Once again, it's my great pleasure to welcome you to another edition of the Featured Philosophers.  I hope you all will welcome Justin D'Arms and Daniel Jacobson!


Thanks very much to the editors of PEA Soup for this opportunity, and thanks in advance to any Soupers who are willing to put their brainpower to work on our project for bit. We have been only occasional participants here over the years, because it is a struggle for us to operate at the speed of Soup. But we admire those of you who do, and we’re excited to have a chance to try out some ideas on this excellent group of philosophers. So we’ll do our best to keep up for a little while.


We are working on a book, Rational Sentimentalism, about a class of values that we call sentimental values. These are values like shameful, funny, disgusting, and fearsome, which have an essential connection to natural emotions: emotions such as shame, amusement, pride, etc. which we contend are pan-cultural psychological kinds that can be characterized independently of the values we want to use them to explain. We defend a sentimentalist theory of these values, which will be familiar to most of you as a form of fitting attitude theory, on which the emotions are amenable to rational justification. Roughly: to think something F (shameful, funny, etc.) is to think it fitting to feel F (shame, amusement) toward it. Equivalently, this is to think the object merits response F. Among our goals in the book is to convince philosophers that these are important human values, which deserve more attention than they have yet received; that they require a sentimentalist treatment in virtue of their essential connection to the human emotional repertoire; and that the nature of these emotions lay down substantive constraints on what it is tenable to claim about the shameful, disgusting, funny, and so forth.

We have written a number of papers bearing on different aspects of this project, and we are happy to talk about any of them. But here we are going to try out a new line of argument on you, from a draft of one of our chapters. The argument is our response to a line of thinking that is skeptical about sentimental values. We often encounter it in discussion, and a version of it has been developed nicely by Francois Schroeter.[1] It goes like this:


(1) The natural emotions are fast and frugal heuristics that are pretty good, but imperfect, devices adapted to track and respond to certain response-independent features of our environment that are important for our survival: things like danger (for fear), contamination (for disgust), and so on.

[D/J: We accept something like this as a functional characterization of the natural emotions and a breezy explanation of their place in human nature.]

(2) Insofar as the emotions are concerned with anything significantly valuable, it is with the dangerous, the contaminated, and so forth.

[We will ultimately accept this, but only by arguing that these concepts are covertly response-dependent.]

(3) So if the fearsome and the disgusting are stipulated to be whatever merits fear and disgust, then either they should be identified with these response-independent properties, or else they don’t matter much in comparison.

[This is the claim we reject, of course, and our purpose here is to argue against it.]


We call this line of thought shadow skepticism, because it suggests that the sentimental values are mere shadows of response-independent properties—specifically, emotion-independent properties.[2] This challenge can be launched against sentimentalism across the board, on the grounds that the sentimental values are mere shadows of what really matter: response-independent properties, whether empirical or evaluative, to which the emotions are sensitive. But shadow skepticism seems much more tempting about some sentimental values than others, and nowhere more so than with the fearsome. Why care about the fearsome, understood as what merits fear, unless the fearsome just is the dangerous?[3] This is a natural thought, since accounts of what fear concerns, its generic appraisal (or core relational theme), inevitably point to danger or some near synonym, such as the threat of harm. And it is generally assumed that dangerousness is independent of fear. Thus Jesse Prinz (2006: 64) claims: “Fear represents the property of being dangerous…[it] does not represent a response-dependent property.” Now the shadow skeptic can press his dilemma: If what merits fear is simply the dangerous, then it seems that the putatively sentimental value can be reduced to a response-independent one; but if it is anything other than the dangerous, then surely the fearsome is much less important.

We will argue, to the contrary, that dangerous only captures the value that matters in the vicinity of fear insofar as it is covertly response-dependent. There is no good response-independent notion of danger of which the fearsome might be a mere shadow. Hence to ask whether something is dangerous, at least in the most important sense of the term, just is to ask whether it merits fear. This comports with our general response to shadow skepticism, which we think drastically underestimates the degree to which people care about when emotional responses are and are not fitting. We aim to meet the shadow skeptic here, on what we take to be his strongest ground: fear and danger.

What is at issue between the sentimentalist and the shadow skeptic is whether there is a property to which the emotion is plausibly sensitive, and which can be characterized independently of that sentiment (and related emotional responses). In order to succeed, shadow skepticism must meet both criteria. Without independence, the theory is sentimentalist. Without sensitivity, it is a different and more radical skeptical claim, akin to the claims of the Stoics who proposed that one should ignore emotional concerns (with danger, contamination, slights, and so forth) because these are matters of indifference. On this view, one should not care about the sentimental values at all. Rather than take up this radical suggestion, here we address a form of skepticism that grants that fear, shame, and disgust track significant properties, but which aims to capture those properties in response-independent terms. We contend that it is more difficult than it appears to give a response-independent account of the dangerous, and that attempts to do so fall prey to the same problems besetting incongruity and contamination as accounts of the funny and disgusting.[4] Schroeter’s attempt to explicate dangerousness is illustrative of the general problem. He (2006: 343; emphasis added) writes:

 [S]omething is dangerous just in case it is liable to cause harm. The crucial question one needs to answer when it comes to evaluations of danger is whether an object or situation poses a threat, especially to the relevant subject’s bodily integrity.

This exemplifies the shadow skeptic’s impulse to find some empirical property that our emotions evolved to respond to, and then argue that it is what matters in the vicinity. But though it seems plausible to claim that something is dangerous just in case it is liable to cause harm, what exactly does that mean? There are two issues here, concerning the concepts of harm and liability, which we will treat sequentially.

Consider what Schroeter identifies as the crucial question: does something pose a threat to the subject’s bodily integrity? Since the goal is to locate a (perhaps complex) property to which fear is sensitive, such a narrow focus on the subject and her bodily integrity will not suffice. Many other things than the subject’s bodily integrity have to count as dangers, as Schroeter (2006: 344) ultimately concedes, though he seems to consider this a minor difficulty that can be solved by extending the notion of harm to include “damage to the subject’s mental well-functioning and even to conditions which might incapacitate subjects in fulfilling important functions in their lives—as, for instance, loss of economic independence or social status.” Even this expansion is inadequate, though, since dangers need not threaten one’s basic capacities or mental functioning. We are here supposing that harm is intended to be an empirical notion, connected in the first place to something like bodily integrity and now widened to include psychological damage and even vague malfunction; but this progression in what must be allowed to count as a harm demonstrates the difficulty facing the shadow skeptic.[5] Minor threats to bodily integrity, such as trivial pains or the loss of some hair, pale in comparison to serious threats to other things we care much more about. A broken nail is nothing as compared to a broken heart. Various misfortunes count as things that merit fear even if they do not threaten one’s independence or status, or have consequences that can be captured with an empirical notion of incapacitation.

