Welcome to our discussion forum on Ronald de Sousa’s paper “Emotions and the Ontology of Values,” one of the lost 2020 Pacific APA sessions. Olivia Bailey has comments here. We welcome all who would like to participate in the discussion. (And we thank Iskra Fileva for organizational help.)

Abstract for “Emotions and the Ontology of Values”: Two features are commonly attributed to the identification of an emotion. One is its formal object, which specifies the emotion’s conditions of intrinsic appropriateness or ‘fittingness’. Another is a characteristic ‘action readiness’, based on some sort of ‘appraisal’. I focus here on the relation between them. I suggest that different emotions feature different relationships between formal objects and pertinent action tendencies. By attending to degrees of ‘practical specificity’ in the action tendencies entailed by cognitively sophisticated emotions, I argue that some emotions’ formal objects fail to set up any goals that would explain specific action tendencies. I argue that in such cases, exemplified notably by aesthetic emotions, they also fail to provide any non-trivial correctness conditions. As a result, we should accept that some classes of values differ from others in their ontological status.

13 Replies to “de Sousa/Bailey Forum: “Emotions and the Ontology of Values” (2020 Pacific APA Lost Session)


    Professor Bailey’s insightful abd perspicatious comments give me the great satisfaction of being perfectly understood, and raise just the right questions about what I was trying to do.
    The most general and most challenging is this: why should specificity of action tendency reflect the ontological reality of value?
    First, let me set aside an assumption that some might find controversial, but which is not an issue that divides us here. A truly realist view of objective value would insist that even if there were no sentient beings, some things would be good in themselves. I’m assuming that’s not the case. If no sentient being cared about some thing, it would be unintelligible to attribute value to that thing. Although Genesis (I:31) tells us that “God saw what he had made, and behold, it was very good”, I can make no sense of the thought that it would have been good even if no God (or other sentient creature) had been there to deem it so. In other words, I think we agree that value can be objective, even while being not absolute but relative to the beings for whom it is good.
    We might still, however, want to distinguish between things we consciously care about and those that would matter to us if we had relevant information. There are things we should care about even though we don’t. Intuitively, the latter class would comprise needs, which following Wiggins I suggested can be distinguished from wants because they can be referred to de re: they can be characterized without referring to any intentional states. Wants, by contrast, can be attributed only under some description. (Though some needs can of course also be in the class we are aware of desiring.)
    The origin of the items in the class of needs is sometimes obviously biological; e.g. food and drink. In some cases, such as the need for physical skin contact manifested in Harlow’s famous experiments, the need somehow remained long hidden (from behaviorist and Freudian psychologists, if not for individual subjects); it now seems obvious to most. So that’s my (culpably vague) answer to Bailey’s question about how to characterizes needs: some goods might indeed satisfy needs, in the relevant sense, even if they were not strictly required for survival, but rather “necessary for good or flourishing human life.” Actually I think most biologists would agree that, from the point of view of natural selection, there’s no essential difference here. Natural selection just picks what is more likely to lead to flourishing.
    But again, why should specificity of action tendency reflect the ontological reality of value? I admit that thus starkly put the connection is hard to see. Rather than trying to answer directly, let me follow a helpful hint provided by Bailey herself. She distinguishes three claims about the link envisaged between practical specificity and objectivity of value:
    1) the former (or a high score in that parameter, which admits of degrees) is necessary and sufficient to infer objective value;
    2) “a value is objectively real just insofar as it generates a goal that renders characteristic action intelligible”; and
    3) the possibility of inferring a specific goal from a value is “strong evidence” of a value’s objectivity.
    I respond, perhaps rashly, that I am prepared to assert all three. I will come back to this in a moment, but first let me respond to a couple of other questions Baily raises. These questions are slightly less formidable, but the answers will prefigure my stance on the main question.
    On laughter: Yes. I agree that I underestimate the possibility that amusement is related to needs. Leading theories of humour – release of psychic tension, superiority, incongruity— can all fairly easily be construed as appealing to different needs. Laughter may look the same in all, but the actual kinds of funniness that trigger it are different. And yet in each case it remains quite unclear just how the rhythmic body movements and characteristic releases of breath involved in laughing satisfies any of them. So even if such an explanation could be discovered, it would not be revealed by phenomenology. Therefore the intelligibility of the link between the value and the behaviour it motivates cannot depend on its being obvious. So I remain doubtful that laughter is a response to any objective value property, or properties.
    I’m aware that I’m still begging the question. But let me move on, and try to make the point for aesthetic emotions (the paradigm ‘non-standard’ emotions) more generally. .
    On aesthetic emotions. Just as practical specificity admits of degrees, so does the specificity of formal objects themselves. Let’s see first how this applies to ‘standard’ emotions, of which I shall continue to treat fear as the paradigm.
    Some philosophers (Roberts, Prinz) have proposed that all emotions are “concern-based construals.” That is pretty useless for either identifying particular emotions, or specifying their criteria of success, or generating an action tendency. I favour a conception of formal object that does all three. But Bailey is quite right in suggesting that it is “possible for two emotional experiences to feel different but nevertheless have the same formal object”. In a 2007 paper, Fabrice Teroni argued that formal objects were not sufficient to identify emotions, because the dangerous is the formal object of both thrill and fear, which are clearly different emotions.
    But note that both fear and thrill can be regarded as forms of excitement. Both could be responses to danger. The two can be distinguished, however, precisely by the action tendency they involve. If one regards fear and thrill as species (or better determinates) of the determinable, excitement, the determinable does not produce a single action tendency but each determinate does. Each is just further up on the scale of specificity. Still further along that scale of specificity, fear itself can lead to different ranges of action tendencies depending on its degree of cognitive elaboration. The responses now all seem intelligible in terms of fear’s formal object: they can be plausibly summed up in terms of avoidance or retreat appropriate to the type of danger concerned.
    Returning now to aesthetic emotions. There is indeed a generic form of response which pertains to the beautiful or the interesting as formal objects, namely (something like) a desire to contemplate and pay attention. But my point here was that particular works of art provoke essentially specific emotional responses; the specificity of those phenomenological responses has no analogue in any action tendency that could differentiate them. This is implied by the historical association of the aesthetic with disinterestedness. I have no doubt that the aesthetic, given its universal importance (cf. Ellen Dissanayake and many others) has biological origins, fulfilling a need at that generic level. That need may be related to play, which in adults appears to be unrelated to any particular biological needs but clearly has an essential function in the development of life-skills in all but the simplest animal species. But the point I was hoping to make is that in any particular case of disinterested aesthetic contemplation, the highly specific emotions elicited by a work of art are of the essence, and yet (as implied by the very word, disinterested) don’t dispose us to do anything in particular that reflects their distinctive character.
    In short, then, I think Bailey gets it exactly right when she proposes that at some level our responses to Bach and Rodin might be significantly the same, with awed contemplation as the appropriate response, while at a finer grained level the phenomenological difference remain very significant, but lack any specific differentiae in terms of any behavioral goals.
    I’m inclined to think this is accords with the conclusion I wanted to draw in the paper. Putting it very coarsely, the needs satisfied by art are general needs for attention to the particular at particular moments, and for diversity of experience over time. Those are real needs and the sort of things that meet them have objective value. But each of the specific particulars we attend to, and the specific experiences the diversity of which enthralls us, have value only subjectively, as projected by our individual preferences onto their targets.

