Palazzo Strozzi
  Bill Viola, Christian Nold, Yves Netzhammer
Teresa Margolles, Valerio Magrelli, William Kentridge
Katharina Grosse, Andrea Ferrara, Elisa Biagini
Maurice Benayoun, Antonella Anedda
Forword by James M. Bradburne
Emotional Systems by Franziska Nori

"What feelings are" Antonio Damasio
"Emotion, Rationality and Art" Ronald de Sousa
"Empathy, Movement and Emotion" David Freedberg
"The Emotions"
Peter Goldie
"The Emotional Brain" Joseph LeDoux
"Things Such as Might Happen" Martha Nussbaum
"The Theory of Emotives: A Synopsis" William M. Reddy

  Placing emotions in a philosophical and cultural framework, leavened with examples taken from literature, but also from the experience of daily life, Peter Goldie examines the role of culture, knowledge and evolution in the development of emotional experience and the awareness of emotions. Indeed, he claims that only by starting from an observation point in one’s own personal experience can one become aware of thoughts, skills, emotions and actions, and attribute meaning to them. His interesting thesis reinforces the idea of the centrality of feelings and states of mind (indeterminate emotion) in more complex emotional experience; he states that ‘history, like our emotional experiences, is itself infused with our understanding of ourselves as being located within the process, influenced and being influenced by it’.
  The Emotions
Peter Goldie