The crucial point here is that if harm really is so circumscribed, say to mental or physical injuries—even granting that we can operationalize the notion of a mental injury—then, if danger is liability to just such harm, the dangerous no longer seems more important than the fearsome after all. Grave threats to your well-being, such as the collapse of a marriage or financial disaster, matter more than harms so understood. Moreover, the suggestion that danger must threaten harm to the subject himself is surely wrong; it can also threaten other people and things he cares about deeply. Hence the range of what can be threatened must be expanded considerably, moving away from any empirical notion of harm (or function) toward some broader category of bad things that can happen to you and the things you care about, which better captures what merits fear.

The shadow skeptic need not claim that the sentimental values are shadows of valuable empirical properties, in order to threaten sentimentalism, just that they can be given an emotion-independent explication. So for the sake of argument, let us grant the shadow skeptic a notion of self-interest that, although not an empirical notion, might take the place of harm without trading illicitly on fear.[6] He can then say that something is dangerous just in case it is liable to significantly damage one’s interests. This comes at a cost, since the idea that fear is a fast-and-frugal detector of whatever counts as a threat to one’s interests gives up some of the intuitive (naturalistic) rationale behind the shadow skeptic’s quest for an emotion-independent notion of danger. But even if the skeptic is willing to accept this cost, we doubt that he can specify a response-independent disvalue to which fear might be responsive.

The trouble is that liability is as problematic as harm when it comes to specifying the dangerous. If liable means possible, then the claim is false; plenty of things that could possibly damage one’s interests are not dangerous—if only because anything can be bad for you under some possible circumstances. If liable means likely, that too is false; some things that probably won’t harm you, like a game of Russian roulette, are nevertheless dangerous. But if liability is neither of these things then it is not at all clear what it is, and the attempt to specify a response-independent notion of danger is in jeopardy. This is the problem to which fear can be seen as the solution. What is dangerous is whatever counts as sufficiently likely and sufficiently bad that it merits my immediate and complete attention—the control precedence that characterizes emotional motivation: for fear, the demand that one focus attention (almost) exclusively on avoiding some threat.[7]

We see two possible responses for the shadow skeptic. First, he can reply that anything that can possibly damage your interests is indeed dangerous, though some things are much less dangerous than others. This response is not intuitively plausible, since unlikely prospects of minor inconveniences are not dangers and it makes no sense to treat them as such. This suggestion fails to capture the sensitivity constraint, because fear is not in the business of tracking merely possible setbacks. The two most commonplace criticisms of unfitting fear are that the feared prospect is either insufficiently bad (as with fear of spiders) or insufficiently likely (fear of flying).[8] A second option seems more promising. The skeptic can reply instead that dangers are prospects that reach some threshold of expected badness. Since people routinely face small risks fearlessly while fearing greater ones, fear is evidently subject to some sort of threshold effect.

Although this proposal is on the right track, we think it ultimately runs run afoul of the independence constraint, because one must appeal to an emotion—specifically to fear—in order to set the danger threshold. The question is: what level of expected disvalue does some threat have to reach in order to count as dangerous? No doubt the boundary is vague, and where it gets set in a given circumstance is surely context-sensitive in various ways. From the response-independent (“objective”) point of view, however, there seems to be no rationale for distinguishing, among the many negative changes in one’s prospects, which to count as dangers. Any specification of likelihood or severity would be arbitrary, and it would create seemingly pointless distinctions between admitted dangers that just barely rise above the threshold and putative non-dangers that fall just short. We are not unreasonably insisting that the shadow skeptic owes us an account of danger with no vagueness at its boundaries. The point is rather that we cannot see what response-independent question you are trying to answer when you wonder whether a given prospect is sufficiently likely and sufficiently bad to count as dangerous. But there is a good question that you could be trying to answer: you could be wondering whether the expected disvalue merits fear. Because fear is costly and does not scale downward incrementally, one cannot help but set thresholds in thinking about what things are worth fearing. This suggests that the threshold approach too is ultimately response-dependent and does not help the shadow skeptic meet the independence constraint after all.

Indeed, we think the problem cuts even more deeply against the shadow skeptic. From the objective perspective, the very project of identifying a class of dangers seems wrong-headed. According to rational choice theory, a decision-maker should govern his actions on the basis of expected utility, not danger. Both the focus on risk and the concern with thresholds seem gratuitous from this perspective, which sees fear as a kind of predicable irrationality. None of this implies that humans would be better off fearless, however, and that conclusion seems highly unlikely to us. Insofar as humans are also subject to other forms of predictable irrationality, such as being overly tempted by salient goods in our immediate vicinity, a form of systematic negative bias such as fear might be salutary. Even if this advantage depends on other deeply seated human characteristics that look like flaws from the perspective of pure practical rationality, nevertheless we are stuck being human. The ideal decision-maker of rational choice theory, who is unencumbered by fear and other emotions, may not be a model that humans would generally be well advised to emulate. We take the sentimental values to be anthropocentric, of no inherent interest to rational but dispassionate aliens; they are human values.

Hence we conclude that in order for the dangerous to matter as the shadow skeptic intends—for it to be “what ultimately interests us in our most important evaluative judgments” (Schroeter 2006: 346) about the objects of fear—it must be covertly response-dependent. The human concern for threats and the dangerous leads inevitably to a response-dependent account. By contrast, a thoroughly objective point of view would treat all prospects equivalently, without giving any gratuitous privilege to threats. It thus requires a far more radical revision than the shadow skeptic can accommodate: one that gives up on danger as an important evaluative concept altogether. Although this radical suggestion eventually requires a response from the sentimentalist, for now we take ourselves to have shown that the dangerous is best understood as a response-dependent property. If so then the shadow skeptic is mistaken even about his most promising case.




D’Arms, Justin and Daniel Jacobson (forthcoming). “Sentimentalism and Scientism.” Forthcoming in Moral Psychology and Human Agency: Philosophical Essays on the Science of Ethics. Justin D’Arms and Daniel Jacobson, eds. Oxford University Press (Oxford).

Price, Carolyn (2006). “Fearing Fluffy: The Content of an Emotional Appraisal.” Teleosemantics: New Philosophical Essays. Graham MacDonald and David Papineau, eds. Clarendon Press (Oxford).

Prinz, Jesse (2006). Gut Feelings: A Perceptual Theory of Emotions. Oxford University Press (New York).

Schroeter, Francois (2006). “The Limits of Sentimentalism.” Ethics 116: 337-361.

[1] See Schroeter (2006). Our discussion abstracts away from some of the details of his discussion, but our treatment of these issues is indebted to his development of the challenge, which he applies not only to the fearsome but also to sentimentalism generally.

[2] Throughout this discussion, by response-dependent properties we mean properties that are independent of emotional responses specifically; we are not concerned with other forms of response-dependency.

[3] Cf. Schroeter (2006: 346): “Even if fear is one of our most important emotions, we don’t care that much about when it is appropriate: once we know whether a situation is dangerous, we typically have little interest in finding out whether it warrants fear.”

[4] See (D’Arms and Jacobson forthcoming) for similar arguments about the disgusting and the funny.

