II. ON EMOTION
An emotion refers back to what it signifies. And, in effect, what it signifies is the totality of the relationships of the human reality to the world. The passage to emotion is a total modification of ‘being-in-the-world’ according to the very particular laws of magic.
J. P. Sartre
FOUR THEORIES OF EMOTION
The Feeling Theory
The Behaviorist Theory
The Psychoanalytic Theory
The Cognitive Theory
FROM LYALL TO SARTRE AND BACK
Sartre: Imagination and Emotions
The Magical World
Lyall and Sartre
In this chapter I will inquire into how it is possible for the emotions to connect us with the phenomenal world and in doing so, I will explore the connection between imagination and emotion, all this, with the intention to develop Lyall’s claim about the cognitive value of emotions. For Lyall the imaginative state has two parts, an intellectual one and an emotional one, and the emotional element is what connects us with reality. How does this work? How do our emotions link us to reality? And what kind of reality is that? In order to answer these questions I look for help in J.P. Sartre’s theory of emotion. For Sartre, emotion is a conscious transformation of the world, a “magical” world that is. I believe that Lyall, if offered the gift of phenomenology, would reach very similar conclusions to those of Sartre or, to put it in a different way, Lyall seems to anticipate Sartre by putting his analysis of emotions in a framework which is not at all common to his time. However, Sartre’s approach offers just a fictitious connection with the world because he was only able to see emotions “as fictive idealism”, as Joseph Fell puts it in his book on the Emotion in the Thought of Sartre(1966, 236). Now, Lyall’s assertion that emotions connect us with Being which, of course, should be understood as asserting emotion as an expression of God’s existence. Thus, he avoids reaching Sartre’s unhappy conclusion. This chapter begins with a survey of four different theories which attempt to understand the complex phenomenon of emotion. We need to do this survey in order to discover a framework that will best suit Lyall’s views. What follows is a discussion of Sartre’s theory which I consider most successful and its applicability to Lyall’s, stressing their striking similarities and their important difference.
FOUR THEORIES OF EMOTION
William Lyons, in his book on Emotion (1980), distinguishes among four classical theories of emotion: the feeling theory, the behaviorist theory, the psychoanalytic theory and the cognitive theory. While the feeling and the cognitive theories of emotions have been the most influential and important in philosophy, the behaviorist and the psychoanalytic theories were valued the most in psychology. In what follows I will give a short description of each, intending to emphasize their merits as well as their flaws. What I am looking for is a theory that connects emotion and imagination and involves the intellectual side as well and one that considers emotions able to create a link between the emotional person and the phenomenal world.
The Feeling Theory
The feeling theory is based on the Cartesian account of emotions, as it appears in The Passions of the Soul. For Descartes, soul and body have different functions. The body’s functions are movement and heat. All the movements of the limbs are explained by drawing on the movements of the animal spirits which are extremely small material bodies and “the most animated and subtle portions of the blood” (Descartes 1985-1991, 335). The soul’s function is thought and it is of two sorts: actions or desires which either aim at something immaterial, for example God, or at moving our body; and passions which represent our reflective awareness of the disturbances occurring in the body. “Fear, for example, is the awareness of the animal spirits causing or tending to cause us, say, to turn our back and run away, and is caused by these animal spirits. That is why, for Descartes, emotions are passive or passions” (Lyons 1980, 4). This explanation of emotion as passion implies that in experiencing an emotion we are merely aware of what our soul feels when there is something going on in the body. But the connection between emotion and behavior thus described has a major flaw, pointed out by Lyons:
Perhaps the most fundamental difficulty with Descartes’ view of emotions is that it does not separate off what are commonly agreed to be emotions from what are commonly agreed not to be emotions. Given his theory, Descartes is forced to grant not merely that the subjective awareness of the bodily movements and physiological changes following on a perception of something such as a frightening animal, is an emotion, but also that the subjective awareness of the bodily movements and physiological changes following the injection of a drug or the onset of a disease, should merit the title ‘emotion’. For after all the perception of the external object is not central to Descartes’ account of emotion, for he does allow that some emotions, such as objectless and imaginary-object fears are caused entirely by ‘temperaments of the body or […] impressions which are fortuitously met with in the brain’(1985 - 1991, 356), and there is no rubric laid down as to how these in turn must be caused. So it seems that there is nothing against a disease or drug causing them. (Ibid., 7-8)
William James tried to straighten out Descartes’ account of emotion by considering that, even though emotions are feelings, they are feelings “of the physiological changes and disturbances that went on during an emotional occurrence”. According to Lyons, “[James’] hope was that, at least eventually, psychology would be able to distinguish emotions from one another, and from non-emotions, by reference to these observable changes” (Ibid., 12). For William James, it is impossible to imagine an emotion occurring without physiological change. The emotion is our awareness or feeling of the bodily changes which themselves are ignited by the perception of the object of the emotion. This way, the only link between emotion and consciousness is the perception of the object. But it too acts only as a “causal antecedent to emotion”. The idea of an emotion dissociated from our feeling of the body is non-sense because then there is nothing left to it, James considers. If there is no increase in our heart beat making our blood rush madly through our veins, if our muscles do not contract and our hands do not become clenched into a fist, then how can we know that we are experiencing the emotion of rage? Feeling all these changes is what constitutes an emotion. To sum it all up, even though James writes from a Cartesian perspective, “he took the feeling out of the soul and put it into a purely bodily arena, for his feeling was just the subjective side of the physiological changes involved, so that if the feeling was different for each emotion it was because the physiological changes accompanying each emotion must be different as well” (Ibid., 15). This distinction opens up the way to objective quantitative measurement in which the modern psychology of emotions is rooted. Once it had a specific given with which it could work, which could be used in experiments, psychology detached itself from philosophy and became a separate discipline. However, this approach to emotions, besides being too wide and inclusive, does not allow for any cognitive element to enter the discussion, save for the “perception of the object” which only acts as a “causal antecedent to emotion”.