    Ronnie de Sousa,
    Toronto, May 8, 2020

  2. Thanks, Ronnie and Olivia, for doing this. The paper is really great, Ronnie, and Olivia, your comments are spot on and ask just the right questions. I’m moved to some kind of aesthetic response here, but I’m not sure what I’m moved to do or how objectively valuable your remarks are.

    Jokes aside, I have a question about jokes. More specifically, amusement, which I do take to be a basic (pan-cultural) emotion. In your paper and above, Ronnie, you suggest the action tendency of amusement is laughter, and then you rightly wonder how the movements and breath release of laughter could serve any needs, even if amusement might be said to serve those needs. But the unquestioned assumption is that laughter is the correctly-characterized action-tendency of amusement. I don’t think that it is. Is laughter even an action? It’s a response, certainly, but why isn’t it more like a shiver than a flight (from danger)? Laughter also doesn’t track very well with amusement, e.g., nervous laughter, social laughter (most laughter in conversation with friends isn’t a response to anything funny), sarcastic laughter, and so forth. So the first task would be to get much clearer on the right action tendency of amusement. We also have to think about where most amusement occurs: not in response to formal jokes and stand-up performances; rather, in interpersonal life, where nearly all of amusement actually occurs. Amusement is a social emotion, most certainly, and the action-tendency may be something along the lines of “keeping the party going,” where the aim is social bonding, and the motivation is toward contributing to the maintenance of the frivolity and enjoyable experiences (as shared amusement most certainly is). Indeed, this sort of motivational impulse is rather squashed while watching a stand-up performance alone at home (during which laughter can actually be quite rare). When you see something genuinely amusing, what’s the real motivation? To share it with someone else (immediate text to good friend: “You have GOT to see this.”). Anyway, something along these lines seems quite plausible, and it could make the case for bringing amusement more closely in touch with your takes on fear and anger (as tracking more “real” values). (This is from some new work Dan Jacobson and I have been doing together.)

