Monthly Archives: June 2015

Anthony Kenny’s Action, Emotion and Will approaches its three topics from a perspective shaped by four key influences: Aristotle, Aquinas, Wittgenstein, and Ryle. Its central arguments are motivated and shaped by a respect for differences—between, for example, feelings and emotions, actions and relations, and states, performances, and activities—together with optimism about our capacity reflectively to discern intrinsic connections—between, for example, feelings, their objects, and their manifestations in behaviour. In the course of developing a critical reaction to some early experimental approaches to the study of the emotions, Kenny considers the way introspection had been exploited in developing those approaches. He writes:

Some, believing that an emotion was the object of an inward perception, concluded that the study of the emotions could be made scientific only by training introspectors in precise observation and accurate measurement of their interior states. Thus were devised series of ‘introspective experiments’ designed to secure ever more detailed and precise descriptions of internal impressions. (Kenny 1963: 29.)

Kenny’s critical engagement with the approach is largely confined to an Austinian method: quotation, perhaps accompanied by a sardonic expression:

A textbook recently in use remarks: “The observer in an introspective experiment on feeling needs to adopt a special attitude to the situation which is presented him. Rather than perceiving the situation and dealing actively with it, he must immerse himself in it and live it, at the same time trying to observe the emotional experience which comes over him.” (Kenny 1963: 29–30. The embedded quotation comes from Woodworth 1938.)

On the method, Kenny comments as follows:

The presuppositions of this type of experiment are clearly Cartesian. An emotion is regarded as an experience only contingently connected with its manifestation: no essential part of it is lost if the normal behaviour characteristic of it is replaced by a quite special laboratory attitude of ‘immersion in experience’. (Kenny 1963: 30.)

It would take us too far afield to discuss the justice of Kenny’s characterisation of the target presuppositions as Cartesian. Moreover, a discussion of that issue would have to involve untangling a number of issues run together in Kenny’s characterisation. We would need, for example, to distinguish between, on one side, treating as contingent the connections between experience and their behavioural manifestation and, on the other side, so treating the connections between experiences and bodily activity more generally, experiences and attention, and experiences and their objects. The last type of connection assumes prominence in another of Kenny’s experiments in sardonic quotation:

One subject, for instance, given a piece of chocolate, produced this report: “The characterization, pleasant, applies to the experienced complex, the predominant components of which were the quality of sweet and a brightness or lightness reminiscent of bright pressure. [Fn: “Bright pressure” was a technical phrase of Titchener’s laboratory; it meant something “not far removed from a tickle”.

Fairly clearly, something has gone wrong here. If one knew that the topic of the report was an experience of eating a piece of chocolate, and also that the reporter liked chocolate, then suitable training might put one in a position to predict the appropriateness of such a description. However, the converse seems implausible. That is, it seems implausible that any course of training could put one in a position to predict, just from the report, that the target experience was one of eating chocolate. At a minimum, that suggests information loss. Furthermore, the issue seems not to concern causal factors extrinsic to how things seem to the subject. For the same would appear to be true of a perfectly matching hallucination of eating a piece of chocolate: being told that such an experience is pleasant and a predominance of sweetness, brightness, and lightness reminiscent of something not far removed from a tickle, would reveal many distinctive aspects of the experience less well, and less determinately, than being told that it seems to the subject as if they were eating some chocolate. It’s common, in discussions of experience, to observe that for certain purposes, it can be advisable to draw in one’s horns: for example, on acquiring evidence that one is not really eating chocolate, to move from the judgment that one is having an experience of eating chocolate to the less committal judgment that it at least seems to one that one is eating chocolate, or that one is eating what seems to be chocolate. In so doing, it is often possible to gain security by sacrificing commitments. It is less common, but attested, that in some circumstances, it is possible not only to have reason to think that, insofar as the correctness of one’s views depends upon facts about extra-psychological reality, those views might be mistaken—that one might be wrong in taking oneself to be eating chocolate—but also that one might be wrong even about how things seem to one—that one might be wrong in taking it that it seems to one that one is eating chocolate. The superficial similarities between the two sorts of error might then lead to the idea that drawing in one’s horns should be possible in the latter sort of case— that one might draw back from the judgement that it seems to one that one is eating chocolate to a less committal judgement, to the effect that it at least seems to one that it so seems to one, or that it at least seems to one that one’s experience is pleasant and involves sweetness, brightness, &c.  One way of understanding the ‘introspective experiments’ that Kenny describes is as attempts to gain security in introspective description on the basis of such manoeuvres. One potential lesson of Kenny’s discussion is that attention to differences between the two sorts of cases, and in particular to the sorts of loss of determinacy involved in attempting to draw in one’s horns in characterising how things merely seem to one, might reveal ways in which errors about how things seem to one are not appropriately modelled on errors about the extra-psychological factors on which one’s experience sometimes depends. References  Anthony Kenny (1963) Action, Emotion and Will. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Robert S. Woodworth (1938) Experimental Psychology. New York: H. Holt and Company. (Kenny cites this as 1950 and seems to have in mind the London: Methuen reprint, rather than the 1954 second edition.)

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