The Behaviorist Theory
Behaviorism, roughly defined, is the theory or doctrine that human or animal psychology can be accurately studied only through the examination and analysis of objectively observable and quantifiable behavioral events, in contrast with subjective mental states. Two of the most influential exponents of the behaviorist theory are J.B. Watson who is usually considered to be the “father” of behaviorist psychology, and B.F. Skinner, a modern representative. William Lyons observes that: “The behaviorist theory of emotions, like behaviorism itself, is a product of that period when psychology was breaking away from philosophy and seeking to establish itself as a natural science” (Ibid., 17). Watson considered emotions to be part of the behavior patterns which are somehow inherited and not so much acquired. New-born children have these patterns unaltered and, thus, the place to look for “pure” emotions is in infants. “An emotion is an hereditary ‘pattern-reaction’ involving profound changes of the bodily mechanism as a whole, but particularly of the visceral and glandular systems. By pattern reaction we mean that the separate details of response appear with some constancy, with some regularity and in approximately the same sequential order each time the exciting stimulus is presented” (Watson 1919, 195). The emotion occurs when everything that concerns the stimulus and the mechanism of physiological response is just right so the effect produced by the stimulus is the intended one. But following this account we have to favor some stimuli over others and also we have to be able to explain why the same stimulus causes different emotional reactions in different subjects. For example, the sight and the closeness of a big dog might frighten a little child but the same big dog might be the pride of his owner. How can these different emotions be explained in these circumstances? One way to explain emotional difference is by declaring that hereditary patterns change with one’s psychological development. Acquired characteristics come onto the scene and they distort the hereditary ones. In fact, there cannot be a line drawn between what is inherited and what is not, between hereditary patterns and acquired features. This means that a very clear account of what it is to have an emotion is not really possible. For similar reasons it is not really possible to distinguish clearly among emotions. Even though Watson distinguished emotions which occur when “the adjustments called out by the stimulus are internal and confined to the subject’s body”, for example blushing, from instinctive reactions which happen when “the stimulus leads to adjustment of the organism as a whole to objects”, for example, in defensive responses, grasping, etc., his argument is not strong enough. Watson affirms that the hereditary pattern is thus shattered apart and it largely disappears. Lyons’ assessment is that when this occurs we are left with very little to circumscribe the definition of emotion:
Watson has told us that an emotion is a ‘pattern-reaction’, chiefly of physiological changes, which is found in its unadulterated form only in the new-born child, though it is difficult to get clear evidence of this. Since he admits that this ‘pattern-reaction’ is adulterated or becomes etiolated, or both, soon after infancy, he is admitting in effect that with adults one cannot distinguish one emotion from another, or emotional reactions from other sorts of reaction, by means of a behaviorist account. Indeed, given the admitted paucity of his evidence concerning emotional reactions in the new-born, one can doubt his claim to be able to do this even with infants. (Ibid., 18)
Thus Watson’s behavioral explanation of emotions is circular. He affirms that pure emotions are only experienced by new-born children and that emotional reactions alter soon after infancy to the extent that adults are no longer able to discern among different emotions. However, he brings little evidence in support of the idea that “pattern-reactions” in new-born children are pristine and therefore he fails to explain how they become altered with the passing of time. Watson’s view is taken further and somehow improved by B.F. Skinner. Unlike Watson, Skinner does not stress the physiological changes nor the reflex behavior. Instead, he emphasizes the operant behavior which is that behavior whose outcome is the desired one. What does it mean for Skinner to say the desired result is brought about by operant behavior? Suppose, for example, that X offends Y. As a result, X gets angry, clenches his fists, pounds the table, slams the door, etc. This kind of behavior will drive Y out of the way and thus, Y’s offensive behavior, which started the scene will not be persisted in nor, probably, repeated. X was predisposed to emit this specific operant behavior (pounding the table and slamming the door) and the offensive behavior of Y was the promoter of it. But nothing guarantees that the above behavior is always exhibited by everyone. X might react in the way described above or might just calmly walk away and breath deeply, pretending there was no harm done. Moreover, it would be an impossible task to list all features of a specific behavior (angry) that must be present for that behavior to be considered as angry. William Lyons argues that:
Skinner’s behaviorism, much more than Watson’s version, is open to the difficulty that many instances of some emotions, and most instances of the others, exhibit little or no operant behavior. Grief, especially when it is about something irretrievably lost or dead, does not lead to much, if any, operant behavior, because no behavior can bring about any desired results. For the desired result - that what is dead be brought back to life or what is irretrievably lost be found - is clearly impossible to achieve. But even angry people can be angry and not show it in operant behavior. That is, some people are just controlled, undemonstrative people.(Ibid., 22)
Simply put, Skinner’s account takes away any chance for freedom we might have because there is no possibility for us to behave in a way that we consciously choose. Instead we only exhibit an operant behavior. In the introduction to Existential Psychoanalysis (a translation of a major section of Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, about the connection between existentialism and psychoanalysis), Rollo May gives a brief account of the exchange between Carl Rogers and B.F. Skinner at a 1960 conference. Told from Rogers’ viewpoint, the exchange between them is the following:
From what I understood Dr. Skinner to say, it is his understanding that though he might have thought he chose to come to this meeting, might have thought he had a purpose in giving his speech, such thoughts are really illusory. He actually made certain marks on paper and emitted certain sounds here simply because his genetic make-up and his past environment had operantly conditioned his behavior in such a way that it was rewarding to make these sounds, and that he as a person doesn’t enter into this. In fact if I get his thinking correctly, from his strictly scientific point of view, he, as a person, doesn’t exist’. In his reply Dr. Skinner said that he would not go into the question of whether he had any choice in the matter (presumably because the whole issue is illusory) but stated, ‘I do accept your characterization of my own presence here’. I do not need to labor the point that for Dr. Skinner the concept of ‘learning to be free’ would be quite meaningless. (Sartre 1966, 4)
The kind of explanation of emotions offered by the behaviorist theory takes away any conscious interaction between us, as human beings and the surrounding world. Everything happens without us participating in it. We just react, we just perform in the presence of certain stimuli. Thus, besides being too narrow and exclusive, this theory has nothing to offer in the way of a cognitive aspect underlying our emotions.