[…] Emotional feeling towards an object (typically towards the object of the emotion) is a feeling towards that thing as being a particular way or as having certain properties or features. It follows from the world-directed intentionality of feeling towards that it is not bodily feeling, for bodily feelings lack the required ‘direct’ (as contrasted with ‘borrowed’) intentionality. No degree of bodily feeling can alone reveal to you what your emotion is about; the association of ideas is, initially, from the feeling towards to the bodily feeling, and thus, if you do not know what your thoughts and feelings are directed towards, you cannot find out merely through introspection of your bodily feelings. Nor is feeling towards, at least typically, a feeling which is directed towards your own psychological or bodily condition: this sort of feeling is possible (you might feel disgusted by your constant craving for chocolate, or frustrated by your stiff arthritic fingers), but it is feeling towards the world which is the more straightforward and usual case.
Feeling towards is thinking of with feeling, and thinking of is subject to the will in that sometimes it is possible, using your imagination, directly to try to think of something as being a particular way (for example, trying to think of a cloud as being shaped like a camel). And sometimes it is possible to try to stop thinking of something in one way, perhaps by trying to think of it in some other way (as being shaped like a weasel). And sometimes thinking of is more intractable, so that a way of thinking just comes over you, and, once it has, you cannot get out of it, try as you might. And there are gradations between these possibilities. So to say that thinking of is subject to the will is just to say that it can be directly subject to the will, not that it necessarily is. In feeling towards, the imagination tends to be much more intractable than in thinking of; that is to say, the imagination tends to be less subject to the will – it tends actively to ‘run away with you’. And it is, in part, because of this feature that the emotions are passions: your thoughts and feelings are not always as much under your control as you would want them to be. When you are afraid, your mind seems almost to seek out, and return to, features, otherwise quite harmless, which are transformed into being dangerous. Jean-Paul Sartre (1962) compares this with looking for a hidden shape, the shape of a gun, in a picture: ‘one’s perceptual mechanisms are deployed as if one were looking at a gun’; the consciousness ‘tries to transform itself in order to transform the object’. Sartre emphasizes that this consciousness is not reflective; rather, it is unreflective ‘consciousness of the world’; ‘our effort is not conscious of what it is, for then it would be an object of a reflection’. And, as he forcefully puts it, the ‘emotion returns to the object every moment and feeds upon it’. When a child listens to the story of Red Riding Hood her imagination is captured by and feeds upon the story: one after another, the ‘grandmother’s’ features, at first seemingly harmless, become fearful ones – teeth, nose, eyes, and so forth, each one all the better for harming Red Riding Hood.
At this point, it might be thought that when one thinks of something as having the determinate or determinable features which are typical of an emotion, one will then come to have the emotional feelings which are typical of that emotion. But this is not so: thinking of and grasping the saliences of a thing is one matter, and having feelings towards that thing is another. Whilst it is no doubt true that, in grasping certain saliences, one is likely to, or will tend to, have the emotional experience, this by no means need happen. Perhaps you grasp the emotionally relevant saliences of the thing, yet, because of depression or accidie, these have no emotional relevance or effect on you: today I can see the dangerousness yet I do not feel fear as I did yesterday; today I see the loveableness but I do not feel love as I once did. The difference lies in part, of course, in the qualitative nature of the experience – in the lack of feeling; but it lies too in the particular way of grasping the saliences of the object of the emotional experience. To take Michael Stocker’s illuminating example, before I fell on the ice I recognised its dangers, but then I had ‘only an intellectual appreciation of the very same dangers […] Then I only saw the dangers, now I also feel them’ (1983). Putting this example in my terms, then I only thought of the ice as dangerous; now I feel fear towards the ice. Of course it is true that I now do still think of the ice as in some way dangerous, but my way of thinking of it as dangerous is now distinct. Now I think of its dangerousness as emotionally relevant in a special way. Coming to think of it in this new way is not to be understood as consisting of thinking of it in the old way, plus some added-on phenomenal ingredient – feeling, perhaps; rather, the whole way of experiencing, or being conscious of, the world is new (cf. Budd 1995 who makes this point in another context). The difference between thinking of X as Y without feeling and thinking of X as Y with feeling will not just comprise a different attitude towards the same content – a thinking which earlier was without feeling and now is with feeling. The difference also lies in the content, although it might be that this difference cannot be captured in words. Recall an analogy […] of the colour-blind person who can reliably pick out red things because he has a constant companion who points out to him all and only things of that colour. This person can have the demonstrative thought ‘That ball is red’, but that thought will differ in respect of its content from that of a thought also expressed as ‘That ball is red’ had by a person who is using his normal ability to see colours. So it does not follow from the fact that both thoughts are naturally expressed in the same words that they have the same content; the words used are inadequate to express the difference. Let me try to develop this point through an analogy with other thoughts, including demonstratives and indexicals.
In one of John Perry’s (1979) examples, ‘a professor, who desires to attend the department meeting on time, and believes correctly that it begins at noon, sits motionless in his office at that time. Suddenly he begins to move. What explains his action? A change in belief. He believed all along that the department meeting starts at noon; he came to believe, as he would have put it, that it starts now ’. As Perry points out, if we accept the professor’s saying ‘I believe the meeting starts at noon’ as an explanation of his setting off down the hall, we would be assuming that he believes that it is now noon. Thus the thought, at noon, that the meeting starts at noon, and the thought, at noon, that the meeting starts now, must differ in their content, even though they have the same truth conditions, because it is possible to have some attitude towards one thought and not towards the other. And, developing Perry’s example somewhat, the professor might believe that the meeting starts at noon, and believe that it is now noon, yet still not believe that the meeting starts now. To appreciate this, imagine that the professor (now rather absent-minded) is still sitting in his office, preoccupied with the paper which he has to write in time for that evening’s conference. Someone with whom he shares the room asks him the time; he glances at his (reliable) watch and replies ‘Noon’. He has thus come to believe that it is now noon. But this is not sufficient for action: for a moment he continues to sit there, until suddenly he puts the two thoughts together, so to speak, and says ‘My God, it’s noon! The meeting starts now!’, and dashes off down the hall.
Analogously, imagine you are in a zoo, looking at a gorilla grimly loping from left to right in its cage. You are thinking of the gorilla as dangerous, but you do not feel fear, as it seems to be safely behind bars. Then you see that the door to the cage has been left wide open. Just for a moment, though, you fail to put the two thoughts – the gorilla is dangerous, the cage is open – together. Then, suddenly, you do put them together: now your way of thinking of the gorilla as dangerous is new; now it is dangerous in an emotionally relevant way for you. The earlier thought, naturally expressed as ‘That gorilla is dangerous’, differs in content from the new thought, although this new thought, thought with emotional feeling, might also be naturally expressed in the same words. Now, in feeling fear towards the gorilla you are emotionally engaged with the world, and, typically, you are poised for action in a new way – poised for action out of the emotion.

