I emotions and the self

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abstracts for workshop papers

emotions others and the self

international conference


august 25-27 åbo/turku finland

Emotions, Others and the Self

Workshop abstracts

(updated 29..7.2005)


1. G. H. Mead’s Symbolic Interactionism:

On the significance of emotional experience for self-formation

Emma Engdahl

Department of Social and Political Sciences

Örebro University, Sweden

Among the classics in symbolic interactionism we find A. Smith, C. H. Cooley and G. H. Mead. Smith is commonly remembered for his idea of the invisible hand, rather than his ideas on sympathy or moral sentiments; Cooley for his idea of the looking-glass self, in the sense of self-reflection, rather than self-feeling; and Mead for how we through attitude taking become selves with minds, rather than with emotions. In this paper Mead’s thinking on self-formation is perceived from a perspective that focuses on emotion. Especially, Mead’s idea on emotional experience as a felt inhibition of our interchanges with the other is examined. As a result, a systematization of the logic behind Mead’s theory of the evolving self is presented. Three distinct forms of Mead’s most well-known notion – taking the attitude or role of the other - come to the forefront: (1) functional identification (2) self-feeling, and (3) self-reflection. By examining Mead’s symbolic interactionism from a perspective that focuses on emotion I whish to bring the body and the emotions back into the field of symbolic interactionsim. The aim is, also, to present an understanding of body and emotion as social.
3. Seeing the self through the other

Magnus Gustafsson

Department of Industrial Management

Åbo Akademi University, Finland

The traditional theories on trust tend to describe the phenomenon as a conscious feeling or judgment that the other party does not intend harm. This view is based on a general assumption of uncertainty and can be traced back to Descartes and Hobbes and can be summed up in the question: how can we be certain they will fulfill their part of the obligation?

However, closer scrutiny shows that this view is both theoretically and empirically untenable and that the basic question itself, which underlies these theories, can be seen as a philosophicalmisunderstanding. One might as well ask: how can we be uncertain they will fulfill their obligation? As Lagerspetz (2002) points out trust is not so much a judgment as the basis for the judgment and comparable to a world-view. Thus trust is the view held by the one of the other (Gustafsson 2002) - it is based largely on the actions of the other and lies as a basis for how the actions of the other are interpreted. This definition of trust as the view of the other has also shown to be the one conforming best with how international business is conducted.

In this paper it is argued that rather than focusing on the other, as the traditional modernist views hold, the focus should be shifted to the self. By my reflecting on the one hand, on how I am seen by you, and on the other hand my reflecting on the way I see you, a more fruitful understanding of trustworthiness and trusting is achieved. By shifting to a process of regular self-examination, specific to the personal relation, the subject shifts from one of condemnation or admiration to one of reflection.

This approach of achieving and maintaining self-consciousness through the other has been greeted by practitioners and is today used globally to manage supplier-customer relationships and the trust in them. In the paper data and experiences from this process will be elaborated on. By regularly examining the self through the eyes of the other, companies and individuals gain a better understanding of themselves and are able to maintain better relations with the other, improves solving of the problems at hand, decreases litigation and enables the company to identify its weaknesses and improve its processes in order to increase the satisfaction of the other.

4. The Autonomous and Anonymous Self: Body and Emotions in Platonism

Pauliina Remes

Department of Philosophy

University of Helsinki, Finland

The idea of emotions as perturbations of right reason is ancient. Regardless of those ancient philosophical theories which embrace emotions as a part of human life and motivation, the grim picture of Plato’s Phaedo has long dominated the way emotions have been discussed. During antiquity, steps were taken towards externalisation of the body from what became considered as a true self. What is the rationale and philosophical motivation behind a theory that divides human nature so radically in two?

In Plato’s Timaeus, the demiurge creates human souls, but leaves the creation of their bodies to the lesser gods. This move to postulate two different origins to what one might expect to constitute a unified human nature is an influential step. It divides our nature into what is soul (and often also rational) and the bodily. With respect to emotions, the most radical and inhumane view in antiquity comes out of the happy marriage between Stoicism and Platonism. For the Stoics emotions are cognitive but perversions of reason, and thereby something a wise man has merely traces of. For Platonists, emotions are a mix of cognitions, elements of desire, bodily sensations and urges. As such they carry in them an element foreign to reason. When the later Stoics and Platonists combine these two strands of thought, they not merely eradicate emotions but, as it would seem, externalise them from the self.