The Psychoanalytic Theory
Another approach to the subject of emotions is offered by psychoanalysis. Of course, the inventor and chief exponent of this theory is Freud. Even though he did not have a specific and clear account of emotions: Freud called emotions “affects”. However, because of Freud’s main preoccupation with treating his emotionally disturbed patients, the only emotions that were considered were the negative emotions like fear, anxiety, etc. The emotions of this kind are resurrections of traumatic events which were repressed in the individual’s unconscious. “Affective states”, considers Freud in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1971), “have become incorporated in the mind as precipitates of primaeval traumatic experiences, and when a similar situation occurs they are revived like mnemic symbols” (1971, 93). For Freud, an emotion has more to do with the individual’s inherited repressed memories which themselves are ‘stored’ in the unconscious. This way, an emotion occurs not primarily because there is an external cause for it but rather because it is connected with an originally traumatic and subsequently repressed memory. Lyons explains that:
Unlike the Cartesian, or the Behaviorist accounts for that matter, the Freudian account sees the external stimulus as acting only as remote cause of emotion. Events in the world cause us to react emotionally only insofar as they first stir up in us some instinctual drive or impulse, and insofar as this drive or impulse is repressed or blocked. Emotion is the safety valve that lets off psychic steam when the repression or blocking of the normal outlets becomes unbearable.” (Lyons 1980, 29)
This implies that emotion is not primarily a reaction to the world but to something that is in our unconscious. “In anxiety”, Lyons writes, “I am anxious, not because the situation is difficult or threatening, but because it triggers off some unconscious repressed desire which I find threatening or difficult to cope with” (Ibid., 29). But this sort of explanation would raise immediately some questions because there can be a great number of possible manifestations of anxiety, and choosing the one that fits best is a pretty difficult job. William Lyons believes that J. P. Sartre proposes quite an interesting variation on the Freudian account of emotion. Sartre’s account substitutes Freud’s concept of unconscious with the concept of “magical” behavior But the idea that emotion’s significance does not consist in “ordinary perceptual consciousness” is still at work (Ibid., 28). Sartre’s rejection of the unconscious is based on the fact that he observes that consciousness must always be aware of itself. This awareness, however is not constantly made explicit in reflection; Sartre calls it a pre-reflective consciousness which does not take the self as an object. The two theories analyzed above - the feeling theory and the behaviorist theory failed to look at the body as a subject. Only treating it as an object, they failed as well at giving a pertinent account of emotions. For Sartre, thoughts, dreams and feelings depend on consciousness, and consciousness is where one should look for explanations for them. Mental events are intentional events; they are always meaningful and they are always directed towards objects of their own. Thus, Sartre moves a long way away from Freud’s perspective: “The Freudians are held to be wrong because they overlook the intentionality of mental events, and think that there can be an inductively determined causal relation between my dream, let us say, and some external object…a relation of which I, the patient, am not aware since the connection is made by me subconsciously. So the argument against bare causal explanations of mental phenomena and against the unconscious come to the same” (Sartre 1976, 9). Sartre sees emotion not as an accident, but as a “mode of our conscious existence, one of the ways in which consciousness understands (in Heidegger’s sense of Verstehen) its Being-in-the-World” (Ibid., 91). This, I think, brings him closer to a cognitive theory of emotion, which will be discussed next.
The Cognitive Theory
As regards the cognitive theory of emotion, Aristotle seems to be the first who took this approach among philosophers. However, he did not analyze it in De Anima as one would expect, but rather in the Rhetoric. In his book on Aristotle’s concept of emotion, W. W. Fortenbaugh notes that:
In the second book of the Rhetoric, Aristotle defines anger as a desire for revenge accompanied by pain on account of (dia) an apparent slight to oneself or to one’s own, the slight being unjustified (1378 a 30-2)[…] Anger is not pain which happens to occur together with (meta) the thought of outrage. On the contrary, anger is necessarily caused by the thought of outrage, so that such a thought is mentioned in the essential definition of anger. The same is true of fear. It is caused by the thought of imminent danger, so that the appearance of future evil, destructive or painful, is mentioned in the definition of fear (1382 a 21-2). Fear is not some pain or bodily disturbance distinct from cognition. It is a complex phenomenon which necessarily involves not only painful disturbance but also the thought of danger. (1975, 12)
Lyons stresses the fact that this last theory is most likely closer to a comprehensive explanation of emotion because it explains what the theories previously analyzed did not. A person experiencing an emotion, in Aristotle’s view, has a certain perception of the world. One thinks in a certain way about the people one is angry with and one thinks that way because of a certain reason. However, just this is not enough to make up an emotion. Besides the particular perception of the world one has feelings and impulses which are triggered by what one thinks about the world. This means that the primary cause for physiological changes is constituted by one’s belief. Believing that something is going to affect our physical integrity, for example, causes us to experience fear. The cognitive theory stresses the importance of the fact that emotion is not something that rests just on feeling, or just on behavior, or is just a reaction to a traumatic event. Au contraire, there is an intellectual part to it also. An emotion then is not something that has to do exclusively with the body or exclusively with the mind but rather it has to do with both of them. This happens because through emotions one becomes part of the world. Through emotions it is the body and the mind, intertwined, that participate to the world. It’s not just a reaction toward an external stimulus and it is not a reaction to a suppressed trauma. Rather, it has to do with belief in a specific appreciation of the world.