[5] All these terms (danger, threat, harm) have wobble. One might expand the notion of harm instead. But we will give ‘harm’ to the shadow skeptic, understood as something like bodily integrity plus psychological functioning and incapacitation. But danger must then include other threats than harm.

[6] This notion of self-interest might even be response-dependent, in a more capacious sense: it might appeal for instance to informed desires. Shadow skepticism about the sentimental values is committed to emotion-independence, in particular.

[7] In humans fear motivates not quite stereotypical action—such as fight, freeze, or flight—as it does with many lower animals, but it has a characteristic action tendency that is not fully plastic: not every kind of action that can be seen as threat avoidance can be taken out of fear. This is not to say that it is impossible for humans to calmly negotiate with some threat when that has the best prospects for success; the claim is rather that this cannot be done out of fear but must be done by overcoming fear and its motivational urge. Cf. Price (2006).

[8] Of course not all fear of spiders or of flying is unfitting. When there are deadly spiders around, or conditions are especially unsafe for flying, then such fear can be fitting. These examples are chosen because they are common phobias: dispositions to unfitting (and often recalcitrant) fear. 

34 Replies to “Featured Philosophers: D’Arms and Jacobson

  1. Thanks Justin and Daniel. Great post. I just had one question about the framework. Here seems to be the two theoretical alternatives:
    1. Shadow-sceptics who think that the relevant properties are response-independent and that the relevant emotions at best track the response-independent properties.
    2. Sentimentalists like you who think that the relevant properties are response-dependent properties and that the relevant emotions and especially their fittingness play a much more constitutive role in what the properties are.
    Now, I’ve always loved the contrast between these positions. It also seems implausible or at least controversial that either the shadow sceptic or the sentimentalist would be right about all property-reaction pairs. At least we need some general standards for evaluating which one of the views is right in any given case.
    You give two interesting standards: the sensitivity of the emotion and whether the property can be picked out without talking about the relevant property.
    This second crux seems mistaken to me. The orthodox view (following Wright – page 120 onwards in Truth and Objectivity), Miller ch. 7 in Intro to Metaethics and others) that seems right to me is that the sentimentalist as a defender of response-dependence has to be able to describe the relevant emotion without mentioning the property the emotion is a response to. So, the relevant independence is that of the emotion and not that of the property, and task of the sentimentalist to argue for the independence.
    In contrast, if we need to use the property to explain what the relevant reaction is, then we violate the independence constraint and the property in question is not response-dependent one. I actually think that this is a real challenge for the sentimentalist in the case of fear.
    This way of looking at things seems to carve the joints at the right places at least in metaethics. McDowell’s view where you can’t describe the property or the emotion without the reference to the other more easily fits non-naturalist realist views than response-dependence accounts such as Lewis’s (as Miller nicely explains). In contrast, your independence condition of the property would put McDowell in metaethics amongst the sentimentalists and defenders of response-dependence which seems wrong to me.
    So, the question is, why understand the role of the independence constraint in the new way? And, do you think of your view just as McDowell’s and then think that people have been wrong in thinking that his view isn’t a sentimentalist response-dependence view?

  2. Thanks, Jussi. We agree with you (and Wright) that “the sentimentalist as a defender of response-dependence has to be able to describe the relevant emotion without mentioning the property the emotion is a response to.” So we think we have to shoulder the burden of giving an account of fear that does not appeal to danger, and similarly for the rest of the natural emotions.
    Which is to say that we, unlike McDowell and Wiggins, do not hold a no-priority view of the relation between response and property — at least, not when it comes to the natural emotions! (We do think this is right about some properties other than the sentimental values, but that’s another story.) In our taxonomy these no-priority sensibility theorists still come out as sentimentalists, but that’s a matter of semantics and perhaps not so interesting. We aspire to meet Wright’s challenge.
    What we haven’t done here is tell you anything about how that story about the natural emotions will go. Maybe Justin will have something more to say about it! Or I’ll try this afternoon when I have more time.

  3. Yes, thanks Jussi. Just one more thing about independence. As Dan noted, we accept the (Wright/Miller/Suikkanen) independence burden on us, and that’s why we’re limiting these claims about sentimental values to the natural emotions, where we think we can meet it. But we also think there is a parallel burden on the shadow skeptical opponent, that we are trying to argue that he can’t meet. That is, he has to be able to say what dangerousness is in a way that avoids appeal to fear. So the independence constraint we were adverting to for the shadow skeptic is the flip side of the one we accept as a constraint on us. The no-priority view would be the view that neither side can meet the relevant independence constraint, I guess.

  4. Dan & Justin,
    I’m just here to make my usual trouble, and if you’d prefer to focus on this newer stuff, please don’t feel obligated to get into this. But I thought it might be worth rehashing some things I suspect you, Dan, have heard (probably from Christian) in case there are new things to say, or others want to weigh in.
    I take it you think the fitting and meriting relations are normative, in that they provide normative reasons: We have reason to fear the dangerous, be amused by the humerous, etc. I’m skeptical of this. I like the general picture of sentiments as representative, and I think they play an important role for us, I just don’t think their fittingess provides us with reasons to feel them. Here are three quick points in favor of my view:
    Potential Redundancy
    Suppose I’m in the woods and come upon a poisonous snake. I am capable of fully representing the snake’s danger to me, and being suitably motivated, without feeling fear. I can’t imagine why, in that case, I would still have reason to feel fear. This is because if I did have a reason to fear, it would stem from my needing to fear the snake in order to respond appropriately to it. But ex hypothesi, I don’t.
    (This might seem similar to Shadow Skepticism, but I take it that it’s different given that we might well be able to represent even attitude-dependent values without deploying our sentiments.)
    Lack of Motivation from the Analogy with Language
    The above problem isn’t surprising when you think of the sentiments as representative in something like the way words are. The word “dog” is fitting for my dog Silke. This does not provide me with any reason to think or say “dog” when I see her, unless that would help me achieve some goal. More generally, there is simply no reason to go around representing things.
    It’s More Plausible that Unfittingness Is Normative
    While I don’t have any reason to think or say “dog” when I see Silke, you might argue that I do have reason not to think or say “cat”—i.e., not to misrepresent. I’m not sure that’s true, but it certainly sounds more plausible than the idea that I have reason to go around representing things.
    Of course, you could claim that both fittingness and unfittingness are normative. But assuming each sentiment is either fitting or unfitting for each object—either the sentiment accurately represents the object or it doesn’t—this amounts to ruling out error theory by fiat. For instance, every time I see an animal (say) I either have reason to fear it or reason to not fear it. The possibility that I have no reasons at all has vanished. I don’t think we should be comfortable with that result.

