Emotions

Leonid Fainberg
Issue CXXXVII - December 29, 2007
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Leonid Fainberg is an Objectivist philosopher and a contributor to The Rational Argumentator.


Consider these statements.

 
        A                                                      B
1. I feel cold.                                           1. I feel sad
 
2. I feel pain.                                           2. I feel elated
 
3. I feel hungry.                                       3. I feel angry
 
4. I feel bitterness.                                   4. I feel bitterness
  (after eating almonds)                                  (I lost my job)
 
5. I feel sick.                                            5. I feel fear
 
In both columns "A" and "B," I brought examples of what we used to describe by single word: feelings. However, as a matter of fact, the examples in column A are opposite to those of "B".
 
"A" represents sensations and "B" represents emotions. And there is a huge difference between them.
 
Sensations are inputs of our sensory organs. They are innate, self-evident, irreducible primaries. We have no choice about to feel or not to feel pain as long as our neural system is intact.
 
Emotions are different cup of epistemological tea.
 
They are the output of our subconsciousness, reactions to certain stimuli. They are automatic but not primaries. Emotions are our response, and this response is secondary to the content of our mind. Consider the situation in which one is facing a danger (say, a poisoning snake). Before one responds with any emotion, like fear or anger,  one has to recognize the danger. If one never learned about snakes, one won't feel anything toward it. If in the process of encounter, one will learn that this snake is actually harmless, his fear will disappear. Our emotions are responses to previously integrated knowledge, time-saving device of automatic value-judgment. That means that emotions can and should be controlled by the conscious mind. It would be preposterous if one would continue to fear the snake after one had learned that this snake is not dangerous. It would be silly to carry on loving the person who proved that he/she doesn't deserve love... and so on.
The problem (which I think is mainly linguistic, since we describe emotions and sensations by the same word "feelings”) is that we often confuse emotions and sensations and treat emotions as irreducible primaries, like sensations. That removes emotions from the supervision of our consciousness and therefore prevents adjustment of our emotional response to reality. Since emotions are value-judgments, emotional response depends on one's code of values. If one’s emotions are inadequate, one should consider reviewing one’s values.

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