Bennett W Helm Elijah E. Kresge Professor of Philosophy
- PhD in Philosophy, University of Pittsburgh, 1994
- MA in Philosophy, University of Pittsburgh, 1990
- BA in Philosophy, Carleton College, 1988
The central aim of my research has been to understand more deeply the kind of rationality characteristic of us persons, and I have argued both (a) that such rationality, rather than being opposed to the emotions, instead is an essentially emotional rationality (what I call a “rationality of import”) and (b) that such rationality is not intelligible apart from our social relations with others. Consequently, I believe it is a mistake to conceive of us persons as divided into distinct theoretical and practical sides or to approach understanding personhood via distinct metaphysical and moral notions. The rationality of import, as I have understood it, is simultaneously both practical and theoretical: our being the sort of epistemic agents we are rests on our practical capacities collectively to value (and to hold each other responsible to) public, objective truth, and our being the sort of moral agents we are depends on our epistemic abilities to contest and so ultimately to discover what has objective value. Moreover, the “metaphysical” capacities we have for autonomous, rational, and responsible agency are capacities we ourselves construct via the interpersonal commitments to import we collectively undertake. The result is that through our practical agency, we jointly construct ourselves as persons in a way that is simultaneously answerable to our experience of personhood itself.
I reach this conclusion over the course of three books in which I find moral psychology and value theory deeply intertwined with philosophy of mind and emotions and with social ontology. My work is highly systematic, with these books taking me from a consideration of (1) intrapersonal values and identity, to (2) interpersonal values in intimate relationships, to (3) communal norms and values in the context of non-intimate “communities of respect”, all of which lead to my current research to the objectivity of social identities.
Emotional Reason (CUP, 2001).
One characteristic of us persons is that we value things as a part of the kind of life we each find worth living, thereby partially constituting our identities as the particular persons we are, such that part of our autonomy consists in our ability to determine what our values shall be. On the other hand, we persons can also rationally deliberate about what really is valuable in our lives, thereby potentially coming to discover who we are. Yet such autonomous invention and rational discovery of personal values might seem to be in tension with one another (how can personal values be something we simultaneously both invent and discover?), and this book aims to resolve that tension by developing an account of the relation between emotions and value (or of “import” more generally) that enables me to reject the rational and ontological priority implicit in this formulation of the tension.
In developing this account, I focus not on particular kinds of emotions but rather on the sorts of rational patterns emotions can form, arguing that such patterns constitute what it is for things to have import to one. The kind of rationality involved in these patterns of emotions is what I call a “rationality of import”, and it does not fit neatly into standard ways of thinking about practical or theoretical rationality. If we accept (as I do) the Davidsonian thesis that mental capacities are to be understood in terms of rationality, such a rethinking of rationality means reconceiving the nature of the mind quite generally and of believing and desiring in particular. This enables me to make sense of the distinctive rational role emotions play both in relation to desire and evaluative judgment, thereby dissolving the above tension, and in relation to motivation, thereby making intelligible how we can have rational control over what we do and yet be susceptible to even strong forms of weakness of will. Indeed, I argue that this is essential to presenting an account of the mind adequate to a serious moral psychology.
Love, Friendship, and the Self (OUP, 2010).
We persons are social animals, partly insofar as we are able to form intimate relationships with others and thereby can come to share our lives, our identities, and our capacity for autonomy with others in relationships of love and friendship. In this book, I argue against various forms of individualism and egocentrism I find implicit in many other accounts of love and friendship, and I present an alternative account of love as intimate identification in terms of interpersonal rational patterns of emotions. On the one hand this enables me to explain how a caregiver in a loving relationship with a child can provide the child with access to reasons (for being neat or for being moral) that otherwise might seem “external” to the child’s existing motivations. On the other hand, this account of love enables me to present a rich account of shared agency and ultimately of friendship in terms of the notions of plural agents (who not only share certain ends but also the cares motivating those ends) and plural persons (who share values and hence a conception of the kind of life worth their living together) and to show how they can, partly through their rationally intertwined emotions, deliberate together and exercise joint autonomy over their shared lives.
Communities of Respect (OUP, 2017).
To make sense of persons, we must consider as well the non-intimate relationships we have with others who are in community with us. In this book I join other Strawsonians in thinking that the reactive attitudes and the ways we hold each other responsible is central to our being responsible agents at all. Yet in contrast to other accounts, I reject the explanatory priority of the reactive attitudes over our being responsible agents: our reactive attitudes are appropriate in part because they are directed at responsible agents, while simultaneously someone is a responsible agent because they are an appropriate target of the reactive attitudes. I make sense of such circularity as non-vicious by appealing to interpersonal, rational patterns of reactive attitudes, which I argue constitute the community itself, communal norms and values as our norms and values, and so individual members of the community as bound by those norms and as having the authority to hold each other responsible to them. Consequently, we in the community collectively respect each other as members, and each as one of us ought therefore to respect the others as members. Such an account is not second-personal but first-person plural, a conclusion that has several important implications for the social dimension of us persons. First, responsibility is social: to be a responsible agent requires that one have the capacity for reactive attitudes, a capacity that one can develop and sustain only as a member of a community of respect. Second, rationality is social: insofar as it is we collectively who have authority over ourselves, we must reject a Humean conception of practical reason (as depending on one’s “subjective motivation set”, say) and recognize an essentially social dimension to practical reason and the possible connections and conflicts among such social reasons and individual reasons grounded in, for example, personal values. Finally, identity is social: a community of respect can shape and define certain social identities by prescribing or proscribing communal values as elements of the kind of life worth its members living.