[…] My account of emotional feelings is not required to say what it is like to experience them. As a further development of that remark, I can now add that there is no requirement to give a substantial characterization of what is the difference in content between thinking of something with feeling, and thinking of it without feeling. It might even be that no words are sufficient to capture this difference. For example, there is undoubtedly a difference in the way things seem when you are suffering from depression or accidie and are thus not fully engaged emotionally with the world, but this difference is, I think, not fully describable in words: phrases like ‘things seem flat, lifeless, devoid of value’ are inadequate to the task. One of the things which is wonderful about great novelists is that they are able to go so far in capturing in words what emotional experience is like. […]

I hope that these reflections on feelings have not only undermined the idea that the intentionality of the emotions can be fully captured in terms of feelingless attitudes, but, more positively, that they have also reinforced the centrality of feelings in emotional experience. The existence of bodily feelings, as I have called them, is relatively uncontroversial, although many may disagree with what I have had to say about them, and about the notion of borrowed intentionality. As for what I have called feelings towards, I hope to have gone some way to showing that this notion is not suspect in respect of its essentially combining feeling and intentionality. Furthermore, allowing for emotional feelings directed towards an object in the world makes it possible to explain other important aspects of emotional experience: the fact that emotions are passive and not entirely under our control; the possibility of cognitive impenetrability; and the possibility of emotional weakness of the will or akrasia. I return to these issues in the next chapter. […]

Although emotions and moods can be distinguished by the degree of specificity of their objects, this distinction is not a sharp one for two reasons. First, emotions need not be directed towards objects which are completely specific in the sense that they can be demonstratively picked out or precisely described by the person experiencing the emotion. Your fear on waking in the middle of the night is a genuine emotion, even though you might not be able to say just what it is you are afraid of: whether it is the strange shape of the shadows on the wall, or the noise which woke you, or the dark. Secondly, there will always be some degree of specificity in the object of moods, even if the best available description of that object is ‘everything’, or ‘nothing in particular’. A mood involves feeling towards an object just as much as does an emotion, although, as I have said, what the feeling is directed towards will be less specific in the case of a mood.
Let me now put some flesh on these observations. The distinction I am drawing between emotion and mood – between anger and irritability or between fear and anxiety for example – is a distinction which should not be drawn at the expense of appreciating the fact that typical emotions and typical moods have much else in common; indeed, it will emerge that typical emotions and typical moods can as well be understood as different varieties of one and the same emotion.

The emotions, and their place in our lives, constitute a thread which runs through Robert Musil’s The Man without Qualities. This visionary novel, set in Vienna in the period just before the First World War, has as its central character Ulrich – the man without qualities. Musil never finished his novel, but we now have in translation those of his posthumous papers which include some draft chapters, a number of which rework material from earlier chapters. These draft chapters include a lengthy philosophical discussion of the nature of the emotions, either in the form of extracts from Ulrich’s diary or as considered by Ulrich in assembling his thoughts prior to writing his diary. Clearly, we are not in a position to determine how much the views expressed about the emotions are Musil’s own, but this is not impor- tant for my purposes […]. I want to draw out just two particular ideas for further discussion: the idea of shaping and consolidation between action and emotion; and the idea, already mentioned, that emotion and mood are to be contrasted as specific and non-specific emotions. These two ideas enable us to see how differently action features in emotion and in mood.

An emotion, I have argued, is a relatively complex state, involving past and present episodes of thoughts, feelings, and bodily changes, dynamically related in a narrative of part of a person’s life, together with dispositions to experience further emotional episodes, and to act out of the emotion and to express that emotion. Your expression of emotion and the actions which spring from the emotion, whilst not part of the emotion itself, are none the less part of the narrative which runs through – and beyond – the emotion, mutually affecting and resonating in that emotion, and in further emotions, moods, and traits, and in further actions. […]
Thus one should not think of an emotion as a disposition which is fixed, with action out of the emotion having no ‘feedback’ effect on the emotion itself. Emotional experience is, in this sense, more like the unfolding of events in history than a sequence of events in nature such as the creation of an oxbow lake, for history, like our emotional experiences, is itself infused with our understanding of ourselves as being located within the process, influenced and being influenced by it (see Collingwood 1946). As Musil suggests, it may not even be possible for the absolutely ‘completed’ emotion to exist, ‘because it would be so completely cut off inside its own compass that it would not be able to assimilate any more influences of any other kind’. Musil continues: ‘But, one now says to oneself, there never is such a completely circumscribed emotion! In other words: emotions never occur purely, but always only in an approximating actualization. And in still other words: the process of shaping and consolidating never ends’ (ibid.). This may seem, if not simply false, at least an exaggeration of how a person’s emotion can be dynamically related to other elements of the narrative structure. Surely it is possible for an emotion to be, simply, finished. But this thought should become less pressing when we turn to […] the relationship between specific and non-specific emotions.

