The problem of emotional significance

Price, Carolyn (2013). The problem of emotional significance. Acta Analytica, 28(2) pp. 189–206.




What does it mean to say that an emotional response fits the situation? This question cannot be answered simply by specifying the core relational theme (loss or risk, say) associated with each emotion: we must also explain what constitutes an emotionally significant loss or risk. It is sometimes suggested that emotionally significant situations are those that bear on the subject’s interests or concerns. I accept that this claim is plausible for some emotional responses, and I propose a particular way of interpreting it. I suggest that, for many emotions, emotional significance is determined by the subject’s likes and dislikes – that is, settled dispositions to find a certain situation pleasant or distressing. I contrast this account with other preference-based accounts and with an account that appeals to the subject’s interests. I argue that we should prefer the likes-based account to these rival views.

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