  5. Hi Guys, I am very sympathetic. Two thoughts meant in a constructive spirit.
    (1) It seems to me that there are other cases that cast doubt on “the liable to affect self-interest” model. One that springs to mind: someone foresees that they will be harmed but thinks the harm will be wrongly inflicted on them and they think they have strong moral reasons to pursue the course that will bring on the harm. Martin Luther King speaks out, knowing he will be harmed by racists. Part of his courage was his not fearing their reprisals. But the ensuing harms might have been certain and quite seriously affected his self-interest. But maybe you guys think this is to moralistic and that it would have been fit for King to feel fear (although less morally admirable)? I suppose you then need to hold that it is not unfit for him to lack the fit response (e.g. that fitness is permission like).
    (2) Maybe the threshold idea is too simple and we need a contextual one? If Jim is living high on the hog but finds out he is likely to suffer a non-trivial, but not super serious harm it is fit for him to fear it, but if Stan is in a bad environment and regularly suffering serious harms, it is not fit for him to fear a non-trivial but not serious one. Given his situation, the harm is less worth taking seriously, so it is at least less fit for fear. For example, on this view, people who are in war, for example, should not fear the kinds of small harms that they rightly fear in better times. Not sure this is right, but if it is, it might help you make your case?

  6. To press the contextual line, I should have said that trivial harms might well be less fearsome in war (fit for *less* fear rather than always unfit for fear at all). It seems to me that such thinking about degrees of fearsomeness fits your model and that only an ad hoc move would allow the skeptic to mirror it. But that is just a hunch!

  7. Ok one more thought….not sure about this one either, but here goes. It is common to fear a harm the first time but to have one’s fear lessen when the same harm comes again and again. Sometimes this looks unfit/pathological (being beaten down by mistreatment) but perhaps in some cases we think it is fit/healthy. And it seems hard to see how the shadow skeptic will account for any fit cases let alone the difference between the pathological and healthy ones. It seems you would need a good case to drive this home (and that it related to the stuff about actual and perceived risk).

  8. Great post. I am worried about the fitting attitude analysis of the dangerous as that which merits fear, because some things seem to merit fear which are not at all dangerous. For example, viewing the shower scene in ‘Psycho’, a magician doing a sawing the person in half type of trick, or going on a roller coaster ride. Whether things merit fear, to put it bluntly, seems to have more to do with how dangerous they seem to a fully informed and otherwise generally normal observer than with how dangerous they actually are. It would be no surprise, of course, to learn that ‘seemingly dangerous’ is a response dependent property. So you need to prove that your response-dependent analysis is of the underlying property of actual dangerousness, if you want to show there’s a surprising and significant kind of response dependence here.

  9. Hi David. Our inability to satisfy you previously does not imply that we don’t take the worry seriously. We’ve started thinking further about the issue recently, though, so we’ve got some new things to say. But I’m going to let Justin take the first swing at it, as it’s stuff that he is more on top of than I am. He should be dropping by here shortly.
    Brad: Thanks, this will help us explicate our view, although you’ve anticipated some of our answers. Maybe I can say a bit more to make them plausible.
    We do want to say what you expect about your MLK example. Surely fear is fitting in his circumstances (there were death threats, etc.) but, arguably, he was more virtuous for not being afraid — if indeed he wasn’t afraid. As a historical matter, I have no idea whether he was or not! He might have been afraid often, just not cowed into silence. One can act despite fear. Do you know more about the facts of the case, or might you be seduced into thinking that the very fact that MLK spoke shows that he did not fear reprisal? I would rather say that it shows only that he did not fear them so much as to render him incapable of acting virtuously.
    It seems like what you’re worried about here is that you anticipate, correctly, that we want to say that his not being afraid — if indeed he wasn’t — is unfitting. That result doesn’t bother us, because we are prepared to say that in some cases the fitting feeling is contrary to virtue, and the virtuous feeling (or lack of feeling) might be unfitting.
    We agree with your contextualist maneuver, though we left that out of our (already long) post as an added complication. If you’re living in suburbia, then a swerve that puts your car out of control for a moment merits (some) fear, whereas if you’re in a war zone, maneuvers of your vehicle that are (objectively speaking) more risky do not merit fear. We haven’t thought about this recently but that is what we’ve been inclined to say. That doesn’t seem problematic for us, though it’s an additional complication, but there might be a problem I haven’t thought of in the neighborhood.
    This was a response to your first two posts, Brad. The third one brings up another topic that we’ve thought about — and which we’ve discussed a bit with Antti Kauppinen, who has some very interesting sentimentalist thoughts of his own about it. We refer to this phenomenon as the instability of affect. More soon on that and further comments. Thinking at the speed of Soup — Justin gets credit for that one — proves difficult. But these are all great comments.

  10. @Simon: There is a lot to respond to in that short post. (Thanks!) Let me start slowly. Those are interesting and problematic cases, which are well worth thinking about, but we might have different intuitions about them. You wrote,
    …some things seem to merit fear which are not at all dangerous. For example, viewing the shower scene in ‘Psycho’, a magician doing a sawing the person in half type of trick, or going on a roller coaster ride. Whether things merit fear, to put it bluntly, seems to have more to do with how dangerous they seem to a fully informed and otherwise generally normal observer than with how dangerous they actually are.
    As a general methodological point, I don’t think we should construct our theory of fitting emotions around what (I think) are atypical cases. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider them. I wonder how much of your worry about our claim, and your positive proposal, hangs on those sort of cases. Here are some first thoughts about them, and then a request for clarification.
    1) Psycho. Emotional response toward fictions are notoriously tricky; there’s a cottage industry devoted to them. Ken Walton was my dissertation advisor and is now my colleague, and he has convinced me that there is a great deal of pretense — at least — involved in these aesthetic response to (what are known to be) fictions. That said, there are sub-fear responses, such as anxiety and the startle reflex, which are certainly at play in the experience of watching that scene. (This is consistent with Ken’s view, btw.) But I wouldn’t want to build my theory of when emotions are fitting around fictional cases, for several reasons.
    2) The magician. Are we really afraid as audience members, do you think? That’s not the phenomenology I would expect. (Don’t we all know that the magician’s assistant isn’t really going to sawed in half? This seems the common thread here to these cases, but it would help me for you to draw out why you think they challenge our theory.)
    3) Roller coaster rides. I love them! I go on them intentionally. I don’t think they merit fear, and I suspect that I would act differently if I did. I think it’s more dangerous driving to the amusement park. Now: do I feel fear when slowly riding up that first hill? I’m not sure about that (see the sub-fear response point), but suppose I grant that I, or most people, do. What is the problem for us in allowing this to be a case of predictable unfitting fear?
    I’m not sure I understand your positive proposal. Is the suggestion that a fully informed, normal observer would hold that they seem dangerous, even though they really aren’t dangerous? I need a bit more help to understand this. What does “seem dangerous” mean other than: they are the sort of things that people are disposed to fear? (As noted, I think this is more plausible about the last case than the first two, but maybe getting away from the most controversial cases will help me think about your proposal.)