FROM LYALL TO SARTRE AND BACK
How does William Lyall relate to the foregoing accounts of emotion? Under which heading should his theory of emotion be classified? Lyall’s ideas about emotions seem to come very close to the cognitive view. He too believed that emotions tell us something about the fabric of the world. However, as we saw in the previous chapter, Lyall has idealist tendencies. This implies that for him the world itself has been “poured” into a specific frame. Being so very close to the spirit of Romanticism, we can understand how he relates to nature within the idealist framework. It is an underlying theme of this period of time that, once the subject and the object, mind and nature have been separated, once an unbridgeable gap has been placed between them, one concludes that the only way the subject can know itself is through what it does to the object, and the only way the object can be known is through what it does to the subject. What can we talk about, then? The interaction between the two, the interpretational tension between mind and world. Neither the self, nor the world can be known, that is, talked about; they can only be experienced, the one in terms of the other. Reality, then, is what the mind has done to the world and what the world has done to the mind. Spirit is the term many Romantics used for interpreting the tension between the subject and the object or reality. Lyall seems to regard the interaction between the subject and the object as a challenge and his account of emotions can be taken as his answer. Unlike Berkeley’s idealism, for example, or Hegel’s, Lyall builds his case by considering that the link between the world and the self is facilitated by the emotions. Moreover, for Lyall, imagination is of foremost importance when it comes to explaining the link between the world and the self. In the imaginative state, both emotions and the intellect meet. Emotions, in Lyall’s view, reach out for reality and through them, the intellect grasps its essence. But this can not happen if we lack imagination. Imagination is both intellectual and emotional. Now, from the foregoing theories of emotions, the one that comes very close to Lyall’s particular view is the one developed by J. P. Sartre. Sartre links consciousness and emotions and wraps them up in the veil of a “magical behavior”. Being able to use our imagination is what brings us into the presence of the world as our emotions discover it.
Sartre: Imagination and Emotions
With regard to this issue, Sartre asks “what must be the nature of consciousness in general in order that the construction of an image should always be possible?” (1966, 259). In imagination, thought does not reach out for the object, but rather “appears as the object”. Sartre tells us what it means:
If the development of an idea occurs in the form of a series of imaginative consciousnesses that are synthetically linked, it will imbue the object as an image with a sort of vitality. It will appear now under one aspect, now under another, now with this determination, now with some other. To judge that a coachman whose face one imagines vaguely had a mustache is to see his face appear as having a mustache. There is an imaginative form of the judgment which is nothing else than the addition to the object of new qualities, accompanied by the feeling of venturing, promising, or of assuming responsibilities […] If we think imaginatively of some individual objects it will be these objects themselves that will appear to our consciousness. (Ibid., 160)
Thus, for Sartre, the images acquire the right to existence “as any other existence”. The only difference between the type of existence given to us in imagination and the real existence is the way in which we grasp them. While the real existence is perceived as forming a whole, where “my attention is co-present as an essential condition of the existence of the reality actually perceived” (Ibid., 262), we grasp the existence given to us in imagination by isolating it from the perceived reality and by positing it as empty of data. “To posit an image is to construct an object on the fringe of the whole of reality, which means therefore to hold the real at a distance, to free oneself from it, in a word, to deny it” (Ibid., 266). Consciousness cannot exist without imagining because this ability is consciousness’ ticket for freedom. “In order to imagine, consciousness must be free from all specific reality and this freedom must be able to define itself by a ‘being-in-the-world which is at once the constitution and the negation of the world” (Ibid., 269-270). Imagination is where consciousness realizes its own freedom by withdrawing from the real, by always being able, at any moment, to produce the unreal. This is how consciousness works when imagining. Now, with regard to emotions, Sartre affirms that emotional consciousness is not reflective consciousness. An emotion does not present itself as a state of mind of which the one experiencing the emotion is conscious. This would be equivalent to saying that the perception of this paper is consciousness of perceiving the paper. The emotional consciousness is “primarily consciousness of the world”. “In a word, the emotional subject and the object of the emotion are united in an indissoluble synthesis. The emotion is a specific manner of apprehending the world” (Sartre 1976, 57). The world is continuously present to the emotional subject. There is an interconnection which avoids the reflectivity of consciousness. For Sartre, emotion is “a transformation of the world”. Now, the world itself is regarded under two different aspects: the world is either “instrumental” or “difficult”. There is, first, an instrumental perspective on the world. Joseph Fell explains that in Sartre’s view, “Men perceive their environment as a complex of instruments, a medium in