In the last few years I have begun to apply these ideas to the topic of social construction, especially of social roles and identities. Social roles and identities presuppose an at least rough-and-ready understanding of them in virtue of which the various communal norms and values that partly define them hang together as a coherent whole that can have a point in our lives. Indeed, these understandings must normally come to inform the patterns of participants’ reactive attitudes constituting those norms and values and hence the role itself. This makes room for the possibility that participants’ experiences of themselves as occupants of these roles is inconsistent with the background understandings and point, providing empirical purchase for rationally contesting those understandings and hence the norms and roles themselves. Whereas others think about such contestation as grounded in unjust consequences of these social roles, my claim is that they can also be grounded in the roles themselves being ontologically misconstructed. That is, our construction of social roles and identities can be objective in that our activities of construction can come to be answerable to the very roles and identities they thereby construct in a way that opens up the possibility of our getting these roles and identities themselves wrong.
Ultimately my aim is to provide an account of moral values as the communal values of the community of respect of all persons, a community in which these values and our personhood itself are both socially constructed and contestable.
Grants & Awards
- Cowling Distinguished Visiting Professor of Philosophy, Carleton College (2018)
- Templeton Foundation Grant (2012–15): Love and Human Agency: An Interdisciplinary Investigation (with Agnieszka Jaworska and Jeffrey Seidman), $640,317
- NEH Fellowship (2012–13): “Defining Moral Communities: Respect, Dignity, and the Reactive Attitudes”, $50,400
- Laurance S. Rockefeller Visiting Faculty Fellow (2012–13), Princeton University Center for Human Values, $47,000
- Bradley R. Dewey Award for Outstanding Scholarship (2012), Franklin & Marshall College
- Brocher Foundation Award (2011) for a workshop on “The Neuroethics of Caring” (with Agnieszka Jaworska), $36,000
- NEH Fellowship (2005–06): “Love, Friendship and the Self: The Emotional and Interpersonal Grounds of Autonomy”, $40,000
- NSF-CCLI Grant (2001–04): Creation of Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (with Tony Chemero), $173,281
- ACLS Fellowship (1998–99): “Emotion, Judgment, and Practical Reason: How to Deliberate about Value”, $20,000
- NEH Summer Stipend (1998): “Reason, Emotion, and Evaluative Judgment: How to Think about the Meaning of Life”, $6,000
- Communities of Respect: Persons, Dignity, and the Reactive Attitudes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), (Publisher Link).
Communities of respect are communities of people sharing common practices or a (partial) way of life; they include families, clubs, religious groups, and political parties. This book develops a detailed account of such communities in terms of the rational structure of their members’ reactive attitudes, arguing that they are fundamental in three interrelated ways to understanding what it is to be a person. First, it is only by being a member of a community of respect that one can be a responsible agent having dignity; such an agent therefore has certain rights as well as the authority to demand that fellow members recognize her dignity and follow the norms of the community, norms compliance with which they likewise have the authority to demand from her. Second, by prescribing or proscribing both actions and values, communities of respect can shape the identities of its members in ways that others have the authority to enforce, thereby revealing an important interpersonal dimension of the identities of persons. Finally, all of this is grounded in a distinctively interpersonal form of practical rationality in virtue of which we jointly have reasons to recognize the dignity and authority of fellow members and so to comply with their authoritative demands, as well as to respect (and so comply with) the norms of the community. Hence we persons are essentially social creatures.
- Love, Friendship, and the Self: Intimacy, Identification, and the Social Nature of
Persons (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), (Publisher Link).
Recent Western thought has consistently emphasized the individualistic strand in our understanding of persons at the expense of the social strand. Thus, it is generally thought that persons are self-determining and autonomous, where these are understood to be capacities we exercise most fully on our own, apart from others, whose influence on us tends to undermine that autonomy. Love, Friendship, and the Self argues that we must reject a strongly individualistic conception of persons if we are to make sense of significant interpersonal relationships and the importance they can have in our lives. It presents a new account of love as intimate identification and of friendship as a kind of plural agency, in each case grounding and analyzing these notions in terms of interpersonal emotions. At the center of this account is an analysis of how our emotional connectedness with others is essential to our very capacities for autonomy and self-determination: we are rational and autonomous only because of and through our inherently social nature. By focusing on the role that relationships of love and friendship have both in the initial formation of our selves and in the on-going development and maturation of adult persons, Helm significantly alters our understanding of persons and the kind of psychology we persons have as moral and social beings.
- Emotional Reason: Deliberation, Motivation, and the Nature of Value (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), (Publisher Link).
How can we motivate ourselves to do what we think we ought? How can we deliberate about personal values and priorities? Bennett Helm argues that standard philosophical answers to these questions presuppose a sharp distinction between cognition and conation that undermines an adequate understanding of values and their connection to motivation and deliberation. Rejecting this distinction, Helm argues that emotions are fundamental to any account of value and motivation, and he develops a detailed alternative theory both of emotions, desires and evaluative judgements and of their rational interconnections. The result is an innovative theory of practical rationality and of how we can control not only what we do but also what we value and who we are as persons.
Links to published articles are mostly to late drafts; see the relevant journals or volumes for the definitive versions. Comments on any of these would be appreciated.
- “Cognitivist Theories of Emotions,” in Handbook of Emotion Theory, ed. Andrea Scarantino (New York: Routledge, forthcoming), XX–XX.
Cognitivist theories of emotions understand emotions to be caused or constituted by “cognitions”: information-carrying mental states that are to be distinguished not only from non-intentional “feelings” but also from desire-like states. This chapter identifies some criteria in terms of which any theory of the emotions can be assessed and reviews the central philosophical and psychological versions of cognitivism in light of these criteria. Finally, the chapter raises three interrelated problems for specifically cognitivist theories of emotions (the problem of circularity, the problem of recalcitrance, and the problem of phenomenal unity), and suggests that solving them requires blurring or rejecting the distinction between cognitions and other types of mental states, a distinction at the foundation of cognitivist theories of emotions.