  11. Hi David, Thanks for pressing this again, it is helpful. And we will be curious to see how you and others react on this point. Here are a couple of things we have wanted to say to support the claim that considerations of fit are reasons for emotions.
    First, distinguish reasons to feel from practical reasons to do things intentionally so as to affect one’s feelings (for instance, by bringing feelings about, suppressing them, preserving them, etc.). We see this as analogous to a distinction between reasons to believe and practical reasons to affect one’s beliefs intentionally. The claim that there are reasons to feel afraid of a poisonous snake in your path is not the claim that there are reasons to do anything to see to it that you fear the snake. Much less is it the claim that the balance of reasons favors seeing to it that you fear the snake if you can. It is rather the claim that there are reasons supporting fear, and indeed they constitute an adequate justification of a certain sort, even if you would be better off without fear. One of the ways in which human beings can be sensitive to reasons is by feeling in ways that are supported by these sorts of reasons, and this is a form of reason sensitivity we don’t have to do anything intentional to exercise–it’s like sensitivity to reasons to believe in that respect. If you fear a mouse, in contrast, you do not have available a certain kind of defense of yourself that would have been available were it a snake you were afraid of.
    Actually we think there are also some reasons to do things to bring about or preserve fitting feelings, but I’m saying that considerations of fit would still be reasons to feel even if they were not also practical reasons. Considered as practical reasons, we readily grant that reasons of fit are often outweighed. But we are inclined to embrace an ideal of how to be according to which there is always something to be said for registering affectively the things that matter. Consider the case of sadness over a loss. It’s painful, and that is a reason to take steps to avoid or suppress it if one can. But there is something to be said against that too. There is something good about experiencing the loss in that human way we have, by being sad about it. And that is a practical reason against suppressing sadness. So it seems like a practical reason in favor of sadness. But we don’t have much of an argument for this further claim about practical reasons supplied by considerations of fit, beyond the appeal to an ideal you may not find attractive.
    I’ll try to speak more directly to your other points tomorrow.

  12. Hi Dan, thanks. It’s great to be able to meet virtually and have these conversations. Yes, I think ‘seemingly dangerous’ does mean roughly ‘the sort of thing people are disposed to fear’, which is why it will be no surprise that it’s response dependent. Now should we understand ‘merits fear’ as (1) coextensive with ‘the sort of thing that psychologically healthy, fully-informed people are disposed to fear’, or as (2) coextensive with ‘dangerous’, or as (3) both of these? You are committed to either (2) or (3). The kind of examples I raised suggest that (1) and (2) come apart, so (3) can’t work. And if my (I think) non-theory-driven intuitions about ‘merits fear’ are right, the correct answer must be (1). Other examples of the same kind: watching a trapeze artist perform over a safety net, the haunted house at the fairground. I could have used examples of things that are dangerous but seem not to merit fear, such as smoking cigarettes, or persistently failing to eat your 5 a day of fruit and veg. I suspect you’ll find these less convincing. If you say all such cases where 2 and 3 seem to come apart are of predictable unfitting attitudes, it looks like you are in danger of begging the question about what ‘merits fear’ is coextensive with. I note that in your quick response about the roller coaster, you incautiously wrote ‘I don’t think they merit fear, and I suspect that I would act differently if I did. I think it’s more dangerous driving to the amusement park.‘. (Rather than the theory-neutral, and at least to me, much less plausible: ‘I think driving to the amusement park merits more fear’). This suggests to me that your judgement about whether roller coasters merit fear might be a theory-driven one.

  13. I mistakenly said near the end of my last comment ‘If you say all such cases where 2 and 3 seem to come apart are of predictable unfitting attitudes, it looks like you are in danger of begging the question about what “merits fear” is coextensive with’. I should have said ‘cases where (1) and (2) seem to come apart’. I neglected to address your previous response as well. You suggested a different way of dealing with at least some of these cases: they are not really cases of fear at all, but of something else, maybe the occurrence of ‘sub-fear responses, such as anxiety and the startle reflex’, or some kind of pretence (I’m not sure exactly what you have in mind here). A worry about your response: to capture the phenomenology of the cases accurately, we will have to characterize the relevant ‘sub-fear responses’ in at least partially sentimental terms. What we experience in the cases I have in mind often feels at least a lot like fear. But doesn’t the proposed reply then lead to an unnecessary multiplication of entities? You would have to describe a ‘sub-fear’ sentiment, whose being merited would not seem to correspond to a property that we have any any particular reason to care about, and then ‘fear’ proper, whose being merited would correspond to the dangerous. Why not just take the simpler route and say that fear itself is felt in these cases, and that is is a sentiment whose being merited does not always correspond to the dangerous?
    I’d say what’s distinctive about the cases I have in mind is that either (i) they arouse fear, even when we know they are not really dangerous and our fear-system is functioning well, or in the opposite case (ii) they fail to arouse fear, even when we know they are really dangerous and our fear-system is functioning well. Why does this make them distinctive? Because what it is (or at least part of what it is) for us to fear something is for it to seem dangerous to us. What we believe to be the case and what seems to be the case usually lines up. But, as in the Muller-Lyer illusion (where the lines seem to be different lengths even when our visual system is functioning well and we know they are the same length), what seems to be the case can sometimes come apart from what we believe to be the case.

  14. Hi Simon. Thanks for this, and nice to hear from you.
    A central feature of your worry, if I am tracking, is that you think we are stretching the natural notion of merit to fit our theory when we say roller coasters don’t merit fear. You think there is a more intuitive notion of ‘merit’ on which fear is merited at things that people are naturally disposed to fear when their fear system is not malfunctioning, even when they know those things are not really dangerous. Now ‘merit’ is not an expression with a lot of ordinary language currency, at least as applied to emotions, so we thought it a term of art that we could appropriate. But we do want to be using it as our term for one natural and familiar way that people really do assess their emotions, and arguing that this assessment can explain certain kinds of evaluative thinking. So while we would not be bothered if there is another issue that has as good claim to being expressed with that term in English, we would be bothered if our claim that fear of rollercoasters is not merited (insofar as they are not dangerous) did not look like a familiar and natural thing one could say as a criticism of fear in such cases. But we think it is. We think it is a familiar question, not one we are inventing, that people ask when they wonder whether some normal emotional tendency is merited in a particular case or even in general.
    Another normal emotional tendency is the tendency to be ashamed in the face of the contempt of others. And perhaps the shame system is functioning as natural selection built it to when one feels such shame. But there are cases where people can be ashamed in such circumstances despite knowing that the thing they are being contemned for is not shameful. (Say it’s a teenager being abused for being gay.) If so, there is a stance that they have toward their shame, according to which it lacks support by certain sorts of reasons. And that is the stance we have from outside as well (though we can realize sympathetically that it is quite understandable to feel that way). That is the kind of stance we call thinking the emotion unmerited. Surely we are not making up that phenomenon. If someone said that it seemed intuitive to them to say that the person’s shame was merited in such a case, I would wonder what they meant. If they grant that it makes sense to take the sort of stance toward that shame that I am talking about, but they want to say it is merited anyway because they think ‘merit’ means something like normal (it’s to be expected that people would feel it and without any malfunction in their shame system), this is a merely verbal issue over which we don’t want to fight. If they disagree that there are strong reasons against being ashamed of being gay, we have a normative dispute. If they claim not to understand the issue we are talking about, then I guess we have to keep trying to point to the phenomenon in other cases and persuade them this is a form of assessment they go in for as well.

