There Are No Irrational Emotions.
Forthcoming in Pacific Philosophical Quarterly.
Folk and philosophers alike argue whether particular emotions are rational. However, these debates presuppose that emotions are eligible for rationality. Drawing on examples of how we manage our own emotions through strategies such as taking medication, I argue that the general permissibility of such management demonstrates that emotions are ineligible for rationality. It follows that emotions are never irrational or rational. Since neither perception nor emotion are eligible for rationality, this reveals a significant epistemic continuity between them, lending support to perceptual views of emotion.
Planescape: Torment as Philosophy: Regret Can Change the Nature of a Man.
Forthcoming in the Palgrave Handbook of Popular Culture as Philosophy.
In the video game Planescape: Torment, players assume the role of the Nameless One, an immortal being who suffers from amnesia. By making choices for the Nameless One, players decide not only what happens to the Nameless One, but also the development of his moral character. In this way, Planescape: Torment invites its players to consider “what can change the nature of a man.” In the game’s canonical ending, the Nameless One regrets the great harm he inflicted on others, and he gives up his immortality to amend his wrongdoing. Thus, the game holds that it is regret that can change someone’s moral character for the better. A defense of this claim about regret can be found in Aristotle’s view that one must practice virtuous actions in order to develop the moral virtues. The alignment system of Planescape: Torment demonstrates a similar connection between action and character: the Nameless One improves his moral character by taking selfless actions. Since regret motivates one to practice virtuous action to make amends for one’s wrongdoing, regret enables one to develop virtue, and so better moral character. Although Spinoza argues that we should avoid feeling regret because it makes us miserable, Planescape: Torment suggests that the painfulness of regret is what makes it an effective source of motivation to practice virtuous actions.
Works in Progress
The Rational Role of Anger
I argue that emotions such as anger help explain why one is subject to certain rational requirements. For example, when one is angry at someone’s insult, one possesses a reason to retaliate against that person. I observe that merely knowing that the insult occurred is insufficient for one’s possession of this reason – one must also appreciate the normative significance of that insult (i.e., that it merits retaliation). I propose that one’s anger can satisfy this practical condition required for one to possess a reason. Thus, it is in virtue of one’s anger that one appreciates that someone’s actions (such as the insult) provide a reason to retaliate against that person.
How to Avoid Emotional Defeat.
A conspicuous absence of emotion seems to undermine particular evaluative judgments. For example, suppose that I judge that my breakup with my partner will be a great loss to me. However, I do not feel sad when the breakup occurs. Now I have a reason to disbelieve my initial judgment: our breakup was not a great loss to me. The best explanation for this phenomenon is that emotions themselves are reliable sources of reasons for evaluative judgments. This has an important consequence for our regulation of emotions: to prevent someone from undergoing a fitting emotion may provide them with a defeater that strips away their possession of a reason.
Virtue Ethics and Character Lapses.
Sometimes we perform the right action for the wrong reasons, even when we are otherwise virtuous. I argue that this is a distinctive moral failing that involves missing out on the valuable experience of acting virtuously.
The Phenomenology of Episodic Memory.
I argue that the feeling of recalling past experiences is not the result of (or identical to) any sensory phenomenology or judgments about the pastness of events.