- “Hate, Identification, and Othering,” American Philosophical Quarterly 60, no. 3 (2023): 289–310, (Publisher Link).
This paper argues that hate differs from mere disliking in terms of its “depth”, which is understood via a notion of “othering”, whereby one rejects at least some aspect of the identity of the target of hate, identifying oneself as not being what they are. Fleshing this out reveals important differences between personal hate, which targets a particular individual, and impersonal hate, which targets groups of people. Moreover, impersonal hate requires focusing on the place hate has within particular sorts of communities, enabling a further important distinction between “insider” and “outsider” hate in terms of whether the hater includes members of the targeted group within a particular community or rejects them as “beneath” membership in that community.
- “Emotions and the Contestation of Social Identities,” in Emotional Self-Knowledge, ed. Alba Montes Sánchez and Alessandro Salice (New York: Routledge, 2023), 73–102,
This chapter aims to understand the role of emotions in our knowledge of social identities. A central concern is to understand how social identities, while being socially constructed, can nonetheless be objective in the sense that we can be right or wrong not only about what social identities a particular person has but also about what social identities there are and how to understand them. Social identities are understood as social roles defined by certain communal norms and values within a particular kind of community: a community of respect. Such norms and values in turn are constructed by complex social structures of emotionally grounded, conceptually informed practices within the community. It is argued that emotions are simultaneously experiences of and commitments to these norms and values, and hence that the objectivity of the social identities they construct is possible when participants in the community are able to achieve a reflective equilibrium among their emotions, the concepts informing these emotions, and a theory that both partially articulates these concepts and purports to justify the norms and practices to which they are committed via these emotional experiences.
- “Affective Intentionality and the Reactive Attitudes,” chap. 20 in The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology of Emotion, 1st ed., ed. Thomas Szanto and Hilge Landweer, Routledge Handbooks in Philosophy
(Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2020), 227–38, (Publisher Link).
How should we understand the phenomenology of emotions? One standard way is to distinguish sharply between their intentionality and their phenomenology, understanding their phenomenology in terms of something like “bodily sensations”, which are simply added on to an independent account of their intentionality. I have elsewhere (Helm, 2011) argued that this strategy fails and that we should instead understand emotions to be “felt evaluations”: phenomenological feelings with evaluative content or, alternately, a distinctively affective form of intentionality. This paper repeats those arguments and extends them to thinking about the reactive attitudes: emotions like gratitude, resentment, approbation, and guilt. In particular, the phenomenology of the reactive attitudes cannot be neatly distinguished from the thought that their targets are responsible for wronging or benefiting me. In applying my earlier account to the reactive attitudes, I shall make apparent commonly ignored aspects of the affectivity of the reactive attitudes, whereby they bind us together through our having shared values and communal norms.
- “L’Amitié,” in Petit Traité Des Valeurs, ed. Julien Deonna and Emma Tieffenbach (Paris: Ithaque, 2018), 14–21.
Many have argued that friendship is central to living a fulfilling life. Yet there is a remarkable diversity of kinds of friendship. Setting aside Facebook “friends”—people tagged as friends on social media but who are not friends in any meaningful sense—the kind of intimacy involved in friendship can vary widely, from acquaintance friends to life partners; and the context and scope of friendship can likewise vary, from tennis buddies, who meet to play once a month, to life partners, who share their lives with each other in ways they together find important. Part of the challenge in understanding friendship and its value, therefore, lies in recognizing the types or ranges of intimacy, context, and scope that friendship can involve.
- “Personal Relationships and Blame: Scanlon and the Reactive Attitudes,” in Social Dimensions of Moral Responsibility, ed. Katrina Hutchison, Catriona Mackenzie, and Marina Oshana (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2018), (Publisher Link).
Tim Scanlon has recently argued that an action is blameworthy if it “show[s] something about the agent’s attitudes toward others that impairs the relations that others can have with him or her” and hence that “to blame a person is to judge him or her to be blameworthy and to take your relationship with him or her to be modified in a way that this judgment of impaired relations holds to be appropriate” (Moral Dimensions, 128–29). Given this, Scanlon argues, reactive attitude accounts of blame, while they can capture some of the ways blaming attitudes vary depending on one’s relationship to the wrongdoer, are in general “too thin” and cannot explain all the relevant changes in our attitudes, “including changes in our readiness to interact with [the wrongdoer] in specific ways” (143). Yet Scanlon does not provide clear accounts of what types of relationships matter for blame and how violations of the “standards” of these relationships justifies what new attitudes. My aim is to address this. To do this, we need to turn not merely to particular reactive attitudes but to broad, interpersonal rational patterns of reactive attitudes in terms of which we can make sense of what I have come to call “communities of respect”. My claim is that the sort of relationship whose impairment is relevant to blame is that of co-membership in a community of respect, so that the significance of the agent’s wrongdoing relevant for blame is the significance those actions and attitudes have for us in the community. However, accommodating the variability of blame on which Scanlon rightly insists requires a more careful examination of two additional factors that affect how it is proper for one to respond to the impairment to those relationships that the wrongdoing represents: one’s role in a given case as perpetrator, victim, or witness, and one’s personal commitments. For, I argue, these factors provide one with excuses for failing to treat the perpetrator with the normal trust and respect we demand of each other, and the validity of these excuses itself depends on the overall rational structure of the patterns of reactive attitudes within the community. Consequently, both the individual and the community are important in defining the relationships and modifications of relationships that are central to blame; however, such modifications to personal relationships are a consequence of blame rather than, as Scanlon claims, part of its content.
