deeper understanding of the emotion and (2) an opportunity for an understanding of what the options for a response and (3) an opportunity for understanding how the successful responses might be related to the features of the emotion.

In short, I believe that there are predetermined questions we can ask ourselves when we are trying to resolve or dissolve an emotion, or to choose a successful response to an emotion. Although it may not always lead to a perfect solution, it cannot help but put us in a better position to deal with an uncomfortable feeling. Sometimes we may decide that we have to just live with an uncomfortable feeling, but after understanding the emotion better, even choosing this option may make the emotion easier to live with.

So, in the following, I will attempt in many cases to:

1) Define what an emotion is.

2) Define a few specific emotions.

3) Indicate in some cases what questions one might ask oneself when one is trying to resolve or dissolve an emotion.

4) Indicate how emotions fit in with other feelings by giving a taxonomy of feelings.

5) Indicate how feelings and emotions are connected to other areas of our individual lives, like character, morality, and world view.

If you stick with me, I hope to be able to deliver on a promise to pass to you a greater understanding of a very important area of your life i.e. your feelings and in particular, your emotions.

There is one more point that should be made clear before we start. The nature of this thesis is mostly the result of an exploration into ordinary language with some reflection on ordinary experiences. It is at least partially a semantical enterprise designed to account for common experience. This is to say, I do not focus upon questions like 'What does it feel like when one feels X?' or 'What is the psychological cause of feeling X?' But instead, I will approach emotions by asking questions like 'Upon reflection what would one ordinarily attribute to a person when it is said truthfully of that person that he/she feels X?'

Since I have no special credentials in the field of Psychology, my claims are being made as a person who has the tools of Philosophy available to him to address common ordinary experience. I don't believe I need a laboratory full of neurotics and psychotics and special theoretical models with theoretical psychological entities in order to make some sense of the language of emotions.

I've discovered that most of the resistance to my theory comes from those who are well entrenched and committed to specific theories of psychology. It is one of my hopes that even these people will understand that this theory is not meant to be competitive with theories about what cause mental states. But there is semantical content conveyed when one says I feel some specific way. Often we can say 'because...' and then site a belief we have. It is only this relationship between the correct use of an emotional term and the beliefs that are necessarily connected to it that I am exploring.

However, there are going to be some instances where my account of emotions is competitive with some contemporary theories of emotions. I would at least suggest that my theory should not be discarded merely because it is in conflict with those theories, but instead that it should be critiqued on its own terms and ultimately be judged by whether its explanations are better or worse than the competition. However again I would like to remind you that I am not presenting a theory of Psychology. Instead am just trying to deal with some of the language of feeling.

In this book, I hope to convince you, the reader, that this is a solid common-sense approach to understanding emotion with no theoretical entities (i.e. ids ego's etc.) and that this language of emotions may give us (or a helping professional) an important power tool to understand, identify and possibly solve our emotional problems. Our beliefs can give us insight into our emotions and our emotions can give us insight into our beliefs. A most important overall thesis defended here is that a careful examination of the evidence for some of our beliefs and a reflective assessment of some of our preferences can result in a significant change in our feelings and emotions, and hence in the quality of our lives. Let us see to what extent that might be true.



-- Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

What is an Emotion?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines Emotion as follows:

1. An intense mental state that arises subjectively rather than through conscious effort and is often accompanied by physiological changes; a strong feeling: the emotions of joy, sorrow, reverence, hate, and love.

2. A state of mental agitation or disturbance: spoke unsteadily in a voice that betrayed his emotion. See synonyms at FEELING.

3. The part of the consciousness that involves feeling; sensibility

What I hope to do by offering my definition of 'Emotion' is present a clarity that is not available in the dictionary definition. My definition should be taken more as an explication of the notion of Emotion and may not agree 100% with our pre-theoretic notion. But I would contend that the definition will agree to a large extent with our pre-theoretic notions and will have the extra advantages that it will be useful and a lot clearer.

Let us start then with my definition of emotion.

An emotion is the pleasant or unpleasant experience that sometimes results from being aware of his/her thinking. The most common kind of emotion is dependent upon a certain kind of thinking, namely believing.

So what I am suggesting at this point is that there are many different satisfactions and dissatisfactions in life. The language of emotion's primary role is to provide the vocabulary for talking about those satisfactions or dissatisfactions having to do with processes of thinking. Not all satisfactions are related to thoughts.

Since 'belief emotions' is most common kind and since I have a deeper theory as to when a belief is in fact pleasant or unpleasant, let us proceed as follows with this important subset of all emotions.

In the following I abbreviate 'emotions for which the primary thoughts are beliefs' as 'emotions(b)'.

An emotion(b) is the pleasant or unpleasant experience that results when a person is aware that, or attends to the fact that, a belief satisfies or dissatisfies (to some extent) his/her preference.

To simplify it a bit, let us break it down into two claims...

A positive emotion(b) is the pleasant experience that results when a person attends to the fact that a preference is being satisfied (to as sufficient extent) by a belief


A negative emotion(b) is the unpleasant experience which results when a person attends to the fact that a preference is not being satisfied (to a sufficient extent), by a belief, (or a dispreference is being satisfied by a belief).

The concepts necessary to get this emotions(b) defined are "preferences", "beliefs", "attention to whether preferences are being satisfied", and "the pleasant or unpleasant experience resulting".

Notice that some of our feelings will change if we happen to change a relevant belief or a relevant preference. This definition sets an emotion apart from some other feelings we have, because with non emotional feelings belief is often not required. Let me give an example.

We might ordinarily think of 'anger' as an emotion. But by classifying it as only an emotion is likely an error. Remember, we are concerned with the use of the term. There are other uses.

So, for instance, there is the anger one may feel when one believes they have been betrayed. This is an emotion, by my definition, for if the belief of betrayal were to change in the appropriate direction then the anger would go away. But, there is also the concept of the "angry mood". Now I have not defined 'mood' but notice that often we can have a mood without our attention being focused up a specific preference or belief. Such moods are sometimes angry or sad without an object to focus on. By my definition, although these moods are feelings, they would not fall into the category of "emotion".

And then we have what I call 'primal anger'. This may be the kind of feeling independent of beliefs or language, and may be the source of the pain of anger. We can get a sense of what I mean here when we think of pre-cognitive humans without beliefs, without a language, seemingly they were nevertheless capable of anger, or at least behavior that seems to indicate anger. And so by the definition, although we probably have to admit that pre-cognitive humans have feelings of anger that are not classifiable as moods, we would nevertheless not label these feelings as 'emotions'.

I do not mean to imply by this that only pre-cognitive humans have primal feelings. I suspect that humans may have primal feelings also, but I wish to make a distinction between these different kinds of anger, because feelings that have belief components potentially have a different method for resolution than the ones that do not. I would think that primal feelings are not our dominant kind of feeling. We more often, on a daily basis experience emotions or moods.

And finally 'angry' can also be used to describe a character trait of a person as in 'He is an angry person'. Used in this way the term 'anger' is meant to tell us that this person is the kind of person who would have a propensity, more than usual, to fall into an angry mood, emotion, or primal feeling of anger.

Now, I believe this definition of emotion will fit with our common usage of the term (our pre-theoretic notion) but if it does not in fact, then at least it is an interesting enough distinction to warrant a special label which for convenience I will call 'emotion'. Thus, what I say about emotions from now on will only apply to those feelings that meet the definition. It is for the reader to decide if the definitions advanced are correct definitions of the terms being defined and to decide whether these feelings are really emotions in my sense of the term.

Let us explore the definition a bit with an example. Suppose that you have the preference that everything be going well. Suppose, you believe that things are not going well. This conflict between you belief and your preference is the kernel of an emotion(b), maybe a 'sadness' or 'unhappiness'. Let us not name it at this point. But it is not an emotion until we have been made aware that we have this preference and we have this belief and we are aware that the belief does not satisfy the preference. When we have this awareness, we almost have a complete emotion(b), but not quite. What we would need for it to be a full emotion is for the attention to bring about an unpleasant (or pleasant) experience. No one has emotions that are neutrally valued.

Most of the time when a preference is unsatisfied and we are aware of it, it is unpleasant, but this might not always be the case. We can imagine that having taken truth serum or being in a real strange mood might make it so that this awareness of a dissatisfaction was not in any way unpleasant. Then, I think you would agree that the person is not having an emotional experience. (At least not an emotional experience with respect to that preference.) The person may be having some other emotional experience like the enjoyment of feeling emotionally removed from their pain.

Consider the android character Data in Star Trek, The Next Generation. Until recently Data could not have emotions, and I think I know why. He has all the other material for an emotion. He has beliefs, he has preferences, he can attend to the relationship between the two, but he could not feel the pleasure or pain derived from this relationship. In fact ,this inability to experience pleasure or pain was at the core of why he could not have many other kinds of feelings besides emotions. (No hint is ever given in the show as to what it would take or mean to program an android to feel pleasure or pain.) He could not feel primally, he had no real desires and he had no moods. Well, maybe one mood, if we could call it a mood, it might be 'detached'. But this may be more a character trait than a mood.

One of the most interesting things about the distinction between emotions and other feelings is that emotions are not directly the result of a state in the world. For example, one will feel hunger if one's body is in a hungry state. Thus, hunger is not an emotion. Emotions depend upon one's beliefs about the world. A particular emotion may be the result of a belief that does not correspond with the way things are in the world (i.e. is not true). We have preferences that certain things be the case, and preferences are satisfied, or not, by the perception of what is true. And the perception of what is true is not directly and forcefully linked to what is really true in the world. Emotions are feelings that result from our view of the world and its contrast to what we would want the world to be or not to be.

Because emotions have the component of 'belief' and have the component of 'preference', sometimes it is possible through reflection to change an emotion. Many of our preferences also have belief components. We often only prefer certain states conditionally. If we realize that a state we thought we preferred isn't quite what we thought it was, sometimes we no longer prefer it. This belief component to 'preference' makes preferences accessible through reflection. I'll say more about this later.

Reflection may not be of much use for primal feelings, except possibly for discovering which situations bring about those feelings and then intentionally seeking out or intentionally avoiding those situations. Moods may not have the same access points for alteration. Some moods are clearly related to physical criteria, like drugs, or hunger, or dehydration or low blood sugar. So, these may not be as directly accessible by reflection as emotions, except by reflecting and intentionally avoiding those physical causes of them.

Emotions have the feature that you can often put your finger clearly on the preference that is not being satisfied by a belief. It may be that some kinds of moods can be changed into an emotion by identifying the preference that one might not originally be aware of. I suspect that some moods are emotions that have been put in the background and forgotten, and so one has the belief and the preference but no attention. The pleasantness or unpleasantness persists in the background, but one is not really attending to what the pleasantness or unpleasantness was about. We will have to explore this idea further, later on.

Some attention should be paid to the fact that emotions come in intensities. Notice, in the definition I say that the kernel of an emotion is expressed in terms of a preference that is being satisfied to some extent by a belief. And so we see that the degree to which one believes something might be true (the probability one would assign it) may be partially responsible for the intensity of the emotion. Another feature related to the intensity of the emotion would be the strength of the preference. A third feature might be to what extent you are attending to that satisfaction or dissatisfaction.

The fourth feature that will account for the intensity of an emotion is the degree to which one is predisposed to feel pleasantness or unpleasantness, pleasure or pain. This may be more of a physiological state than a psychological one. We know that we are more likely to feel things strongly at one time or another, depending upon features like lack of sleep, too much sugar, too much caffeine or a recent emotional event. For instance a recent anger can make it easier to be angry at something else. There are at least two reasons this might be true. First, the threshold for displeasure at irritation might be lowered by the first emotional anger. But also the degree of displeasure for that irritation is more likely higher. This degree of ability to feel pleasure or pain is undoubtedly a feature of the intensity of an emotion, so it should be noted.

Let us reflect on the nature of this definition of emotion. Notice it is not an totally an empirical claim, in the sense of telling us which things in reality have emotions and which ones do not. What I am suggesting is that as successful users of the language who have feelings and who are often successful at conveying feelings with language, we already have an understanding of how to use these terms. Now, it would be interesting to find a pattern in common with these usages. Without claiming that the pattern I present will cover all things previously thought of as emotions, I nevertheless believe it is useful for understand many feelings. So, let us understand my thesis in this way:

If you have a feeling, then ask yourself if there is a preference underlying that feeling such that if the belief about whether that preference was satisfied were to change then your feeling would change'. (A mouthful) If the answer is 'yes', then this kind of feeling is accessible by reflection. As an aside, let us call this thing when the answer is 'yes' an emotion.

For the emotions where the definition is given herein we have an easier task . So, if we have a definition of 'anger' that does agree mostly but not completely with the pre-theoretic notion then when a person identifies him/herself as angry, the first thing that person could ask him/herself is: does this feeling fit with the definition given of 'anger'? If so, then it gives the person other questions to ask, addressing particular aspects of the given definition. If not, then the particular definition might not be that helpful and so they could proceed by asking themselves questions about the core preference, as I indicate in the last paragraph.

Now given the definition of emotions, there are 6 strategies for changing or dealing with a negative emotion.

You can...

1) Work on changing a preference in the definition (or your definition) of that emotion (either its intensity or existence).

2) Work on satisfying a preference in the definition.

3) Attend to changing a belief in the definition.

4) Attempt to change your attention away from the belief and preference.

5) Try to change the displeasure or pleasure associated with the attention. (i.e. if you are especially sensitive, try to discover why you are especially sensitive to the believed state and address the cause of that sensitivity)

But if you have decided not to change it then you can try to...

6) Resign yourself to accepting the emotion.

For those interested in the more formal aspect of my notion of emotion, it is not literally true to say that a conflict between beliefs and preferences brings about the emotion. It is not a definition with 'and' as a the major connector. To give an example, we cannot define an emotion with the form 'I have this belief AND I have this preference.' It is instead the logic of functions. At the core we have preferences. On the next level we have beliefs about whether those preferences are being satisfied. One more level out we have our attention to those beliefs. And on the last level we have the pleasure or displeasure that results from that attention. So with negative emotions we are talking about (The displeasure of (The attention to (The beliefs about the dissatisfaction of (a Preference)))) That is: E = D(A(B(P)))

So, it is the attention to a belief that can be pleasant or unpleasant. We know that sometimes attending to things can sometimes be either pleasant or unpleasant. In this case we are talking about the attention to beliefs, a bit more abstract than something like sensation., but this should not disqualify it as an object to attend to and feel pleasant because of.

This may be a bit too technical for some but I would also like to note the following: It is not as if I should say "I am happy that I believe <thus and such>", as if believing is the object of my happiness. It is more to the point to say something like that "I am happy that <thus and such>", where <thus and such> is one of my beliefs.

In the most ordinary language you have things that you would like to be true (or not true) and beliefs about whether these hopes and wants are satisfied. This is at the heart of emotions.

Recently I found another work called "The Cognitive Structure of Emotions" by Andrew Ortony, Gerald L. Clore and Allan Collins that has a similar approach. This 1988 book has a category like my belief based emotions that they call "well-being emotions" They defined this kind of emotion as "paradigmatic psychological states of feeling that arise from attending to events insofar as they are appraised as being desirable or undesirable". I was surprised to see this similarity and even the same choice of the word 'attend'. My category is a bit different since I take the objects of my emotion category to be states of affairs not events. This makes the class of emotions a bit different.

Before we look at specific emotions, let us explore beliefs and preferences with some attention to what it would take to change them by reflection. And then in another chapter, let me present a method for discovering definitions of specific emotions. This will be the content of the next three sections.

Comment (on the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon above):

If the definition presented here is correct then Calvin has put his finger on a key component of emotions, namely that you have to attend to beliefs in order for emotions to arise. Somewhat more dubious is his claim that without negative emotions one would be happy. Is that what happiness is? The lack of unpleasant emotions? Not likely. Also Hobbes correctly points out that there may be other important considerations to designing one's life than considerations of happiness. Calvin applies his new 'philosophy' in a recursive way to resist this suggestion.

A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.

-- David Hume



Near the kernel of an emotion we have a belief. But what are beliefs and do they just change or is there a way to change them? I take beliefs to be an attitude towards the truth of a statement. So when one says 'it is my opinion that ..." or "I feel that..." it is easy to see that what one believes or has an opinion of or feels is that something is really the case, i.e. is true. So, belief to be associated either with a degree of willingness to assert that a statement is true (with full integrity) or the willingness to act as if its probability were more likely than not . We should note that if the degree of willingness is sufficient to assert a statement then the degree of willingness to assert its negation would be too low to actually assert in the same dialog. Thus, to say we believe something minimally says that we do not believe its negation. But, of course, whether the opinion is in fact true does not create the belief and, having the belief does not make it a truth, (with the possible exception of beliefs about what one believes).

There are other ways of using the word 'belief'. Some might say that they believe in their spouse. This does not mean that they believe their spouse exists, but something quite different. In any case, when I use the term 'believe', let us take it as expressing something that would take the form of "I believe that..." where what follows is a statement.

We know that beliefs do change and so because of the relationship between beliefs and emotions it is appropriate to ask to what extent it is possible to direct a change in a belief. Consider this: Suppose you want to believe something, but you do not really believe it. What is the natural mechanism for actively change this belief?

Without answering that right now, let me direct your attention to the kinds of beliefs that one may have. There are beliefs that are quite transient. I believe that I have $29 in my pocket right now. This belief may be of some worth, but its likely not of any lasting importance. In contrast, there are beliefs that work in the background almost all the time that clarify and color our transient beliefs. Metaphysical beliefs or general beliefs may fall in this category. The reason I wish to make this distinction, is to point out that some beliefs are with us for a long time and so they are the ones that will at least partially define what kind of emotions we can have. If, for instance, you do not believe that a government has responsibilities to its people, then you may not be capable of feeling anger at your government for not doing something.

Because of this, I think we would have to say that these background beliefs are going to have the largest influence on our emotional life. So, if there were a way to actively change one or more of these, we would be making an influential change in the emotions we are likely to feel for the rest of our lives. This, in turn, changes who we are and helps to define and change our character.

Another thing to note is that beliefs are logically independent of truth. By this I mean that it is possible to believe something when it is in fact false and it is possible to not believe something which is in fact true. This agrees well with our natural view of emotions. Take grief, for instance. Suppose that you grieve for John. But suppose in fact that John is not dead. You were misinformed. The actuality does not affect the grief at all until you find it out about it; that is, until your belief changes. In the same way you may feel no grief for John even though unbeknownst to you he has in fact died. This is our major indicator that grief, at least in this context, is a feeling we call an emotion. A change in belief, not reality, would change the feeling.

Now, I would like to suggest that there really is only one good way to change a belief, and that is to re-examine the evidence or attempt to gather new evidence for that belief. One cannot just choose beliefs and then adopt them, like stray cats, primarily because if you are aware that you have chosen a belief in this way and know you have chosen it this way, on some level you will know that they could easily be wrong. Knowing this will render the belief and any associated emotion vulnerable to the slightest wind of disconfirmation.

But sometimes, there are matters where you have to take a stand one way or the other. To do otherwise may make things way too uncertain. In this case I suggest that we realize that beliefs do not all necessarily come in only yes/no categories. Beliefs are capable of degrees.

Let me give an example. Maybe this sort of thing happened to you as a young person. You are concerned about the affections of a date. She smiles at you on the street. You conclude she must like you. You call her up but her phone is busy. You think: Maybe she is trying to avoid talking to you, so she is leaving the phone off the hook. You conclude that she does not like you. Which belief do you choose? Either way will leave you vulnerable to ever so many experiences that could go against it. Can you just pick a belief and stick with it, no matter what? This is possible, but not a very good life strategy.

It is important to see that you do not have to make your belief 100% one way or the other. If we allow the exemplified youngster to think 'there is a 60% chance she likes me and now she smiled at me, so I should raise it to 65%', we tone down the intensity of the emotional swing, the intensity being related to the degree of belief. This has to be a lot easier to live with.

William James argued that if we do not have any evidence one way or another for a belief then we have the freedom to choose which belief we want. In the context of emotions this would mean that we have to ability to choose some of our emotions, by choosing some of our beliefs. But how does this work? James was interested in the existence of God, and so let us take this as an example. Suppose James, in a rational spirit, discovers that he has no evidence one way or the other for God's existence. He might then think that according to the evidence it is just as likely that God exist as that he does not.