He [Ulrich] had a crowd of examples at his disposal: liking, love, anger, mistrust, generosity, disgust, envy, despair, fear, desire […] , and he mentally ordered them into a series.
Then he set up a second series: affability, tenderness, irritation, suspicion, high-spiritedness, anxiety and longing, lacking only those links for which he could not find any name, and then he compared the two series. One contained specific emotions, chiefly as they are aroused in us by a specific encounter; the second contained nonspecific emotions, which are strongest when aroused by some unknown cause. And yet in both cases it was the same emotions, in one case a general, in the other a specific state. ‘So I would say’, Ulrich thought, ‘that in every emotion there is a distinction to be made between a development toward specificity and a development toward nonspecificity.’
[…] So a specific attitude toward something corresponds to the specific emotion, and a general attitude toward everything corresponds to the nonspecific emotion: the one draws us into action, while the other merely allows us to participate from behind a colourful window. For a moment Ulrich dwelt on this distinction between how specific and nonspecific emotions relate to the world. He said to himself: ‘I will add this: Whenever an emotion develops toward specificity, it focuses itself, so to speak, it constricts its purposiveness, and it finally ends up both internally and externally in something of a blind alley; it leads to an action or a resolve, and even if it should not cease to exist in one or the other, it continues on, as changed as water leaving a mill. If, on the other hand, it develops toward nonspecificity, it apparently has no energy at all. But while the specifically developed emotion is reminiscent of a creature with grasping arms, the nonspecific emotion changes the world in the same way the sky changes its colours, without desire or self, and in this form objects and actions change like the clouds. The attitude of the nonspecific emotion to the world has in it something magical and – God help me! – in comparison to the specific attitude, something feminine!’ This is what Ulrich said to himself, and then something occurred to him that took him far afield: for of course it is chiefly the development towards a specific emotion that brings with it the fragility and instability of the life of the soul. That the moment of feeling can never be sustained, that emotions wilt more quickly than flowers, or transform themselves into paper flowers if one tries to preserve them, that happiness and will, art and conviction, pass away: all this depends on the specificity of the emotion, which always imposes on it a purposiveness and forces it into the pace of life that dissolves or changes it. On the other hand, the emotion that persists in its nonspecificity and boundlessness is relatively impervious to change. A comparison occurred to him: ‘The one dies like an individual, the other lasts like a kind or species.’ (1304–6)

And yet, as Musil insists, specific emotions do not simply come to an end: […] it was also to be assumed that the impulse for one emotion can always serve for another emotion, too, and that no emotion, in the process of its shaping and strengthening, ever comes to an entirely specifiable end. But if that was true, then not only would no emotion ever attain its total specificity, but in all probability it would not attain perfect nonspecificity either, and there was neither an entirely specific nor an entirely nonspecific emotion. And in truth it almost always happens that both possibilities combine in a common reality, in which merely the characteristics of one or the other predominate. There is no ‘mood’ that does not also include specific emotions that form and dissolve again; and there is no specific emotion that, at least where it can be said to ‘radiate’, ‘seize’, ‘operate out of itself’, ‘extend itself’ or operate on the world ‘directly’, without an external emotion, does not allow the characteristics of the nonspecific emotion to peer through. There are certainly, however, emotions that closely approximate the one or the other. (1307)

