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What is emotional suffering?

What is emotional suffering? I know that I feel that I suffer, but in what sense am I suffering? I cannot place anywhere, the source of emotional suffering in any causal terms from the external world. The external world can bring me physical pain through physical action, but it seems absurd to think that external objects can also cause emotional pain. Does this mean that emotional suffering is generated from within me? Am I the cause of my own suffering? If so, does this mean that one can choose not to suffer?

Saying just what emotional suffering amounts to wouldn't be easy, but there may be no need. Even if we find it hard to spell out what it is, all of us know emotional suffering from the inside. Some emotional suffering may be internally generated -- endogenous, as it's sometimes put -- but whether or not we understand the mechanisms, it's clear that things in the outer world can cause emotional pain. When you think about it, this isn't really so strange. Our emotional states are deeply dependent on the states of our brains, and our brains, after all, are physical things, in interaction with other physical things. We simply accept this for perception: our perceptual experiences are caused by the interaction between things in the outer world and our perceptual systems, including (not least!) our brains.

The details of how all this works are best left to the scientific experts, but for example, if I see someone I care about being hurt, and if I can do nothing about it, feeling distressed would seem the most natural thing in the world. That's a garden-variety example of things in the outer world causing emotional suffering. It would be odd in a case like this to say that you are the cause of your own suffering.

All the same, it's plausible that sometimes we do have some control over our suffering. Most of us tend to tell ourselves stories about what's happening to us, and sometimes those stories are not really very plausible. We may, for example, tell ourselves that a friend who didn't say "Hello" must have stopped liking us. In fact, our friend may simply have been preoccupied. To some extent, we can learn to notice when we are over-interpreting and reacting out of bad cognitive habits. This sort of pausing -- stepping back -- can sometimes lower our level of distress. Cognitive behavioral therapy calls such unproductive reactions "automatic thoughts," and seems to be able to help people by helping them learn to recognize when they are reacting that way. Buddhist approaches to emotional suffering have something of the same flavor.

So in short -- the fact that outer events can cause emotional distress isn't really any more puzzling than the more general fact that the mental is intimately related to the physical. Sometimes some of our emotional distress arises from the ways we react to things, and we sometimes have some degree of control over those reactions. However, this hardly means that we can simply "cure" all our emotional pain by ourselves, and worrying about whether we are "responsible" for our suffering may well not be very productive.

Why are some emotions considered 'negative,' like hate and envy while others are

Why are some emotions considered 'negative,' like hate and envy while others are held as the pinnacle of human achievement, like happiness or love? Who is to say happiness is any better than fear or rage or sorrow? Is it merely a question of personal choice, or are we naturally or artificially inclined towards one emotional state over another?

Usually, when philosophers identify certain emotions as negative emotions, they are referring to emotions that include or result from a negative judgment -- such as the judgment that something is bad, or unjust, or harmful. Since there are many things that are bad, or unjust, or harmful, there is nothing wrong about making such judgments or having such emotions. Indeed, it would be worrisome if people never made negative judgments and never felt negative emotions.

It is widely assumed that a happy life is preferable to an unhappy life; certainly most people, given the choice, would choose a happy life over an unhappy life. But negative feelings can actually contribute to our overall happiness insofar as they are a sign of meaningful connections to one's surroundings (the cheery but deluded life is not as happy as a wise but sometimes sad life).

Happiness may not be as important as we think it is, though. A recent book by Barbara Ehrenreich, entitled Bright-Sided, makes several good points against the prevalent preoccupations with happiness.

I believe it was Hume who made the point that reason cannot motivate us, only

I believe it was Hume who made the point that reason cannot motivate us, only our feelings can. Supposing that's true, I have a far-flung conclusion that seems to follow from that: when the panelists on this site choose which questions to answer, they're motivated by some emotion, not by reason. But doesn't this corrupt the purity of the logic of the answer? Perhaps not necessarily so, but isn't it likely that of the 2,600+ questions a good number have been tainted? How is it not the case?