    I have other questions, which I’ll take up in a separate comment.

  3. Questions, part deux. I think that the values you take to be most real, Ronnie, pertaining to the emotions of fear and anger, aren’t that real after all. I’m a thoroughgoing response-dependent theorist about fear, anger, amusement, and other natural (basic/pancultural) emotions, and I don’t see any difference in their various ontological statuses. (I set aside higher aesthetic emotions like the response to the Rodin, because I think it’s just not pancultural.) You say that some emotion-value relations are best described by perceptivism, others by projectivism, and others by Wiggins’ no-priority view. I’m a projectivist for all natural emotions. This means talking you back from the cliff of perceptivism that you seem to adopt for emotions like fear and anger (but which you resist for amusement, which I take it, you would adopt perceptivism for?).

    So consider the argument you give in which the more we can intuit something that’s *shared* by the very different things causing some emotion, the more united and real it is (either perceived as such or as a function of co-evolution with a social dialectic). This is presumably the case with fear’s formal object easily glossed as *danger*, and anger’s formal object easily glossed as, well, what? You don’t really say. Injustice? That may be true for some moral offenses, but it doesn’t properly characterize (and unify) many other anger-causers, like a speeding driver weaving in and out of traffic, or your negligence or recklessness toward me on trivial matters. Perhaps, then, something like *slights*? I’d be happy with that, perhaps.

    You’ve got the action-tendency of anger as aggression, but is that the right characterization? It may be for some instances of anger, but there’s a more inclusive characterization that captures cases like writing an angry letter to your congressperson, or quietly shutting the door in my face after I come home late and drunk again, or my speaking to you firmly in a quaking voice after another bout of your disrespect — all of these are cases where *communication* is the action we are ready for. Aggression is a dramatic form of communication in response to slights, to be sure, but it’s only one form of the more inclusive action tendency.

    But even if we posit communication as anger’s action tendency, how do we account for all the cases of anger at non-agential things, like the weather that ruins my long-planned picnic, or the sidewalk whose cragginess trips me up when I’m walking? And what of babies who get angry? They aren’t responding to anything like injustice or even slights, surely. Are these instances of anger all unfitting? Are they not anger? If not, then we’ve got nearly identical phenomenologies with different formal objects (and different emotions?), with one anger-like emotion responding to goal-frustration (e.g., babies and anger at the weather), and another responding to slights.

    Now let’s suppose we restrict the relevant form of anger to a kind of agential anger in response to slights that tends to motivate its own communication. Sounds like the formal object is pretty clear and high-up on the objectivity ladder. But what are slights, precisely? Turns out that when you press on them, you can only get the full story by making essential reference to our responses. What unifies things like physical assault, psychological trauma, disrespect for the flag, impiety, disloyalty, mocking, negligence, recklessness, forgetting something you promised to pick up, omissions, and more as slights? At some point, you simply have to say: “These are all events to which we tend to respond in the angry way.” I argue for this point at length here: https://read.dukeupress.edu/the-philosophical-review/article-abstract/126/4/481/133090/Response-Dependent-Responsibility-or-A-Funny-Thing

    Finally(!): This point holds for fear as well. Yes, “dangerousness” seems like a fairly robustly objective value. But again, I don’t think that it is. For what could unite all of the wide variety of things some people count as dangerous: risk of physical harm, psychological abuse, financial failure, end of the world, a broken heart, flying, and many other things? Turns out that these are all just events that affect us in the fear-y way. D’Arms and Jacobson argue this point on the pages of the old PEA Soup from several years ago here: https://peasoup.typepad.com/peasoup/2014/02/featured-philosophers-darms-and-jacobson.html

    The upshot, then, is that, to me, it’s all projectivism, and it’s all on the same ontological level of value, from fear to anger to amusement.

    Sincere apologies for the length! I’ll stop here and thank you again for your great and thought-provoking paper.