which, provided we know certain rules or techniques, we can manipulate people and things so as to achieve certain ends… We assume this regularity every time we act” (Fell 1966, 15). As long as things happen following the same structure, as long as they are out-there, they are, at the same time, in one’s ambiance, to use a term employed by Gabriel Marcel in his metaphysical journal. We are, more or less, comfortable with what goes on around us. We do things in a certain way because we know what to expect; we know what sort of reactions a certain action would cause as long as the world unfolds in the way we are used to it. This does not mean, however, that we merely follow habits. Sartre would react virulently against this idea. Orestes, the chief character in Sartre’s play, The Flies, would be the most representative character with regard to this. He shouted against a manipulating and dilettante Zeus, as Sartre doubtless would do, “I am my freedom!”. What Sartre means by this kind of declaration is that the world, in its instrumental pragmatic feature is an easy world. This world seems to be deterministic because it follows our expectations and we are not deceived by it, as Sartre explains:
From this point of view, the world around us - that which the Germans call the Umwelt - the world of our desires, our needs and of our activities, appears to be all furrowed with strait and narrow paths leading to such and such determinate ends - that is, it has the appearance of a created object. Naturally, here and there, and to some extent everywhere, there are pitfalls and traps…This world is difficult. The notion of difficulty here is not a reflexive notion which would imply a relation to oneself. It is out there, in the world, it is a quality of the world given to perception (just as the paths to the possible goals, the possibilities themselves and the exigencies of objects - books that ought to be read, shoes to be resoled, etc.), it is the noetic correlate of the activity we have undertaken - or have only conceived. (Ibid., 63)
Therefore, the world is double-faced. There is an easy world, on the one hand, and there is a difficult world, on the other hand. This difficult world, however, is also the world in which we live and in which we must act. Sometimes it becomes unbearable but we still need to act, to continue living even though the things of the world do not follow their expected paths, even though they happen as if they are out of control. For Sartre though, we are our freedom which implies that the world is “out of control”, if the “time is out of joint”, as Shakespeare said through Hamlet’s voice, we cannot afford to remain immobilized and prostrate waiting for it to change and become instrumental again. Rather, we change the world itself by making it a magical world. What this means in Sartre’s view is explained at least in part by Fell:
Emotion is a way of acting on ourselves when action in the pragmatic world is of no avail. The ‘magic’ consists in the fact that our action on ourselves (e.g., fainting) is intended as a transformation of the world, not of ourselves. We have remarked that in emotion attention is directed outward, on the object. To be sure, were the subject later to reflect upon his action he would recognize his failure to transform the world. Magic is not efficacious. But Sartre repeatedly emphasizes that emotional behavior is unreflective. And in the unreflective state the subject ‘lives’ the magical transformation: it is the world which seems changed.(Fell 1966, 17)
There are two different ways in which consciousness can “be-in-the-world”. There is, first, a perception of the world as a “complex of utilizable things” which are manipulated in order to obtain such and such results. “If one wants to produce a predetermined effect, one must act upon the determinable elements of that complex”(Sartre 1976, 90). Thus, acting, asserting one’s freedom has a major significance. However, at this level, there is no absolute action, there is no possible way in which to act in order for a ‘radical change’ to occur. Rather, “we have to modify one particular utensil, and this by means of another which refers in its turn to yet another, and so to infinity” (Ibid., 90). Besides the instrumentalist way of being-in-the-world, there is another one, where the world does not present itself as an utilizable whole any longer. Acting, now is set on a different perspective. This time, there is nothing at hand that can be used in order to change it, there is no intermediary between us and the world. The world loses its structure and its categories, Sartre explains when, for example, we are frightened by someone seen through a window:
the face that frightens us through the window acts upon us without any means; there is no need for the window to open, for a man to leap into the room or to walk across the floor). And, conversely, the consciousness tries to combat these dangers or to modify these objects at no distance and without means, by some absolute, massive modification of the world. This aspect of the world is an entirely coherent one; this is the magical world. (Ibid., 90)
This is the kind of magic that occurs when we experience an emotion. On Sartre’s view, emotion is not comprehended any longer as something that comes from outside. Rather, it is something that begins with consciousness, where consciousness returns to the magical attitude which is characteristic of a magical world. “Clearly to understand the emotional process as it proceeds from consciousness, we must remember the dual nature of the body, which, on the one hand is an object in the world and on the other is immediately lived by the consciousness” (Ibid., 77), writes Sartre. Thus, emotional consciousness does more than merely “projecting affective meanings upon the world around it”, because the body is not just an instrument.