At this point he says "I choose to believe that God exists!" But on the other hand he acknowledges that evidence makes it a toss up. How does he square these beliefs? As loudly as he proclaims it, wouldn't we really say that to use the term 'belief' correctly we would have to say that his true belief in God's existence is approximately 50%? Maybe he thinks that by proclaiming it enough, verbally, that he will come to dismiss his percentage belief in favor of the full declaration of God's existence. Maybe, by declaring his choice, he has decided to embark on a self-brainwashing strategy, by saying prayers, going to church and other activities which will tend to promote his hoped for belief. But later at any time if he admits to himself that he really has no reasons either way, he will be back to where he started from, in an approximate 50% belief position. This swing would have to be emotionally upsetting.

Brainwashing oneself also has a bit of a dishonest quality to it. It is a bit like setting your watch 20 minutes ahead so you can fool yourself into not being late. We have to ask ourselves: Do we really want to go around fooling ourselves? Might this not be a bad habit to get into? I would suggest that it is, and when we do this we set ourselves up for emotional swings. As an alternative we acknowledge that our real beliefs are just as strong as the evidence we have for them, no more, and no less. This is a reasonable way of providing oneself with a bit of emotional stability.

There is another reason to not accept James' general position on how to choose beliefs. Sometimes one's belief, if false, can cause a great amount of damage, whereas its opposite, if false, would not. We cannot just freely choose to believe it. It would not be the moral choice. The moral choice would be to take the position that could do no harm, if wrong, or at least give weight to the positions in accordance with how much evidence you have for them.

As an example, solipsism comes to mind. This is the belief that declares that you are the only person in the world, i.e. that others are just a figment of your imagination. I do not subscribe to the standard arguments against solipsism, but there is a strong moral argument against it. Notice that if you are a solipsist and you are wrong, you can do a great amount of harm, because you would probably not be treating people as people and you would not act with the appropriate sense of responsibility.

But if you take an anti-solipsistic position and you are wrong, i.e. you are in fact the only person in the world, then there is not much harm in behaving as if those fictional creations are real people. So, if we have to choose a belief, let us choose not to be solipsists. And if we do not have to choose, then let us just weigh the different positions proportionally to their evidential strength.

Now, if you do not wish to accept that evidence is the only good way to change a belief, then at least for the purposes of this book, I would not be concerned. It just means that you are going to be able to find more ways to change an emotion that I would normally recommend. You might, for instance, attempt to change an emotion by just choosing the appropriately related belief. If it is possible to change beliefs in this way, then by my theory it will change your emotions. If you do decide to change things in this way, please be aware that changing beliefs and potential emotions is also likely to change other emotions you are capable of, and of course, each change will influence the kind of person you are to become.

In fact, we should also allow as a possibility that if one can choose beliefs, not only could one choose beliefs that provided emotional satisfaction, all emotions considered, but one could also choose beliefs based upon what kind of person you might be striving to be. This would at least meet my moral argument against James' argument, if you were striving to be a moral kind of person.

To me, this seems a better criterion for choosing beliefs that merely choosing the belief that you want to believe. That is, it does not seem that bad, if possible, to choose beliefs that would put you on the road to becoming your moral ideal.

These are the possibilities. Each has its own positive and negative consequences. In summary: I, for the most part, recommend that you set your beliefs according to evidence and justification, as Hume suggests. (And maybe if one is using the term 'belief' correctly it is not possible to do otherwise.) But if you do not want to do this and it is possible to do otherwise then I would not strongly discourage choosing beliefs based upon an ideal self. I suspect that the latter strategy would make for a less stable emotional environment, but really this your choice.

The last thing a person should do is choose his beliefs based upon the perception of whether or not they would bring about the right kind of feelings. Not only might one be wrong about what kind of feelings would result, but the practice would soon have one far removed from reality. Later on, I will attempt to indicate which emotions go with which character traits, for those who might wish to choose their beliefs to enable character traits.

What does all this mean in terms of a flowchart for emotional resolution? It implies that a main question that one should ask oneself in resolving an emotion is "Are the beliefs that make this emotion possible justified?" Maybe this is obvious. We should always make sure of our facts before we become jealous, for instance. But it also implies that we are able to ask ourselves about the background assumptions that make jealousy possible. Does jealousy require the notion of owning another person, for instance?

When we get to specific emotions, I will many times indicate what I think the relevant background beliefs are for that emotion.

But for now let us turn our attention to the other element at the kernel of an emotion: one's preferences.


-- Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson


In the section on "beliefs" It is proposed that a belief be associated with either a degree of willingness to assert that a statement is true (with full integrity) or the willingness to act as if its probability were more likely than not. In a similar fashion, I take preferences to be related to the degree to which one would want a statement or a cluster of statements to be true.

Image, if you will, that you could rank all of the possible ways the world could be, from the best world according to your values, to the worst world. If you could do this, we could tell you what your preferences are.

For instance, if every situation with the world at peace was ranked higher or equal to the situation similar it, except there was no peace, then we could say that you have a preference for peace. I am not saying that anyone ever does this sort of infinite prioritizing or that anyone would ever really want to, but only that if we saw this ranking we could infer from it all of the person's preferences.

There are some logical problems with the notion of 'similar situation' but let us skip past those for a bit since this construct will prove to be useful, even if slightly flawed.

The first thing we might notice is that this ranking would change from time to time as the person has different experiences, feelings, and moods. Likewise then, our preferences will change from time to time. But we might want to think a bit about whether there is such a thing as a true ranking, one that does not change or changes with less volatility.

So, for instance, we may wish to consider only those rankings that are the result of broad clear-minded reflection. By this I mean the way we would order things when we try to offset our impulsiveness and take all of our values into consideration and count events and states at a future time with the same intensity as comparable states at or near the present time. When a person is focused upon an impulse and is willing to act upon it, even though it will have negative consequences for other values that the person possesses but is not thinking about at the time, this is not a 'broad reflection'. Thus we can see that this 'true ranking' would be less subject to change from time to time.

Let us take an example of a preference in an ordinary context. What would it mean to say that you prefer to go out to dinner tonight? Should we imagine that what your are saying is that you have viewed all possible situations and all of the situations where you go out to dinner are preferred to all of the worlds where you do not? This cannot be right. Instead, it is more like the following: You have in mind a context, or a set of assumptions that limit and fix the domain of consideration. Within this small set of possibilities (in that context), you regard the situations where you go out to dinner as better than the possibilities where you do not. You do not compare 'going out to dinner' with 'taking a ride on the space shuttle'. The ride on the shuttle is not one of the possibilities in consideration.

So, it is not only preferences that matter for purposes of emotions, but preferences in a context. We have in mind a certain set of situations when we assess our preferences. Some of the contexts that are important for purposes of emotions are as follows:

1: The context where we compare what is the case now with what we believe was the case. An example of this is the emotion of grief. Notice when a person grieves, they are comparing what is with what was.

2: The context where we compare what is the case with what one had expected to happen (our expectations i.e. what we believed was likely to be the case). An example of this would be disappointment or relief. When a person has positive expectations and when these expectations do not work out, then the person is disappointed. When a person has negative expectations and these expectations do not come to pass, the person is relieved.

3: The context where we compare what is the case with what we believed could have easily happened. Envy might be an example of this. If a person compares the life of another, say a lottery winner, with his/her own life, then one might feel envious. A person might prefer that they had won the lottery.

4: We can compare what is the case with what we believe should have happened. Some kinds of anger might be an example of this kind of emotion. When we are angry with someone (or with their behavior), sometimes it is because what they did was in contrast with what we believe they should have done.

We may find that there are more ways to focus on our preferences. If fact, there might be quite a few possible ways to compare situations that did not come to be to situations that did, but these four above are probably the most common and will do for now. The important thing to realize is that for the purposes of emotions, a person compares what happens (actually what they believed happens), or some relevant features of what happened with some other limited set of possibilities.

Another thing to note about preferences is that they often have beliefs as presuppositions. So, for instance, as in the above example of 'should' and anger, if we discover later on that the person actually did what was right, not wrong, then if this was the major reason for the anger, then the anger will go away. In a non-emotional example, we might think that we would prefer to go to the beach today, but if we then discover that it is raining at the beach, this preference will leave. Maybe the reason we wanted to go was because we wanted to lay out and get a tan. Thus, it appears that preferences, once you peel away some of the beliefs, are often built from more fundamental preferences.

Because of this understanding of preferences, it suggests at least four approaches to changing or dealing with a preference. The first is to change one of the beliefs that underlie the preference. How would we do that? To find the beliefs that underlie a preference, you may ask yourself 'why do I prefer such and such?' So, for instance, suppose that you prefer to go to a specific movie this evening. If you had a reason to want to change that preference you might ask yourself 'Why do I want to go to this specific movie?' Your answer might be because you believe that it will be a good movie and you have a preference to see a good movie (over the other alternatives for the evening). And so, if you do some research and discover that the movie is likely not to be a good one, then this preference will change under the influence of new information.

So asking 'why?' is one of the methodologies that one could use to discover what one would 'really prefer'. By 'really prefer' I mean 'what one would prefer upon reflection and given complete knowledge'. Using this approach, changing a preference reduces to changing a belief. As I indicated earlier, finding the evidence for the belief may be on the path for this change. We will have opportunities when dealing with examples to see how this might work with specific emotions.

Because there is a sometimes a difference between our preferences and the preferences that we would have upon broad clear minded reflection on all our values, this gives us our second mechanism for changing preferences. In the modern life it is easy to become focused upon one narrow concern, so that for that time one may lose perspective and forget about the preferences that would always be there upon clear reflection. For example, I play chess a lot. When I am really into it, and I make a mistake, it might seem like the worst thing that could happen to me in my life. This is what it means to "lose perspective". Some small transient value gets overrated when your focus has narrowed. While I was playing well, this focus made my experience seem more exciting and greater than it would in a broader context, and this may be part of the reason we narrow our focus, so that we can experience this narrow satisfaction with greater intensity.

The preference would change if, by reflection, we remind ourselves of how this narrow situation fits in the context of our whole life. In fact, it would be handy for an individual to have a prepared broad perspective that they could whip out whenever a narrow focus was causing emotional stress. I believe this is usually referred to as 'The Big Picture' and it is not surprising that it is often associated with a concept of wisdom. One of the benefits of wisdom is that it is supposed to give us a perspective that should help us deal with life, and in particular with our feelings in and about our life.

The third method is more for dealing with a preference than changing it. Because an emotion is a function of which possible worlds one is focused upon, it might seem that all one would have to do to change an emotion is focus on a different comparison. Here is an example. Suppose you get second prize in a beauty contest (as in Monopoly). Some might be disappointment because they did not get first prize. This is because the comparison is being made between what happened and what one had hoped would happen or even what one expected to happen.

But, you might say, it was also possible, to get last place in the contest. Would reflection on this fact change the disheartened feeling? Probably not. However, it might serve to introduce a positive emotion to offset the negative glitch on the emotional landscape brought about by disappointment. The other comparison is still there, but now you may also feel a bit lucky that you did not get last place because you at least avoided an embarrassment.

The last and maybe the most important method of changing a preference is to come to an awareness that you don't want that preference. At that point, sometimes, but not always, you can choose to not have that preference. Sometimes just this awareness will make the change: the awareness that you have a second level preference to not have the preference. At other times you may have to mull over for a while the place of this preference in your life. It's not clear to me to what extent we may actually choose our preference, but it does seem to be an option in some cases.

For most contexts the word 'desire' could probably take the place of 'preference' without much harm, but using the notion of preference keeps our attention on the fact that most of our 'desires' are relational, which is to say that we desire things in relation to the alternatives that we believe are viable options. To use the word 'desire' is to focus on something and value it as if it could be valued out of context. Thus, we have two ways to go in this article/book. We could use the word 'desire' and keep in mind that very few desires could not be overridden by bringing in more choices or we could use the word 'preference' which already conveys ordering in context. Let me use 'preference' mostly from now on, even though some definitions of particular emotions may seem a little strained with this word. When there is such a strain, remember its closely related term 'desire'.

There is one other small problem with using the concept of desire in defining particular emotions and that is in some contexts 'desire' is almost synonymous with 'unfulfilled desire', thus to fulfill a desire is to eliminate it. Preferences hold as their object that certain situations BE THE CASE over other situations. If we find that something preferred is the case, the preference does not disappear. A satisfaction will appear instead. This satisfaction will disappear immediately if we discover that we were wrong about the truth of our judgment.

Anyway, this is probably more than we need to know to understand emotions and it admittedly is not yet as clear as it could be, but it is food for thought and should count as a sufficient starting point for what is to follow.


Additional Comment (On Calvin and Hobbes cartoon above)

Note that Calvin's dad is able to bring out a larger perspective (bigger picture) to help him deal with his feelings. I don't believe that this perspective was useful in resolving the anger. The anger was muted or dissolved by Calvin who was sufficiently apologetic and indicated that he had learned something. The broad perspective is used by Calvin's dad, seemingly successfully, to deal with the intensity of his disappointment by realizing that his binoculars are not the most important thing in his life. His future car is much more important!

Thinking (a Cognitive State)


When I first developed this theory, I only had considered believing as the kind of thinking that was relevant to defining an emotion. But with the help of others and their counterexamples, I realized that a more general theory was possible. Bill Jarrold, a friend, asked me if 'surprise' was an emotion. Of course, there is 'pleasantly surprised' or 'unpleasantly surprised', but what about 'surprise' itself? Sometimes. during a movie for instance, we are delighted by a surprise in the story. A twist that did not expect. That is, sometimes we enjoy being surprised independently of the content of the surprise. Humor may be an example of this.

When we are pleasantly surprised we may note that our belief that something would occur has changed for the better and the thought of this better state is pleasant, thus the pleasantness of the surprise. But how are we to think of surprise itself? Should we think, I prefer to be surprised and now I believe I am surprised and that is the source of the pleasantness? I don't think so. It is more likely that the state of being surprised is itself a pleasant state. I do not have to reflect upon my preference to be surprised for the surprise to be a positive experience.


Thinking about this and realizing that I had had problems trying to define things like 'awe', 'wonder' or boredom with mere beliefs and preferences, I had to generalized to thinking of emotions as pleasant or unpleasant states of thinking. Again, we see that emotions are not direct functions of the world but are instead a function of our thoughts (mostly about the world).

So what is thinking? Besides 'believing' we have other things that we do on a cognitive level. Here are some examples.

We even have grammatical forms that correspond to some of these. For instance, 'believing' is something we do to statements. 'Wondering' could be thought of as having questions as their objects and 'intending' may be thought of as having commands as their objects of thought. This is speculation at this point, but interesting speculation. I hope others pursue this line of thinking.

Notice that in every case, at least the way I've expressed it here, the notion of the truth of a state of affair is at the core of these thinkings. Our various attitudes towards these states make up all varieties of thinking, which we shall call 'cognitive states'. It seems that a core notion of emotions is that of being 'about' something.

We may wonder if "John is afraid that such and such is true" constitutes one of these cognitive states? This will be treated as complex. Let's take an example. If I said "I am afraid that I can't make it to the party", clearly this is not an expression of the emotion of fear. It is more like, "I'm not going to make it" and "This disappoints me." However, if it were really the case that I am not prepared for the possibility of not going and I think about this and it leads to an unpleasantness, then it may very well be thought of as the emotion of fear.

In order to give the clearest definitions of emotions, it would be nice to see which of the above examples are more fundamental, more atomic than the others. With this in mind, let me suggest that belief and preference are close to fundamental. 'To be counting upon such and such' is likely expressible as 'not being prepared for it not to be the case that such and such'. I think 'to be prepared' is more fundamental, but it's hard to tell from this definition since it looks like 'to be prepared for' could similarly be defined in terms of 'counting upon'.

To be surprised that such and such is true is a function of the change in beliefs. We need the concept of 'belief' but also 'change', so strictly speaking it cannot be defined purely in terms of belief.

To hope that something be the case is to be counting on it more than is warranted by the evidence. There may be an element of pretending in hope and pretending can sometimes be pleasant or unpleasant. Thus, we can imaging that the feeling of 'being hopeful' itself may be a positive or negative emotion, or both at the same time.

So, in terms of the emotions that I decide to treat here, I take the following emotions to be ones that are not belief based : awe, wonder, curiosity, boredom, loneliness, love (in one sense), hope, surprise (in one sense). Remember though, that by 'not belief based' I mean emotions that do not disappear if the belief that the preference is not satisfied disappears.

Let's keep in mind also we may not have a complete list of fundamental cognitive states here, and to get a complete list would be interesting but left for another time. For now, let us go on to defining 'emotion'.


Defining an Emotion

In order for us to understand a particular emotion and for us to understand what our options are for resolving the emotion we need to be able to define it. By define it, in this context, I am using the strong notion of 'definition' meaning that we should explicitly state the necessary and sufficient conditions for us to classify that emotion as the one being defined. I do not just mean 'drawing boundaries around', which might be our most frequent usage of the term 'definition'. At the core of a definition is a preference and near the core some belief about whether the preference is or is not satisfied. Thus, to define a particular emotion we have to ask ourselves 'what preference does a person have who is experiencing that emotion such that if they did not have that preference, then they would not have the emotion. So, for instance, we might be able to see that disappointment has at its core the preference that positive expectations be satisfied.

When we define an emotion in this sense we should realize that we are engaging in a semantical inquiry. We are attempting to ask the question, 'How would we characterize the way we usually successfully apply the term "disappointment" (for example), in terms of a core preference.' or other thinkings. Just so this task not be too easy, we should also realize that sometimes a term is used in several different ways. "Sadness" comes to mind as an emotion with several meanings. My empirical claim, to be examined by ordinary experience and reflection upon how we might have used the term in the past, is that once you have identified a feeling as an emotion there is at least one definition (maybe more, if the emotion has various senses) that fits the structure of my definitional schema

So herein, I will attempt to find at least one definition for some of the more popular (familiar) emotions. Once this is done, if one had identified an emotion by name, then by consulting the definition of the emotion one would understand what the possible avenues for resolution are. However, it might be that we is not able to identify an emotion by name. In fact, we should even allow for the possibility that some emotions do not have names yet. Even in such a case, there is a procedure to attempt to understand what the possibilities of resolving that emotion are.

Suppose you have a feeling and you know that the feeling is at least partially supported by beliefs. How would you know this? You ask yourself, 'if some of my beliefs were to change, would this feeling go away?' If the answer is 'yes', then that feeling is an emotion. Now, with or without a name for this emotion you can still define it. You may ask yourself 'What preference do I have, such that if it were to go away, the feeling would also go away?' At first this may seem too broad a question, for we have all sorts of preferences in the background, and we might not know how to sort through them all. To narrow the focus, realize that emotions, maybe in contrast to moods, have a focal object. When we say

'I am angry about (or at)...'

'I feel guilty about...'

'I am sad about...'

'I am disappointed that...'

'I am jealous of....'

there is an object for each of these feelings. Now, it is true that one can be just plain 'angry', but in this context (when there is not an object) we would not call the feeling an emotion but instead a mood.

So the question one might use to help one focus on the preference is 'What is this emotion 'about', or 'of'. What is the object or event or state of affairs of the emotion? The preference, then is related to why you wanted or did not want that event to occur, or that state of affairs to come to pass, or why you did not want that object to do what it did. On some level every emotion in the belief sense can be traced to an event or situation or fact perceived as favorable or unfavorable.

As an example, let me share a personal experience with you. I live in the mountains of California. When it snows, people from other parts come up here to sled and toboggan. The area isn't really set up for it, so on occasion, for instance, someone will be sliding down a mountain and zip across the road.

It was on such a day that I was driving along, not completely aware of how quickly I could stop if need be, the roads were icy but I had studded tires. There was a car ahead of me about 10 car lengths and although I was only going about 25 mph, I decided to be more cautious and slow down a bit. In this particular case, I was really being too cautious, and if I had gotten much closer I would not have been concerned.