  4. Ronnie, thanks for those responses to my comments. I’m very gratified that you feel I’ve understood what you are after. It’s interesting to me that you’re willing to go in for all three of the further theses I offered. I had thought you might not in part because of what looked to me like the possibility of pathological cases, cases in which we might get a formal object that renders intelligible a characteristic, specific action tendency, but where it looks like that action tendency will actual tend to our suffering or even our demise, rather than our survival or our flourishing, such that the connection to need will be severed. Self-hatred seems to have a formal object (the self’s awfulness) that renders intelligible quite specific behaviors (self-destructive conduct of various sorts). But self-hatred doesn’t seem broadly survival/flourishing conducive.

  5. Hi Professor deSousa. We’ve never met but I’m a big fan, and I really enjoyed reading the article. Here’s a brief synopsis to check my comprehension followed by some questions.
    I take it that the basic thought is something like the following (please correct me if I’m wrong.) The more specific the action rationalized by the emotion’s object, the more objective the value that the emotion is responding to. Why? Because the fact that a specific response is called for suggests that the value the emotion responds to can be characterized independently of the mind of the person experiencing the emotion. 
    (1) Just to be clear: what you take to indicate that an emotion is responding to a more objective value is a matter of whether the specific way in which a formal object is instantiated rationalizes a particular behavioral response, rather than say, how specific a characterization of an emotion’s general action tendency we can give? That is, what matters is whether, in a particular episode of (say) fear, the specific ways in which an object is dangerous (e.g. that it will charge if I make sudden movements) rationalizes a particular action (in this case, freezing as opposed to fleeing), as opposed to the fact that, in general, we can say that fear rationalizes attending to one’s immediate self-preservation? I ask because I wonder whether the right conclusion to draw isn’t that (say) the fearsome in general is a more objective property that the amusing or the beautiful, but rather that specific ways of being fearsome are more objectively (dis)valuable than specific ways of being amusing or beautiful. I feel like there’s a further (perhaps obvious) step to the more general claim that I’m missing. 
    (2) I’ve been talking of an emotion’s objection “rationalizing” a particular action-tendency, and I take it (given what you say at the end of the paper) that you would want to think of this type of “rationalizing” as prudential (or otherwise good). The picture is one on which some object may make an emotion fitting, but an action prudentially justified (or perhaps a good action for the agent to perform in some non-prudential way). But I myself am not adverse to thinking that actions can be fitting or or unfitting, especially when they are either part of or flow from an emotional response. I wonder if this complicates the picture. In particular, I’m thinking of the emotion of envy, which, though it is hard to justify prudentially, may nevertheless involve or give rise to actions that are fitting. Moreover, one might think that a particular way in which an object is enviable could make fitting a specific response done out of envy: E.g. I envy my neighbor’s car and so buy myself a better one. If this is right, then envy might meet the condition that a specific object seems to rationalize a specific behavioral response, and yet it might be difficult to explain how this tells us anything about a subject’s needs, and thus harder to conclude anything about the objectivity of the enviable. I wonder what you make of this. 
    (3) I also had a question in response to Professor Shoemaker’s comment: I’m very sympathetic to everything he says in defense of “projectivism,” but myself more inclined towards a (admittedly obscure) Wiggin’s-style “no priority” view, because I think it’s also very difficult to characterize a particular emotional response without reference to the formal object of that emotion. (This seems to me to be true especially in light of some of the challenges in finding a set of pan-culturally shared physiological responses to support the hypothesis of basic emotion theory.) I wonder what Professor Shoemaker thinks about that issue (if he happens to be following this thread)?

  6. Hi, Rachel. I really like your question about envy. In response to your question to me about the no-priority view, I’ll just say briefly (as I don’t want to hijack Ronnie’s and Olivia’s thread) that I like to identify and differentiate emotions by their action tendencies, which makes no reference to their formal objects (and which also much more easily allows emotions to be experienced across multiple species lines). And because one has to make essential reference to our responses in order to make sense of it, a gloss of the formal object can only be put in really rough and ready (read: vague) ways. Indeed, I prefer to simply add the “-some” or “-able” suffix to the emotion to characterize its formal object, e.g., the fearsome, the admirable, the enviable, etc.