We have a fairly clear idea of action out of emotion, where that emotion is aroused by a specific encounter, drawing us into action as Musil puts it. Here […], the emotion and the action can be made intelligible by reference to certain beliefs, desires, and feelings, typically directed towards the object of the emotion. But we do not have a similarly clear idea of action out of a mood : moods are generally not specific enough to explain specific action – that is, action which can be explained by beliefs, desires, and feelings towards. Nevertheless, a mood can be expressed in expressive action, as well as by expressions that are not themselves actions (such as tears, frowns, and lifted chins). […] Some of our ordinary actions, having in themselves nothing to do with emotion, can become infused with expression – you slam the door shut in anger and so forth. Sometimes this adverbial expressiveness, as I called it, is done intentionally and sometimes not. Such adverbial expressiveness is also to be found with mood: you trudge gloomily up the stairs to bed; you walk to work with a spring in your step. At least typically, these adverbial mood expressions are not done intentionally. (If they were, then they would normally be explicable by one of the means–end, belief-desire explanations […]: for example, you trudge up the stairs to show him that you are feeling gloomy tonight.)

So moods can, in a sense, shape action in this adverbial sense (changing ‘like the clouds’), in spite of the non-specificity of mood. And moods can also be revealed in other sorts of expression. You are depressed (at nothing in particular), and you find a banal television advertisement so desperately sad that you weep uncontrollably; you are irritable (with no one in particular), and you glower at the pensioner in front of you in the queue who is fiddling with his change, and you clench and unclench your fist; you are anxious (about everything and nothing), and you constantly fiddle with your tie to make sure it is straight. That these expressions of mood seem to latch on to some specific, manifest thing points towards the thought that, for example, the mood of irritability has, as Musil puts it, ‘combined in reality’ with anger at the pensioner in the queue. But as the pensioner recedes into the distance, the non-specific emotion of irritability continues, not the same as before, but shaped and consolidated by expressions of it and by the related specific anger felt towards the pensioner. So, moods, like emotions, can show their tendency towards specificity through their expression. These expressions do not tend to bring the mood to an end ‘in something of a blind alley’; they tend rather to shape and consolidate the mood, assuaging it a little, perhaps, but not completing it.

Thus, mood can focus into emotion. And, further developing Musil’s theme, we can also see how emotion can blur out of focus into the non-specificity of mood. Specific emotions, Musil said, die in action; but, we might now add, they can live on in spirit. You are angry with someone, and your anger involves, let us assume, an appropriate and proportionate desire to get your own back in some way. Now your anger – your specific emotion – might be discharged through satisfaction of this desire: perhaps you hit the person you are angry with. We might then say that your anger is ‘over’: you are no longer angry (the emotion has come to an end), because the desires involved have been satisfied. And this is, at least superficially, correct. But a lot might remain in your mind as a residue of the emotional experience. You may remember (consciously or unconsciously) the anger; the event might be revisited in your dreams; your daydreams might involve an imaginative re-enactment of the event, embellished perhaps with some esprit d’escalier; and the ‘specific’ emotion may blur out of focus into non-specific form, continuing to colour your way of thinking of and feeling towards the world, ‘in the same way the sky changes its colours’ as Musil puts it. This continuation will be most especially evident where the appropriate and proportionate desire which has been satisfied is, under the surface, supported by a darker, more forceful wish which is far from being appropriate and proportionate, and which has not been satisfied, except in the etiolated, symbolic sense that it is satisfied in expressive action.
Now, often the desires which are involved in our emotions – even the appropriate and proportionate ones – do not get satisfied: the person with whom you are angry may be too big or too important to hit, or you may be too proud to reveal your anger in action (cf. Solomon). Your anger may come to an end, yet there may have been no satisfaction of the desire which was involved; perhaps, as so often happens in life, rather than being satisfied in action the unsatisfied desire just comes to an end – it withers and dies on the vine. Life simply goes on, other things become salient, and your anger, of which the desire is a part, is dissipated: a poisonous gas in the clear air. But still the anger continues to resonate in some non-specific way in your psyche, perhaps to an even greater extent than it would have done if the desire involved had been satisfied.