Within about 20 seconds a kid from nowhere came sliding off the mountain to land directly in the path of my car. I put on the brakes as forcefully as I could and still be somewhat assured that I would not slide. My car wheel stopped within 2 feet of the middle of the kid's body.

The interesting thing to me is that the memory of this event comes back to me from time to time and when it does I have strong feelings, but I have not been able to put a precise label on those feelings.

I do not have to think too long to discover the core preference of this emotion. It has at its foundation the fact that I strongly prefer the situation where I do not hit the kid to the situation where I do hit him. This, with the belief that I did not hit him, is enough to generate the emotion when I focus on it. If I wanted to change this emotion, which I do not, I would probably ask myself why I did not want to hit him. Actually in this case the answer to the question is not likely to change my preference, but in some cases it might.

Another interesting thing about the situation is that one of the things that makes the emotion so strong is that the alternative situation where I hit him seems so close. As a possibility, it seems very real because it could have easily been the case. The fact that I slowed down almost by accident just before and the fact that he was only 2 feet away from my tire, reminds me of its closeness.

I still do not have a name for this emotion. I am tempted to say I feel lucky or I feel relieved or thankful, but these do not quite do it. They don't seem specific enough. I know that if things had gone the other way, I would have felt regret and sorrow and maybe some other negative emotions like guilt. But even in such a case I would still not need the name of the emotion in order to deal with it and in fact because the emotion is somewhat positive, there is no challenge to dealing with it. I expect that the intensity of this emotion will decrease as the alternative possibility where I hit the kid seems less real.

Also, if the emotion is of the non belief sort, then one may ask oneself what thinking state is one in that is either pleasant or unpleasant.

One might ask: if all emotions are satisfactions or dissatisfactions of beliefs then why don't all emotions feel the same? What accounts for that difference in quality of feeling? One answer is that sometimes other thinking states are involved. like expectations or hopes, but it may also be that the difference in quality of feeling is to be found in the quality of the pleasure or displeasure from attending to the belief. We know, for instance, that the pleasure of a satisfactory eating experience is a different kind of pleasure than a satisfactory sexual experience, for instance. I would suggest that in the same way the preference at stake in the emotion may bring about different kinds of pleasure or displeasure when attending to the belief.

The Emotional Response

When we are young, the response to an emotion is less complex. For negative emotions we naturally take a course of action that we perceive might resolve or dissolve the emotion. For positive emotions, we try to hold and maintain the pleasant feeling. These responses are natural, for we are just trying to stop the displeasure and enjoy the pleasure. Because we humans are similar in how we approach things it is easy to identify when a child is feeling angry, for instance. The child tries to shut down the source perceived to be the cause of the anger. There are limited ways for a child to do this, like hitting, and so when a child exhibits this behavior we know he/she is angry.

But as a child learns more ways to 'shut down the source', his/her responses may become harder to interpret. Furthermore strategies that have worked in the past for dealing with this emotion may become reinforced, including the strategy (possibly) of not showing the emotion. Thus as a person gets older it might become harder to identify their feeling merely from their actions. It is tempting to believe that the response is the defining aspect of the emotion, for that is one way we learn the language, by associating the feeling with the reaction to the feeling. But it becomes clear as responses become more complex that this will not do. It would be too hard to characterize these possible responses without referring to the intention of the response, which is what it takes to address the emotion.

In the case of negative emotions, we are attempting to resolve or dissolve the emotion through our behavior. The thing that complicates this process and makes the response seem natural or automatic or forced is that over time we develop habitual ways of responding to emotions of a similar sort. So we have seen people who automatically hit someone, as if by instinct, when conclude they are angry. They may claim that it was forced by the feeling. "They could do nothing else."

But often what one thinks of as instinct is merely a strong deeply established habit. The habit was acquired because it was successful at resolving the emotion in the past and thus it was satisfying. So, what I would like to propose that the response is not part of the definition of the emotion but is instead a learned reaction to the dissatisfied emotional preference.

Let us define a successful response to a negative emotion as a response that resolves or dissolves that emotion and does it in a way that does not bring about other negative emotions. So, for instance, it might not be a successful response to deal with anger by hitting someone, since this may result in feelings of regret or guilt, depending upon the situation. If hitting someone is in general a successful way to resolve the emotion without consequence, then it would have a tendency to become habitual.

I would recommend that we reflect upon the habits that we have developed in responding to emotions with a critical eye on whether we have adopted habits that are going to be generally successful. One of the ways we can do this is by reflecting upon our responses in the past and identifying the habitual responses that did not work out, so that the next time we are in a similar situation we can remind ourselves that these responses do not work. It may not be enough to deter the habitual response at first, but after a few self-reminders it could be.

So, suppose you have an uncomfortable emotion that needs resolution. Try reflecting on the possible ways to resolve the emotion before responding to the emotion. What would make the emotion go away? One should not just focus upon changing the external world. Sometimes the thing that will make the emotion go away is an examination of the beliefs and preferences involved. Sometimes reflection will change the nature of these beliefs or preferences, thus this ought to be considered as one of the possibilities when we are faced with trying to resolve a negative emotion.

But what might be the proper response to a positive emotion? I would think that one would try to enjoy it as long as possible. We know that positive emotions eventually fade. Why is that and are there ways to hold on to the feeling? This will often depend upon the emotion and the nature of the preference being satisfied. We will talk more of this when we address particular positive emotions.

But now let us try to define the most commonly named emotions and some that are not so common, at least in name.

Emotional Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction


If you asked the person on the street to list 3 basic emotions, probably none would come up with emotional satisfaction or emotional dissatisfaction. This will not deter me from claiming that these are the most fundamental and general emotions. In fact, in my taxonomy of emotional terms, all particular emotions will just be a specific kind of emotional satisfaction or dissatisfaction or mixture of the two.

What this implies then is that if there are general methods for dealing with emotional dissatisfaction then those methods will be potentially applicable to every negative emotion.

Let us look at my definition:

A person is emotionally dissatisfied if and only if the person is having an unpleasant experience resulting from attending to the fact that any preference (by any comparison) is not being satisfied by a belief.

You will note that this is pretty much the definition of a negative emotion. Since, all definitions will have this form, that is, all definitions will refer to a preference not being satisfied by a belief, the method of comparison, attending to the beliefs, we can shorten the general form of a definition of an emotion. Let us call the particular preference relevant to the definition the core of the emotion. Let us call the preference together with the belief that either satisfies it or not the kernel of the emotion. So...

The Definition

A person is emotionally dissatisfied if and only if,

1) The person has a preference for a belief.

2) The preference is not being satisfied.

3) P has displeasure arising from attending to the fact that this preference is not satisfied by P's beliefs.


Summary of the definition and Note.

The core of emotional dissatisfaction is any preference.

The kernel of emotional dissatisfaction is any preference that is not satisfied by a belief. (No restrictions on type of belief or preference is needed)

Resolution and Preparing (for that kind of emotion in the future)

As I noted before, the way to resolve such an emotion is to see if a relevant belief can be changed or a relevant preference. If one wished to prepare so that he/she had less dissatisfactions in the future, what could he/she do? Is it possible to decide to care less about the truth of things? Could we do this by just refusing to compare how things worked out with any other possibility? I do not see how, although there do seem to be those who do care less about what comes about. It would seem, though, that to prevent dissatisfactions in this way would also prevent some satisfactions. Would this be a good trade? Would one want to combat grief, for instance, by caring less for others and thus insuring little reaction if they were to die? There are many unanswered questions here. These issues shall be left for another time. They may be left to the reader.

Character traits associated with that emotion

How would we characterize a person who had mastered this ability to not care about anything? Uncaring? Would a person who lives purely for the moment, having no expectations and no regrets be in this category? Minimally, we would classify this person as unemotional (or a person with little emotion)

Other meanings of these terms or terms with related meanings.

'Satisfaction' and 'dissatisfaction' also function to refer to other feelings besides emotions. One can be satisfied in a purely physical or primal sense and also a mood could sometimes be described as satisfying or dissatisfying. For instance, a person can be dissatisfied by being hungry or physically uncomfortable or itchy. The reason that these are not emotional dissatisfactions is because they do not involve attention to beliefs. Obviously these terms were constructed. Upon reflection they are probably most closely related to the emotions of happy and sad as in 'I am happy that...' and 'I am sad that....'



The Definition


A person P is emotionally disappointed about x if and only if,

1) P had an expectation that x occur and P has a preference that x occur, and

2) P has counted upon that expectation, and

3) This preference is not satisfied by a belief, and

4) P has displeasure arising from attending to the fact that P believes his/her preference is not satisfied.

Summary of the definition and Note.

Disappointment is the dissatisfaction that occurs when counted upon expectations are not fulfilled. Note that if something were expected but not prepared for in any way that this emotion would be just classified as 'unpleasantly surprised'. By 'prepared for' in this context, all I mean is that at least some fantasizing or planning has taken place. In adding the 'counted upon' clause, I wanted to account for something that seems to me to be the case, and that is that not all positive expectations that fail to be realized result in disappointment. Here's an example. Suppose one expects that one's car be in the driveway. But one wakes up one morning and looks out and it's gone. Would we call the accompanying emotion "disappointment"? I don't think so. Only when the person starts to realize that they will now not be able to do a few things that they counted up would we say that they are disappointed. But even then it is disappointment about not being able to do something that they were counting on or prepared from, not a disappointment about the car being gone.

But I would not be opposed to having two definitions of disappointment, one where 2 is included and the other where it is excluded.

When we say 'I am disappointed that <fill in the blank> happened' the object of the disappointment is an event. But the object of a disappointment could also be a state of affairs, or even a conceptual truth. To say that P expected X to occur means that P believed that X would occur, where X is about a future state or a present state not yet known. To say that this preference is not satisfied by a belief may be true for a couple of reasons. One is that the time of X has arrived and P realizes X is not true, or X is still in the future or unknown but now new information or reflection indicates that X will not be true.


How could one change disappointment in progress? (Pros, Cons)

We should note that disappointments are a specific form of dissatisfaction. So any successful method of getting rid of dissatisfactions in general will work here. Another thing to note is that disappointments go away by themselves after a while as our expectations gradually change or as we cease to count upon those expectations. To hurry the process we could reflect on the specific expectation and possibly make it less real by asking ourselves if the expectation was justified. If it was, then we must take another approach, but if it was not, then reflection on the fact that it was not reasonable to form that expectation in the first place should weaken its force as we get a chance to learn and to laugh at ourselves.

Another way to deal with this emotion is to actively find alternative ways to not prepare for or not count on the expected result.

Preparing for disappointment (to lessen or eliminate it) (Pros, Cons)

It seems unlikely that one could stop having expectations. Expectations, after all, are beliefs that are future tensed (or beliefs about present or past situations that are so far unknown). We use such beliefs with their various degrees of probability to help us make decisions as to what to do. But we might ask ourselves if we should be forming our expectations in a different manner. Some, for instance, might play down to themselves the possibility of good things happening. This 'pessimistic' strategy although would guard against disappointments, would likely be paid for with a pessimistic mood.

Colleagues have argued for the position that understanding and reflecting on emotions is not the way to go to resolve them, and yet it seems that it may have been due to some reflection on one's disappointments that one develops a strategy of pessimism. Minimally I would like to suggest that if this is a strategy developed that it should be developed in a more intentional way, so that one is really choosing to lower ones expectations reflectively instead of reactively.

On the other hand, an optimist, whose mood might be quite high, because expectations are set high, would be setting him/herself up for more disappointments. Personally I believe that if one wants to balance one's mood with one's possible disappointments that the optimal strategy would be to not compensate one way or the other with expectations but instead give them the weight that the evidence supports. In order not to be subject to extreme swings then, a person should not have expectations in all or nothing categories but instead should have expectations in degrees, like probabilities. Each individual disappointment gives us an opportunity to rethink our method for inferring things about the future, i.e. setting up our expectations. An erratic method for forming expectations, not based upon evidence, is more likely to result in erratic moods and emotions.

Another approach to preparing for disappointment is to focus upon another aspect of the definition is to not prepare for or count on the possibility that the expectation actualize. Develop a backup play if possible and if time permits. The problem is that its not always easy or timely to reflect enough to know that one has formed an expectation. But, a bit of practice of reflecting on unfulfilled expectations should help one discover expectations as they form.

The Opposite Emotion

There are different senses of 'Opposite' here.

When something we prefer but did not expect to happen and did not count on, happens we are 'pleasantly surprised'. This is really more the opposite of "unpleasantly surprised" than it is the opposite of "disappointment".

When a counted upon expectation is satisfied, there does not seem to correspond a specific emotional state

When a negative expectation is unsatisfied, we might refer to that as feeling relieved or thankful or lucky.

Other meanings of these terms that do not refer to an emotion.

A person could have a mood of being disappointed in general, not about any particular object. This may be what is referred to when we say someone a persons mood is depressed. There may also be non-cognitive disappointment, since non-cognitive animals do seem to form something like expectations.

Additional Comments:

This is the first emotion that uses the notion of expectation. As I suggested, an expectation is a belief about the likelihood of a future state of affairs or event. This is also the first emotion that refers to beliefs being counted upon. A disappointment gives us the opportunity to reflect upon what it was that led us to falsely set up the expectation. This reflection should provide assistance in setting up future expectations more wisely. A disappointment may also be thought of as asking us to reflect upon how and when we should decide to count upon something.

It might be more like a play-on-words than anything, but it is almost as if disappointment is what happens when you find that an appointment (that you are counting on) has been canceled.



The Definition


A person P is emotionally frustrated by x, if and only if,

1) P prefers that it take no more effort to accomplish x than what P expected would be necessary.

2) P is counting on accomplishing x, and

3) P intended to bring about x, and

4) P believes he has put in the appropriate amount of effort but x is not complete, and

5) P has displeasure arising from attending to the fact that P believes his/her preference is not satisfied.


Summary of the definition and Note:

Frustration is the dissatisfaction that occurs with the realization that more effort will be required to accomplish a counted-on accomplishment than was expected. It differs from disappointment in that the object of the expectation is the length or difficulty of a task that one is attempting to perform. It appears by this definition that frustration is a kind of disappointment, but more than merely disappointment.

How could one change frustration in progress? (Pros, Cons):

The definition suggests many ways to address this emotion. First of all, finish the task. The emotion will go away at that time, probably with a residual mood of frustration taking its place. But, of course, finishing the task is not helpful advice for someone to try to deal with frustration during the task. Looking at the components of the definition, you could

1) Abandon the task, or

2) Try to lower your expectations of how much effort it might take to accomplish the task, or

3) Try not to count on the task being completed (or completed without a lot more effort).

The unique thing about this emotion is that one of the components is constantly changing as the task is performed, namely the expectations of how much effort it will take. The expectations often, but not always, have several stages as one realizes new aspects of the problem.

Abandoning the task may not be an option and even if it is, one might have set up a competition with the task with a win or lose perspective. This could add an extra emotional dimension of feeling less worthy or like a loser, if one gives up. The short answer to this is to critically examine whether one is in fact a loser if one gives up one's commitment to the task. One could also reassess whether the task is worth doing with the effort that now seems to be required. If the answer is "no" then abandoning the task seems appropriate, probably followed by disappointment. If you discover that the task is really better off not done, then even the disappointment will go away.

Trying to lower your expectations is the most common way of dealing with frustrations and usually happens most naturally as you realize the difficulty of the task. But the frustration may be replaced with disappointment that your earlier expectations were not being realized.

Trying to not count on the task being completed without a lot more effort is probably the easiest way, in most cases, to mute the emotion. If one can stay aware of early clues that the task will take more effort then one can change the degree to which one is counting on it being done early on, making the duration of the emotion shorter.

If the task is under time-pressure, that is, if it turns out that if the task cannot be done in a certain amount of time then it will not be done at all, then the importance of the task and the uncertainty of it, may bring along worry.

Again, we should note that frustration is also a kind of dissatisfaction and anything that worked there, may work here. Thus, just doing the task and not thinking about it while your doing it, might be a way of having the pain of the emotion not present, (thus not having the emotion present, by definition.)

Preparing for frustration (to lessen or eliminate it) (Pros, Cons):

If one has a special problem with frustration, then there are several strategies for preparing for it. Just as with disappointment, we might try modifying our expectations, in particular those expectations about how easy a task will be. If you have been consistently wrong about the effort required in the past, then it would be appropriate to reflect upon the source of error and compensate with expectations that are more realistic. Furthermore, you may wish to limit the number of such tasks so that you are not under the time pressure that would cause worry and stress. The con on this is that, of course, you will not accomplish as much.

The Opposite Emotion

In one sense of "opposite" there does not seem to be a strong emotion that corresponds to a task accomplished within expected effort estimations. Maybe a self-satisfaction will present itself, especially if ones sense of self-worth was tied into the task. One might get excited, relieved, or self-satisfied, if one finds that a task was a lot easier than one expected.

Other meanings of these terms that do not refer to an emotion:

It is possible to have a frustrated mood. We might suspect that this is a remembered feeling from many or strong emotions of frustration. As a mood it makes having a new frustrating emotion more likely. Also there does seem to be a non-cognitive form of frustration, since some non-cognitive animals seem to demonstrate frustration behavior.

Additional Comments:

This is the first emotion covered that has characteristics of an individual's performance as part of the object of preference. To think of frustration as a kind of disappointment might seem wrong. I would not be a bit surprised to discover that one of these definitions is incomplete. But it might be that frustration is the stronger of the two and thus it is hard to feel disappointment by itself while being frustrated.

"Open the pod-bay door Hal"

"I'm afraid I can't do that, Dave"

--2001 (A space odyssey)



The Definition


A person P is fearful (has fear) about event x, if and only if,

1) P has a preference to have assurance that x will not arise, and

2) P believes that he/she does not have assurance that x will not arise, and

3) P is not prepared for the event.

4) P has displeasure arising from attending to the fact that P believes his/her preference is not satisfied.


Summary of the definition and Note.

P is fearful when P has a preference for assurance that something not happen and that assurance is not present. This is the first emotion that introduces the notion of a need for assurance. With the addition of 4 we have another new feature: the concept of not being prepared for an event. This shows us that although beliefs and preferences are necessary for emotions they are not the only components of all emotions. This point was also made in the definition of disappointment where something being counted on was an important new concept.

The definition is very general and if 4 were not stipulated would include our weakest use of 'I am afraid that', as in 'I am afraid that Jones will be elected'. The strength of the fear will depend upon 2 new features: The degree of assurance needed and the degree that one is not prepared for the event. The reason 4 was included was because it is clear that a fear will go away even when all the other features stay the same if the person comes to prepare for the event.

Three would also explain why we usually believe that people are afraid of the unknown. It's easy to see why people might not be prepared for an unknown place or situation.  The fear of death may very well arise from these considerations. How does one prepare for death? Clearly this fear depends upon fundamental metaphysical beliefs.

How could one change fear in progress? :

Besides the usual process of questioning the truth of the belief or trying to change the preference (in this case trying to change the perceived need for assurance), we could attempt to deal with fear in progress by attending to preparing oneself for the feared outcome.


Preparing for future fears to lessen their frequency or intensity?:

Again, in this case special attention might be given to preparing for outcomes or attempting to reduce the need to be assured that possible feared outcomes will not arise.

Character traits associated with fear

Courage, cowardice.


Other meanings of these terms or terms with related meanings:

It is possible to have a fearful mood or even primal fear. Primal fear is not an emotion but is a feeling. It is the non-cognitive urge to flee. Emotional fear probably gets its strength from the more primal emotion.


Comments about the Hal quote.

When Hal says "I'm afraid I can't do that Dave" we are initially take that as meaning "I'm sorry, Dave, I cannot do that". But later on in becomes clear that Hal really was afraid. He was being most literal, at least this is a "Freudian slip" that I believe the author meant to convey. The fear was one that most all of us have felt, the fear of death.



The Definition

A person P is worried about event x, if and only if,

1) P has a preference to be assured that x, (an event that P believes he/she has little control over), will not arise, and

2) P believes that he/she is not assured that x will not arise, and

3) P is not prepared for the event.

4) P has displeasure arising from attending to the fact that P believes his/her preference is not satisfied.

Summary of the definition and Note.