The Magical World
The human body, in Sartre’s account is also something through which consciousness lives the world. If the world happens to be a new world, a magical world into which consciousness leaps when experiencing an emotion then, the body is also there. It is affected, it undergoes changes. The body, “considered as the point of view upon the universe immediately inherent in consciousness” alters itself in order to meet the behavioral manifestations. Sartre believes that: the origin of emotion is a spontaneous debasement lived by consciousness in face of the world. What it is unable to endure in one way it tries to seize in another way, by going to sleep, by reducing itself to the states of consciousness in sleep, dream or hysteria. And the bodily disturbance is nothing else than the belief lived by the consciousness, as it is seen from outside.(Ibid., 79)
However, the magic of the world is not only a temporary quality which is projected upon the world according to our particular emotional state. The emotional world often presents itself to us as being magical, as breaking free from any structure and thus it provokes us to change in the following ways highlighted by Sartre:
Thus, there are two forms of emotion, according to whether it is we who constitute the magic of the world to replace a deterministic activity which cannot be realized, or whether the world itself is unrealizable and reveals itself suddenly as a magical environment. In the state of horror, we are suddenly made aware that the deterministic barriers have given way. That face which appears at the window, for instance - we do not at first take it as that of a man, who might push the door open and take twenty paces to where we are standing. On the contrary, it presents itself, motionless though it is, as acting at a distance. The face outside the window is in immediate relationship with our body; we are living and undergoing its signification; it is with our own flesh that we constitute it, but at the same time it imposes itself, annihilates the distance and enters into us. Consciousness plunged into this magic world drags the body with it in as much as the body is belief and the consciousness believes in it. (Ibid., 86-87)
But the “magic” quality of the world does not pertain exclusively to the human. “It extends to things also, in as much as they may present themselves as human (the disturbing impression of a landscape, of certain objects, or a room which retains the traces of some mysterious visitor) or bear the imprint of the psychic” (Ibid., 87). This happens, Sartre thinks, because consciousness grasps the world as having magical features and because it can perceive these magical features as real features. It is not just one object or another, taken away from the surrounding world, that can be perceived as say, frightening or irritating. According to Sartre, when someone experiences an emotion, the whole world is changed. The whole world transforms its structure, is altered, on Fell’s account of his theory, in the following way:
We may say that in emotion consciousness perceives a world transformed by its affective projections. This ‘new’ world is a ‘magical’ one for two reasons. First, in it the orderly and regular paths which permit the achievement of ends by determinate means are obliterated by a spellbinding quality (‘horrible’, ‘revolting’, etc.). Second, consciousness falls under this spell and is deceived by its own sleight of hand. It is significant that Sartre refers to emotion as a ‘degradation’ of consciousness. In emotion, ‘consciousness is caught in its own trap’. Sartre’s catalog of emotions is a catalog of self-deceptions […] Furthermore, for Sartre, emotional deceptions seem predominantly of a negative - even dire - sort: fear, sadness, horror, anger, disgust, and the like.(Fell 1966, 22-23)
Sartre follows the phenomenological tradition and praises Husserl for turning to the “things in themselves”. “To Heidegger, to Sartre, to Merleau-Ponty, Husserl is something of a savior: the philosopher who finally has assembled the proper conceptual apparatus […] for rejoining subject and world, value and fact, in a long-lost immediate relation. Sartre’s theory of emotion is one phase of this attempt” (Ibid., 226). For Sartre objects are originally charged with an affective meaning. “All this comes to pass as if we come to life in a universe where feelings and acts are all charged with something material, have a substantial stuff, are really soft, dull, slimy, low, elevated, etc. and in which material substances have originally a psychic meaning which renders them repugnant, horrifying, alluring, etc.” (1956, 605). For Sartre, the meaningfulness of a “thing” is the result of a fusion between one’s project to appropriate it and the thing’s disobedience to appropriation. There is a constant interplay between the pour-soi and the en-soi. But Sartre’s conception of the interplay of consciousness and Being whenever one experiences an emotion is a conscious self-deception. The world is a magical world, and thus the relation between it and consciousness is a fictitious relation, as Fell explains:
[Sartre] tells us that there is an intermonde between pour-soi and en-soi but that it is a fiction. The intermonde is the relation I try to establish, the relation which the object resists. There is thus a ‘midworld’ relating pour-soi and en-soi, but the relation is one of denial of relation, of antithesis. Here, as always in Sartre’s position, antithesis prevails; there can be no synthesis, no continuum. Relations are always fictions. If all relations are attempted appropriations, and if appropriation is a fiction, then all relations are fictive. This really amounts to saying (a) there is ‘projection’ but it is not unreflectively recognized as such; (b) the ‘projected meaning’ is abrogated by the recalcitrant object whose own ‘meaning’ (or ultimate ontological significance) is its resistance to ‘projective meaning’; (c) therefore recognition of the real nature of affective intentionality involves a divorce of the intentional value from its object, an abrogation of ‘naïve contact with the world’, an affirmation of the fundamental ontological disparity between subject and object. (Fell 1966, 228)
This disparity between subject and object reigned in the history of philosophy since Descartes’ split between mind and matter. What Sartre does is to build a bridge between res cogitans (the thinking mind) and res extensa (the extended body) fashioned by the new and appealing phenomenological perspective which recognizes bodily subjectivity. However, there is something peculiar in the way Descartes had been understood: his ideas developed in different ways in German philosophy and in French philosophy. Descartes, without the proof of God’s existence can be regarded as an idealist. This, as Anthony Beavers explains, is how the Germans saw him:
Kant labels him a ‘problematic idealist’ for whom ‘there is only one empirical assertion that is indubitably certain, namely that I am’ (Critique of Pure Reason B274), suggesting that, as far as Kant is concerned, Descartes’ attempt to prove the real existence of anything outside of his mind, including God, does not work. And Schopenhauer, just before claiming that ‘true philosophy must at all costs be idealistic,’ praises Descartes for finding the ‘only correct starting point […] of all philosophy’ (World as Will and Representation II, 4). Husserl is so taken by this starting point that he will title one of his introductions to pure phenomenology, Cartesian Meditations, thus inviting his reader to repeat Descartes’ Meditations, this time, without the proofs for God’s existence and divine veracity. Due to the tradition in which he has been passed down to us, Descartes may be called not only the ‘father of modern philosophy,’ but also ‘the grandfather of transcendental phenomenology’. (Beavers 1990)