  15. Simon:
    Justin has spoken to what we take to be the leading thought in your comments. Let me try to clear up some things around the margins. (In a separate post, I’ll make a suggestion about another of your central thoughts, the cases where people commonly do not fear what they judge to be dangerous, such as smoking.)
    First, about the cases. Since we grant that there are cases where people often do feel fear despite not believing themselves in danger, my worries about some of your examples are not so pertinent. That said, on the case of emotions with fictional objects and the point about pretense, I recommend Walton’s “Fearing Fictions” paper.
    Second, also briefly, about what I called “sub-fear” responses. Anxiety is generally considered a mood rather than an emotion, insofar as it is object-less. And startle is a response, with a cause but not an object. We want to accept the common distinction between being anxious or startled and being afraid, but again this is more important for some of your specific examples than for your central point. We agree that there can be genuine fear without judgment of danger, and that this can be a common and even a normal response.
    Finally, about words like danger, contamination, and incongruity. Those words offer the best ordinary-language “gloss” of what the emotions of fear, disgust, and amusement can be said to be about. They are rough-and-ready, and in some cases there isn’t a single word — e.g., we gloss shame and pride as concerning what reflects badly / well on you — but we think it inevitable that, in trying to makes sense of themselves and their emotions, people will reach for such descriptions. And that some are better than others.
    The general point is that ordinary language is supple, and there are perfectly good uses of “dangerous” and “contaminated” (etc.) that are not response-dependent. We do not mean to be arguing against the semantic propriety of these uses, and we use the terms this way sometimes ourselves. What we want to insist upon is something like this (now moving to the case of disgust and contamination):
    1. It is fine to say that the best way to gloss what disgust concerns, in English, is with “contaminated.”
    2. There is (also) a sense of “contamination” on which something one might call the Germ Theory of Contamination is true. In the context of pathology, for instance, contamination means by germs (or perhaps germs or toxins or parasites).
    Our commitment is not to denying either (1) or (2), exactly, but to denying their conjunction. That is, we deny that the Germ Theory (or even a germ, toxin, or parasite theory) of the disgusting is true. We hold that something can be disgusting without being germy (etc.) — for instance, because of how it looks. And we hold that something can fail to be disgusting (and hence not merit disgust) even though it is so contaminated. For instance, a glass of water into which a sterilized cockroach has been dipped is, arguably, disgusting. There are cases think far more decisive, but this is one that borrows from the literature.
    While this puts us at odds with the most renowned scientists of disgust, such as Paul Rozin, we assert that there is no science of the disgusting. This is one of the central points of our paper, “Sentimentalism and Scientism,” which is linked in our original post.

  16. This may display my unfittingness to do philosophy. But I am having trouble seeing the views as rivals, at least at the level of what they say about properties. Why can’t both of the following be the case? (1)Some property (say danger) is what merits a certain response and this is why that property is the one that counts as danger. And (2)there be some other way to pick this property out that does not trade on its fear-response meriting role.
    I’ll apologize ahead of time if I don’t come back to reply to any reply right away as I will only be on the computer a little bit this weekend.

  17. Justin (and Dan),

    It is rather the claim that there are reasons supporting fear, and indeed they constitute an adequate justification of a certain sort, even if you would be better off without fear.

    Do you find the same story plausible about language? Suppose that, for some reason, I’m set up such that when I think the word “snake,” I freeze up. I come upon a snake and, recognizing it, could just turn and run. But then I think “SNAKE!!!” Do you want to say that the combination of psychology (we just tend to think words of things we see, without intending to) and representational accuracy (if it was a mouse, I’d have made a mistake) similarly provides me with a kind of justification?
    If yes (the cases seem the same to me, certainly), that just drives home for me the absence of normativity. I don’t think I had any reason to think “snake” in that case. I just think there’s a sense in which the naturalness and accuracy of my doing so inclines us away from characterizing me as making a mistake, and there’s a temptation to express that in terms of a kind of justification. Nevertheless, where genuine normative reasons are concerned, I had none: Nothing that actually matters spoke in favor of my feeling fear or thinking “snake.”

  18. Hi Mark. As we understand the dialectic, the shadow skeptic wants to insist that it doesn’t much matter whether emotions are fitting; rather, people are interested in these other properties that have nothing to do with the emotions but are about risk and harm (or germs, etc.) So even if there is some other way of picking out those properties that does not trade on their emotion-meriting role, if what is of interest about such properties lies in their emotional-regulating role, then the shadow skeptic loses the argument.

  19. David:
    We think that you have reason to believe that there is a snake in the path, even if it would be disastrous to have that belief as it happens.
    There are vexed questions about the role of language in belief, but we certainly don’t think you have reason to use language in various other ways to represent the snake, simply in virtue of your evidence that it is there. No reason to write ‘snake’ or say it, for instance, even though those would be accurate representations. We are not sure what to say about whether you have reason to “think ‘snake’” because we are not sure what sort of activity that is–whether that is just a way of believing there’s a snake, or some sort of action, or what.

  20. That’s really helpful. So, is the story something like this? Sentiments aim at accurate representation of their objects just as beliefs aim at truth. There can be epistemic reasons to believe regardless of what practical reasons there are to believe or even to not believe—(roughly) reasons having to do with the truth of the thing believed. So, too, can there be fittingness reasons to feel regardless of what practical reasons there are to feel or even to not feel—(roughly) reasons having to do with the accuracy of representing the object as the sentiment does.
    If that’s right, I think I see and understand the view. I still want to resist it, but that’s because I don’t think epistemic reasons are normative reasons, either, except in the case where we have reasons to think about what’s true. Similarly, I wouldn’t think fittingness reasons would be normative except in cases where we have reasons to represent via the sentiments. In the snake case I describe, I don’t think this condition is met.

  21. This is the promised followup on Simon’s cases where people are typically (and normally) not afraid of what they judge dangerous — his example, which is also the one we’ve used in thinking about this issue, is smoking. Here are two possibilities:
    1. Our initial gloss of fear was inadequate; it’s really about imminent dangers. Since smoking will harm you, if it does, only years down the road, it is not imminently dangerous and, hence, does not merit fear.
    That accords with what some philosophers have wanted to say about fear, but right now Justin and I are inclined to think it’s a mistake. Here’s why:
    Suppose that exposure to some poison will certainly kill you — there is no antidote — but not for x years. Suppose too that this poison has been put into your coffee mug by Dr. Moriarty. Thinking about your situation, it seems like I can be literally afraid on your behalf. (This is to suppose that I care so deeply about your fate that I am prone to fear for your life when it is in jeopardy.) Maybe you will have another sip and seal your fate. Or maybe you will leave the rest of the mug unfinished, and be safe. It seems like I can be afraid regardless of whether you will die instantaneously or in x years, and we see no reason to think it fitting only in the first case (as the imminence requirement implies).
    2. We think there’s something else going on in the smoking case. In the first place, no single cigarette will kill you. One might imagine a case where either you will smoke that first cig, and then become addicted and later die; or else you won’t smoke it and will not die (as soon, of smoking related causes). Maybe this is more plausible if we change the case to smoking crack.
    But even if it is true that, having taken that first hit of crack, you are doomed — still, your fate still goes through your own agency. People don’t always go down the slippery slope, and you could have stopped yourself later. So it still seems odd to think that the first hit killed you, non-imminently, on analogy with the dose of poison.
    Hence we are inclined to think that the plausibility of this case (and most realistic ones) trades on a subtle slide surrounding “Cigarettes are dangerous to your health.” Yes, smoking (or cigs) are, as an activity or type of object, dangerous. But no particular cig, or act of smoking one, really is. Which is why we didn’t include imminence in our gloss of fear, originally.
    What do you think?