A person is worried about an event when the person is fearful about the event and he/she has little control over it. Often one worries about things that could have happened in the past that one doesn't know about yet. Of course, one has little control over events of the past. There is another sense of worry as a process as in ' I'll worry about that tomorrow' meaning 'I'll concern myself with it tomorrow'. Concerning oneself with something is not necessarily an emotion. It is probably because of this dual use of the term 'worry' that worrying looks like a different part of speech than 'fearing' say. A person can say 'I am sitting here worrying' but you don't hear the expression 'I am sitting here fearing'.

One can be worried about some fairly complex things. One can be worried that one will not solve a problem. Here it looks as if one has control over the result since the person is trying to solve the problem. But what the person is worried about is whether they will be able to solve the problem, thus the 'little control' factor. Another interesting thing about worry is that most of the time the worry is about something in the near future and thus when that event becomes known the worry will disappear. If the person is correct about the control feature of the event, if, that is, there is nothing the person can do to affect it, then finding a way to think of something else, i.e. maybe distract yourself, may be an effective way to not be as pained. With most other emotions this strategy would not be recommended, because to avoid reflection about the object of displeasure misses the opportunity to resolve the emotion in a positive way, i.e. learn from it.

Related feelings and terms. We say that a person is feeling insecure if they have a propensity to worry (the mood of insecurity) and say that a person is an insecure person if they often have moods of insecurity (character trait)


How could one change worry in progress? :

Because worry is a fear one could concentrate on 3 again and prepare oneself for the worst case scenario. The unique feature of worry compared to the earlier emotions is one of control. If one could find a way to get more control in the situation then the worry might disappear, but that doesn't mean that one would still would not be left with fear. As we shall see this strategy just may change fear into anxiety. A strategy that has a better chance of getting rid of any kind of fear is to prepare oneself for the worst case.

We should emphasize here that background beliefs play a major role in determining what one will worry about.



Other meanings of these terms or terms with related meanings:

We say that a person is feeling insecure if they have a propensity to worry (the mood of insecurity) and say that a person is an insecure person if they often have moods of insecurity (character trait). We can also note that there is a sense in which focusing upon things to worry about is optional. We can almost always direct or misdirect our attention to something else. Thus people who worry excessively may do so out of habit. Please take this as a weak conjecture.



The Definition

A person P has anxiety about event x, if and only if,

1) P has a preference to be assured that x, (an event that P believes he/she has more than a little control over), will go well, and

2) P believes that he/she is not assured that x will go well, and

3) P is not fully prepared for x not going well.

4) P has displeasure arising from attending to the fact that P believes his/her preference is not satisfied.

Summary of the definition and Note.

A person is anxious about an event x when the person is fearful that P will not perform well enough with respect to x for an acceptable outcome. It is interesting to compare the definitions of fear, anxiety and worry. I seem to have constructed the definitions so that

Other meanings of these terms or terms with related meanings:

Anxiety as a mood is common and maybe more common than anxiety as an emotion. And of course there is the character trait of anxiety as in 'he is an anxious person'.



The Definition

A person P is ashamed about doing X, if and only if,

1) P has the preference to have a justifiable high regard for P, and

2) P believes that doing X makes high regard for P less justifiable, and

3) P has displeasure arising from attending to the fact that P believes his/her preference is not satisfied.


Summary of the definition and Note.

A person is ashamed of an action if the person has a preference to have a high level of respect of him/herself and it is perceived that the action lowers the person's level of respect for him/herself. As such shame depends upon one's self image, what one wants for oneself and what one believes about oneself already. This must to be a rich area for reflection. Shame gives us the opportunity to rethink what is reasonable to ask of ourselves. It is also an opportunity to reflect on our concept of right and wrong.

When the chairman introduced the guest speaker as a former illegal alien, I got up from my chair and yelled, "What's the matter, no jobs on Mars?" When no one laughed, I was real embarrassed. I don't think people should make you feel that way.

- Jack Handey





The Definition

A person P is embarrassed by an action X, if and only if,

1) This experience is an emotion, and

2) There is at least one other person for which P's preference is that he/she be well respected by that person, and

3) P believes that doing X has made him/her appear less respectable to that person.

4) P has displeasure arising from attending to the fact that P believes his/her preference is not satisfied.


Summary of the definition and Note.

A person is embarrassed by an action if the person has the preference to have others justifiably respect him and the action is perceived to lower the opinion of some person whose opinion is important to the person. This definition is an interesting contrast to the definition of shame. Whereas shame is 'inner' directed, embarrassment is 'other' directed.

It's interesting to note that when we reflect on a time we were embarrassed, we can feel the embarrassment almost full force again, but we usually wouldn't blush again. Blushing is only done at the time of the action. Maybe because during the time of the embarrassing action there is the opportunity to make it worse. Although we often associate blushing with embarrassment, often a blushing event is not an unpleasant thing. It seems funny or fun compared to the embarrassment that one might feel by reflecting on a past faux pas

Another thing to note is that embarrassment, at least embarrassment by reflecting on the past, is a regret.

Of some interest is the fact that the definition explains why it is harder to embarrass oneself with people you know really well. In particular, it is much harder by a single action for someone who knows you well to change their level of respect for you. If you know this, then you cannot be concerned with losing respect with a simple faux pas.

Some may think that one is embarrassed only by actions that indicate stupidity. But this is only a concern to those who think of respect as connected with their intelligence. If a person's framework has respect connected to say 'sensitivity to other's feelings', then an action that indicated lack of sensitivity would be a candidate for embarrassment.


Preparing for the emotion (to lessen or eliminate it) (Pros, Cons)

If a person has a problem with embarrassment then it might be that some thought should be directed at the preference that others think well of that person. If this preference is extreme then embarrassment will naturally be frequent. To totally get rid of the possibility of embarrassment, we could work on not caring at all what others think. This is also an extreme position and if possible would likely be a step towards alienation. As a personal testimony, embarrassment has been a problem for me, but after reflection on this definition and in particular after the reflection on the fact that I probably give too much weight to the opinions of people that don't know me well, embarrassment seems a lot less of a problem. I can test this by recalling my 200 most embarrassing moments and see how they make me feel.

It's also interesting to me that my preference to be thought of well by may others seems to have changed just my merely reflecting on the fact that the preference is not a choice I would intentionally make. However, I would care and do care if someone thinks less of me for good reason. This implies that when that sort of embarrassment occurs I could address it by learning from it and becoming less like a person who would make that mistake again. I had initially thought that embarrassment had to do with being less respected and justifiably so. But whether it requires justification or not is more a feature of what one is likely to care about. That is some, like myself, only care about the other person's opinion if that opinion is justified. It took me a while to see that 'justified' was accidental to the definition.

Other meanings of these terms or terms with related meanings:

One character trait associated with embarrassment is 'shyness'. Shyness, the attempt to avoid possibly embarrassing situations, is an emotion-strategy designed to avoid embarrassment. By 'emotion-strategy' I mean a strategy developed to prepare one for an emotion. A question to be considered: Is humiliation merely an extreme form of embarrassment? Also note that we have 'humility 'or 'being humble' as commonly classified as character traits that are admirable.

Comment (on the Jack Handey quote above)

Notice that Handey's character is claiming that people can make you feel embarrassed. That is he is not responsible for his embarrassment. But by my view, he is at least partially responsible in the sense that he took the risk with his alien 'joke' and he is the one who values their opinion of him.

The prince decided he would learn anger. So he gathered his subjects together outside his balcony.

"Who would teach me anger?" he said.

"Fuck you!" somebody yelled.

"Okay, how about algebra?" said the prince.

-- Jack Handey



The Definition

A person P feels anger with Q, if and only if,

1) P has a preference that Q be harmed or removed,

2) P believes that Q is not sufficiently harmed or removed, and

3) P has displeasure arising from attending to the fact that P believes his/her preference is not satisfied.


Summary of the definition and Note.

Anger is the feeling we have when we have a unfulfilled desire for someone (or something) to be harmed or removed. One can be angry at objects. Often this desire to have an object removed is because it is a source of frustration. But note, that not all anger is caused by frustration for there may be other reasons why we have a preference to harm or remove something. We can also seemingly be angry at a person but really one is angry at the person's type of behavior. This behavior maybe the object of the anger and the entity that the person wants removed.

This is an important consideration. One might even think that one is angry at the person when really one is angry at something the person did, or kind of thing they did. To make the distinction, ask yourself if there be pleasure in seeing the person harmed, or might you get sufficient pleasure from being assured that the action will not happen again. Notice, also that one of the ways that one might get such assurance is by noticing that the person is sufficiently sorry for their action.

How could one change anger in progress? (Pros, Cons)

It would be important to try to discover if you are really angry at a person or whether the object of anger is really a behavior or kind of behavior. If the latter and you wish to resolve the emotion by changing the world then you need to find some way to assure yourself that the behavior will not repeat. If you're in fact angry at the person then it is unlikely that the person will wish to cooperate with you in the business of harming them. You may have to live with those feelings or examine whether you want to be angry in that sort of situation.

Another common situation is to discover that you are angry at one person because of some earlier unresolved anger. The unresolved anger may have set up an angry mood which makes the displeasure mechanism more susceptible to being triggered or make it more intense when triggered. If the earlier cause is identifiable then you could realize that addressing the beliefs and preferences in this case is not a likely to lead to a resolution. This realization by itself may be enough to put the preference at stake in the emotion in perspective. The anger may still exist but in a less intense form.

One can also remind oneself about one's overall values and try to realize that a focus on this one small event in one's life is likely to be not a big deal and in fact may be forgotten in a short period of time. Trying to see a larger perspective of values with anger can help but it is often not easy to pull up.

I think it may help, in cases where you care for the person you are angry at, to remind yourself that considering all of your values in perspective you don't really want to harm this person. With that in mind you can get back to the issue of what about the person's behavior is bothering you and whether that behavior should bother you and whether that behavior is addressable.

One should not forget that one may be angry at a person or their behavior because you misunderstand the action or motive of action of the other person. That is probably the best place to start. That is, if you're angry, you would want to be sure that it was for the right reason.

A consideration that overrides the above comes about if there is a likelihood that you would actually harm another person. Running away for a cool-down period and, in the long run, seeking professional help is advisable. Anger is a serious emotion. It has the potential for destruction and can ruin lives and this potential should not be treated lightly. Self-help book or not, we have to admit to ourselves when we need professional help. (As an aside, I don't really regard this book as a self-help book as much as a theory about emotions. If some of us can use this theory in our lives, then so much the better)


Preparing for the emotion (to lessen or eliminate it) (Pros, Cons)

Note that believing one is justified in one's anger will make a particular anger more likely, longer lasting and more intense. Examining one's beliefs about when it is justifiable to harm another could be the most important way to address this feeling. If a person has a more serious problem with anger, stemming from angry moods or an angry personality, then examining one's beliefs may be insufficient to address and prepare for anger. It might be better to address the cause of the mood, which goes beyond the scope of the book. In particular, professional help might be advisable.

Other meanings of these terms or terms with related meanings:

It is possible to have primal anger or an angry mood. Primal anger has no cognitive element. It is based upon the desire to have something go away. The mood of anger has no specific cognitive object. Also, we have terms in the language that express different intensities of anger. For instance my dictionary defines rage as vehement anger and fury as rage so intense as to resemble insanity.


Additional Comment (on Jack Handey quote):

Notice that the Prince in the first paragraph of this section is going to have some difficulty learning anger. The primary reason is that he does not feel threatened by or any fear because of the comment of the subject. This is a bit odd. It may be that the Prince does not understand something else besides anger, for in most contexts of this sort he should feel threatened. Maybe the Prince has learned a way to deal with the threat without it becoming a desire for the subject to at least apologize. This would be strange indeed for how could he have learned this technique without first feeling the anger and then developing the strategy for dealing with it? And anger is the something he claims not to understand.


There is perhaps no phenomenon which contains so much destructive feeling as moral indignation, which permits envy or hate to be acted out under the guise of virtue.

-- Erich Fromm


The Definition

A person P feels indignant with Q for doing X, if and only if,

1) The preference is that Q not do X, and if Q does X then P have assurance that Q will pay a price for action X, and

2) P believes that Q did X and there is no assurance that the appropriate price has or will be paid by Q for doing X, and

3) P has displeasure arising from attending to the fact that P believes his/her preference is not satisfied.


Summary of the definition and Note.

Indignation is the feeling that happens when we need assurance that someone (or something) will pay an appropriate price for something and our beliefs do not support that assurance. This would mean that indignation is closely related to fear, i.e. the fear that a price will not be paid. But it is not fully "fear" because "fear" requires that someone not be prepared for the result.

We should realize that a price can come in many forms. It could be punishment, an apology, a fixing of the situation, or a promise (or some assurance) that such action will not happen again. In contrast to anger, it does not seem that one can feel indignation at non cognitive objects.


How could one change indignation in progress? (Pros, Cons)

To ask the question, how can we change indignation in progress we should give some thought to the concept that some actions require other actions to balance them out, so to speak. Clearly sometimes it's the case that if someone breaks something then if the person fixes it then all is as it was before. Much of the time this will be sufficient to undo the harm and therefore many accompanied feelings will go back to their original state. But at other times we may feel that the appropriate price for a harm is another harm. So, we may view indignation as an opportunity to consider what seems to be an appropriate price for something.

It seems appropriate that a person be indignant at an unjust law. Maybe we feel indignant towards the lawmakers. Most of the time the only price that seems appropriate is to change the law. Another way to change the feeling in this case might be to consider how that law fits into the bigger picture and thus discover whether or not one can really change it without moving to an inferior legal system. Thus, sometimes reflection will lead us to believe that an "unjust" law was not unjust after all.

Preparing for the emotion (to lessen or eliminate it) (Pros, Cons)

A major cause for wanting someone to pay a price is that belief that they ought to pay a price, maybe to satisfy a sense of retributive justice. If this is the source of the preference for pay back then reflection on the principle of justice may change the feeling. Questioning the concept of retributive justice could prove to be quite important, especially if it is seen as a source for many other indignations. It seems likely that this is the most important kind of belief that one would wish to re-evaluate if one wanted to prepare for indignation. Without abandoning a sense of justice, a person could also re-evaluate what an appropriate pay-back might be. It the result is less dire, the likelihood of pay-back is more likely, thus sometimes the assurance being sought in the definition would be easier to obtain.

In terms of metaphysics and ethics, preparing for indignation gives us the opportunity to re-evaluate our notion of justice. I don't think we should define justice in a way that will minimize our indignation, but if we re-examine our notion of justice we may wish to keep an eye on what kind of situations would then require us to feel indignant and another eye on what kind of person we want to be or become. I'll say more on this later in my section on ethics.

Other meanings of these terms or terms with related meanings:

Moral indignation is likely to be more sustainable than regular indignation just because with the moral element a person not only feels justified in the indignancy but feel obliged to be indignant.

Additional Comment (on the Fromm quote)

Since indignancy can easily be accompanied by anger, Fromm may be correct if he is saying that indignancy can intensify anger. If one isn't careful again one may believe that one is obliged to be angry. Aristotle makes a similar comment about anger and moral indignation but from another angle when he says: "We praise a man who feels angry on the right grounds and against the right persons and also in the right manner at the right moment and for the right length of time."




The Definition

A person P feels guilty about doing X, if and only if,


1) P has the preference to be punished, or atone for, or sufficiently apologized for P's wrongdoings, and

2) P believes that doing X was wrong, and

3) P believes that P has not been punished for, or atoned for or sufficiently apologized for X and

4) P has displeasure arising from attending to the fact that P believes his/her preference is not satisfied.

Summary of the definition and Note.

Guilt is the feeling that happens when we have a preference that we pay the appropriate price for a wrongdoing together with the belief that we did wrong and have not yet paid for it. One might ask critically why anyone would think that people have a desire to pay for something. The intentional framework might be one of justice. If a person has a strong enough sense of justice then that sense is pained even when that person benefits in other ways from the injustice. Secondly some may learn to expect punishment from wrongdoing and if the punishment is left hanging it might be more uncomfortable than if it was immediately resolved.

Guilt stands in contrast to shame when one is considering issues of right and wrong. Guilt is more concerned with notions of equalization, justice and pay-back whereas shame is concerned with self image and possibly with a focus on an ideal self image that one is striving to imitate or become. Also we should note that guilt by the definitions so far is a specific kind of indignation. This indignation is directed at oneself. It also is more specific about its reason for the indignation, namely wrongdoing. Often the feeling of guilt is accompanied by a counter desire to not have to pay for the wrongdoing. This may make it seem that guilt is much more than mere indignation at oneself. So, so far, all guilt is indignation but not all indignation is guilt. One can be indignant at someone even if what they did was not classified as a wrongdoing.


How could one change guilt in progress? (Pros, Cons)

The notion of right and wrong could be examined and the notion of what the appropriate price for some action really is could be examined.


Preparing for the emotion (to lessen or eliminate it) (Pros, Cons)

This is an area that could benefit from some strong reflective thought about whether or not one wishes to believe in justice that requires punishment as something other than as a deterrent. A person who truly doesn't believe in atonement of any sort, would not feel guilt. One might think that the notion of guilt is necessary to deter wrong action, but the penalty of shame is also a deterrent and could be as effective. Personally, I favor shame over guilt as a deterrent to wrong action primarily because it is less connected to anger and because I am enough of a utilitarian to balk at the idea that a wrongdoing, which might be an action which brings about pain, is somehow made up for by inflicting more pain or discomfort.

Guilt also gives us the opportunity to examine our notions of right and wrong. Some people would claim that such notions are meaningless or that they are relative to the individual (which makes them meaningless). This would be one way of dealing with guilt. But upon a bit of reflection I think we can see that giving up the notion of justifiable and unjustifiable action would lead to a sparse emotional life and likely cannot be done by the standard superficial ethical reflections.

I think we would find that most people who deny the validity of ethical concepts, still get mad, still praise some actions and still blame others. This is inconsistent and an indicator that the person's denial of ethical concepts is in words only. Of course, some may feel they have no right to use ethical concepts but still employ them anyway. An atheist, for instance, may believe that if there is no god then there is no legitimate object sense of right and wrong, good and bad. Later in my section on ethics I will attempt to address this concern and counter it with an objective and non-theistic ethic or at least a meta-ethic.

Hate, Caringness, and Love

It might appear, at least it appeared that way to me, that hate is a form of extreme anger. But a little reflection will tell us, I believe, that hate is (most of the time) not an emotion. It is merely an expression of extreme dislike or a strong statement of preference about what one does not wish to experience. If one says, for instance, "I hate broccoli" one is not expressing anger at broccoli". I think the confusion comes from the fact that sometimes anger is a reason to not like something or someone. It particular it is most often the case that when one says "I hate that guy" that one does feel anger at the guy, maybe even strong anger. But as an alternative it might just mean "I dislike being in his presence" or "I would walk a few miles not to be around him."

In the same way many times 'love' is just an expression of an extreme preference in the other direction. However, when we say "I feel love for that person" there does seem to be an emotional component amidst a complex array of roles and sense of commitment. We'll talk about this more in the 'Love' section. I'm mentioning these feelings in the middle of the 'emotions' section since questions about hate might have arisen when considering anger.



I was tempted to offer this definition of caring.

The Definition

A person P cares for another person Q, if and only if,

1) P has the preference that Q have a good life, and

2) P believes that Q is having a good life or P believes that Q is not having a good life, and

3) P has pleasure arising from attending to the fact that P believes his/her preference is satisfied or P has displeasure arising from attending to the fact that P believes his/her preference is not satisfied.

But I think it becomes clear that we use the term 'to care' more as a desire or preference and we do not have a tendency to use the term to indicate when the desire is being satisfied (or not). To love someone in the non-romantic sense seems just to be an expression of extreme caring.


 Now back to a real emotion.



The Definition

A person P feels resentful about an action X by another person Q, if and only if,

1) P has the preference that things that should not be done that directly affect P, not be done.

2) P believes that action X directly affects P and should not have done by another person Q.

3) P believes that X was done by Q.

4) P has displeasure arising from attending to the fact that P believes his/her preference is not satisfied.


Summary of the definition and Note.