This may seem a rather curious question to ask, but nevertheless it is an important one: Just what happens to unsatisfied desires? The metaphors – withering on the vine, releasing of poisonous gas – are both suggestive of the notion of a remainder, a residue. Not all unsatisfied desires are like this. Some unsatisfied desires straightforwardly lapse because they are no longer relevant, given other circumstances. This is particularly so of time-indexed desires, desires to do something at a time – to go swimming this evening, for example; by the time it gets to 10 p.m., swimming is no longer an option, so the desire lapses. Other desires which are not (at least not obviously) time-indexed can also straighforwardly lapse. You might, for example, desire to see a particular film which has just been released; but days go by, and the opportunity does not arise, and then one day some friends suggest going to see it, and – to your surprise perhaps – the opportunity is no longer attractive. The desire to see the film had a sort of hidden satisfy-by date (or perhaps it is better to say that the film had a hidden see-by date) of which you were not aware. But unsatisfied or frustrated desires associated with the emotions are typically not like either of these sorts of desire: they do not straightforwardly lapse. Nor do they necessarily regress into a wish. Rather, they can remain (like the withered grapes and the poisonous gas) as a residue. The desire (and the emotion of which it was a part) may be forgotten, but it need not be forgotten beyond all recollection. During the day you are offended by some rude remark of a senior colleague, and you prudently bite your tongue, holding back the tart riposte. In the evening your husband asks you why you are in such an irritable mood, and you really have no idea why; perhaps you even deny that you are irritable at all. And then suddenly the events of earlier in the day come flooding back to you with complete clarity and certainty (like a name which you have been struggling to recollect – suddenly there in the forefront of your mind): there is no doubt that this was the source of your irritable mood. The emotion you experienced at the time is over, and the moment for satisfaction of the desire has lapsed – it is long gone. But the frustrated desire continues to resonate in your soul, diffused into a general mood of irritability and resentment.
Moreover, perhaps your general irritability and resentment becomes refocused into anger at a different object, your husband, and finds its ‘reasons’ in the way he eats his supper.

One might relate this discussion to Nietzsche’s psychological account of the genealogy of slave morality, according to which the frustrated vindictiveness and anger of the weak finds its outlet in ressentiment. Nietzsche says: ‘Ressentiment itself, if it should appear in the noble man, consummates and exhausts itself in an immediate reaction, and therefore does not poison’, whereas ‘the man of ressentiment is neither upright nor naive nor honest and straightforward with himself. His soul squints’ (Genealogy, First Essay, sect. 10; cf. Solomon 1994). Here we can begin to see how emotion and mood, shaped and consolidated by action or by inaction, not only interweave with each other, but also with traits. The person who feels anger towards someone in particular can be left in a mood of ressentiment through frustration of his desires, and this feeling – now less specifically towards things in general – can itself consolidate into a trait: he becomes a resentful person, habitually disposed to have resentful thoughts and feelings towards all sorts of specific persons and things. Similarly, the jilted lover can become bitter and contemptuous of the world, and this too can consolidate into trait. Moreover, what might begin as an expression of a mood can turn into a regular mannerism (typically not behaviour of which you are consciously aware), revelatory of a durable trait and not just of a mood: the stoop of the gloomy man walking in the street, the permanent expression of disgust at all of human nature in the face of the woman on the bus. As Proust beautifully puts it: ‘The features of our face are hardly more than gestures which force of habit has made permanent. Nature, like the destruction of Pompeii, like the metamorphosis of a nymph, has arrested us in an accustomed movement’.

These remarks about ressentiment might be interpreted as suggesting that we should positively avoid restraining our emotional responses, especially our negative ones, for fear that the feelings involved will fester in the soul, ultimately forming permanent scar tissue. This would be a misinterpretation. I am not counselling uninhibited expression of emotion; if the prudent thing to do is to bottle up our reaction and control our inappropriate or disproportionate emotional desire, then so be it. Rather, the thought is that if we do not face up to our feelings and to what we are bottling up, and recognize them for what they really are, then perhaps, as Nietzsche says, our soul will squint. […]


The book by the English philosopher Peter Goldie, The Emotions: A Philosophical Exploration (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000), is as yet unpublished in Italy. The excerpts that appear here (from chapter 3, ‘Emotions and Feelings’) have been chosen by the author himself for this publication.