  22. Thanks Dan!
    So the crucial bit is that the shadow skeptic thinks thatit doesn’t much matter whether emotions are fitting. OK, I see that one would not want to say that if one thought that the property was danger because it is fit to respond to it in the specified way. So is the issue of being able to specify that property in non-fitting attitude terms or not just evidence for or against this claim? If you can’t specify in in non-fitting attitude terms the FA theorist wins, but they don’t lose if you can specify it that way; it is a standoff.

  23. Hi Justin and Dan,
    I think I’ve heard this argument from Justin in seminar back in the day (and maybe had it from Dan in conversation). I’m in agreement with what you say. Here a quick comment and question:
    (1) I wonder if cross-cultural work on what people take to be fearsome would buttress the point. Top reported fears in various areas will differ significantly, I suspect, making it even less likely that there’s a common empirical property shared by all things thought to be fittingly feared.
    (2) You’re just giving examples of natural emotions, above, when you mention shame, amusement, pride, disgust, and fear. But you don’t mention anger/resentment, even in passing in the post. That makes me wonder if the omission is intentional and for some reason you reject a sentimentalist account of anger/resentment and what I would say is it’s corresponding value: wrongness/injustice.

  24. Hi, Mark. I’m guessing that was intended for me, not Dan. (It would not be the first time someone swapped our names.) The important point for us is not about in principle specifiability in response-independent terms. We suspect that any accurate response independent specification of dangerousness (should one be forthcoming) will lack an interesting response-independent rationale for grouping together the things it does. And if that is right, it seems to us a good reason to suppose that what people care about in this vicinity is what it’s fitting to fear.
    You seem to be suggesting that we are setting things up in such a way that FA can only win and cannot lose, but I don’t think that’s true. The shadow skeptic tries to characterize danger (contamination, incongruity, etc.) in response-independent terms, and suggests that he has captured what people care about in the vicinity of fear (disgust, amusement, and so forth). If so then the shadow skeptic wins and the sentimentalist loses. So I don’t think the fight is fixed. We need to make a case that people are really interested in what feelings are fitting, and that it is what fixes what things count as dangerous, insofar as danger is the important property it often seems to be. And we try to do that about danger here, and to make a more abstract case about the importance of questions of fit elsewhere in the book we’re working on.

  25. Hi Zac. Thanks for the helpful comment.
    Interesting point about disparity in elicitors. Our view about that is that although there is wide cross-cultural difference at the superficial level, there is often broader underlying agreement about the kinds of thing that merit emotions, and that these similarities can be captured by using the admittedly vague terms with which we describe the emotions’ concern. So although cultures (as well as individuals) differ about what counts as an insult, they seem to agree that insults merit anger. We find supporting evidence in the general accounts of the emotions that are given by Aristotle, e.g., which are quite familiar despite vast specific differences between antiquity and modernity.
    We do think the diversity is more evidence for sentimentalism over shadow skepticism, for something like the reason you suggest.
    As for anger and resentment, we didn’t bring them up in part because we’re unsure of exactly what we want to say about them. In particular, we are agnostic about the prospects for a sentimentalist theory of morality (along the lines suggested by Mill and Gibbard). We do think anger is a natural emotion, but we think it too broad to do the trick, and we suspect that resentment is not a natural emotion. This is more or less the view we put forward in “Expressivism, Morality, and the Emotions.”

  26. Hi Dan,
    First, I meant the contextual stuff I mentioned (and what you call the instability of affect) as points in favor of your views (over the shadow skeptics)
    Second, I am not sure about the psychological claim about King, although I seem to remember it being brought up in James Cone’s “Malcom, Martin, and America.” However, I think the interview linked below is interesting in this context, because King explicitly links increased courage to stand up for one’s dignity with a reduction of fear, and that is probably explained by the moralizing story towards which I gestured. You can skip to 4:22..King mentions the reduction of fear right off the bat – i.e. when he begins to discuss the nature of the “new negro”.

  27. Hi Justin,
    Thanks for both responses and sorry about the name change. I actually wasn’t meaning to suggest that you were biasing the setup. It could well be that some arguments are must wins for one side and not for the other. I’m really just trying to get a feel for the positions by asking questions.

  28. Thanks, Dan and Justin, for your very thoughtful replies to my comments, most of which I find very persuasive (I apologize for my delay in replying as I’m rather busy at the moment). I think your reply to the cigarettes example is very compelling. I’m not entirely sure about about your claim that there’s a natural way of evaluating emotions according to which, for example, roller coasters don’t merit fear. To try to get a getter handle on this, I’d like to paraphrase a part of your post and ask what you’d like to say about the following claim:
    To think something red is to think it fitting to see it redly. Equivalently, this is to think the object merits being seen redly.

  29. Thanks for the really interesting post, Justin and Dan. I was away and just discovered a terrific and dauntingly long thread. Just a couple quick reactions.
    I think you are right about the need to invoke the emotion of fear to determine precise thresholds for an evaluative property like danger. So I’d grant it is not possible to give a fully response-independent account of that property. However, this doesn’t mean a fitting-response account of danger is the correct one. It is one thing to say that a response plays a role in determining a threshold, it is quite another to say that the nature of the property can be simply cashed out in terms of the fittingness of that response. The core nature of tallness is a matter of height, but the threshold is determined by contextually salient comparison classes. Similarly, one could grant Gibbard that human emotional propensities like guilt and resentment play a role in determining thresholds for moral wrongness. But this seems consistent with cashing out the core nature of moral wrongness in terms of equal respect for persons, or ideal agreement, or whatever. I think this is a plausible position in the case of moral wrongness and something similar may hold for danger. Laura and I wrote a paper that makes this point a while back for the AAP – in case you are interested here is a link: https://www.academia.edu/6115394/Moral_concepts_and_the_emotions
    A small clarification about my position. I am not a teleofunctionalist like Jesse Prinz. I don’t think emotions are sensitive to evaluative properties – although they may track them in the weak co-variation sense, which is very cheap: emotions track a lot of things in this sense. You suggest that without supposing emotions are sensitive to value properties I would be committed to claiming that one should ignore emotional concerns, because these are matters of indifference. I don’t see why this follows. Even if they are not sensitive to values, emotions are reliably correlated with values and can play very important roles in our psychology. But this is a minor point.