Resentment is the feeling that happens when someone does something that affects us and they shouldn't have together with the preference that no one do something that affects us if they shouldn't. The object of resentment is the action, policy or statement. It is not the person. Sometimes people will say for emphasis "I resent you" but this is strictly speaking not proper usage. At this point I don't see much difference between being resentful about something and having indignation about something. Resentment is like anger in some respects but differs in that paying for the action does not change the resentment. Plus, the object of the resentment is not a person, whereas anger can have a person as the object.




The Definition

A person P feels betrayed by Q, if and only if,

1) P has the preference to not be betrayed by Q, and

2) P believes that P was betrayed by Q, and

3) P has displeasure arising from attending to the fact that P believes his/her preference is not satisfied.


Summary of the definition and Note.

One feels betrayed just means one believes that one has been betrayed and that it was strongly preferred that this not be the case. Notice that this definition seems a bit circular, but not really. What I mean to say here is that when one says "I feel betrayed" one means "I feel as an ordinary person would feel when they believe they have been significantly betrayed". This is an indication that there may be a lot of emotions that are related this simply to beliefs. So "I feel Xish" would just mean "I feel as one does when one believes one is Xish". In order to an emotion it would be understood by such phrasing that one wanted or didn't want to be Xish in general. Other examples of motions of this form might be "stupid" or "trapped". In fact "guilt" under some interpretations may fall into the same category. Quite a few emotions may have gotten their names from the corresponding belief about the world together with assumptions that ordinarily people don't want these beliefs to be true (or do want them to be true).

So what does it actually mean to be betrayed? I conjecture that one is in fact betrayed when another has an obligation to you, and that breaking the obligation will hurt you and the person has intentionally broke the obligation knowing it would hurt you (or believing that it was probable that it hurt you). I think we can also assume that the 'hurt' has to be in some extra sense than merely the 'hurt' brought about by knowing that the obligation is broken. Also we should tack on another clause. It would still be betrayal if the person didn't knowingly hurt you but should have known that it would hurt you.


How could one change the emotion 'feeling betrayed' in progress?

Questions to ask: Did the person knowingly break the promise? Did they knowingly or should they have known that this would hurt you?


A competent and self-confident person is incapable of jealousy in anything. Jealousy is invariably a symptom of neurotic insecurity.

-- Robert Heinlein

Jealousy (in a weaker sense of the term)

The Definition

A person P feels jealous (in the weak sense) of Q (in the context of another person R), if and only if,

1) P has the preference to be given assurance that P will not lose his/her place in the affections of R, and

2) P believes that Q's presence weakens that assurance, and

3) P is not prepared to lose R's affection.

4) P has displeasure arising from attending to the fact that P believes his/her preference is not satisfied.


Summary of the definition and Note.

We feel jealous when we have the fear that we will lose the affections of someone we care about to another and we have some reason to believe we may lose those affections because of the other. Jealousy can be both an anxiety and a worry depending upon how much control one feels of the situation. 

Again it seems to me that the most accessible way to address jealousy might be to be prepared, at least one can assure oneself that life will go on and that one will be able to deal with it. Since the two emotions can occur in the same context, jealously might be the term that some people use when they feel betrayed. But these are different emotions

Additional comments:

I would not discourage multiple definitions of the same term so that anyone who might be wrestling with an emotion could find the one most suitable for that particular occasion and use that definition for insight. Thus, we might also have another definition of 'jealousy', as in the next section.


We could develop a stronger notion of jealousy than might go as follows:


The Definition

A person P feels jealous (in the strong sense) of X (in the context of another person Y), if and only if,

1) P has the preference to be given assurance that P will not lose his/her place in the affections of Y, and

2) P believes that X's presence weakens that assurance, and

3) P is not prepared to lose Y's affection, and

4) P believes that P should have that assurance, and

5) P has the preference that things go as they should, and

6) P has displeasure arising from attending to the fact that P believes his/her preference is not satisfied.

Summary of the definition and Note.

We feel jealous in the strong sense of the term if we are jealous in the weaker sense plus we believe it should not be the case. To complete the definition we need to state that we have a preference for things to go as they should. This is another sense of jealousy that carries with it a belief that there is something unfair or not right that because of someone else one is losing the needed assurance. This might be because promises were made and one expects the promises to be kept and believes they should be kept. This gets a bit closer to betrayal, but this might not be the only reason that one feels a sense of unfairness about the arrangement.

This is the first time I have introduced multiple preferences and also the first time I have given multiple definitions of the same emotion. We should realize though that many different feelings may be going under the same name. It is likely that most or all of the definitions I offer could benefit from some alternative senses.

When I was less reflective on such topics, I believed that jealousy required beliefs having to do with owning another person. Now I think 'strong jealousy' only requires a sense that we own (have rights to) a certain place in the affections of another person.

One dictionary of Jealousy is 'resentfully envious' Notice that the notion of 'resentment' contains beliefs about what should and should not be. This sense is not captured by the weak definition. But is jealousy an envy? Let's talk about that when we look at envy.

How could one change the feeling of jealousy in progress?

It's interesting to realize that the notion of jealousy may depend in some cases on our notion of love. For instance, if we love someone and that means we want the very best for them and we trust them to make good decisions then we might imagine being satisfied with ours loves decision to leave us for another. After all, that may be best for them and maybe they are in a better position to know. However, its easy to imagine disagreeing with your loves decision for what is best for them. Reflection on this consideration may change ones preparedness to lose proximity, anyway.


Comment (on Heinlein quote)

This is not an uncommon sentiment, especially among people with a bit of familiarity with contemporary psychology. However, if my clause in the definition having to do with the need to be prepared is correct then a fairly secure person could still be jealous if the person is not prepared to lose the affections of another. Also, is it an insecurity to not take the affections of another for granted or care about losing them? One more thought: The fact that Heinlein uses the term 'anything' instead of 'anyone' indicates that he may be thinking of envy as jealousy.


To desire the attainment of this equality or superiority by the particular means of others being brought down to our own level, or below it, is, I think, the distinct notion of envy.

-- Joseph Butler


The envious man thinks that if his neighbor breaks a leg, he will be able to walk better himself.
-- Helmut Schoeck


The Definition


A person P is envious of a person's Q's possessing an object, an attribute or an individual Y; if and only if

1) P has a preference that it not be the case that (Q possess Y and P does not), and

2) P has a preference that things be as they should be, and

3) P believes that Q possesses Y and P does not, and

4) P believes that it is should not be that Q possesses Y but P does not.

5) P has displeasure arising from attending to the fact that P believes his/her preference is not satisfied.


Envy is the feeling we have when we believe that someone else possesses something that we do not and we would prefer that no one have the object to this state. There is also a sense that there is something unfair about the arrangement and a preference that things be fair. It seemed necessary to again include multiple preferences. If you imagine that you believe that it is more appropriate that you own something to someone else owning it, this does not alone count as envy. Or just wanting something that someone else possesses is not envy. You may want a billion dollars and you know Gates has a billion dollars. This alone does not make you envious of Gates. Again there may be a weaker use of 'envy' that has no 'fairness' clause, but both jealousy and envy when at their strongest seem to need a sense of wrongfulness.

One of the interesting things about envy is that the two preferences are orderable on the same scale. The preference from high to low is as follows:

1) You possess the object, he does not.

2) You possess the object, and so does he

3) Neither of you possess the object

4) He possesses and you do not.

The important relations for envy is that 1 and 2 are much greater than 3 and 4 (you would like to have the object) and that 3 is much greater than 4 (fairness). The problem is that you believe you are in situation 4, the worst of the bunch. The interesting thing is that one become unenvious if the other person subsequently loses the object or more correctly if you believe that the other person no longer has the object (or never did)

When one feels envy, there seems to be a sense that one believes himself unlucky or unfortunate and that if things had gone a bit differently, then we would have the object and not the other person. However, it would probably would not upset our sense of justice if we were the beneficiaries of such fortune.

So is jealousy just the state of being 'resentfully envious'? Not by these definitions. Even if we think of jealousy as a special case of envy where the object possessed is the affections of another it seems that jealousy involves the need for assurance (i.e. a fear) and it is not true that in order to call our feeling 'jealously' we need to believe that the other person actually possesses that assurance.

Additional Comment (on Butler quote)

Butler correctly points out that envy can be dissolved by having the enviable lose their possessions. Schoeck should really be saying 'it is as if the person experiencing envy believed that if his neighbor breaks a leg, he will be able to walk better himself.' But of course, we can also account for envy by addressing the person's preferences. It would be up to the psychologist to address why anyone would prefer that others have misfortune.

I only have two kinds or regrets:

1) Opportunities I've passed up and

2) Opportunities I didn't pass up.

-- me



The Definition

A person P feels regret in doing y; if and only if

1) P has a preference that it not be the case that P had done an action y, and

2) P believes that P had done y, and

3) P has displeasure arising from attending to the fact that P believes his/her preference is not satisfied.


Summary of the definition and Note.

A person feels regret about doing something if they prefer now that they had not done it and yet they believe they did do it. In other words, one wishes he/she had not done a particular thing. It is interesting to compare regret for one's own actions to the wish that someone else had not done something. The fact that we had control of our action and blew it makes the situation where we did otherwise much more real.


How could one change a regret in progress?

There is not much one can do in terms of re-evaluating one's belief that one did do the regretted. Most of the time when we have a regret, we are not wrong about having done the regretted thing. The fact that the regretted action is in the past and can't be change seems of no real consolation and is just the usual advice offered in order to suggest that there is no good function served by dwelling on it. It may be advice indirectly aiming at suggesting that the person no longer consider the situation where he had done otherwise as a possible situation. That is to say a preference compares possible alternative situations. Thus, if one could regard the alternative as no longer possible, the base preference would go away. This may what some mean when they suggest that one accept the things that one cannot change. It makes me wonder if people who experience a lot of regrets have a belief in time travel on some level.

It may help to some extent to realize that there is no fine strategy for avoiding mistakes and that this is the price we pay for being alive and conscious. We may also allow ourselves to think about a possible positive function of 'regrets'. They can be used to help us learn from our mistakes and to learn enough to be able to resolve to not make that kind of mistake again. If we think we have learned enough then we may be happy we made the mistake instead of regretting it. Without it, we could not be where we are. This may be a source of satisfaction.

We may also want to give some thought as to why P is concerned with the fact that P did the regretted thing. It seems that once P can assured him/herself that P has learned as much as he/she could expect to learn from the mistake, that the action should be just as bothersome as if someone else had done it. Unless the regret is a shame or an embarrassment, there seems to be no reason to have it more important because P did it. Such reflections may lead to changing regret to merely a sadness that things did not go differently. I suspect that once the "I" part is taken out, the need to reflect on this past event or state of affairs will fade.

Other meanings of these terms or terms with related meanings:

Oddly enough, there does not seem to be a mood called regret, or maybe I am just not familiar with it. I suspect that beings without language do not have regrets and that there is no such thing as primal regret. Also, one can have regrets about what someone else did.

Additional Comment (on my quote)

This quote is an attempt to argue that their is no easy way to avoid creating regrets, at least for those who reflect on the past. One cannot avoid regret by never taking opportunities, nor can you avoid it by always taking opportunities.



The Definition

A person P misses a situation, a person or a thing Q; if and only if

1) P has the preference that Q be around, and

2) P believes that Q is not around, and

3) P has displeasure arising from attending to the fact that P believes his/her preference is not satisfied.

Summary of the definition and Note.

Missing someone is a feeling when the preference to have someone around is not satisfied. We can also miss things and places. When we miss our home, we call it homesickness




The Definition

A person P grief about Q leaving; if and only if

1) P has the preference that Q not permanently, and

2) P believes that Q has left, and

3) P has displeasure arising from attending to the fact that P believes his/her preference is not satisfied.


Summary of the definition and Note.

Grief is the feeling one has when you believe that someone had left for good and you wish they hadn't. Grief is a special case of missing something where the object missed is a person and there is an extra belief that you won't ever see them again. Often, but not always, the reason one misses the person is that one cared about the person. For this reason frequently grief will diminish over time merely because it is harder to care for someone as they move further into the past. Some people will try to hold on to their grief, not merely as an attempt to prove that they cared but because they do not want to care less about the person and they know the two feeling go together. One of the features that will make this emotion more intense is the belief that they should not have left.



Finally a positive emotion (or is it?)!


The Definition

P is proud about doing x or being in situation x, if and only if

1) P has the preference to be a better person, and

2) P believes that he/she is a better person for doing x or being in situation x, and

3) P has pleasure arising from attending to the fact that P believes his/her preference is satisfied.


Summary of the definition and Note.

A person feels pride about something, if they believe that that something makes them a better person and they would like to be a better person. I believe pride has positive and negative connotations. When one is proud because one believes himself/herself superior to someone else, that seems negative. When one feels pride for an accomplishment and believes this accomplishment makes him/her better than before, then this seems positive. There is another complexity to this notion of pride. One can feel proud of someone else. Assuming that this is not just an expression of empathy, we might be able to interpret this as saying the person is proud to have a relationship with that person, given their accomplishments.

To arrive at a contradiction is to confess an error in one's thinking; to
maintain a contradiction is to abdicate one's mind and to evict oneself
from the realm of reality.
-- Ayn Rand

Cognitive Dissonance

The Definition

P is cognitively dissonant with respect to his beliefs, if and only if

1) P has the preference for P's beliefs to be harmonious and not be self contradictory, and

2) P believes that there are two beliefs x and y which are in disharmonious or are contradictory, and

3) P has displeasure arising from attending to the fact that P believes his/her preference is dissatisfied.


Summary of the definition and Note.

P feels cognitively dissonant when P has an displeasure arising from attention to the belief that specific beliefs he possesses are at odds with each other. This is a pretty abstract emotion because the objects of the preference are themselves beliefs. It's likely that the reason for the preference itself is derivative of shame or fear. If it is shame that motivates this preference then it has to do with self-image of being a person who is reliable in reporting to others or is intellectually adequate. If fear is closer to the foundation, it may be because of a realization that when a contradiction is found, it throws doubt to a certain extent upon all the other beliefs in the system. If many of your beliefs could easily be wrong then you are not very well prepared for the world, and thus fear might be quite appropriate.

I include this emotion because I would recommend it as highly important, which is to say that I would praise those who are capable of it and would blame those who aren't. It is the key to judging ourselves consistent with the way we would judge others. Later in the ethics section, I argue that if we have the ability for cognitive dissonance then we would not want to be the kind of person that we could not recommend to people we care about. It is at the core of the motivation that most of us have to be recommendable persons.

Attempting to make one's beliefs compatible is important in many areas. The reason dissonance comes up so much more often in cases of being a recommendable person is that often we don't want to have to do the kinds of things that would make us recommendable. For example, we may want the money, we may not want to work for it, but we would recommend to people that we care about that they not associate with people who don't work for there money (steal it, for instance).

The reason that I find cognitive dissonance recommendable is because one cannot trust a person who does not feel it. They can rationalize anything or to put it more precisely then feel no need to rationalize anything, except when they need to appease others with reasons. One would have very important and fundamental reasons for not trusting such a person.


Additional Comment

The Rand quote above might not be technically correct, but it is close. To reflectively maintain a contradiction knowing that it is a contradiction would make it hard to have a reliable mechanism to further develop of one's own view of reality


Non-belief based emotions Awe, Wonder, boredom, curiosity, surprise and loneliness

The Definition

A person P awe about object X; if and only if

1) P has the preference to experience greatness, and

2) P is aware of an experience of greatness of X, and

3) P has pleasure arising from the satisfaction of this preference.

Summary of the definition and Note.

Awe is the pleasure that comes from being aware of a connection to a greatness. Notice that there are one minor belief component, namely that X is great, and the emotion will go away if one becomes convinced that X is not great. However, the real satisfaction comes from the feeling that you are a part of the object through reflective experience. This is one of those definitions that is not an emotion based purely upon the satisfaction of a belief. 'Awe' is a reflection that needs an aesthetic sense of things. Other species that do not have that sense would not experience 'awe'.

One could expand on this definition by adding references to fear and respect, which seem like they might be involved. More work could be done on this emotion.


The Definition

A person P feels wonder about an object or situation X; if and only if

1) P has the preference to admire X that he/she cannot comprehend, and

2) P is admiring X that he/she believes is incomprehensible, and

3) P has pleasure arising from the satisfaction of the preference.

Summary of the definition and Note.

The feeling of wonder is the pleasure of admiring something one does not understand, but would like to understand. Notice that the definition does not depend upon P believing he/she is admiring X. It is the admiration of X itself that is pleasurable. I'm not totally happy with this definition and it is clear it could use some work. Notice again though that this is not a belief based emotion, except in the sense that P has to have some beliefs to get it started.


The Definition

A person P feels bored by his situation; if and only if

1) P has the preference for activity, and

2) P is aware of his lack of activity, and

3) P has displeasure arising from the dissatisfaction of the preference.

Summary of the definition and Note.

Boredom is the awareness that a need for activity is unsatisfied. Would merely believing that you have activity eliminate boredom or would you have to actually have activity? I think it might be the latter, at a minimum mental activity, and thus although boredom is an emotion but not of the belief based sort.


The Definition

A person P feels curious about X; if and only if

1) P has the preference for it to be that P will find out things about X , and

2) P believes he/she will find out things about X , and

3) P has pleasure arising from attending to the fact that P believes his/her preference is satisfied.


The Definition

P feels surprised, if and only if

1) P has the preference to have his/her beliefs change in an unexpected way, and

2) P's beliefs change, and

3) P has pleasure or displeasure arising from his/her preference not being satisfied.

Summary of the definition and Note.

The feeling of surprise is had when one's beliefs change unexpectedly and this change is either pleasant or unpleasant. In this section I am attempting to define the not belief based emotion of surprise. There is a belief based version where beliefs change to a content that is preferred or change to a content that is not preferred. In this section I'm merely trying to point to the aspect of the emotion surprise when we are just enjoying the activity of being surprised. This emotion is likely the foundation of humor.


The Definition

P feels Lonely, if and only if

1) P has the preference to be close in a personal way to, or be connected to, someone, and

2) P believes P is not connect or close to someone , and

3) P has displeasure arising from his/her preference not being satisfied.


Summary of the definition and Note.

P feels lonely when P believes that P is not connected and the awareness of the belief results in displeasure. I put this emotion in the non-belief category mostly because part of the preference here is the preference to be in the kind of situation where you feel a certain way about someone, namely care about them. One could be lonely even if one believed he/she cared for someone. If the caring wasn't really there the loneliness would persist.





Initially I was tempted to think of admiration as an emotion, but now I don't think so. It may be that I just started off wrong but here's how it began:

P feels Admiration for Q, if and only if

1) P has the preference that Q have positive character traits, and

But then I realized that we don't really have a preference that a person have positive character traits. I mean, ask this question: If you admire someone is it because you want them to have certain character traits? I don't think so. Instead, I would like to suggest that admiration is a form of liking a person with a indication of why you like them. In particular you like them because of some positive character traits. You would have a tendency to like anyone with those traits. Since 'liking' is merely an expression of preference without reference to whether the liking is satisfied or not, admiration is not an emotion.

But what then is an admirable character trait? I think one would say of a trait that it was admirable if one would have a tendency to like anyone or recommend anyone with that trait. This is one concept that I believe will be useful as a motivation to be ethical. More on this later in the ethics section.


When one feels empathetic one is not really feeling any particular emotion. To claim to be an empathetic person, for instance, is more a claim about your abilities than your mood or likely emotional state. So, to say I feel empathy for you means I feel what you feel. We might ask how that is even possible. Does it involve some Vulcan mind meld that connects our physiology's or some extra-sensory connection? I don't think that's what we mean to convey. Instead being an empathetic person may just mean that you are capable of picking up on the expressions or behavior of someone and care enough about them so that what happens to them is almost as if it were happening to you.

So to be empathetic requires caring, but with the addition of the language of emotions one has an extra-mechanism for inferring what the feelings of another might be like. What I am suggesting is that if we clearly understand the beliefs that a person has and the preferences that they enjoy and we can see enough connection of those beliefs and preferences to similar beliefs and preference that we could have, then if we care about the person we will feel similar feeling. Clearly this can be a painful experience but it can also be an important one. For it is through experiences like this that we can feel close or connected to another person.

