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Emotions, Character, and Associationist Psychology

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Emotions are pivotal in the manifestation and functioning of character traits. Traits such as virtues and vices involve emotions in diverse but connected ways. Some virtues (justice, generosity, compassion, truthfulness) are exemplified, in important part, by feeling emotions. Others (self-control, perseverance, courage) are exemplified in managing, bypassing, or even eliminating emotions. And one virtue at least (humility) is exemplified in not-feeling a certain range of emotions. Emotions are a kind of perceptual state, namely construal, involving concern or caring (motivation) about something, in which the elements of a situation are organized and understood in terms of their significance or import. Emotional understanding can be morally right or wrong. As such construals, emotions can be morally excellent (the feeling of joy about a rectified injustice) or perverse (envy and contempt of persons). Emotions thus have a logic or grammar that is crucial to their entering into, or being set upon by, or simply not occurring because of, virtues. The virtuous person is attuned, implicitly or reflectively, to this grammar, and that attunement constitutes one of the major dimensions of practical wisdom. An associationist psychology (behaviorist or Humean) attempts to reduce the conceptual and intentional richness of emotions to mere associations or correlations of pleasant or unpleasant “affect” with various things (behaviors, “values”). Such a psychology is fundamentally unfit to represent practical wisdom, and thus the moral life. We sketch an account of the generation and degeneration of character traits using the above conceptual framework and contrasting it with an associationist framework.

Affiliations: 1: Baylor University, Robert_Roberts@baylor.edu ; 2: US Air Force Academy, Adam.Pelser@usafa.edu

10.1163/17455243-46810069
/content/journals/10.1163/17455243-46810069
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/content/journals/10.1163/17455243-46810069
2017-12-09
2018-05-21

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