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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The architecture of emotion experience

  • Author(s): Damm, Lisa Marie
  • et al.

This project begins with a theoretical and methodological critique of contemporary empirically driven emotion theories. I advocate the rejection of three commonly embraced, but ultimately mistaken perspectives on the nature of emotion: (1) the basic emotions approach; (2) biological reductionism; and (3) the natural kinds approach. I unpack the substance of each of these views and I argue that the empirical data fail to substantiate these claims and that theoretical considerations further push against these claims. I then construct an alternative view that seeks to both makes sense of the empirical emotion data and is consistent with the emerging understanding of the architecture of the brain. The result is a theoretical framework that explains emotions as synthetic multimodal constructs and that characterizes the emotion construction process as a temporally extended, feedback oriented, multimodal, prediction driven process that is critically dependent upon previous learning. I argue that categorization plays an essential role both in individuating emotion experiences from other types of experiences and in differentiating within the category of emotion experiences, e.g. differentiating happiness from sadness. In the remaining two chapters I examine issues related to the epistemological and the motivation role of emotion. I provide an account of self-deception involving emotion experiences and argue that this suggests that emotions are a fallible source of knowledge. Next, I argue that empathy, understood as a process, is a way in which emotions provide a unique source of knowledge. Last, I discuss the role of emotion in moral reasoning and I argue for caution in treating emotions as a source of normativity in grounding moral judgments and suggest an alternative epistemological role for emotions in the process of moral perception. I focus on the potential motivational role of emotion involving moral actions via a discussion of moral agency. I examine in depth the morally relevant capacities of individuals with psychopathy, autism, and acquired sociopathy. I argue that none of these individuals meet the proposed criteria for moral agency. This argument exposes the critical role that emotion plays in moral reasoning and action since all of these individuals experience emotion related impairments.

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