Even though empathy is not an emotion it is worth some consideration for the reasons I give above but also as I will argue later being an empathetic person may be an important part of the language of ethics and morality. More about this at that time.


-- Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson


Being Upset or Excited

In the beginning I had trouble trying to figure out what kind of emotion 'Upset' was. It is tempting to take everything that seems like a feeling and make an emotion out of it. But I don't think 'upset' is an emotion. It is a term that is meant to convey that the normal ways of dealing with problems have been upset. In other words, being upset is a way of saying that emotions, whether they be anger, fear, grief or whatever, have made it so that one is not functioning at normal efficiency. Instead of being an emotion, it is more likely a report on a physiological state, at least it is often the case that when one claims to be upset, one is aware of one's own physiology.

To be excited also seems to be a term that suggests something about bodily energy. Being excited is more likely than 'boredom' to suggest a reason for the feeling, namely an anticipated positive good. So if we wanted to use the term 'excited' to suggest an emotion, it might go something like this:

The Definition

P is excited about x, if and only if

1) P has the preference that x, an anticipated good in the near future, will be the case, and

2) P believes that x will be the case, and

3) P has pleasure arising from attending to the fact that P believes his/her preference will be satisfied.


Summary of the definition and Note.

So, excitement is the positive feeling when you believe an anticipated good will come. Of course it is likely a-priori true that one prefers a good in the future and so if this emotion is to change, it will not be from a change in preference. Of course the preference that this is dependent upon might change and this could change the emotion.

Additional comment (on Calvin and Hobbes cartoon above):

In an attempt to not be disappointed Calvin suggests that he can intentionally lower or eliminate his preferences for future states. This would, of course, affect more emotions than disappointment. He states that it would be impossible to be upset. Note that there are other possible reasons for being upset than being disappointed but if one could get rid of caring one could eliminate being upset about something. If choosing to not care is possible then he should be aware that he would also be disabling a lot of positive emotional experiences.



I save 'love' for last because it does have a bit of complexity to it, and because it's nice to end emotions on a positive note. To say you love someone is often meant to convey more information than some feeling you possesses at that moment. It conveys some subjunctive information about what you would be willing to do in certain contexts and also possibly something about a sense of commitment. But the emotion love can be both positive and negative. Let me indicate what I mean by giving the two definitions.

The Definition

P feels Love for Q (in the positive sense), if and only if

1) P has the preference to be closely connected to Q, and

2) P is closely connected to Q, and

3) P has pleasure arising from his/her preference being satisfied.


P feels Love for Q (in the negative sense), if and only if

1) P has the preference to be closely connected to Q, and

2) P is not closely connected to Q, and

3) P has displeasure arising from his/her preference being dissatisfied.

Because of our experience with defining loneliness, we can see that this preference to be closely connected is also not a belief based emotion. Another way we could have made it belief based emotion would be to call love that feeling that refers to the preference that only good things happen to the person you love. Love is more likely an ambiguous mixture of all of these notions. We can also realize that often the preference to feel closely connected to someone is associated with a want that only good things to happen for them.


False hope is better than no hope at all.

-- unknown

Wishing, Hoping and Imagination.

It took me a while to get a definition of hope that would make it seem clearly an emotion. One of the problems is that it is not belief based and for a while I did not realize that such emotions were possible. And yet there did seem to be an emotional component to hope. The summaries of many of the definitions could be more familiarly rephrased with reference to wishes and hopes. Let me offer this definition of feeling hopeful.


P feels hopeful about X, if and only if,

1) P would prefer that X be true, and

2) X is not known to be true or false, and

3) P does not believe that P has full control in making X true, and

4) P is counting upon X being true more than the evidence warrants, and

5) P had the preference of counting upon X being true more than the evidence warrants, and

6) P has pleasure as a result of this preference being satisfied.

Summary of the definition and Note.

To hope that something be the case is to be counting on it more than is warranted by the evidence. But there are these other elements in the semantics of hope that lead to the rest of the definition. Consider these natural uses of the term.

Note that statements of the sort 'I wish X were the case' and 'I hope X is the case' minimally seem to presuppose that X is not known to be the case. Both have to do with expressing a preference that X be true. The major difference between the two seems to be that you express a wish in the context where you believe that X is not the case. And when expressing a hope we do not believe neither way and furthermore one admits to a lack of control in bringing about X

So, for instance, it is odd to say 'I wish I pass the test tomorrow', for it is not believed that you will not. You may say I wish I had passed the test yesterday or I hope I pass the test tomorrow. You express your desire as a hope to indicate the situation is not fully under your control. Because of this it would be odd to say 'I hope I get up get up from this chair' unless there is some doubt about you being able to do so as a simple result of choosing.

Now, there are some odd uses of these terms. So, for instance, one might say 'I wish you would turn down the music'. This indicates that the music is up in volume so it does meet the 'contrary to fact' criteria, but also it is a communication that is intended to cause the state of affairs to change to the more preferred. It is not a wish in the fantasy sense of the term.

Some might think that it is useless to dwell on 'counterfactuals' for you cannot do anything about them, as in 'I wish I had passed the test'. This is one way of expressing regret and although some might think it is only useful to think about what is, it is through imagination that one gets a sense of what is possible. Remember that preferences are comparisons between what is and what is not, or even two states that are not the case. Imagination, at least in the context of emotions, should be encouraged as a tool for discovering your true preferences. It is part of a coherent life before you set a goal to ask yourself if that state the goal state (that has not come to pass) is to be preferred to state of affairs right now, or even other possible goals.

On the issue of imagination, I have recently become aware that some people set goals to buy something or get somewhere without considering whether or not their life would really be better with those goals realized. This may take a bit of imagination. One should, if you want to not be disappointed or unhappy, try to imagine what daily life, daily personal experience, would be like, if the goals come to pass. How many people do you know that have taken a job that pays more although they will have to move somewhere that they don't especially like? How many people do you know that had kids, for instance, because they 'wanted to', even though it never crossed their mind to live in their imagination the feelings and experiences that they would have on a daily basis when the goal was realized? Maybe these people are not thinking in terms of their life as experiences, but maybe they just don't have any imagination skills. If they don't, I would have to recommend to them trying to acquire some, for it is a necessary part of living life deliberately (Thoreau).

Anyway, these are some of the concepts that I wanted to make some sense of in the emotional realm. It's a true hodgepodge of concepts and thoughts that I wanted to share. In this section I would like to suggest that we not play down our wishes and hopes and that whenever we have a natural opportunity that we feel free to exercise our imagination without believing it is a waste of time.

One more thought: Is there an emotion that corresponds to the activity of wishing? If so, is it usually positive or negative? These are just a few interesting questions for later consideration.

Additional Comment (on quote by unknown)

There are a few reasons not to hold that false hope is better than no hope at all. If we take false hope to mean unjustified hope we may be establishing a poor habit of thought to believe things to a degree that is unjustified. It may seem to make you happier in the short run but it could be argued that to do so is really a form of self deception. I could not recommend it as a long term strategy.

Eventually you are likely to catch on to this trick against yourself and it won't be very effective. A false hope could easily lead to the emotion of disappointment and after a few to a depressed mood. Maybe a person would have some more tricks to deal with the disappointment. Ultimately it's a personal decision, but I don't see how it could outweigh the value of the disappointment to follow, and it does seem to establish this poor habit of thought as I suggested.

Note also that if the definition of hope is correct (which I have some doubts about but it seems like a good place to start) then all hope is false hope.


If we learn to think in terms of defining emotions by finding the core preference, we can use this technique in dealing with others to help resolve emotions which are connected to the behavior of others (most are). So, for instance, if one is living with someone and they have done something that leads to your anger, then the issue of what preference was unsatisfied could become the focal point of the discussion. For this to be productive it would have to be clear that both people were really trying to address the problem, not playing some other game like making the other person feel bad or using the dialog as a symbolic negotiation for other purposes. In other words, for this exploration to be any help at all it must be done in honesty with common intentions. And if there is very little trust then even honesty won't be very successful.

One condition to addressing anger should be met before two people try to work on it together. The object of the anger would likely have to be a behavior or kind of behavior, instead of the other person. If the anger is directed at the person, then knowing this it is likely that there is very little that person will want to do to help you resolve it. So let us take as an example the anger at a person's behavior.

If an honest effort is being made to solve the problem there are some natural questions to ask. One question we could ask is if the underlying preference is one that we really want to have. Is it our true preference? With something like indignation this may really amount to assessing whether or not a price should be paid by the other person for the other person's behavior. Remember that the price might merely be some assurance that such an act will not happen again. There might even be some attempt by both people to structure the environment so that it could not happen again. For the other person to be helpful with this enterprise there also has to be a fair commonalty of background beliefs. Otherwise the discussion might regress to other areas of disagreement which might bring about more anger.

Secondly, we could try together to assess whether or not the preference truly was unfulfilled. After all, sometimes anger is based upon mistaken beliefs. The other person may have some contributions on this matter.

Thirdly, with respect to anger, we might take steps to satisfy the preference, that is remove the object of anger. This may be no more than finding some way to assure the person that they won't have to deal with the same kind of thing in the future. It might just be some evidence provided by the other person that they care enough about the person to not let it happen again. Maybe some explanation as to why it happened in the first place and an explanation of why it is unlikely in the future would do.

I'm not suggesting that all such problems can easily be resolved in this matter. Most of the time one can work out a perspective on an emotion by oneself. But sometimes two people together can work together to find a solution to an emotion that touches both. It is by finding the core preference that was not satisfied that we can know where to begin.

And finally, we should be prepared for the possibility that the emotion will not be resolved. At that point we might just have to accept the anger and not dwell on in, and put it in the perspective of all the other ways the person fits satisfactorily in your life.

This methodology should be helpful even if you have no name for the emotion. The key question to determine if this feeling is 'reflection accessible' is to ask: Would this feeling go away if some belief I have in this situation changed? If so, then the feeling is an emotion and is open to reflective activity. Once this is understood, maybe someone else can help.

With respect to teaching a child how to understand and deal with their emotions, the emotions framework provides some immediate guidance for inquiry. If a child appears to have some emotional response, one can inquire about the core preference that is unsatisfied. If the child has no immediate access to what their preference is, a few exercises in imagination might give the child more insight into this emotion and future emotions. One could help the child search for the belief that would have to change in order for the feeling to go away.



What is a mood? I want to explore a few possibilities. At least at this point, I would like to claim that every mood is associated with an emotion. You have the emotion of anger, you have the mood of anger. You have the emotion of fear. You have the mood of fear. You can be emotionally sad and you can have a sad mood. Why is this? I take moods to be an expression of the potential to fall into an emotion. So, for instance, a person in an angry mood would find it easier to become angry about some specific thing.

The mood makes it more likely that certain preferences come to mind or that you reflect on the status of satisfaction of those preferences or maybe more likely that you dwell on those satisfactions or dissatisfactions. Before you have an object of anger, you just have a feeling, maybe a feeling that there is something that you would or should be angry about if you thought about it or if you tried to remember it. Something about your state, maybe just physiological predisposition, makes it more likely that some thoughts spring to consciousness.

The feeling of a mood is very much like the feeling of the associated emotion. We can often tell by the feeling what emotion is likely to arise. Sometimes, we are not aware of the existence of our mood until another person suggests it to us from our behavior. But people know enough to be cautious around someone in an angry mood, so as not to become the object of an emotion.

So moods, in some sense, may be a major cause or contributor to some emotions, but what causes moods? How could a mood get established in the first place? I would conjecture that moods are recalled emotions but just the pain part or the pleasure part. I would think that there may be many different ways for these feelings to be recalled. Empirically we know that we can cause moods by the ingestion of chemical substances, the experience of some associated situations or the application of electrical stimulus to certain parts of the brain, thus triggering some mental events. It is likely that if we have emotions of a certain sort for an extended period of time that a hardware memory of that pleasure or pain may be stored and resurface from time to time. As an example, if a person on an occasion worries for a few hours, when the cause of the worry is resolved, We would not find it surprising if the person were still in 'worry mode', not quite forgetting the pain of the worry when it was there and prepared for something else to worry about.

This hints at a casual circularity. It would seem that excess emotional worry even after resolved might bring about a worry mood and having a worry mood may make it more likely that you find something to worry about i.e. back to emotional worry. This could be a bad cycle. One would probably want to find a way to break it. Many of us might have seen this cycle in progress.

Sometimes a mood is an unresolved emotion that was put aside by either intentionally or accidentally turning your focus to other things. We might think of a mood in this case as an emotion ready to be recalled.

So, if you have a negative mood and you want to change it, what are your options. I have no real strong advice here but I would still like to suggest that you may wish to try to assess whether it is mostly a chemical feeling, i.e. due to lack of sleep, too much coffee, too much alcohol, lack of exercise, or anything else that may alter the body's chemistry, or whether it is the result of some recent emotional state (which might also have its chemical affects), or some recent events associated events. Or as a third possibility whether it has its roots in an unresolved emotion.

If it is the first, then you may take steps to change your chemistry or at least you might try to take some comfort in the fact that it will wear off. If it is the second, then you could attempt a change the mood by focusing on creating moods that are opposed to the first or removing yourself from the moody association. For instance, with an angry mood you may wish to stimulate a bit of joy. In general you would want to redirect your focus that might make your remembrance of the feeling weaken or go away.

If it is the third possibility, the unresolved emotion ready to be recalled, then you might just have to address this emotion more directly and maybe then at least be consoled by knowing that you have done what you can about it. Then maybe you can put it further aside. If it is either the second or the third then it would appear that dealing with emotions in a direct way, by reflection should have an effect on moods

Anyway, my only strong point in this section is that to call something a mood is to express a potential for falling into an emotion. The rest of the things I say here may be taken as highly conjectural. I am not really comfortable making empirical claims about the physiology of moods. This is more likely a subject for further scientific study than something we are likely to get knowledge about by mere speculation. In any case, it does seem interesting and I hope that research will be done on some of my conjectures. My two main empirical conjectures are that moods are sometimes caused by emotions and are sometimes a contributing cause of an emotion. 

We haven't given much consideration to the part of the definition of the emotion that addresses the amount of pleasure or displeasure one is capable of when feeling an emotion. I think we know that all things being equal some people with similar beliefs and expectations may feel something more strongly than another in the same situation. In fact with very little conceptual change, we can feel more strongly or less so at different times. It is as if our displeasure mechanism is more sensitive at some times than at others. It may even capable of more intensity at some times. What would affect this. I would like to suggest that sometimes, the displeasure from an anger may have made us more painfully sensitive to possible future irritations. Thus the angry emotion brings about an angry mood which makes our anger pain more sensitive to the next irritation.

It may be that 'feeling emotional' is a phrase meant to convey the state of easy or strong (or both) pleasure or displeasure at the slightest consideration or reflection on our satisfied or dissatisfied beliefs. Thus, feeling emotional is a mood in the sense that I have defined it, but a most general mood that could lead to a multitude of emotional experiences.


Primal Feelings

In referring to primal feelings before, I had classified them as non-emotions. It may strike us as strange to not consider some kinds of fear or anger as an emotion just because they are primal, so it might have been best to make the distinction between primal and non-primal emotions. With that said, let us stick with those terms as I have used them as unnatural as they might be and talk of primal feelings.

A problem with the conjecture that I am about to present is that by this notion there does not seem to be a significantly difference in kind between something like hunger and something like fear. But here goes. I'm sure that some improvements can be made.

I take an entity without language to be analogous to a program (let us call such an entity 'a primitive', keeping in mind that the entity is not necessarily a life form). The primitive would have two fundamental kinds of functions. First there would be a program that assessed the situation and then there would be the part of the program that decided what to do in that state of affairs. So, for instance, an entity could assess its nourishment status and if undernourished the action part of the program would kick in and take action. The specific action it takes would probably not be part of the hardware but instead would be (mostly) the result of learning. If undernourished, we call the systems feelings 'hunger'.

Another program would assess the safety of a situation and if unsafe an action part of the program would kick in, this part we may call "fear". Another similar program would assess whether there were obstacles to action felt necessary, if so maybe another action program would kick in to remove the obstacles. We may call this program "anger". I believe that most of the action part of the program is learned to handle a possibly complex variety of situations, however there would be some part of the program hardwired. Fear, for instance, may have adrenaline, to accompany it and anger undoubtedly would have its physiological gland to help it along. Would there be some primitive form of non-linguistic jealousy? And how many other emotions really exist in the non-cognitive state. I don't really know. It's not my field, but it does seem possible.

Now, my conjecture goes, as we develop language, we might think of ideas and beliefs as a new form of stimulus. Whereas before we might have learned to avoid fire for when we did not, it hurt, now we may learn that when we believe certain things that that too is associated with a negative outcome and so we learn to prefer or not prefer the states in the world that we associate with those beliefs.

So, for us language users, not only do we have the primal feelings but we also have taken the power of those primal feelings and learned analogous and more complex feelings. We have action programs but along with them we have an analogous set of preferences. We have the ability to assess the situation but we also have beliefs, a complex way of storing the assessment of the situation. And so, it may be that primal feelings analogous to emotions were stimulated by simple states that did not involve beliefs but instead something more like information states in the system. If it weren't for these primal analogs it is unlikely that emotions would have any strong intensity.

So what would the difference be between primal hunger and primal fear? What makes one more like an emotion? I conjecture it is only that primal fear behavior is more specific than primal hunger behavior. All animals that fear behave the same way. They run if they can. Hunger is satisfied by more complex forms of behavior. I don't believe that one is more psychological than the other.

As an afterthought, we may wish to note than not all emotions have a direct primal analog. Although primal grief is likely and maybe 'primal missing', there probably is no primal embarrassment, primal guilt or primal regret. These notions seem to require more conceptual apparatus than is available non-linguistically.

Character Traits, Virtues and Vices

When we define the character of others we often do it by breaking down their character into composite traits. Many of these traits are associated with propensities to behave in certain ways. Thus to say someone is greedy is to make the claim that this person would in a conflict between fulfilling an obligation and pursuing wealth would be more likely than normal to pursue the wealth. It is a normative concept. It is interesting to note that many character traits have definitions that are definable in terms of propensities for emotions, somewhat like mood terms.

So, for instance, not only does it make sense to talk of anxiety as an emotion, or as a mood, but also we can refer to someone as an anxious person. This direct relationship between character trait and feeling terms exists for the following:

An anxious person, a worrier, a jealous person, an angry person, a fearful person, a lonely person, a sad person, a happy person, a caring person, a greedy person, a proud person, an envious person, a righteous person.

Another level of character traits are the traits that seem to be habits or strategies for dealing with emotions. So, for instance,

1) Being a pessimist may be a result of the strategy to lower one's expectations in order to not be disappointed.

2) Being shy may be a strategy to avoid possibly embarrassing situations.

3) Being a coward, timidity or courage may me habits or strategies to deal with fear.

4) Forgiving or Merciful: a strategy for dealing with anger

5) A person with perseverance: a strategy for dealing with frustration

6) Gluttonous: a habit or strategy to deal with hunger (or perceived hunger)

7) Lustful: a strategy for dealing with sexual feelings.

8) Patience: a strategy for dealing with boredom or excitement

And then we have a host of character traits that deal with how much we decide to care about ourselves in comparison to how much we care about others. The emotion at stake is 'caringness'. It can hurt to care too much for others, but it has its rewards. Here are some of them of those traits.

Selfish, Sympathetic, Empathetic, Helpful, Kind, Benevolent, Humble, Compassionate, Respectful, Generous, Harmless, honest

To feel righteous about oneself is to have certain beliefs about one's own character. So we would say that a righteous character is one who believes himself to be honest , a possessor of integrity, and a just person.

This is part of the language of character and the last parts (from 'selfish' on) are crucial to what it means to be a good person, another character trait. Others would want to include notions of courage, gluttony or lust in such a definition, but I would not be so inclined. In any case, it may be here that we start to see a more complete integration between the area of feelings/emotions and the area of ethics/morality.



By now you have probably guessed that I am not a religious person and yet I recognize a great value in what could be called a spiritual sense of things. At this point I would like to suggest that at least one concept of spirituality (this one) could be seen as resting upon fundamental feelings.

To have a sense of spirituality is to have.....