- “Gratitude and Norms: On the Social Function of Gratitude,” in Moral Psychology of Gratitude, ed. Robert C. Roberts and Daniel Telech (London: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers,
As a reactive attitude, gratitude is focused on a particular community of respect, subfocused on norms and members of that community, and therefore has certain interpersonal, rational connections with other reactive attitudes. For this reason, gratitude cannot be understood except in terms of these connections to other emotions and to the relevant forms of caring. While there is an important sense in which this holistic approach to reactive attitudes calls into question the value of analyzing discrete emotions, this approach simultaneously sheds light on two traditional problems about gratitude. The first concerns whether gratitude requires that the benefactor have certain intentions to benefit ( — is benevolence a component of gratitude’s formal object?). The second problem is whether gratitude is appropriate as a response to obligatory beneficence. A resolution to both of these problems is available when consideration is given to the interpersonal, rational connections among the reactive attitudes and the role respect plays in this nexus. I conclude by noting the ways in which gratitude, like interpersonal trust, serves as a kind of invitation to community, and can thereby sustain and deepen the sort of default trust presupposed by communities of respect.
- “Truth, Objectivity, and Emotional Caring: Filling in the Gaps of Haugeland’s Existentialist
Ontology,” in Giving a Damn: Essays in Dialogue with John Haugeland, ed. Zed Adams and Jacob Browning (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2017), 213–41.
In a remarkable series of papers, Haugeland lays out what is both a striking interpretation of Heidegger and a compelling account of objectivity and truth. Central to his account is a notion of existential commitment: a commitment to insist that one’s understanding of the world succeeds in making sense of the phenomena and so potentially to change or give up on that understanding in the face of apparently impossible phenomena. Although Haugeland never gives a clear account of existential commitment, he claims that it is fundamentally an individual matter. This, I argue, is a mistake that fails to make sense of the public, shared nature of the objective world. Instead, I offer an account of existential commitment as one we undertake jointly, and I analyze it (and the corresponding responsibility) in terms of interpersonal rational patterns of reactive attitudes: emotions like resentment, gratitude, indignation, approbation, guilt, and trust. The upshot is that our existential commitment is not only to a shared, objective world but also to each other such that our ability individually to take responsibility for our understanding of the world is intelligible only in terms of others’ being able to hold us responsible for it.
- “Emotional Expression, Import, and the Reactive Attitudes,” in Expression of Emotion: Philosophical, Psychological and Legal Perspectives, ed. Catherine Abell and Joel Smith (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2016),
After distinguishing between evincings and expressions of emotions, I argue that emotional expressions are more than mere reports of the content of emotions. Rather, they are expressions of commitments to the values underlying these emotions. Central to this argument is an understanding of the expression of the reactive attitudes—emotions like gratitude, resentment, approbation, and guilt. For in expressing the reactive attitudes we call others to account in light of shared norms, thereby not merely communicating a positive or negative evaluation of the other’s actions but also expressing the underlying values as our values in a way that can preserve and reinforce this shared sense of value.
- “Rationality, Authority, and Bindingness: An Account of Communal Norms,” in Oxford Studies in Agency and Responsibility, ed. David Shoemaker, vol. 3 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 189–212, (Publisher Link).
How can we be bound or obligated to the norms of particular communities? How can other community members have authority to hold us responsible and demand compliance? I argue that the bindingness of communal norms has its source in our joint commitment to the community and to each other, a commitment that is implicit in the rational structures of reactive attitudes we display in response to each other. In having a reactive attitude, one holds its target responsible to certain norms and calls on others likewise to hold her responsible, thereby both asserting one’s own authority and recognizing the authority of others to demand compliance with the norms. When this call is taken up by others, the interpersonal rational structure of these reactive attitudes constitutes our jointly granting such authority to ourselves and so binding ourselves to the norms.
- “Emotions and Recalcitrance: Reevaluating the Perceptual Model,” dialectica 69, no. 3 (2015): 417–33, (Publisher Link).
One central argument in favor of perceptual accounts of emotions concerns recalcitrant emotions: emotions that persist in the face of repudiating judgments. For, it is argued, to understand how the conflict between recalcitrant emotions and judgment falls short of incoherence in judgment, we need to understand recalcitrant emotions to be something like perceptual illusions of value, so that in normal, non-recalcitrant cases emotions are non-illusory perceptions of value. I argue that these arguments fail and that a closer examination of recalcitrant emotions reveals important disanalogies with perception that undermine the perceptual model of emotions.
- “Trust as a Reactive Attitude,” in Oxford Studies in Agency and Responsibility: “Freedom and Resentment” at Fifty, ed. David W. Shoemaker and Neal Tognazzini (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014),
187–215, (Publisher Link).
The reactive attitudes are central to our practices of holding each other responsible and so to a certain form of human community. This paper argues that trust is a reactive attitude—indeed that without self, personal, and vicarious reactive trust these practices, this form of human community, and responsible agency would not be possible. Moreover, understanding trust in this way helps resolve several problems that have confronted philosophers thinking about trust, including the distinction between trust and reliance, the conditions of the rationality of trust and the nature of trustworthiness, and how my trust can motivate your behavior.
- “Emotional Communities of Respect,” in Collective Emotions, ed. Christian von Sheve and Mikko Salmela (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014),
47–60, (Publisher Link).