A mathematician might find his feelings engaged by certain questions. Sir Andrew Wiles was passionate about Fermat's Last Theorem from the age of about ten, I believe. (Say, by contrast, that he took little interest in statistics. Perhaps statistics even disgusts him.) Does any of this "corrupt the purity of the logic" of his (rather long) answer to the question how to prove Fermat's Theorem? No, it just powered his interest in mathematics. Besides, why isn't it possible to be inspired and motivated by a thought or an ideal? The ten-year old Wiles had the thought, 'I will prove the Theorem', and this motivated him and engaged his feelings - and the grown-up Wiles did prove the Theorem. The purity of his logic was perhaps even assisted by his passion.

Are women more "emotional" than men and if so is this a bad thing?

Are women more "emotional" than men and if so is this a bad thing?

I am not sure why you use quotation marks around the word "emotional". Certainly there are cases where one person is more emotional than another -- in a given situation, or in general -- so there is nothing suspect about the word. Perhaps you are marking the fact that "emotional" can be used as a term of disparagement, and you do not want to accept this usage. Or perhaps you are thinking of the difference between having emotions and showing emotions, realizing that those who show their emotions are often considered more emotional, whether or not this is true.

Your question, in any case, concerns a possible difference between the amount or intensity of emotions in the lives of (most) women lives versus the lives of (most) men. It is hard to design a study that would settle your question since it is not clear how best to measure the presence of an emotion (self-report? bodily changes? facial expression?) and because it is not easy to create situations that have the same significance for many different people (what is worrisome to one person may be merely curious to another, or what is amusing to one person may tedious to another). Nonetheless, I think there are several reasons to think that women do, in fact, tend to be more emotional than men:

1. All humans have a tendency to mirror the emotional states that they notice in others, and women (in response to both biological and social factors) tend to be more attentive to the mental states of others.

2. Emotion serves to sustain inclinations across periods of time in which it is not possible to act on that inclination, and most societies restrict the actions of women more than those of men.

3. Scientific and technological training (for surgery, for example) often requires people to disengage from their emotions, and women are less likely to undergo such training.

These reasons do not imply that being more emotional is a bad thing, or a good thing -- in general. For there are some situations in which greater attentiveness to the mental states of others is considerate or useful, and other situations in which such attentiveness is intrusive or distracting. There are some situations in which suspending or delaying action gives one the chance to act more effectively, and other situations in which it means that one loses the chance to act at all. And some sorts of scientific and technological training have been very beneficial to humans, while other sorts have been very harmful.

Could a robot, imbued with artificial intelligence, feel emotion? And could it

Could a robot, imbued with artificial intelligence, feel emotion? And could it feel the desire to improve its lot in life - e.g. if it was a servant robot, could it feel the desire to overthrow its master, escape the humiliation of being a servant, and possess things for itself?

I don't see any reason that a robot could not, in principle, be built that would be conscious and feel emotions. Some people (John Searle, most famously) disagree, at least about an artificial system that does not replicate our brains' "causal properties". However, I don't think we have any good ideas about how to create consciousness in robots, in part because we don't have any good theories about how consciousness in humans works.

It's always possible that human consciousness only exists because we have something robots could never have (e.g., immaterial souls, although it's not clear why it is impossible robots could be endowed with souls, or our particular biological materials). But it seems more likely to me that our conscious experiences and emotions (including our feelings to improve our lot in life, our desire for possessions, our desires for freedom) are the product of complex processes in the brain that could, in theory, be replicated in a non-biological system. It seems likely to me that the system would have to develop and learn and would have to have a "body" and interact with the real world and real agents (or at least a Matrix world).

Finally, it is also possible that robots could be designed to have non-conscious "desires" (motivations), including motivations to avoid being harmed or to acquire certain possessions. We certainly have some non-conscious motivations. So, we probably need to start thinking about the implications of these possibilities, since there's no question people will try to design such robots at some point. Should we develop some rules for robots?

For some discussion of these issues, see here and here.

How can I know that I have (or have not) experienced the feeling or state or

How can I know that I have (or have not) experienced the feeling or state or experience of 'hatred'?