1) A sense of awe.

2) A sense of respect for living things and even further, respect for the Earth (or really the universe).

3) A sense of connectedness to others or to everything.

Not all of these, or maybe any of them, are emotions in my sense of the term. They are abilities that enable feelings and these abilities are at least partially dependent upon one's world view or metaphysic.

It may be that we could even connect these in something like the following way:

The ability to respect everything based upon an ability to feel awe and connectedness to it all.

Just a thought that I hope is an interesting stimulus.

Another question: Is possession of a sense that there is something more important than oneself an important aspect of spirituality and if so is it a desirable feeling to cultivate?

And a last thought: how might 'wonder' fit into a sense of spirituality?




When we realize that beliefs are a very important part of emotions, we might ask ourselves which beliefs are the most important. I would like to suggest that beliefs that are general, usually present and form the background for our regular transitional beliefs are the ones that enable or restrict the kind of emotions we are capable of. Metaphysical beliefs are one kind of background belief that deserves special attention.

One of the most important metaphysical area emotions-wise is the area of our religious beliefs. It's clear that religion can be used to deal with fear, especially the fear of death. Religion can be used to deal with grief, if people really believe they will see someone again, grief can't be as real or intense. That doesn't mean they couldn't still miss someone. One might be able to deal with one's anger at injustice by taking on religious beliefs that promise an ultimate justice. But we should realize that no framework of beliefs is without emotional drawbacks and consequences.

For instance, although I've seen it argued otherwise, it is hard to imagine that one would assign as strong a value to 'our earthly life' if one believes that it's really just a small fraction (nothing really) of our potentially infinite life. The afterlife framework has the potential to devalue the only thing a person will ever have of value, if the religious thesis is false. Similarly, one being happy with the 'knowledge' of ultimate justice cannot help but cut into one's resolve to fight injustice. If everything that happens is 'god's will' it may be hard to even see injustice. This may be a great loss especially if awareness of such things is important. So, I would just remind the reader that any framework is going to have its emotional pluses and minuses and sometimes the minuses are not as obvious. Death is truly a scary thing but I believe that once it is accepted the fear is manageable. We might not be able to get rid of every negative emotion. Some we just have to live with.

One of the harms of buying into a religious framework that may not be all that clear, has to do with one's willingness to change one's criteria for justification in order to satisfy an emotional need. This may be an unhealthy precedent. It may be contrary to a commitment to make one's beliefs correspond in strength to the degree of evidence one has for those beliefs. This 'reality' principle I personally have found very important in making sense of my own emotional confusions. I think if we can clearly acknowledge a tension between what we would like to believe and what we in fact believe, then we are more likely to see things clearly and this in turn is less likely to subject us to emotion or mood swings.

Another area of metaphysical belief is the area of free will/determinism. It's clear that the extent to which we believe our fellow man is free to do what he does is going to influence almost all of our feelings from guilt, shame, embarrassment and anger. How, for instance, could you be angry at something that you believe was just behaving by determined principles. It would be like being angry at a rock because it fell down a hill and squashed a beautiful flower. A pure no-free-will position would eliminate a lot of negative emotions, but not without a price. The price is minimally a certain feeling of alienation. Without a commitment to free will on some level, one could not praise, nor blame, nor feel proud and I suspect one would ultimately have to sacrifice a sense of beauty or at least an aesthetic sense of things.

But of course we know people do not behave freely at all times and so decisions have to be made on this issue and how the decisions are made, i.e. where we draw the lines, will influence many of our feelings. If we believe that people are mostly just machines we are not going to feel the same way about them as we would if we believe otherwise. Could you love a machine in the same way that you love a real person?

We may not think of the following as a metaphysical position, but it is at least a possible background position to take the view that people only behave selfishly. This view, a part of what it means to be a person, has many consequences in terms of the kinds of character traits we attribute to others. The term 'selfish person' becomes redundant and thus conveys no information besides 'person'. Even terms like 'kind' and 'benevolent' lose some of their important. But the biggest price that this framework pays, even though it may help one with anger and forgiveness, is that it may prevent one from striving to become a better person. I believe in reality that the position is a flawed one and relies on a major change in the meaning of 'selfish' that makes 'that person is selfish' a tautology.

We might wish to realize that even our concepts of 'self' may importantly determine many of our feelings. It may not be a useful framework, emotion-wise to think of ourselves as ending at the boundary of our skin. Notice to what extent a person who gets used to an artificial limb undergoes a transformation of 'self image'. Clearly different notions of self, and to what extent one believes one is connected to other things, is going to form a background of assumptions that will influence many of our experiences. Imagine, for instance, whether we could feel envy in the same way if we felt connected to others in some important sense. I will not strongly argue for a new notion of self, but I think it is worth pointing out that there may be plausible alternatives to the ordinary notion that help us deal with greed, selfishness and maybe even fear of death.

In earlier treatments of 'anger' we may see that our notion of justice can play a major role in our assessment of when there is injustice and thus where anger may arise. Subscribing to "Eye for an eye" principles, for instance, will be frustrating in some cases and satisfying in others. The question of what people deserve is not as clear cut as many would wish to think.

All and all our background beliefs form a foundation for what kind of experience, especially emotional experience, we are capable of. Knowing this, it may be worth more than a casual effort to seek out alternative views and try to imagine what the emotional consequences would be if we adopted those views.




Upon reviewing the definitions for individual emotions we may be struck by how many times there is reference to ethical and moral beliefs. Not only in the definitions of 'guilt' and 'shame' but even notions like 'embarrassment' are influenced by our concepts of when an action is justified or not.

Often ethical beliefs are the clearest 'cause' of an emotion, but this is not the only support that beliefs of ethics gives to emotion. Sometimes the background ethical framework influences emotions by making them more persistent or more intense, because they contain content about how we should feel. Some people have taken these connections as evidence that ethical and moral notions should be discarded. It is a bit amusing that people who support this morally skeptical position would be recommending what we should do (as in 'they should be discarded'), but nevertheless, this position is taken seriously among many professional psychologists and much of the general population.

Related to this view is the commonly held view that either the foundation of ethics rests in principles given by God, or that there is no foundation of ethics and morality is purely subjective or relative. Anyone who believed the first part of the disjunct would be resistant to a change in ethical beliefs by reflection, since they regard their ethical views as given or fixed, and any person is in the second camp of ethical relativism will have no need to change an ethical belief on the basis of reasoning or new experience, since the truth of an ethical belief is merely a function of what one would want to believe.

In the context of this theory of emotion, both of these views work against personal growth, because so many emotions are connected in important ways to ethical concepts and since these emotions are essential to some of our most important personal experiences.
This disjunction is commonly believed (the foundation of ethics rests in principles given by God or there is no foundation of ethics and morality is purely subjective or relative) and each of the disjuncts also represent common beliefs that are fundamentally wrong. For this reason, I feel obligated to present an alternative view of ethics that is neither subjective and relative nor dependent upon some super-being for an objective foundation.

Consider the second view for a moment: that ethics is relative and that each of us determines by deciding what is to be right and what is wrong. If this were the case, or to put if more precisely, if we really believed it to be the case then it would curtail some emotions and eliminate others. Guilt and shame are the two obvious examples, but any emotion, like anger for instance, that is supported sometimes by a notion of what is right or what is fair, would also suffer. It is a bit amusing that many professing to be relativists sometimes also profess anger about the injustices of the world.

With a little thought it becomes clear that moral relativism implies ultimately that ethics has no utility and moral concepts are meaningless and could be discarded with no harm. This is a disastrous position for an individual and a society. Ethical concepts are important and essential to our most valued experiences and that to delete them, if one really could, would leave some kinds of important human experiences totally inaccessible.

And yet, I can imagine some reader saying 'yea but there is no way to discover the correct morality and so although what you (Bill) say may be true, we just have to live with it.'

Many non-religious people seem to agree with some of the religious who hold that if there were no God then morality has no objective basis. I'm not quite sure where it comes from. I think its foundation might be from within religion itself. It is tempting to think that something is right and wrong because of what God says. God saying it is right, makes it right and if he says its wrong then that makes it wrong. But if there is no God, then there would be no one to make right 'right' and make wrong 'wrong'.

And this belief may be supported by the sense that God rewards and punishes, and so if there is no one to reward or punish then we are free to be any kind of jerk we want to be without penalty.

Let is consider this thesis: If there were no god then there would be no objective morality, and furthermore, if there were no god then there would be no reason to be a moral person. To show this notion incorrect we only need to find either an objective morality, or really we need only to find a methodology that would discover an objective morality. I will attempt to do both. In addition I believe it will become clear what the motivation to be a moral person will be, at least for most of us.

I believe we will discover that deciding to abandon the use of concepts of ethics in a consistent would be like trying to never use or think with the concept of 'animal'. Not only is ethical language well entrenched within our lives from early on, but ethical concepts have a major important use: to convey information about character and allow us to make sense of advice and recommendations.

The relativist might take his/her position because of the view that language itself is arbitrary, since every language has different words. And thus to find the meaning of any term is going to reflect this arbitrariness. But we shouldn't forget that languages have a function and it is by looking at the function of language and how that function fits into our needs to communicate that we can find something truly objective.

In fact, it is by some such process that we are able to get insights into how to translate one language to another. We look at the functions that the words play. Words with identical functions are considered as synonymous. So how do we discover the meanings of ethical terms? We focus on the function that such a subset of a language attempts to satisfy. That is ,we should ask the question: what role does ethical language play in every society? From its function or role we should be able to find its meaning.

To do this, let us imagine what things would be like if all ethical language and concepts were to disappear overnight. An indicative question would then be: what communications in our life would suffer as a result? Or what kind of language would it be necessary to create in order to fulfill the important tasks of our lives?

I ask you to conjecture this because sometimes the reason that ethics may seem so subjective is that we bring to ethical language so much excess baggage. These terms actually have many uses and meanings and they are often used in emotional contexts as an attempt to persuade in an emotionally compelling way. These ethical terms can get overused and abused and so muddled that no one knows what anyone is really saying anymore. So, let us abandon them and see what is left. Let us abandon 'right' and 'wrong', 'good' and 'bad', 'ethical' and 'unethical', 'moral' and 'immoral'. What have we then lost? And let us also ask "what needs to be said that we cannot say?" This would be a way to explore the language of ethics more objectively, by forgetting all we think we know about that terminology.

Now, this is the most general of notions presented here: That to find the meaning of a language subset, that you look at the role that that part of language plays. If almost every society feels the need to have such a language then that part can be captured by making the meaning of the terms fulfill that role. Don't be distracted by the likelihood that different cultures may think of specific acts as right, while others think of those acts as wrong. This could easily be accounted for by realizing that people from different cultures have different understandings and beliefs about what the event really is or symbolizes, or because neither culture has considered the act in a more general way.

In any case, if its function gives us its meaning and we find the same need for this function in every culture then we can say good-bye to relativism. It has been refuted. But, if we use this approach we must be prepared that the concept of ethics be a bit more general than we may have previously supposed. This is the only methodology needed to show that ethical language can be independent of God. That is, it will be sufficient if we can show that there really is a consistent function for the language of ethics.


With this in mind let me present a specific ethical theory that satisfies the methodology above. Keep in mind that even if the following fails to be exactly right, that this does little damage to the notion above that an objective theory of ethics can be found by examining the role of ethical language. As an aside, it may be interesting to note that this 'functionalist' approach is very much the same methodology that I used to discover the meaning of the language of emotion. I took the language of emotion's function to be that of conveying information about satisfactions and dissatisfactions associated with thinking events.

My conjecture is that the major function of the discourse of ethics is bound to the notion of advise-giving and recommending. Even with ethical language gone, we would still want to give advice and make recommendations, especially to those that we love or care about. We would have to invent the concepts that would be important in giving advice or making recommendations.

You might need to tell your son ,for instance: "Always drink a large glass of water before starting a long game of chess" or "Look both ways before crossing the street" or "If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife".

Most of these advises would be aimed at the purpose of protecting him or for helping him achieve what he wants from life or will want from life. I call this 'strategy advice': advice about what strategies one could adopt to succeed in achieving one's goals, or the goals that one might adopt in the future. But there is another kind of advice that we may wish to give to someone we care about or love. Our motivation for giving this second kind of advise would be more because we care about others that the child may have dealings with or because we want the child to be a person of a certain sort. This advise might be more focused upon which goals it might be advisable to adopt.

So I can imagine that in the absence of morality one may still want to advise your child as follows: Don't lie. If the child asked why? You could say 'Because then you would be a liar'. The child might ask "And why don't I want to be a liar?" The most obvious answer is because you would not want to associate with liars and of course you would not want to be the kind of person you would not want to associate with.

This advice is not totally given for the sake of the person you are advising. For instance, because you don't want people hurt you may want to advise him/her not to hurt people. Those others may turn out to be people you know and care about or will care about. Let us classify this kind of advice that you would give to someone for the sake of others or for the sake of the kind of character you would want this person to form as a different kind of advice than the advise, for instance, to look both ways. For the sake of future reference, let us call the advice of the first type, the kind that is more concerned with optimizing personal success 'personal advice', and of the second sort which is more concerned about this person not harming others or more concerned about what kind of person he/she is going to become 'character advice'.

Now admittedly there may be some overlap, but I think we can see that some people, even in the absence of morality would still give character advise to their children and maybe to anyone they cared about.

Character advice can be broken down into several different categories. There are the rules of behavior. These rules do not ask the person to assess probable outcomes. They are rules like: don't lie, don't cheat, don't steal, keep your promises, and don't make promises that will conflict with the other rules. It is clear that even in the context of a language with no ethical concepts that people would still want to give advice like this to their children. Why? Because, if a person follows these rules, then the person is a person of a special sort. The person is said to have 'integrity'.

Furthermore, you are likely to advise your child that they should keep at a distance any person who lacks this integrity and of course we would not want to be the kind of person that could not recommend to others. Notice that even if 'right' and 'wrong' are not familiar concepts, we would still be motivated to give this kind of advice. We would also be motivated to create a concept like integrity so that we could at least communicate this warning to stay away from people that do not fit the definition.

This advise assumes a bit of context. If we are in a society where few people have integrity then the advise itself may be ill advised. We may not be able to avoid those without it. But if we would want to associate with those of integrity then becoming a person of integrity has its appeal: being the kind of person we would wish to associate with.

Another division of character advice is concerned with helping or harming others. Without ethical concepts, we would still advise our children not to be mean, not to be unkind, and in general we would still encourage our children to develop feelings of caring and empathy for others. This would fall under the category of don't hurt other people or don't become the kind of person who would hurt other people. Why would we give this advice? Because upon reflection it becomes clear that most of us don't want to associate with mean people. Kind people are better to be with. And again, we can appeal to the fact that no one (or at least most people) would not want to be the kind of person that they would not want to associate with.

This kind of character advice is more consequence driven. It invites the child to assess what is likely to follow from his/her actions and compare that to the desired states of affairs. The child's motivation to become caring may be because being caring has its own satisfactions or maybe the motivation is found by the child realizing that he/she does not want to be the kind of person that would not be caring.

So we have these two kinds of character advice.
1) Advice that aims at the integrity of the individual.
2) Advice that addresses the consequences of the action in terms of help and harm.

But there is one more common type of character advise that we may sometimes be motivated to give. For even when we suppose no language of right and wrong, we may still believe in a deity or two. Thus we may give advice for God's sake. Here, the advise could be of all sorts depending upon the God. Never eat beans, don't eat meat on Fridays, don't eat cloven hoofed things. A lot of rules about eating. In any case this is a third category of character advice.

Many arguments have been given that the concern for integrity is based upon a concern for not hurting others. That is, it is possible to argue that some of these types of advise are really based upon others. Some may even want to argue that God's law is based upon God wanting the best for humans, and so maybe we could with a little effort reduce some concepts to others. If one type is reducible to another then this would simplify our task of discovering 'right' action, but to make sense of the language of these three kinds of advice we do not need to reduce them to one. So, in the absence of a compelling argument, we can leave the question of reducibility open at this time.

So, let us suppose that have these three kinds of character advise. We may ask: What would we advise when two are in conflict? For instance. If a mad man comes to the door looking for Larry, who is known by you to be in the room in the back, and says "Where is Larry? I want to kill him?" Do you say " I cannot tell a lie, Larry is in the room in the back" or do you lie your ass off?
Unless you are a person who is in the extreme, you lie your ass off. Why? Because a minor lie seems to be outweighed by the alternative. This is a case where lying is justified. That circumstances are such that the rule 'do not lie' is overruled by other considerations. As such maybe what we would advise our child would be conditional: 'Don't lie unless there are dire consequences to not lying'.

This was a clean case, where the conflict did not provide serious conflict. But what do we do when this conflict is of more equal power. How would be give advise to someone we cared about in this kind of dilemma?
At this point there doesn't seem to be a clear sort of advise. We are then in a fuzzy area. It's likely the case that there is no solid advice, except to note that the person much choose. But this is not to say that the choice is arbitrary. For what you choose indicates something about your character. If you go one way then you are more a person of integrity than a caring person, if you go another way then you are more a caring person than a person of integrity. And if you go a third way then maybe you are more a religious person than either of the other two.

Some on one occasion will go one way, and on another occasion another, depending upon personal profit or ambition. This, too, says something about that person. But the point is: the choice you make has the consequent that it can be accurately said that that action is compatible with the kind of person you are. I'm not saying that what you do merely opens you up to insult. But the kind of thing one does makes it so that one can be truthfully characterized. This is the consequent that one has to live with.

Now, what has this all got to do with ethics? I would like to suggest that the meaning of 'good person' is a person who:

1) adheres to principles of promise keeping, not lying, etc.
2) helps and does not harm others
3) follows God's law

This is the paradigm 'good person', and as such this person is regarded as good in every society. There is nothing relative about this notion. A classic 'bad person' is then one who has none of these character traits. In cases of conflict between these characteristics I would claim that there is a fuzziness to the concept of 'good' and 'bad'.

The concept of right action can also be defined in terms of those actions which are compatible with the description of a good person doing those actions. This notion of right and wrong will inherit some fuzziness from 'good person', but we could make our statements of right and wrong clearer by specifying the area of goodness. Thus, we might say the action is right by God's law but wrong in terms of helping and harming others.

But my claim, when majors come in conflict, is that there is no objective resolution. There is no sense to be made of 'the most right action' in that case.

Note also that if there is no God or if there is no clear way to know what God's law is then #3 saps energy from the other two. Sometimes the belief in God gives us a moral dilemma where there is no easy solution when a non-believer would have had a clear course.

From society's perspective we can see that the survival of a society might depend upon how many people are caring or have integrity or follow God's law. It might not even matter too much as to whether there is a mixture of people of all these sorts, as long as most of them are 'good' in some sense of the term.

But if there is no clear way to establish which God is the right one or what his/her law actually is and his/her believed law is out of sync with being integriful or being kind and caring then this could be a problem for agreeing on the good.

In fact, it could easily be that our present knowledge that there are many beliefs in different Gods with different laws that gives us our present day tendency to relativism in the first place. For, if many people feel free to believe in whatever deity independent of any sort of evidence and a person's God comes with various kind of commandments, then the arbitrariness of ethics would seem to get a lot of support.

So, if relativity of ethics is as harmful as I've argued then from the point of view of a healthy society there better not be too many different gods floating around. My personal position is that a society will be less confused the more the nature of ethics is understood and the less a belief in God contributes to the society's concept of the moral life.

So, if the roll of ethical language is as presented above, then why should one be ethical? The answer is that it is to our advantage to be the kind of person that we would recommend to a person that we care about. This is to say that it is not possible without cognitive dissonance to say to someone that 'John is a bad person' and at the same time recommend to a person that you care about that they hang out with you even though you are just like John. If you can't recommend people like John and you are just like John then you are one of the people you can't recommend. We should note that this reason will not be a good reason for everyone. Some people are not bothered by cognitive dissonance, or at least are not bothered enough for it to be a strong enough deterrent. But most of us have a sense of wanting to be the kind of person we would want to be around. It is natural to experience shame when we don't step up to our own ideal.

