Recalcitrant Emotions

December 16, 2019 - December 17, 2019
Department of Philosophy, Birkbeck College, University of London

MAL 541
Birkbeck College, Main Building, room 541
Lonodn WC1E 7HX
United Kingdom


  • Mind Association
  • Analysis Trust

All speakers:

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
University of Glasgow
Birkbeck College
University of Antwerp
Birkbeck, University of London
University of Manchester
Birkbeck College
University of Geneva


Birkbeck, University of London
University of Manchester

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Recalcitrant emotions conflict with our considered judgements. Faced with a rollercoaster deemed entirely safe, one might fear it nevertheless. After a vivid dream, one might feel angry with one’s partner and yet judge that they did nothing wrong. 

Over the last thirty to forty years, recalcitrant emotions have played an important role in debates over the nature of emotions. Such emotions have been construed as a counterexample to Cognitivism/Judgementalism, insofar as recalcitrance looks like a different phenomenon from outright contradictions in belief. Largely in response to the phenomenon, Perceptual theories have gained many adherents. But in the last decade, Perceptual theories have also come under threat on the grounds that they fail to explain the sense in which recalcitrant emotions still constitute a normative failing. One aim of the proposed event is to re-examine the ways in which recalcitrant emotions have guided theorising about the emotions. A number of new works have recently emerged, aiming to offer a new take on the issue (e.g. by likening recalcitrant emotions to cases of weakness of will or by bringing recent insights from the philosophy of mind to save Cognitivism) and we wish to bring some of the disputants together, including several early career philosophers.

Recalcitrant emotions are also a promising point of convergence across sub-areas of philosophy. In aesthetics, the puzzle of explaining how we can rationally respond affectively to characters and events despite knowing they are not real—a puzzle most famously articulated by Colin Radford—raises analogous issues to recalcitrance; but it is only recently that philosophers have begun to explore the connection. In the philosophy of action, recalcitrant emotions prompt interesting questions concerning the link between emotions and reasons for action, such as whether recalcitrant emotions can rationalize actions performed on their basis, and whether such actions constitute a rational failing on the part of the agent. Recalcitrant emotion also intersects with the philosophy of psychiatry. As noted above, one recent issue of interest has been the normative failure that arises when one has an emotion that conflicts with one’s considered judgement. Work on the normativity of mental disorder in the philosophy of psychiatry may shed light on what, if anything, is “wrong” with such mental conflict. Further to this, considerations relating to the normativity of the emotions may help shed light on our understanding of pathology and mental disorder.

Some of the specific questions that this event will address are the following:

1.       Do recalcitrant emotions show that the classical Cognitivist (Judgementalist) theory of the emotions is incorrect?

2.      Do recalcitrant emotions show that Perception theories of the emotions are incorrect?

3.      There has been a challenge to account for the irrationality as “conflict without contradiction”. Is that the correct way to frame the puzzle and, if so, what is the solution?

4.      Responding emotionally to fiction is sometimes likened to a case of recalcitrance. Is this comparison correct? What does each side stand to benefit from thinking about the other?

5.      Do issues with recalcitrant emotions also extend to other affective states (e.g. moods; pains; pleasures)?

6.      What can recalcitrant emotions tell us about the connection between the rationality of the emotions and the rationality of actions based on them?

7.      How do subjects ‘overcome’ recalcitrant emotions? Should they?

8.     Are recalcitrant emotions pathological? If so, do they tell us anything about pathology more generally? And can current understandings of pathologies illuminate recalcitrant emotions?

9.      What kind of rational failing (if any) do recalcitrant emotions represent?

10.  Recalcitrant emotions conflict with our judgements. When is it the emotion that is “at fault” and when is it the judgement? Or is better to think of the problem as pairwise?

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December 13, 2019, 6:00pm EET

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Birkbeck, University of London
Jonathan Mitchell
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