My aim in this paper is to step back from an investigation of particular emotions and the way such emotions might have social dimensions, thereby bringing into view a broader emotional phenomenon—in general, the phenomenon of caring—that itself can have social dimensions. I have long argued that caring is to be understood in terms of a distinctive rational pattern of emotions. In saying that caring itself can have a social dimension, I mean in part that the relevant pattern of rationality is one that extends across multiple persons, so that what it is rational for me to feel is tied to what it is rational for others to feel. This is the case, I shall argue, for the reactive emotions, which are emotions, like resentment, indignation, gratitude, approbation, and guilt, that we feel in response to the good or ill will one person shows to another. For if you resent me, I ought to feel guilty and others ought to feel indignation or disapprobation. Indeed, your resentment in effect calls on others to feel these reactive emotions, and (other things being equal) others’ failure to feel them is a failure properly to respond to you as someone worthy of our respect. By examining the interpersonal rational interconnections among the reactive emotions, I shall argue that the resulting rational patterns constitute that respect which we owe each other and thereby constitute this group of people as a community bound together by their mutual respect. This is for us to form a community of respect.
- “What Is the Role of Love in Human Freedom?,” 2014, accessed August 19, 2014, (Publisher Link).
- “Paternalistic Love and Reasons for Caring,” in Autonomy and the Self, ed. Michael Kühler and Nadja Jelinek (Dordrecht: Springer, 2013), 213–30, (Publisher Link).
What reasons can children have for coming to care about particular things so that they can develop into responsible adults? This question raises issues both about the status of such reasons as “internal” or “external” to the child’s subjective motivational set and about the role of adults in guiding children’s choices. In confronting this latter question, Tamar Schapiro argues that adults can adopt what amounts to a two-pronged strategy: of rewarding or punishing the child and of offering explanations and justifications. Such a strategy, however, ignores the special role loving caregivers can play in a child’s life. By developing an account of such paternalistically loving relationships, I show how the caregiver’s conception of the child’s well-being can come to inform the child’s own sense of herself and so to provide her with essentially interpersonal reasons for caring. Indeed, such reasons can be both normatively and motivationally binding on the child even though she may not yet be in a position to understand them. That such reasons are essentially interpersonal seems to make otiose whether they are “internal” or “external,” thereby rendering that distinction less important than we might have thought.
- “Accountability and Some Social Dimensions of Human Agency,” Philosophical Issues 22, no. 1 (2012): 217–32, (Publisher Link).
What is responsible agency? I want to consider two perspectives we might take in thinking about responsibility, what we might call an inner and an outer perspective. The inner perspective is that of the agent herself, involving her having and exercising (or failing to exercise) certain agential capacities and so choosing and controlling her actions. The outer perspective is that from which we assess someone’s conduct and—crucially—her will as a matter of holding her to account. In each case, responsibility is always to a certain set of norms. From the internal perspective, these are norms that are binding on her (or to which she binds herself); from the outer perspective these are norms in terms of which we assess her and so to which we hold her. My aim in this paper is to argue that the inner perspective does not have priority over the outer perspective and thus that the theoretical approach is mistaken: our ability, prominent from the inner perspective, to take responsibility and so to hold ourselves accountable is not intelligible apart from our having a place in a broader community in which others hold us accountable. This idea, of course, is familiar to readers of Strawson’s “Freedom and Resentment”. However, unlike Strawson, I do not think this implies that the outer perspective is prior to the inner, for ultimately I think we cannot make sense of an agent’s being properly held accountable unless he can take responsibility for his actions in a way that ultimately presupposes his freedom. This is not something I can argue here; rather, my claim will be that we cannot understand an agent’s being accountable as depending simply on the agent herself; rather, accountable agency depends on capacities that are essentially social.
- “Responsibility and Dignity: Strawsonian Themes,” in Morality and the Emotions, ed. Carla Bagnoli (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 217–34, (Publisher Link).
Peter Strawson’s “Freedom and Resentment” usefully connected the concepts of freedom and responsibility with the reactive attitudes, but there has been some controversy concerning both the nature of that connection and what the reactive attitudes are. I shall argue—tentatively and speculatively—that we can best understand the reactive attitudes by seeing them as individually presupposing and jointly constituting both our respect for persons and the dignity to which that respect is responsive. Consequently, being both a proper subject and object of the reactive attitudes is to be a member of the normative community of fellow persons within which one both takes responsibility and is held responsible for what one does. This just is to be a responsible agent.
- “Affektive Intentionalität: Holistisch Und Vielschichtig,” in Affektive Intentionalität: Beiträge Zur Welterschließenden Funktion Der Menschlichen
Gefühle, ed. Jan Slaby et al., trans. Jean Moritz Müller (Paderborn: mentis, 2011), 72–99.
Cognitivist theories of emotions, the dominant philosophical theory as recently as 15 years ago and still highly influential in psychology today, understand emotions to be essentially clusters of beliefs and desires. Thus, cognitivists claim, what it is to be afraid of something is to believe it dangerous and want to get away. The intentionality of emotions is therefore understood to be dependent on that of the constitutive beliefs and desires, and it seems that there is nothing we could call a distinctively “affective” intentionality. Indeed, for cognitivists affect is seemingly added on as an afterthought: the relevant belief and desire somehow come packaged together with a bodily sensation (of a sinking feeling in your gut, for example), and it is this packaging of those intentional states with a feeling that was supposed to account for their affective nature. As I shall argue, such cognitivist accounts of emotions fail to capture the distinctively affective character of emotions. A central reason for this failure lies in the kind of evaluations that emotions essentially involve. Cognitivist theories must understand emotional evaluations to be a part of either the belief or the desire; in either case, they are supposed to be intelligible prior to the emotions themselves. My contention is that this is false: we cannot make sense of these evaluations except in terms of the emotions themselves, and it is this fact about emotions that enables us to understand affective intentionality. That is, I shall argue, what is characteristic of affective intentionality is that it essentially involves evaluations that are felt, where such feelings are simultaneously both responsive to and constitutive of that evaluation. Our felt awareness of emotional objects as good or bad in some way just is a matter of our being emotionally pleased or pained by these objects, and this fact about emotions is central to understanding the nature of affective intentionality.
