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Detail of contribution

Auteur: Larry HERZBERG

Are Emotional Feelings Perceptual?

Abstract/Résumé: In his "Origins of Objectivity" (2010), Tyler Burge describes in considerable detail what he argues is the lower border of mental representation. On the non-representational side of this border lie mere sensory registrations. Although such registrations are caused by environmental impingements on the organism's sensory surfaces and are capable of guiding adaptive behaviors, they lack non-trivial veridicality conditions: no explanatory purpose is served by viewing them as accurately or inaccurately representing anything. On the representational side of the border, prior to thoughts with propositionally structured contents, lie sense perceptions properly so-called. These are mental states produced by processes that take sensory registrations as input, but subsequently utilize "perceptual constancies" - capacities for "objectification" that are inferable from an organism's behavior - to produce representations of a mind-independent, perspective-independent reality. Such perceptual states have accuracy conditions that are different from, and more specific than, the conditions of biological success that help to explain capacities for sensory registration. I believe that Burge's way of distinguishing between sensory registration and sense perception has much to recommend it. However, it leaves several important issues unresolved, including the question of whether emotional feelings should be viewed as sensory registrations or whether, on the contrary, they might qualify as perceptually representational. In this paper I begin to answer this question by considering how Jesse Prinz's (2004) "perceptual" theory of emotion fares under Burge's framework. Prinz argues on teleosemantic grounds that although emotional feelings are sensory registrations of bodily conditions, they represent significant organism-environment relations - namely, what R.S. Lazarus calls "core relational themes". I begin by noting that since Burge rejects teleosemantic theories of perceptual representation in favor of his own more stringent view, and since in addition there are significant disanalogies between sense perceptions (as Burge conceives of them) and emotional feelings (as Prinz conceives of them), it might seem that he should reject Prinz's view out of hand. Nevertheless, I argue that there is still a way in which such feelings can qualify as perceptual within Burge's framework, and even retain their Prinzian content. By attending to the ways in which emotional feelings are caused by - and, more importantly, subsequently associated with - independently produced perceptual states, I argue that the view that emotional feelings represent core relational themes is indeed consistent with Burge's framework.