The paper claims that there are two interesting motivations behind these harsh but influential views, both of which have to do with the philosophy of self. First, externalisation is a means of limiting that which is wholly and ideally actual from passive elements of human nature. By the time of Plotinus, the self had become understood in pure terms of actuality. This is important for the existence and causal efficacy of the self. The self is something that truly exists and that is a cause and principle of actions and cognitions, and therefore its nature must be active. Furthermore, only those actions which are not prompted – or, as Plotinus puts it, enchanted by the world – are expressions of purest selfhood. In his view, the body does not express selfhood in the required manner.

Second, to say that the body does not express our selfhood in its purest form need not strip the function of the body its significance. Maurice Merleau-Ponty has noted that body encloses personal but also anonymous layers. Body is not exclusively something that we could command at will. Without our initiation or conscious involvement, it is directed to and influenced by the world. This intentionality or directedness towards the world is anonymous in the sense of conceptually preceding the personal and lying outside our circle of decision, volition and judgement. It can and does acquire different kinds of expressions through personal acts and habits, but at its foundation there is something pre-personal. To treat the body as “foreign” need thus not be its externalisation from the self but an insight about its proper function in our nature.

5. Self-serving emotions1

Judit Szalai

Department of Philosophy

Central European University, Budapest, Hungary

The emotions individuals experience in any particular instance are shaped by a number of factors, such as (1) upbringing and social milieu, (2) perceived features of the situation, event, or object the emotion is directed at, and (3) the subject’s own emotional economy. Cognitivism, the trend that has formed the contemporary scene in the field of the philosophical theory of emotion, focuses on the second group, on what we may call object-related factors. The cognitivist approach construes emotions as responding to some perceived quality or value. Correspondingly, on the normative side, emotions are inappropriate when we misperceive or misjudge the relevant quality of the object, or when our reaction is disproportionate or wholly inadequate to the situation or the perceived property of the object.

My perspective is complementary rather than antagonistic to cognitivism, engaging subject-related factors that influence the occurrence of emotions. One’s emotional life has certain driving forces and interests of its own. In non-pathological cases, we tend to find ways to avoid excessively negative emotions and seek a kind of emotional ‘well-being’. Keeping up a sufficiently positive valence of emotions—especially of emotions related to our self-image—is part, probably the most important part, of our mental health.

Just as to object-related factors correspond object-related standards of appropriateness, subject-related factors also have their own normativity. An emotion that is seriously destructive to our self-image can be inappropriate from a subject-related point of view; just as an emotion which is incongruent with the perceived quality of the object is inappropriate from an object-related point of view.

In thinking about our own emotions and those of other people, we tend to take the object-related perspective for granted: we assume that emotions respond primarily to the perceived properties of their objects. However, it can happen that, instead, the subject-related perspective prevails: the emotion in question primarily answers the special demands of the subject’s emotional economy. Such emotions I will call self-serving. I define self-servingness in counterfactual terms: although they may warrant the emotion, the object-related features of the situation/object would not have triggered it. Examples are emotions attached to projection, scapegoating, and the martyrdom complex. There are also examples of self-serving positive emotions, like feeling love for a famous person the subject does not personally know in order to suppress a feeling of insignificance and make her life more meaningful.

While self-serving emotions are typically good in some sense for their subjects, we may find them morally impermissible on several grounds. Self-serving emotions may have bad consequences, such as inducing undeserved feelings of guilt and inferiority in persons towards whom the emotion is directed. Moreover, it can be plausibly claimed that we treat others as means to the end of our emotional well-being in the instances of such emotions. But there is also a further aspect that makes self-serving emotions blameworthy or impermissible. With self-serving emotions, their subject violates the rules of emotional cooperation. People operate on the understanding that emotions respond to values and expect others’ emotions to be based in a perception of some value or disvalue of the object. If my emotion is not grounded in such perception or judgment, I go against this fundamental principle to all emotional behavior and at least temporarily opt out of emotional cooperation, which takes the emotional reactions of others as based in value-perception and makes people reciprocate on that assumption.

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