- “Love as Intimate Identification,” Philosophic Exchange 40, no. 1 (2010): 20–37, (Publisher Link).
It is widely acknowledged that love is a distinctively intimate form of concern in which we in some sense identify with our beloveds; it is common, moreover, to construe such identification in terms of the lover’s taking on the interests of the beloved. From this starting point, Harry Frankfurt argues that the paradigm form of love is that between parents and infants or young children. I think this is mistaken: the kind of loving attitude or relationship we can have towards or with young children is distinct in kind from that which we can have towards adult persons, as is revealed by reflection on the depth of love and its phenomenology. My aim is to present an alternative conception of the sort of distinctively intimate identification at issue in love, arguing that this account makes better sense of love and our experience of love.
- “Self-Love and the Structure of Personal Values,” in Emotions, Ethics, and Authenticity, ed. Mikko Salmela and Verena E. Mayer, Consciousness and Emotion (Amsterdam: John
Benjamins, 2009), 11–32, (Publisher Link).
Authenticity, it is plausible to suppose, is a feature of one’s identity as a person—of one’s sense of the kind of life worth living. Most attempts to explicate this notion of a person’s identity do so in terms of an antecedent understanding of what it is for a person to value something. This is, I argue, a mistake: a concern is not intelligible as a value apart from the place it has within a larger identity that the value serves in turn to constitute; to assume otherwise is to risk leaving out the very person whose identity these values allegedly constitute. By contrast, I offer an account of values as always already a part of one’s identity. I do so by providing an analysis of values in terms of what I call ’person-focused emotions,’ emotions like pride and shame. Such emotions, I argue, involve a commitment to the import of a person primarily and, only secondarily, to things valued, and in this way enable us to understand what it is to value these things for the sake of the person. The upshot is a more satisfying account of a person’s identity and values, an account that can provide the necessary background for a more thorough investigation of authenticity.
- “Emotions and Motivation: Reconsidering Neo-Jamesian Accounts,” in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Emotion, ed. Peter Goldie (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 303–23.
Emotions are notorious for their irrationality, and nowhere does this irrationality show up more clearly than in their effects on motivation. Thus, to take some stereotyped examples, fear, anger, and jealousy frequently seem to move us to act contrary to our better judgment. Recently, however, there has been increasing emphasis on the rationality of emotions and their place in practical reason. Thus, while deliberating about what to do, although we may be able to articulate reasons for and against each option, we may not be able to say why the weight of these reasons favor one over the others; in such cases, we may simply go with the one that “feels” right—that resonates more fully with our emotional sense of our circumstances—and such an appeal to emotions seems appropriate. I argue that emotions are fundamental to motivation and practical reasoning. In particular, emotions motivate not because they involve mere dispositions to behave but rather because they are rational responses to things we care about, responses that sometimes rationally demand intentional action. This, together with the way our linguistic concepts can inform these emotional responses, makes for rational interconnections with evaluative judgments that allow our emotions to play a significant role in our determining what to do.
- “The Import of Human Action,” in Philosophy of Action: 5 Questions, ed. Jesus Aguilar and Andrei Buckareff (Copenhagen: Automatic Press/VIP, 2009), 89–100. Download
- “Emotions as Evaluative Feelings,” Emotion Review 1, no. 3 (2009): 248–55, (Publisher Link).
The phenomenology of emotions has traditionally been understood in terms of bodily sensations they involve. This is a mistake. We should instead understand their phenomenology in terms of their distinctively evaluative intentionality. Emotions are essentially affective modes of response to the ways our circumstances come to matter to us, and so they are ways of being pleased or pained by those circumstances. Making sense of the intentionality and phenomenology of emotions in this way requires rejecting traditional understandings of intentionality and so coming to see emotions as a distinctive and irreducible class of mental states lying at the intersection of intentionality, phenomenology, and motivation.
- “Love, Identification, and the Emotions,” American Philosophical Quarterly 46, no. 1 (2009): 39–59, (Publisher Link).
Standard accounts of love, I argue, fail to make sense of the kind of intimacy love essentially involves because they understand such intimacy in tacitly egocentric terms and then either embrace it or recoil from it—in each case unsatisfactorily. By developing an account of emotions like pride and shame as “person-focused” and so analyzing their rational interconnections, I offer a non-egocentric account of intimacy as a kind of identification: an identification which, when reflexive, constitutes one’s own identity and, when non-reflexive, constitutes the close, personal attachment to another that love is.
- “Plural Agents,” Noûs 42, no. 1 (2008): 17–49, (Publisher Link).
Genuine agents are able to engage in activity because they find it worth pursuing—because they care about it. In this respect, they differ from what might be called “mere intentional systems”: systems like chess-playing computers that exhibit merely goal-directed behavior mediated by instrumental rationality, without caring. A parallel distinction can be made in the domain of social activity: plural agents must be distinguished from plural intentional systems in that plural agents have cares and engage in activity because of those cares. In this paper, I sketch an account of what it is for an individual to care about things in terms of her exhibiting a certain pattern of emotions. After extending this account to make sense of an individual’s caring about other agents, I then show how a certain sort of emotional connectedness among a group of people can make intelligible the group’s having cares and thereby constitute that group as a plural agent. Alternative accounts of social action, by ignoring the difference between mere intentional systems and genuine agents, and so by leaving out these emotional entanglements from their accounts of social action, thereby fail to capture a whole range of social phenomena involving plural agents.