As I understand it, hatred is something like anger, only whereas anger can be brief, hatred is much more durable.

Anger might lead you, while you are in its grip, to want to do something hurtful or harmful to another, or in some other way act in a way that is contrary to or which undermines or frustrates the other's interest, where the other is the object of your anger. Hatred is a settled disposition to want to hurt or harm, or to undermine or frustrate the object of hatred. Like anger, hatred can be controlled--one can resist the impulse to hurt or harm, or to undermine or frustrate, when angry and when filled with hate. But the impulse nonetheless there. People who are angry or who hate may often avoid those at whom they are angry or whom they hate, because they do not wish to experience so vividly these negative impulses, or posssibly, because they fear acting on them.

You can conclude that you have hated someone or something if what you have experience is like being angry at them for a long time and in an apparently resolved, habitual, and settled way.

Are there any philosophers that address emotional apathy? Are there any that

Are there any philosophers that address emotional apathy? Are there any that warn against it? I know Plato, Kant, and presumably Aquinas would argue against apathetic sentiment for political and religious reasons, but I was wondering if there are any that stress the importance of emotional zest or passion?

Nietzsche and Camus come to mind. They don't exactly address emotional apathy as a philosophical problem. But they both develop philosophical positions that, in quite different ways, combine intellectual argument with emotional engagement. You might have a look at Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Camus' The Rebel.

Who can direct me to the philosopher whose work addresses the relationship

Who can direct me to the philosopher whose work addresses the relationship between knowledge and emotion?

One book you might be interested in is Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain by Antonio Damasio (although Damasio is a neurologist, not a philosopher).

Would humans effectively eliminate most emotions given sufficient rationality?

Would humans effectively eliminate most emotions given sufficient rationality? In other words, if humans became highly rational creatures then would we become less emotional?

Only if you define "rationality" in a way that makes it opposed to emotion. But for a lot of reasons, that would be a dubious definition.

For one thing, we have reason to believe that intelligent decision-making isn't disconnected from emotions. There's been a good deal of work on this topic by philosophers and scientists, but one well-know place to start is with Antonio Damasio's book Descartes' Error. It turns out that the emotional centers in the brain have an important role to play in helping keep us on the rails.

We can add: other things being equal, it doesn't sound rational to choose a life that makes it less likely that we'll be happy and fulfilled. But for most of us, a good deal of what makes life meaningful is bound up with our emotions. In a perfectly obvious sense of "rational," it's rational to seek love, let ourselves cry in the face of tragedy and open ourselves to joy. A concept of "rationality" that ruled all this out would be poor and perverse.

The phrase "You must forgive" is often bandied about - especially in religious

The phrase "You must forgive" is often bandied about - especially in religious teachings. Surely this is not fair - the wrong-doer has an entitlement from the wronged? What if the wronged is unable to forgive? Is forgiveness an emotion?

There is a lot of really interesting philosophical work currently being done in the area of forgiveness (in fact, the 2008 Annual Meeting of the American Catholic Philosophical Association next November is planned around the theme of forgiveness; and its consideration won't be limited to religious teachings). So what I say here should not be taken as the last word, or even anywhere close to it.

The wronged party is indeed owed something ("has an entitlement from") the wrong-doer; voluntarily foregoing this entitlement is precisely the essence of forgiveness. If this is so, it is simply inaccurate to tell someone, "You must forgive." Forgiveness is not an obligation, or else it wouldn't really be forgiveness. It must be a freely chosen act.

I would say that forgiveness is NOT an emotion, but rather a deliberate movement of the will -- a free choice to waive the entitlement owed by the wrong-doer. Sometimes that entitlement will consist in compensation, material or non-material, sometimes in a loss of trust, a sense of offense, or a grudge.

The accounts of the value of forgiveness with which I'm most familiar are in the vein of virtue ethics, i.e., what we ought to do is to develop in ourselves a certain kind of character, or habitual way of acting. A forgiving nature (assuming it is cultivated by autonomous choice and not by coercion or shame) is virtuous, while hard-heartedness makes us something less than we ought to be.