  7. First, forgive my delay in responding to all these stimulating comments — I got distracted by a sudden flare-up of teaching-related chores.
    Let me start with David’s first set of remarks.
    Laughter certainly looks like a reflex in many cases, and of course it is triggered not only by amusement. But that shows that amusement requires to be understood in terms of a formal object rather than simply an action tendency — all the more so since as you suggest it isn’t really much of an action. So forget about laughter: let’s just talk of “finding funny” or hilarity. We understand the question What’s funny about that? as quite distinct from How can you make fun of something like that? (the “moralistic fallacy” consists in failing to make the difference.) But the great diversity of social roles played by the funny illustrates that we can be clear about what is funny independently of anything it makes us want to do. So in characterizing the fittingness of a funniness response, exploring its social ramifications doesn’t help much. We can’t dispense with the formal object. The social context of shared laughter is hugely important, but it doesn’t diminish the projective nature of the funny.
    In general—to address your second comment— I’m also tempted by thoroughgoing projectivism, which I expressed by my opening comments about the absurdity of absolute values existing independently of any sentient beings’ responses. But two considerations persuade me that some values are more subjective than others. The first is that I’ve always been worried about WHOSE responses matter: what’s the relation between what my individual preferences or desires project and what “human” preferences and desires project? Should any weight be given to the fact that most other people think a certain response is appropriate just on statistical grounds? What Griffiths called “affect programs” for some basic emotions have a generality that seems grounded in something like human needs, whether they are more narrowly biological or relevant more broadly to ‘flourishing’, as Olivia suggested. Some things might be true of me because I’m this kind of animal even though I don’t actually feel this myself. I agree about the great diversity of actual behaviours that any given emotion can give rise to, depending on the circumstances. But still, we do agree on the individuation of emotions by and large, even when we debate whether they are fitting, or strategically wise, or morally condonable. And in order to specify the first of that trio, I don’t see how we can do without formal objects in terms of which some action tendencies are more easily intelligible than others.
    This applies to fear and anger, which I have been taking as ‘standard’. Danger is something that can be objectively measured: something like extent and probability of damage. Given ordinary assumptions about self-preservation, this makes sense of some forms of behaviour but not others (though of course one can always tell a story to explain an implausible claim). So the nature of danger as formal object DOES make some responses intelligible. Anger is more complicated. Nonmoral anger is, as you suggest, quite well characterized in terms of ‘slight’, which makes aggressive goals intuitively intelligible. Moral anger or indignation relates to offenses not so much to an individual as to some general principle, such as justice. In those terms, I can understand it even when I don’t personally feel it. E.g. I understand why people are indignant about blasphemy even though it seems to me completely silly. But getting angry at the weather is intelligible only by supposing a kind of primitive ascription of agency to it, and so is definitely not fitting. Again, that appeals to the formal object of anger. Similar remarks it seem to be appropriate in the case of envy, which also splits between envy proper and emulation.
    Thank you for referring me to your paper on response-dependent responsibility. I look forward to looking it up; I myself have discussed this (I’ll be eager to see if our views overlap) in http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~sousa/MYTH-RESPONSIBILITY.docx.

    Pathological cases are always good to illustrate the difference between kinds of appropriateness. They are generally both unfitting and strategically irrational. But here as elsewhere, if something is really an ACTION, there must be SOME context, however narrow, which makes the action rational. If I am having a psychotic hallucination in which I literally see a windmill as a knight in armour, my charging the windmill is rational. But that wouldn’t be conducive to flourishing or survival. But for my response to be APT, as opposed to strategically rational, the windmill would have to be objectively dangerous. Still, we UNDERSTAND what it means to be angry at a charging knight, because we can supply the false belief that rationalizes it. All forms of rationality are context-relative.