  30. Justin, I’m picking up on the exchange with Mark van Roojen. It sounds like you are staking out this position: any response-independent characterization of being fearsome (which I think we should distinguish from *the* fearsome – the set of things that are fearsome) fails to rationalize that way of grouping things. The grouping only makes sense with a response-dependent characterization of being fearsome (or the fearsome). This seems to put all the action on the epistemic side of things rather than the metaphysical side of things, as it were. I just want to see if that is right, and if that is where you want to draw the response-dependent, response-independent distinction.
    I say this because one could have the view that being fearsome just is being some-particular-response-independent-property, but given the ways we have of thinking about that property, we cannot really understand the grouping save in response-dependent terms. (Perhaps some other sorts of cognizers could but we cannot.) Such a view is aptly characterized as response-independent so long as we are there labelling the metaphysical aspect of the view. But it is not the kind of view you are taking issue with. For you, this would count as a response-dependent view because we need to appeal to responses to make sense of the grouping. Is that right? (I have similar sorts of questions for sensibility theorists like McDowell and Wiggins, if that helps see what I’m getting at.)

  31. Thanks very much for all these comments, everyone. I’m afraid I need to turn back into a pumpkin at least for the next few days, but I have really enjoyed the dance. Matt, I think what you say is right, and very helpful.
    Francois, you may well be right that there is more to the concept of danger than just what merits fear, even if we are right that danger can’t be adequately explained without appeal to what merits fear. I think that would be ok with us because compatible with the importance of the question what merits fear (i.e. the importance of fearsomeness), but we will have to think more about where that leaves things.
    Simon, I think Dan may get back to you about your last post.
    This has been extremely helpful, I really appreciate all the comments. Pea Soup and the Soupers are great!

  32. Here are a few thoughts, sorry that they’ve been delayed.
    @Brad: Thanks for the video, it’s very interesting. And I did take your suggestion (about context) as helpful, though I’m not sure that I can defend the claim that the shadow skeptic cannot accommodate it.
    @Matt and Mark: I think we (Justin & I) need to be more careful about what our claim is, with respect to properties and the property of being fearsome, as Matt helpfully puts it. It is not that we really care if the property can be specified, characterized, etc in some non-RD way, post hoc. It is rather that what is of interest about the property, or what makes it that property rather than another, has to do with something about human (emotional) responses. In this respect, the situation seems analogous (at least to me) to the situation with being red. (There is another respect, mentioned below in my response to Simon, which is disanalogous.) Even if a purely physical characterization of being red can be given, as I gather most philosophers think, that property only matters because of human color vision.
    This sounds like what you say, Matt, about failing to rationalize that way of grouping things. Does that count as all on the epistemic side, as you see it? (I confess that my grasp of the distinction between M&E breaks down here.) I do think the view you describe counts as response-dependent, in the sense we mean to be getting at. Perhaps then we should be talking about what rationalizes the property of being fearsome, rather than about how to characterize that property? It would be very helpful to us to know how best to get at what we care about and not raise the issues we don’t care about.
    @Simon: You ask what we would say about this:
    (*) To think something red is to think it fitting to see it redly. Equivalently, this is to think the object merits being seen redly.
    I guess my answer is that I’m not sure why a simpler and more straightforward sort of dispositional account isn’t adequate for redness, in terms of normal conditions and standard observers, rather than in terms of merit/fittingness.
    If you have idiosyncratic color responses (that cannot be vindicated by something like Humean delicacy, as we can vindicate normal responses over those of the colorblind), there is no point insisting that the things normal people see as red aren’t red. This is partly because there is no prospect of convincing them with reasons, and partly because the point of the concept RED is to allow (most) people to describe the world in convenient ways. Not to evaluate it.
    But “The normal isn’t normative” when it comes to value, I’m inclined to say. It makes good sense, and might be true, to say: Although most people respond differently, and I have no account of normality or the non-standardness of their conditions, I dispute their value judgments. Although most people are amused (or what have you), it isn’t funny. Of course one then needs a theory of error to explain their responses. And we have the beginnings of such a theory, which we see as our contribution to sensibility theory. But that’s another and longer story!
    However, unlike some other sentimentalists, we agree with you (if I’ve got you right) that pervasive patterns of response offer strong evidence for the fittingness of those responses. We just think this evidence is defeasible, and that there are circumstances in which rational justification can unseat even very common tendencies by giving an unjustifying explanation of them. (If one looks back to common but now repudiated emotional dispositions, one can find examples of this phenomenon.)
    But I fear that here I am drifting into obscurity. Or already out to sea in it.
    @Francois: Thanks for your comments. Let’s talk more about this! I just might be able to find time to get a response together here, but it’ll probably have to be by email.

  33. Hi Dan, thanks. What worries me about the answer you just gave (I thought you might give it) is that it seems we can get the same kind of criticism of ‘seeing redly’ going now as you were pressing in the case of fear. So, if a dispositional analysis of redness seems right, a dispositional analysis of fear ought to be equally plausible. More specifically, like dangerousness and what merits fear, redness and what merits being seen redly seem capable of coming apart. I’ll avoid finkishness, though I’m afraid I’ll have to resort to a science fictional example. Imagine a new type of computer display screen has been invented. Although it is the size and shape of an ordinary screen, it doesn’t reflect or emit light (well, it does reflect light, but only in uniform dull metallic way). To display a coloured image to a user, it sends out some very precise magnetic pulses that directly produce electrical impulses in the optic nerve of the viewer. When it outputs a plain red computer image, then, it has the disposition to be appear redly (to normal observers in standard conditions). Intuitively, it merits being seen redly in one clear sense (the sense which picks out how an observer with a well-functioning visual system would see it). But intuitively, we don’t believe it to be red. So in a different sense, because it isn’t red, it doesn’t merit being seen redly. If such an invention (or similar features of the natural world) existed, perhaps this would be a natural and familiar way to criticize our visual impressions. But none of this would show, as far as I can see, that the point of the concept RED is not to describe the world but to evaluate it.

  34. Hi Daniel and Justin
    sorry about not having had time to get back to you (it’s been hectic) and thanks for the response. It seems like we agree. There’s three views on the table:
    1. sentimentalism. They satisfy the independence condition for the emotion but not for the property.
    2. No priority view. They fail the independence condition for the property and for the emotion. This is a view different from sentimentalism – here there is no one-way explanation of the property in terms of the emotion.
    3. Shadow scepticism (which I would call realism proper). They accept independence on both sides.
    What I was objecting to in the post was that if the independence condition fails on the property side the consequence is that sentimentalism is true: “Without [property description] independence, the theory is sentimentalist”. But now we seem to agree that this isn’t quite right because the this particular independence condition is not satisfied by the no priority view and this is definitely not a sentimentalist view. I agree though that you can still make the case against the shadow sceptic in the same way.

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