However, for Descartes, practical life has a particular importance and meditating on the principles of metaphysics will not bring about its significance. According to Descartes, imagination and the senses are to be focused upon after establishing the existence of God and of the soul. In Descartes’ words:
I think that it is very necessary to have understood, once in a lifetime, the principles of metaphysics since it is by them that we come to the knowledge of God and of our soul. But I think also that it would be very harmful to occupy one’s intellect frequently in meditating upon them, since this would impede it from devoting itself to the imagination and the senses. (1970, 143)
Thus, for Descartes the epistemologist the human being is composed of two separate entities the mind and the body. Epistemology needs this distinction because this is the only way it can work. But there is something more to human nature than this. Besides the mind and the body there is another “primitive notion” as Descartes calls it and that is “the union of soul and body”:
The soul can be conceived only by pure intellect: the body (i.e., extension, shape and movement) can likewise be known by pure intellect, but much better by the intellect aided by the imagination; and finally what belongs to the union of the soul and body can be known only obscurely by pure intellect or by the intellect aided by the imagination, but it can be known very clearly by the senses. That is why people who never philosophize and use only their senses have no doubt that the soul moves the body and the body acts on the soul. (Ibid., 141)
Here imagination and the senses are given their due and it would be unfair to Descartes to categorize him hastily as “the father of transcendental phenomenology”. Descartes holds that mind and body are both divorced and in a union. But because the intellect can see clearly the distinction and only obscurely the union it does not constitute a concern. Descartes’ idea of this union of mind and body is not a clear and distinct idea. But most certainly it is present in Descartes’ philosophical letters and he makes use of it in his attempt to understand the way human beings exist in the world, in the practical world. A person emerges in the world of everyday involvements as thought together with the body. Otherwise, the world would be merely a theoretical one which is an object of scientific investigations. I am fully aware of the ideas expressed by Descartes at the end of the second Meditation:
it is now manifest to me that even bodies are not properly speaking known by the senses or by the faculty of imagination, but by the understanding only, and since they are not known from the fact that they are seen or touched, but only because they are understood, I see clearly that there is nothing which is easier for me to know than my mind. (1985-1991, 157)
I do not want to turn Descartes on his head. I just want to point out an idea that is meaningful and which has had a much greater influence later in the area of French phenomenology. The idea of bodily subjectivity is something which will later become valuable in the hands of Merleau-Ponty, for example, and, to a certain extent, this is how Descartes is perceived in the French philosophical tradition. For Merleau-Ponty:
Being thought united with a body, it [the union] cannot, by definition, really be thought (conceived). One can practice it, and, so to speak, exist it; yet one can draw nothing from it which deserves to be called true … The truth is that it is absurd to submit to pure understanding, the mixture of understanding and body. These would-be thoughts are the hallmarks of ‘ordinary usage’, mere verbalizations of this union, and can be allowed only if they are not taken to be thoughts. They are indices of an order of existence - of man and world as existing - about which we do not have to think. (1964, 176)
The Cartesian observation that once the mind is incarnate in the body and lived as a unity, it appears in the world of daily involvements, has not only been picked up by Merleau-Ponty. It also appears in the works of Sartre and Levinas, who recognize a bodily intentionality that is directed towards an other person who exists outside of the horizons of reason or beyond the cabinet of consciousness. In all four cases - and here I am including Descartes - affectivity is an intimate characteristic of embodiment that enables the practical connections that make up daily life. Here we are again: affectivity! We get in touch with ourselves as bodies and minds (at the same time) and with the surrounding world through affectivity. Sartre, as noted above, did not ignore this phenomenological approach. Moreover, he tried to reassess it through his own existentialist perspective. In this regard, Fell considers Sartre to be indebted to both Kierkegaard and Hegel. Fell notes that: “Sartre himself refers to existentialism as ‘this idealist protest against idealism’” (1966, 233). Thus, he is indebted to Kierkegaard because his thought has at its centre the problem of the individual and his personal or subjective existence or his existence as “inwardness” which is something that most speculative philosophies, like Hegel’s, overlook. Against Hegelianism, Kierkegaard urged that the distinction between being and non-being be firmly maintained, on pain of losing the human proportion and perspective. The distinction between Being and Nothingness, as the title of Sartre’s major work indicates, is something on which his philosophical work is based. However, praising Husserl and the phenomenological idea of “turning to the things in themselves”, Sartre realized the importance of building a bridge between subject and object, between the individual and the world. The link between human beings and the world is established, Sartre considers, through our emotions. In having an emotion we transform the world and for this we connect with it. Moreover, an emotion is a conscious transformation of the world. Emotion, he affirms, “is not an accident, it is a mode of our conscious existence, one of the ways in which consciousness understands its Being-in-the-World” (Sartre 1976, 91). But emotion is also deceptive and ineffective because it is a fictitious relation. This amounts to saying that: “If Kierkegaard was right (against Hegel) in arguing that thought does not, by any kind of historical automatism, translate itself into reality, Hegel was right (against Kierkegaard) in arguing that thought can be translated into objective change, is not limited to isolated solipsistic decision” (Fell 1966, 234). Thus, even though Sartre’s project starts with Kierkegaard, he finds that consciousness cannot be truly “free” if thought cannot be translated into objective change. By saying this Sartre is paying tribute to Hegel’s speculative philosophy. Fell concludes: “Sartre is only able to see emotion as fictive idealism because he identified emotion with thought”. (Ibid., 236)
Lyall and Sartre
The foregoing exposition of Sartre’s theory of emotion provides us with a new framework in which Lyall’s ideas about emotions can be analyzed. For Lyall the emotions and especially the emotion of love connects us with the world. Emotions are the link between our intellect and the phenomenal world. “Without emotion, in his view”, Armour and Trott note, “the mind is empty, incapable of action. [Emotion] is to be welcomed in all its richness, and the hazards it presents by way of the stimulation of rash acts are to be faced cheerfully and without regret. Indeed, without emotion we would have no connection with the objective world” (1981, 79). Lyall was interested in finding a way to bridge the gap between the subject and the object, between us, as human beings and the world. Sartre’s endeavor is similar. Both wanted to produce a means for making human beings part of the world, in a more intimate and immediate way. Both Sartre and Lyall were looking for a return to things in themselves. The only possibility through which this connection could be established is offered by the emotions. Lyall says of emotion, that:
[it] is not an idea; it is not an act of intellect, or exercise of intelligence; it is not memory; it is not imagination, although emotion accompanies every act of imagination, and is essential to it […] An emotion is not a sensation, although it is more nearly allied to that than to what is purely mental or intellectual; while, again, it does not belong to that lower department of mind to which sensation is referable, and ranks higher than even the exercise of intelligence or intellect. Emotion is a higher state than pure intellect; not this or that emotion, but the region or susceptibility of emotion. (1855, 285)
Thus, in Lyall’s view, emotion is a higher state than pure intellect because, extended into the world, it grasps Being and informs the intellect. Emotion cannot be reduced to imagination, even though imagination is “essential” when experiencing an emotion. Also, emotion is not the same as sensation, even though they present similar features. Emotions, for Lyall, reach out into the world; they are extensions into the world of our existence as both mind and body. Let us take, for example, the case of Armour and Trott explaining what Lyall means when he writes that love is an emotion that “terminates on being”:
Suppose love could be conceived without reference to being itself. Then if it needed an object it would become relative to the occurrence of that object. But if it did not need an object, then it would not motivate us to seek the good. It would be a simple abstraction. But love is not in that way relative and it does motivate us. Therefore, we are not wholly without justification in supposing that we can go beyond particular things to being itself.(1981, 81)
That love goes “beyond particular things to being itself” in Lyall’s view, implies to a certain extent a transformation of the world so that the gap between the subject and particular objects vanishes when we grasp, through emotions, Being itself. When experiencing the emotion of love which Lyall calls “the absolute emotion”, we do not love what is accidental in the object of our love. Actually, it is wrong to speak of objects at all, Lyall considers, because love terminates on Being. “The one state of love exists; every object, every being, shares in its exercise: it has selected no object for its exercise; but every object receives a part of its regard as it comes within its sphere. In its most absolute character, being is its object” (Lyall 1855, 408). Our love is directed toward something that lasts, something that is not relative, namely Being, even though it presents to us in various forms. Another emotion that Lyall emphasizes when talking about the “most powerful emotions” is sympathy. Lyall remarks that:
We sympathize even with the aspects of nature, as these are indicative of certain feelings, whether essentially, or by arbitrary circumstances of association, and we enter into the very mood of external creation. All nature speaks to us, has a voice and an aspect that we understand […] The air, the earth, the water, all changes, and all seasons, speak to the mind, and impress their peculiar lessons, or beget their appropriate emotions. And we communicate our feelings again to outward objects. All nature is joyous or sad as we are so ourselves. Half of its power over us is from ourselves. The internal mind is imaged on the external world. (Ibid., 461)
For Lyall, our emotions are attuned to Nature. We are sympathetic to the changes in Nature and Nature itself changes according to our emotions. A beautiful day can make us happy. However, when we are sad, the whole world looks gray. What Lyall wrote above, that the “internal mind is imaged on the external world” is something that brings him at least momentarily very close to Sartre’s view on this matter. Sartre too, in The Wall, describes Pablo Ibbieta who is imprisoned, waiting for his execution. The hero finds himself in a world which does not have any appeal. Everything is gloomy and bleak. The people and the objects that previously were fascinating became dull, faint. Lyall’s approach, however, and this is crucial in understanding Lyall’s position, differs from Sartre’s in a very subtle way. Sartre stresses the dual nature of our body, first as an instrument but then also as something through which consciousness lives the world. By trying to conciliate this disparity he arrives at the idea of a magical world in which we project ourselves when experiencing an emotion as the following passage from Sartre’s Sketch for a Theory of Emotions indicates: All emotions have this in common, that they evoke the appearance of the same world, cruel, terrible, bleak, joyful, etc., but in which the relations of things to consciousness are always and exclusively magical. We have to speak of a world of emotions as we have to speak of a world of dreams or of worlds of madness. (1976, 81)
Now the whole process is an illusory process. At least this is the conclusion that we reach if we try to understand Lyall only through Sartre’s contribution to the analysis of emotions. However, for Lyall, things are a bit different. For Lyall, as we saw above, love connects us with Being itself. Particularities are unimportant. Love endures the apparent changes in the object, it goes beyond accidents. “Love absolute”, Lyall writes, “presents no modification, and exists for no purpose but itself” (Lyall 1855, 408). He points out the “unifying” nature of love. Through love we become part of the world, an integral part, that is. Thus, when loving, the features of the world change so that the world is seen not through its differences but through its similarities. The world is that which is, it is Being itself. Now, we know that every object receives a part of love. We also know that, as Lyall, says, “It is the soul, and the highest properties of the soul that are the true objects of love. The body can be but the index of these and it is when these attract through the external form, that love is worthy of the name” (Ibid., 407). What this position calls to mind is that Lyall seems to be a proponent of animism. If love brings us in contact with the world and if love rests not on what changes but on Being itself, if the body is “an index” of the soul, then Lyall manages to avoid Sartre’s failure. The world in which we dwell when experiencing an emotion is not a world made up of our projections. It is the world in its very essence. What is fictitious in our relationship with the world when we are under the spell of emotions is not the relationship itself but the way the object is characterized. There is not and cannot be a fictitious interaction with the world but just a fictitious characterization of the object. The mundane relationship itself is a true relationship. Lyall does not see this as fictitious. It is independent of the characteristics of the objects in the world because it grasps Being, that which goes beyond particularities. The phenomenal world is not just a projection, as Sartre considers. At this point we can see that for Lyall the Other is not really out there and that the Other is not really the other. Emotions integrate us into the world; they make us realize that we are a part of it. The Other is not “set at a distance” and there is no need to appropriate it, to make it ours. The “magical world” is magical because we find ourselves in it as identical and different from it at the same time and not because we project onto it.