    To your question whether we should say not that “the fearsome in general is a more objective property that the amusing or the beautiful, but rather that specific ways of being fearsome are more objectively (dis)valuable than specific ways of being amusing or beautiful.”:
    I was trying to address this in pointing out that emotional states are typically determinates of more general determinables. As we get to more specific states, we get more specific action tendencies; thus excitement at danger sets very vague goals, but when it takes the form of thrilling or of fear, the goals get more specific as well. And they get narrowed down even more when we distinguish low-level conceptual elaboration from high. So I THINK I would have to say the opposite of what you suggest: namely that specific values are more real than general ones. I do see that this might be problematic for my general thesis, so thanks for making me think about this. Off the top of my head, I’m tempted to say that needs can be more or less specific too, and that their reality as needs is not actually affected by their specificity. I might need to eat, as well as more specifically need vitamin C, and the value of eating in general and getting vitamin C in particular are equally real.
    On your (2): it seems you are asking whether I think the formal object rationalizes action in a prudential sense. If so I would definitely take that back. The way a formal object rationalizes a action tendency is logical rather than prudential. Again, it’s always important to avoid a moralistic (or prudential) fallacy: anger might be fitting and therefore render intelligible an aggressive response, but such a response might be prudentially and morally counterproductive.
    How this applies to your example of envy. I don’t really understand what “aptness” or “fittingness” might be when applied to ACTIONS: in the special sense I understand it, that word is a sort of technical term defined by neo-sentimentalist theories as a peculiar form of appropriateness that applies only to emotions, not to the behaviour they give rise to. Those behaviours can be prudentially or morally good or bad, and I agree that envy is usually bad, except when it takes the form of emulation which is sometimes taken to be a sort of benign form of envy.
    But that doesn’t address the question you ask about how envy relates to needs. Speculating in an evolutionary psychological vein, I would imagine that the capacity for envy is related to the very general and powerful importance of social status in primates. That would account for both malicious and benign envy, depending on whether it leads to attempts at leveling down or leveling up. The need imvolved is very general and also bifurcated. But on each side, puttting down a more privileged rival or emulating them, the types of behaviour rationalized by the formal object (which as David observes is probably best referred to with a somewhat trivial noun, such as the enviable) can again be more or less specific, depending on whether my envy is specifically directed at my rival’s poetic gifts, or her Tesla, or the glamour of her partner.
    As for (3), you comment to David: I could sum up the view I have been pushing by saying that Wiggins’s “no priority” view is just what you get about SOME forms of aptness — and the amusing might be a particularly good case,—which lie just in the middle of the sliding scale that goes from the most objectively grounded to the purely subjective. But there are items at both ends of that sliding scale as well as in the middle.

  10. Thanks very much for your replies, all! Professor deSousa, your reply to my second question helped me much better understand how you’re thinking about the relation between an emotion’s object and its action-tendency. For what it’s worth, I think it’s fine to speak of an action’s being “fitting” to some object in exactly those cases in which you would call it “rendered intelligible” by the formal object of an emotion, but it sounds likes you have further reasons for wanting to limit talk of fittingness only to emotions themselves which would be interesting to discuss sometime. Thanks again!

  11. Oops that last reply was from me (obviously)! Forgot to post my name!

  12. To Professor Achs:
    Thank you for your further comment. You are right that just given the fact that ‘apt’ and ‘fitting’ are used as terms of art to zero in on the kind of appropriateness specific to emotions (and distinct from moral or prudential appropriateness), we could speak of action tendencies as apt or fitting iff they are those that are rendered intelligible by the emotion’s formal object. This is merely a terminological point. My resistance stemmed from my feeling that ‘apt’ or ‘fitting’ don’t have a common use in relation to action, and would be understood as just meaning appropriate. But it might be misleading to use those terms without qualification, since there are other evaluative dimensions for action, such as being impulsive, or conterproductive, or morally unconscionable. To me it would sound odd to say that some action was apt but counterproductove or fitting but unconscionable.

    In further response to David::

    In the light of the arguments of D’Arms and Jacobson in PEAsoup (Feb 14 2014) to which David was good enough to refer me, I have to concede that I overestimated the prospect of a response-independent specification of danger. D&J argue convincingly that neither the notion of harm nor that of likelihood can be relevantly specified independently of the notion of meriting fear. So the relevant notion of danger may not have the robust objective reality I was inclined to attribute to it in yesterday’s post. But on this it might help to note Christine Tappolet’s observation that a certain value concept might be response-dependent, yet refer to a response-independent property. Just as I could not acquire or define the concept of a red hue without experiencing my sensory response to it, so I could not acquire the concept of the fearsome without experiencing my own fear response. But in the case of hue, that does not preclude the possibility that what elicits that experience is a specific observer-independent physical property. It’s just enormously complicated, involving ratios of light frequencies detected by three different types of receptors and processed by the human visual system according to specific algorithms. Similarly, Tappolet suggested, there may be an response-independent set of properties on which the value supervenes which makes fear apt. Those might be so complicated that there is no hope of defining them in response-independent ways. So I might grant that my concept of danger cannot be defined in response-independent terms, and yet maintain that there is an objective set of conditions that make the response apt. Those properties might then relate in different ways to a subject’s wants and needs. I want to say that needs are more likely to be shared by members of the same species or even animals generally; they are then more plausibly identified with values, and seen as independent of my subjective desires. In contrast, my aesthetic and other tastes may well be determined by equally real characteristics of my genome and biography, but it makes more sense to think of them as just subjective. (De gustibus non disputandum, but values are definitely disputanda because of their claim to generality).

  13. Thanks for your detailed response, Ronnie. There is much here that could be pursued, but I’ll just thank you again for your rich paper, which has me thinking hard. And thanks also for the reference, which I look forward to reading!

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