Notice that this can be said without any metaphysical presuppositions on the nature of good and evil. We need not believe in a supreme being who gives infinite rewards or punishments for us to care about the kind of person we are or the kind of person another is or the kind of person we want to become. If we accept a need for the language of character traits and accept that the language of advice and recommendation is sometimes importantly called for, we would most naturally have a language with terms like good and bad. Sometimes we need to convey information to someone we care about in these simple terms.


Praising, Blaming and Apologizing

There is another area of ethics that has a major importance for emotions. So let us look shortly at the function of praising and blaming. Sometimes we praise people for winning a game or blame them for losing, but many times we praise or blame people for things related to integrity or caring. We sometimes say 'you hurt that person. I blame you for that'. What does that mean? We might be doing this as an attempt to control that person through guilt or shame, but it need not be. I would suggest that even in societies which had no concept of morality there would still be blaming and not as an attempt at control but having a somewhat more respectable and legitimate function.

Suppose, for instance, you hurt me without cause and because of what you did, I assess that I cannot trust you as much as I did before. It would be irrational for me to trust you as much as I did before in the ways pertaining to the kind of act you did. I naturally think less of you.

Now, if I think less of you, it might be no more than an act of honesty to tell you so. It may be that I am making no verbal attempt to modify your future behavior, it's just that I may feel like telling you this particular truth. In some cases of this sort it might be that I only do it if you ask me. I would suggest that my articulation of my decision to modify my closeness and trust in you has a role that blaming has in our society. It is likely that all societies have this function in language, for if a society didn't then either people in that society don't adjust their level of trust on the basis of a person's actions or when they do never convey that the level of trust has changed. Both seem unlikely.

Praising works the same way, in the opposite direction. It may not necessarily be an attempt to manipulate someone or make them modify their behavior.

What is an apology? Would there still be something equivalent to an apology if there were no ethical language? Sure. If someone were notified that they were being kept more at a distance because of some behavior (blamed) then the blamed person may try to give assurance that such an action would not be repeated (an apology). This may be done in many forms, some of which are more active, like a performance or ritual that would assure us at least that the person would not want to go through that ritual again, (penance, maybe?). If the assurance was given then the apology was successful. From my experience, most apologies in real life do not successfully assure the offended of what needs to be assured.

When being blamed, there is an alternative to an apology. In some cases the blamed person may feel that the action was misunderstood and that the other person should maintain his or her level of trust without any assurance of modified behavior. In this case a successful explanation of the error of interpretation may remove the need to blame.

There are those who may claim that they never blame anyone for anything. Maybe they never articulate the blame, but it would be very strange for us to trust someone to a degree independent of the likelihood that they would hurt us again. I suspect that those who say they never blame do not understand the concept.

So there you have a specific notion of the role of ethical language and how the role determines the meaning of ethical terms. Without going into it, we should realize that notions of what is 'just' and 'fair' could be explored in exactly the same way. These concepts also play a role in emotions. As an example, when we have anger at a system of government it is often because of beliefs as to what is just. The notion of a good government may play the same role when dealing with governments that the notion of good person plays in dealing with people.

There is another curiosity to the relativist's ethical position. It's often the case that the push towards cultural relativism is directed by those who care about the harm that has come from trying to judge the people of another society by our own standards. Because they care, these same people are likely to offer recommendations as to what should be done.
Often they do not see the inherent contradiction. Clearly the word 'should' belongs in ethics, at least in this context, but my claim is that also whenever we recommend to an individual an organization or a society that something be done we are performing a fundamental function of ethics. There is an ironic dissonance when a reformer is also a relativist. It might be better for the reformer to realize that the harms to other cultures were brought about by not understanding the culture well enough or not having a general enough concept of 'right and wrong'.



-- Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Wisdom and the Big Picture

If my conjectures are correct about the quality of our lives depending upon the quality of our experiences then this matter of taking a reflective hand in guiding our feelings is an important one. In our discussion of emotions we have touched upon issues of character, behavior, ethics, metaphysics and general quality of life issues. When all is considered this presentation suggests a life view that sees all of these matters of feeling as connected to every other aspect our life, our beliefs, our values, our ethics, our character and our actions. I believe there is a sort of wisdom in addressing these areas as a whole.

This is to say that if we wish to change our feelings, we must look at how those feelings work in every aspect of our life. To the extent that it is possible, when feelings are unsatisfactory, we may wish to challenge our beliefs and our desires. Not that we should alter our beliefs for the mere purpose of having satisfactory feelings, but when reflecting on beliefs and desires we should keep an eye on what kind of experiences they set us up for and what kind of person we would be to have those beliefs and desires.

I picture all of these aspects of life as closely connected and so if one is the kind of person who uses reflection for personal growth, there does seem to be a methodology for accessing emotions to help in that growth. It is beyond the scope of the lay person to think that he/she could do some careful thought on concepts of ethics and metaphysics in order to help in this evolution, but the serious student of philosophy does have the tools to help find a satisfactory ethic and metaphysic.

All the lay person probably needs to know about Ethics is that harm is a major ingredient in being a bad person and lack of integrity is the other major agreement. In Metaphysics, it might be important for the lay-person to have a richer notion of existence than just deterministic matter. Without being a serious student of Philosophy, a person should be very cautious of reasoning that argues for some position that seems strange or unintuitive. Without study a lay-person might not want to take any metaphysical view as certain especially on the basis of some elegant reasoning that contradicts the common sense notions. A sort of metaphysical agnosticism is recommended. These issues are often much more complex that tend to be way oversimplified by and for the lay person.

Even the serious student of philosophy will want to be cautious when reasoning into areas that contradict common sense notions. Any long chain of reasoning is going to be especially vulnerable to missed assumptions and one should keep an awareness of the implications in terms of character and feelings. Note that any new philosophy if allowed to develop without awarenesses of practical implications can become extreme and disconnected from real things, important things and the world of ordinary experience. This is potentially dangerous if we do not monitor our intellectual development in the context of human values. I think we all know of theses that became too detached and too extreme and may have resulted in serious harm because people were all too anxious to commit to the view and follow it wherever it might lead.

It may seem contradictory in sentiment to what I just stated but, in resolving emotions or exploring philosophical theses, I recommend an attitude of detachment. We should not be trying to come to a particular conclusion that we have in mind. We might be able to accomplish this by caring more about finding a satisfactory answer, the most defensible answer, than giving in to what we would like to be true. We can use a little trick to accomplish this. We can take pride in being the kind of person that tries to find the truth no-matter how much that truth hurts. If you used this pride in the past to discover something, you might not want this pride to get in the way of admitting that you were wrong in that discovery.

But how are these concepts of life connected? I would suggest the following model, where the arrow represents the notion 'determines'. Let me leave it open as to which arrows represent causal determinacy.




Notice, that what I want to claim here is that one can influence which emotions one is capable of (potential emotions) by changing background beliefs or general preferences. The aspect of this diagram which has been ignored for simplicity is that it is likely that the features on the right feed back into the things further left. Thus, for instance, our actions at a time are likely to alter to some extent our character traits and maybe our next 'particular situation'.

So, one could approach designing a life in terms of the kinds of experiences you would want. But another way to proceed would be to decide what kind of character you wanted, in particular which character traits you would like to have and let that be the guide to your ethics and beliefs. Or as an alternative one could determine what one ought to be or ought to do and let the be the guide. Or lastly, one could quest for the 'correct' or most justifiable metaphysical and moral beliefs and let that determine much of the rest.

But I believe for the good life the best approach is to use a balance between all of these considerations. This approach may not have as many choices involved as it may seem for I believe it is likely that for most of us these considerations work together more often than conflict. But that's for you to decide.


In my view the wisest way to proceed when developing or attempting to change any of these entities, is to pay attention to what it means to all of the other aspects of one's life. I regard it as unwise to seek TRUTH, no matter what kind of monster one becomes and I also regard it as unwise to believe whatever it takes to become the kind of person you would like to become. Being wise is mostly a function of a broad perspective, the ability to see things as connected and the ability to be attuned to our persistent values and to balance all of our concerns. It is not an easy formula but developing a balanced perspective is what the wise person does. If there is one thing that characterizes wisdom it is the ability to see The Big Picture, to see how the important things in one's life are connected and to act and feel accordingly. It is my hope that my views on feelings, beliefs, ethics, metaphysics and character may be a contribution to our personal quests for wisdom.

I regard the issue of a methodology for reflecting on and reconstructing a life as part of what it means to be seeking wisdom. As such I hope that what I have presented on emotions is on that path. I believe there are more particular 'wisdoms' to be obtained by reflection on the nature of feelings and emotions.

One wisdom concerns the matter of perspective. One should realize that the first experience of a particular emotion is likely to be the time of its greatest intensity mostly because often the onset of an emotion is in the context of a narrow perspective or concern. Making an effort to see all of one's values in the context of one's world view can lower the intensity of the emotion.

The second wisdom is to realize that a negative emotion brought on by a particular concern will change over time and most will fade. When one is nearer in time to the particular concern, it gets more weight and thus more intensity. As time passes it's relative position in an overall perspective usually decreases. The surprise at learning of the negative event also weakens over time as we learn to accept its truth. And as time passes our perspective changes, as our judgment as to what is possible is modified to be more in line with what has happened. This allows us to accept things that we may have thought were impossible to live with at the onset.

If we know that the onset of the negative emotion is the hardest time, then it might be a bit easier to accept that emotion. At the time, it may feel as if you will have to live with that feeling forever and this extra expectation might make the feeling unacceptable, but it could make the negative feeling more bearable to know that it will fade over time on its own. Of course, most of us already know this, but it is handy to reflect on what we know from time to time


There are other perspectives that come from reflections on emotions and feelings

3) We see that it is important to pay attention to the way we form our expectations. These are crucial to potential future disappointments and the strategies we adopt (optimism/pessimism) may even affect our frequency of depressive moods and thus take away in another way from the quality of our lives.

4) Reflecting on emotions puts an emphasis on the value of life experiences and asks us to examine the quality of our lives in terms of our experiences. This works somewhat at counterpoint to desires for material goods, although it does not discount material as a means to acquire quality experiences.

5) We can see that there are many different tricks that one can use to lie to oneself and that developing the habit of reflecting honestly with oneself is a choice that may have far reaching and important implications in our feelings and ultimately the quality of our lives.


Additional Comment (about Calvin and Hobbes comic above):

Note that Calvin may have successfully dealt with his sour emotion brought about by reflection on the day. But by focusing upon this big picture we may ask if he has added to his existential angst.

Questions And Responses

After most of the Book was written, I had an occasion to present these ideas at the Philosophy club and have, by e-mail and in person, received the following question, which I respond to.

Ellen: I have been a fan of eastern philosophy and consider the concept of living in the moment to be quite important. One can't be anxious or depressed or sad or angry when living in the moment, experiencing life as it happens "right now." Living such a way, would one need to dissect the nature of emotions such as in your work? Wouldn't one just feel the emotions and not intellectualize about them?

Response: I consider my ideas as being the overview of metaphysical or ethical views of which your Eastern view is one, so in particular what I would suggest is that one might decide what kind of experience one wants, for instance living in the moment, and choose an Eastern view in order to experience the world in a certain way.

Once we have done that, i.e. choosing to love, share, help, nurture we have made a choice that may in fact make future reflection unwanted. Not that everyone would take on Eastern views for emotional reasons, but I would suggest that some at least might lean towards certain Metaphysical beliefs for quality of life and emotional reasons. The point I want to make is that such a leaning is not in any way irrational and is in fact at least one quite rational way to help one find one's most suitable Metaphysical beliefs. That is, our views of the world should as moderated by our concern for what kind of experience we want to have and what kind of person we want to be or become.

Let me say it a different way. I believe it is more rational to pick an eastern view on the basis of considerations of future experience and character than on the basis of pure reasoning to the right metaphysical view. I think the concept of right metaphysical view makes no sense outside of the context of how we are going to use that view and whether or not it affects our lives positively or negatively in terms of what we want from life, what kind of person we want to be and even what kind of person we think we should be.


Dan: ...somewhere in-between are the misdirected emotions. Work with Dilbert and come home hating your boss. The dog puts his big slobbery jowls on your pant leg and you're suddenly filled with rage, wanting to kick the stupid dog across the room. This anger really isn't about the attention to the belief that you didn't want slobber on your pants, it's about your boss being an asshole. But you're not paying attention to beliefs about your boss.

Response: According to my theory the emotion of being angry at your boss led you to an angry mood, which is an enabler of future angers. It makes it more likely that you focus on other irritants or makes that focus more displeasurable.

Dan: Anyway, the point is not that the theory needs to account for these cases, but that it's not a definition of what we mean by emotion. We can recognize the emotions in spite of their not fitting the theory.

Response: Without the thought that the dog has disgusting slobbery jowls, we wouldn't say that you were angry at the dog. If you kick the dog without even a thought about slobbery jowls, then you were not angry at the dog at all. You were just angry. The fact that the thought of the disgusting slobbery jowls irritates you so much might be caused by earlier events, earlier angers, but still at that moment the dog is the object of your anger.

A later Response: I've given your dog example some more thought and believe that it does have some implications in terms of the procedure to resolve the emotion. In particular the person might be ill advised to focus on getting rid of his anger for his dog by analyzing the beliefs and preferences involved with his dog. That is, a person might want to ask him/herself "Is this emotion here merely because I was in the mood to fret about such things?" (Being caused by the boss).

A later thought: How could we know when an emotion (like the dog one) needs resolving as opposed to it being merely caused by an excessive sensitivity to the displeasure of irritations? Well, one can ask oneself if one is in an angry mood. If we go into the kitchen and find we are now angry at the can opener, which is not working all that well, we have a hint. If we realize that the dog has always been slobbery and yet it bothers us much more now, that also would give us a clue. Recognizing such things would require a little reflection, but still we might not initially be able to put our finger on the cause of the mood that brought us to that state.


Dan: Second, I am finding that when I write a symbolic representation of your theory, for the negative emotion case, I am doing something like E = D( A( B( NOT:P( X ) ) ) ) where P if the fulfillment of the preference, and X is the state of affairs the preference is concerned with. This allows both the discrimination between positive and negative emotional cases, and reference to the source of the concern.

Response: I think you're right that we can find this kind of detail if we push a bit more. Also we can note that if we define the positive emotion that the 'NOT' disappears and the 'D', displeasure, becomes pleasure. For those interested in structure its interesting to point out that the mathematical sign on the pleasure operator is determined by the existence of the 'NOT'.


Dan: Why not express the thesis as E = D(x) and A(x) and B(not x) and P(x) instead of E = D(A(B(P)))?

Response: I thought of this initially but rejected it after a while because I realized that attending to the belief that x is false and that one prefers x would not be quite enough. One would also have recognize the connection between the two, that is one would have to recognize that the thing believed false was one's preference. This is what led me to a functional relation. The same kind of reasoning goes with the D part of the equation. That is, an emotion is not about x it is about realizing that one's preference is not satisfied and because of that having displeasure.


Jeff: Why couldn't the equation for an emotion be E=A(D(B(P)))?

Response: In the logic of functions everything from the core to the outside is supposed to be an object. Thus we have a preference. We have beliefs about whether the preference is satisfied or not. But I would claim that we don't have the pleasure or displeasure of the belief about the preference without first directing our attention towards the belief.


Tiffany: I used to get angry all the time, but then I realized that I have a choice. I don't have to get angry if I don't want to. Now I don't get angry anymore. How would your theory explain that?

Response: I can't know exactly what's going on, but I suggest that maybe your realizing that you have a choice is equivalent to realizing that you don't have to dwell on things that make you angry. It might even be an occasion in which you can enjoy the feeling of your freedom of attention.


Don: If it does, how would your analysis deal with, say, a phobia? Suppose someone has an intense fear of stepping into an elevator, but when asked why he thinks elevators are dangerous, can't give a sensible reason; and, furthermore, clearly would prefer riding in one to taking the stairs if only he weren't afraid to step inside?

Response: My guess is that at some point the claustrophobic thought occurs that 'the walls are closing in'. The thought may be compelling beyond the evidence for the thought. If this thought never occurs then I would classify it as primal feeling, by which I do not mean to imply that it is hardwired in. If the thought occurs for a fraction of a second and then disappears leaving a fear mood or panic then I would think of it mostly as a mood.


Don: My dictionary (Random House Dictionary, 2nd ed. unabridged ) says anger is a sudden, intense displeasure provoked by an injury, injustice, etc. Does your definitional schema, which identifies every emotion with either a pleasure or a displeasure, allow pleasures and displeasures to be qualified as sudden or intense?

Response: Actually, I don't see why not. I try to identify the features that all emotions must have, but some emotions may have additional requirements. I can imagine, for instance, that there may be some emotions that by definition only women can feel. This is not to say that men aren't having the same kind of experience, but that the language might be so specified. So for instance a definition might go......

P feels W at X, if and only if,

bla bla <preference>, and

bla bla <belief> ,and

There is displeasure when attending to belief, and

P is female.

Now if we can make such an addition, then we could also add conditions about the type or intensity of displeasures.


Don: You say if "I hate that guy" is an expression of emotion (unlike "I hate broccoli," which is not an expression of emotion), the emotion is intense anger . But to do justice to the ordinary use of "hate" don't you need to include a separate preference (I'm inclined to say desire) that the object of hate be "defeated" as an enemy in war is defeated? It makes sense to me to say "I'm more than very angry with you--I hate you!"

Response: I think there is a use of 'hate' in which 'I hate you' means 'you are the object of intense anger. You may be right that hate implies some sort of need for defeat. I'll think about that. 


Don: Existential philosophers sometimes talk of "Angst" (Anxiety) or Dread. Again, there is no specific object of the anxiety or dread, and analytic philosophers are inclined to reject this kind of talk as "nonsense." Yet I think one could easily make an "emotion" out of it using your schema:

P feels existential anxiety, or dread, if and only if,

1) P has a preference that his life have some transcendent meaning, and

2) P believes it is impossible for a human life to have a transcendent meaning, and

3) P has displeasure arising from attending to the fact that P believes his preference is not satisfied.

Response: I like it!

Don: My question is: is this a legitimate emotion just because one can concoct a schema for it? If it's not legitimate, what in your theory rules it out?

Response: It may be a legitimate emotion. The one thing that I have not decided upon is whether an emotion must have an object. If this is not an emotion, it is certainly a feeling (if these philosophers are speaking honestly) . If emotions require an object then this feeling might be more like loneliness as I later address it. As such we might change the definition of Angst to depend more upon the feeling of no transcendent meaning rather than depend upon a belief about transcendent meaning.

Another thing to consider is whether it is possible to have a preference for an impossible situation. Notice that preferences, by my notion are relations between possible states of affairs.


Don: Other possible emotions you might want to add to your book: Despair (as distinct from feeling either depressed or bored)

Response: A good one. I'll have to think about it.

Don: Joy (Hey, another positive emotion!)

Response: I think 'Joy' is more often used as a mood than an emotion. 

Don: Romantic Love (especially as rooted in the primal feeling of sexual arousal)

Response: I think you're right to suggest that this is the root of romantic love. Maybe I'll work on that for my sequel.

Don: Remorse (as distinct from both regret and guilt)

Response: I may have trouble getting in touch with this one. I barely even feel guilty anymore.

Don: Vanity (as distinct from pride)

Response: This sounds more like a character trait than an emotion, but I may just not be very well in touch with this. Got any ideas for a definition?


Jeff: Isn't it a bit unrealistic to think that someone might be able to change an emotion in progress. This is often the time when a person is least able to focus on such matters and many times, like with anger, they don't want to not be angry.

Response: I agree that with something like anger in progress that my 'hints' might be less than helpful, but with emotions like worry or embarrassment about a long past event, a person would not be committed so much to their continuation. An emotion like anger can more successfully be address in preparing for future anger, where beliefs about when anger is justified would come into play. Even when one has anger in progress one might be able to discover that the object of the anger is not a person but instead a behavior or kind of behavior just by asking oneself a simple question. This could be helpful in working with the other person to resolve the emotion. Furthermore, with anger the person is only committed to its continuation if certain corrections (by the other person maybe) aren't made. Thus one could easily have a desire to address those possible changes once one reflects on that as an element of the emotion. Seeing what the other person could do to make the anger go away is not that inaccessible.