- “Friendship,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta (June 2005), (Publisher Link). Revised: Fall 2009, Fall 2013, Fall 2017, Fall, 2021.
- “Love,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta (June 2005), (Publisher Link). Revised: Fall 2009, Fall 2013, Fall 2017, Fall 2021.
- “Felt Evaluations: A Theory of Pleasure and Pain,” American Philosophical Quarterly 39, no. 1 (2002): 13–30, (Publisher Link).
This paper argues that pleasure and pains are not qualia and they are not to be analyzed in terms of supposedly antecedently intelligible mental states like bodily sensation or desire. Rather, pleasure and pain are characteristic of a distinctive kind of evaluation that is common to emotions, desires, and (some) bodily sensations. These are felt evaluations: passive responses to attend to and be motivated by the import of something impressing itself on us, responses that are nonetheless simultaneously constitutive of that import by virtue of the broader rational patterns of which they are a part and that they serve to de?ne. This account of felt evaluations makes sense of the way in which pleasures and pains grab our attention and motivate us to act and of the peculiar dual objectivity and subjectivity of their implicit evaluations, while o?ering a phenomenology adequate to both emotional and bodily pleasures and pains.
- “Action for the Sake of …: Caring and the Rationality of (Social) Action,” Analyse & Kritik 24, no. 2 (2002): 189–208, (Publisher Link).
- “Emotions and Practical Reason: Rethinking Evaluation and Motivation,” Noûs 35, no. 2 (2001): 190–213, (Publisher Link).
The motivational problem is the problem of understanding how we can have rational control over what we do. In the face of phenomena like weakness of the will, it is commonly thought that evaluation and reason can always remain intact even as we sever their connection with motivation; consequently, solving the motivational problem is thought to be a matter of figuring out how to bridge this inevitable gap between evaluation and motivation. I argue that this is fundamentally mistaken and results in a conception of practical reason that is motivationally impotent. Instead, I argue, a proper understanding of evaluation and practical reason must include not only evaluative judgments but emotions as well. By analyzing the role of emotions in evaluation and the rational interconnections among emotions, desires, and evaluative judgments, I articulate a new conception of evaluation and motivation according to which there is a conceptual connection between them, albeit one that allows for the possibility of weakness of the will.
- “Emotional Reason: How to Deliberate about Value,” American Philosophical Quarterly 37, no. 1 (2000): 1–22, (Publisher Link).
Deliberation about personal, non-moral values involves elements of both invention and discovery. Thus, we invent our values by freely choosing them, where such distinctively human freedom is essential to our defining and taking responsibility for the kinds of persons we are; nonetheless, we also discover our values insofar as we can deliberate about them rationally and arrive at non-arbitrary decisions about what has value in our lives. Yet these notions of invention and discovery seem inconsistent with each other, and the possibility of deliberation about value therefore seems paradoxical. My aim is to argue that this apparent paradox is no paradox at all. I offer an account of what it is to value something largely in terms of emotions and desires. By examining the rational interconnections among emotions and evaluative judgments, I argue for an account both of how judgments can shape our emotions, thereby shaping our values in a way that makes intelligible the possibility of inventing our values, and of how our emotions can simultaneously rationally constrain correct deliberation, thereby making intelligible the possibility of discovering our values. The result is a rejection of both cognitivist and non-cognitivist accounts of value and deliberation about value.
- “Integration and Fragmentation of the Self,” Southern Journal of Philosophy 34, no. 1 (1996): 43–63, (Publisher Link). Download
- “Freedom of the Heart,” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 77, no. 2 (1996): 71–87, (Publisher Link). Download
- “The Significance of Emotions,” American Philosophical Quarterly 31, no. 4 (1994): 319–31, (Publisher Link). Download
- “Why We Believe in Induction: Standards of Taste and Hume’s Two Definitions of Causation,”
Hume Studies 19, no. 1 (1993): 117–40, (Publisher Link).
It is somewhat striking that two interrelated elements of Hume’s account of causation have received so little attention in the secondary literature on the subject. The first is the distinction of causation into the natural and the philosophical relations: Although many have tried to give accounts of why Hume presents two definitions of causality, it is often not clear in these accounts that the one definition is of causality as a natural relation and the other is of causality as a philosophical relation, where to make the contrast between these two kinds of relations we need to give a naturalistic account of natural relations and a normative account of philosophical relations. (That Hume intends this to be the contrast will be defended in more detail below.) The second element is that, in many cases of our inferences from cause to effect, “we must follow our taste and sentiment” (A Treatise of Human Nature [T], 103), where the appeal to taste here, as in morality and aesthetics, is not to be understood as up to the individual. Rather, Hume makes it clear both in Book 3 of the Treatise and in “Of the Standard of Taste” that there are standards to which our individual judgments (in morality, aesthetics, or causality) must conform. My purpose in this paper is to attempt to provide an interpretation of Hume’s account of causality that brings these two elements explicitly into the foreground. This interpretation is, to a greater extent than usual, a reconstruction of Hume’s account of our causal inferences, drawing, as I have indicated above, from a range of texts not normally associated with Hume’s discussion of causality. As such, this interpretation should be considered as exploratory in nature, perhaps focussing too single-mindedly on these two elements in an attempt to make out as strong a case as possible for their relevance in understanding Hume’s account of causal inference.
- Anzhou He (Hackman Scholar, 2023): “Resisting the Misconstruction of Social Identities: The Interpersonal Call of Ontological Reactive Attitudes”
- Raluca Rilla (Hackman Scholar, 2022): “Objective Self-Constitution of Personhood”
- Dan Kaplan (Hackman Scholar, 2011): “Joint Caring about Truth”
- Kathryn Kutz (Hackman Scholar, 2009): “Truth, Emotion, and Shared Commitment”
- Neal Swisher (Coutros Scholar, 2004): “Artificial-Life Learning in Mobile Robotics”
- Yaroslava Babych and Aleksandra Markovic (Hackman Scholars, 1998), “Moods as a Sense of Priorities”
CNX 149: Race, Gender, and Community.
Race and gender are centrally important to each of our lives. But what are they exactly? How many races or genders are there? Who has what race or what gender? How are these answers determined? (Are race and gender biologically real? Are they socially constructed? Would their being socially constructed make them any less real?) How does someone’s race or gender affect their social position? What injustices do these social positions involve, and what can or should we do about them? How are these social positions affected by intersecting social identity categories, including not only race and gender but also class, sexuality, ability, religion, and more? Drawing on fields such as philosophy, sociology, women’s and gender studies, and critical race theory, we will critically examine a variety of answers to these questions, in the process trying to understand how we can have reasonable and productive disagreements about these contentious and politically charged issues.
SPM 100: Minds, Machines, and Morals.
This course provides an introduction to some central problems, concepts, and methods of cognitive science and moral psychology. We will address questions concerning the nature of intelligence, the relationship between minds and bodies, and the basis of moral beliefs and behaviors. These explorations will bridge the sciences and humanities by taking a fundamentally interdisciplinary perspective.
PHI 250: Philosophy of Mind.
This class is designed as a general introduction to the philosophy of mind (and, consequently, as an introduction to the philosophical side of both majors in the Scientific and Philosophical Studies of Mind program: Cognitive Science and Moral Psychology). We will begin by examining the mind–body problem, a problem which arises out of our differing conceptions of the natural world and of our minds. In particular, science tells us that the body is just a hunk of physical matter that obeys the laws of nature mechanistically—mindlessly. The mind, of course, is anything but mindless. So what’s the connection between the two? How should we conceive of the mind in relation to the body? In trying to answer this question, we will critically examine several different purported solutions to this problem and assess how they fare with respect to understanding particular issues that arise in the context of this mind–body problem: the nature of representation, consciousness, psychological explanation, freedom, and meaning, and identity. In addressing these questions, we shall gain a clearer understanding of the strengths, weaknesses, and implications of the various theories about what the mind is and its relation to the body.
PHI 351: Mind-Body Problem.
It has long been perceived by many philosophers that there is a problem about the relationship between the mind and the body. The body, after all, is just a hunk of physical matter that obeys the laws of nature mechanistically—mindlessly—whereas the mind, of course, is anything but mindless. So what’s the connection between the two? How do we conceive of the mind in relation to the body? In this course we’ll examine mostly contemporary accounts of the relation in an attempt to understand whether there really is a mind–body problem and, if so, how to solve it. But this course is about more than just the mind and its place in the broader world; it’s about the nature of that world, too. In the course of trying to understand how our thoughts can be about anything in the world, we’ll need to think about the nature of the world such that our thoughts can be about it.
PHI 352: Philosophy of Emotions.
Long neglected in philosophy, the emotions have recently and increasingly come to be seen as important both in their own right and for their bearing on a wide variety of issues, including (a) the mind–body problem and the nature of consciousness and intentionality, (b) the nature of rationality, (c) aesthetics, (d) interpersonal relationships, and (e) moral psychology and metaethics. My intention in this course is to focus on the first two such issues, since the other issues are covered more fully in other courses. However, in doing so it is important that we have a sufficiently rich understanding of the place emotions can have in our lives, an understanding that many philosophers and psychologists tend to simplify and diminish.
PHI 360: Concept of a Person.
Philosophers tend to understand the concept of a person in two ways: as a metaphysical notion and as a moral notion. Moral personhood is roughly an understanding of ourselves as the subjects of moral rights and responsibilities. By contrast, to understand personhood as a metaphysical notion is to understand it as delineating a special category of being—as having or being a soul, for example. Typically, the metaphysical notion of personhood is thought to somehow underwrite our status as moral persons. Indeed, it is precisely because of this explanatory link between them that many philosophers think it is appropriate to understand the concept of personhood not as having two senses but rather as being a univocal concept with two aspects. Our aim in this course is to examine these notions and their interrelations, with an emphasis on our social nature.
PHI 361: Moral Psychology.
Moral psychology is the study of us persons as responsible moral agents and subjects of value. As such, it is constrained by, and must cohere with, the facts about human psychology; but its primary focus is on human good, an evaluative notion. Topics include virtue and character, motivation and reasons, internal/external reasons and moral development, and responsibility and blame.
PHI 362: Love and Friendship.
Love and friendship are undoubtedly important in our lives … but why? Although we commonly say that we “love” both chocolate cake and philosophy or that we are “friends” with people on Facebook, these seem to be thin surrogates for the potentially deep, rich, intimate, and rewarding attitudes and relationships we develop towards and with other persons. Clearly it is the latter that we interested in here: forms of love and friendship that apply paradigmatically to intimate relations among persons. In investigating personal love and friendship, we will encounter several problems concerning their justification, their bearing on the autonomy and identity of the individual, and the place their value has within a broader system of values, including moral values.
PHI 363: Respect, Responsibility, and Ethics.
Recently many philosophers have argued that certain interpersonal emotions, such as resentment, indignation, guilt, gratitude, and approbation, are fundamental to a host of interconnected issues in ethics, including the nature of respect, dignity, responsibility and freedom, and the origins of moral values. This class will closely examine these claims and arguments with the aim of understanding more clearly how moral psychology and metaethics intersect.