This might be a question that is best answered by professional psychologists rather than philosophers, but it does raise interesting questions about the nature of love. Several philosophers (e.g., Solomon, Scruton, Nozick) have suggested that when one person loves another, the lover’s sense of her own identity becomes merged with that of the beloved. The fact that a loss of a beloved evokes a feeling in the lover that is naturally described as “emptiness” seems to support this idea. Not only is the beloved no longer there; a part of the lover is no longer there. There is a hole in the identity of the lover, until the lover reconstructs her identity around other things that she loves or comes to love.
The question begins: "Do you think it is ethical to have romantic desires for people with good looks?" The questioner then constructs a syllogism that concludes: "it is unethical to grant people ANY advantage based on their looks." Perhaps this particular conclusion is right, i.e., the syllogism is both valid and sound. However, that doesn't get us very far in answering the original question at the very top, for we would still have to add the premise/assumption: "my having romantic desires for a physically attractive person grants an advantage to that person." That is very doubtful! (Except for the megalomaniac.) By the way, I cover this territory in depth in my Sexual Investigations (Yale, 1996), chapter 5, "Beauty."
Interesting question. One answer is that certain parts of our culture associate sadness or sorrow with the possession of a depth of character, and happiness with a certain superficiality, that is, with a character that only sees what is on the surface, or on what is most easily accessible to a person. This is in turn often associated with the material, whether it be how things look (beautiful cars, bodies, houses) or with what one can acquire with money (rather than with one's soul).
But there is another weighting one can give to happiness and sorrow, one that we find in several places, including the Buddhist tradition. On this account, while it is true that sorrow or suffering is a fundamental aspect of the human condition, so that the person who experiences sorrow is more enlightened, shall we say, than the person who merrily goes through life without experiencing sorrow, it is a sign of greater enlightenment to accept the facts of the human condition that cause one sorrow (sickness, death, loss of various kinds), but to rise above these to a state of happiness, or at least ,tranquillity. On this account, in the end, happiness would be valued more than sorrow, for it is based on a fully complex understand of experience.
Music can certainly bring about emotions, and I think it can also make us conscious of ones that we already have. It may bring about emotions in a variety of ways. A work of music may remind us of something and produce emotion in that way, or it may move us when we recognize its quality or expressive power, or it may encourage us to imagine certain things and--in so doing--arouse emotion. An interesting question is whether we should understood the expressive nature of certain pieces of music in terms of their tendency to arouse emotions. Simply put: Are works of music sad because they are disposed to make us sad? I think there are reasons to doubt this. For example, it seems to me that one may recognize the sadness of a piece of music w/out feeling any inclination to sadness--and that this is true even under the best listening conditions. That certainly doesn't settle the issue, but it does suggest that we should look for an account of the expressive qualities of music in some other place.
There are two ways to overcome loneliness. One is by getting involved with other people so you neither are nor feel lonely; the other is by yourself, so that although you are alone, you don't feel lonely. Your question seems to rule out the first route, but the second remains open. Loneliness is not just being alone, it is being unhappy about it. And you may be able to bring yourself to accept being alone in a way that stops the unhappiness.
But I would recommend the first route if at all possible. And perhaps your question does not rule it out after all. For even if you are surrounded by other people you may feel lonely, and even though you are surrounded by other people you may need to overcome the feeling by yourself, or at least the impetus must come from you. But I think the way to do that is to engage with people and projects in ways that help you get rid of that lonely feeling.
This question points to a tension in our pre-theoretical views aboutemotions. On the one hand, they seem to be mental states with respectto which we are passive, and over which we have no control. Thisreflects the phenomenology of emotional experience. On the other hand,we sometimes expect people to have certain emotions, and criticizepeople for having certain emotions.
If, as many philosophersbelieve, responsibility presupposes control, given that emotions seemto be states over which we have no control, it would seem, then, thatwe cannot be responsible for our emotions. So, on the one hand, itwould seem that we ought not to be responsible for our emotions, whileon the other hand, we do hold people responsible for their emotions. Isthere any way to resolve this tension?
I think that this tensionmay be resolved by reconceiving the notion of control at issue here.Rather than locating the control necessary for responsibility indecision, it could be relocated in rationality. So instead of requiringthat our emotions be subject to our choice or decision if we are to beresponsible for them, we might want to say that we are responsible foremotions insofar as they are reason-sensitive states.
The virtueof such an account is that it can acknowledge the passivity of ourexperience of emotions, without taking that phenomenological passivityas a normative disqualification. Moreover, it provides a principled wayto distinguish emotions from other passive states for which we are notresponsible.
For example, pains, like emotions, are stateswith respect to which we are passive. However, we do not normally holdpeople responsible for being in pain. If we take reason-sensitivity tobe a condition of responsibility, then this would explain why we don'thold people responsible for pains, because they do not reflect reasons,while we do hold people responsible for emotions.
One might wellwonder whether the idea that responsibility can be grounded inreason-sensitivity is generalizable, whether it can provide the basisfor a general account of moral responsibility. Following T.M. Scanlon, I think it can; for more details, see T. M. Scanlon, What We Owe To Each Other, Chapter 6, "Responsibility."
My daughter Rachel, who is now 12, used to watch the Rugrats--she was, maybe, 6 at the time. Often she asked me, "Daddy, why is Angelica so mean?" All I could muster, back then, was something about how difficult a question that was to answer. But we went back to the question as she got older. I began with the distinction between reasons and causes, and suggested to her that we could ask "why?" in two different senses. Eventually I blamed Angelica's parents: a wimpy dad who gave her everything she asked for; a superaggressive, selfish, self-absorbed, absent mother. (I can hear Ray's mother, Marie Romano, exclaiming: "It's always the mother!") The genesis of evil (and of good) is a question philosophers and other scholars have grappled with for a very long time, going back at least to Socrates and Plato. Angelica has her share of Original Sin. Blame Eve. Due to Natural Selection, humans are by nature egoists--the selfish gene writ large. Bad people are really only ignorant; if they knew more, or knew what they knew more accurately, they wouldn't be (so) bad. Abuse breeds abuse. And so forth. I have a question: do we ever have a right to be mean? Or even: do we ever have a duty to be mean?
Why is stupidity not painful? Huh? It is painful. Every time I do something stupid, I feel the searing pain, I wince like a dog hit by a car. Really. This is supposed to help me not do stupid things, like putting my hand in the flame. Doesn't work much, does it? We continue to do stupid things and feel the pain. So much the worse for both Intelligent Design and Natural Selection.
There is nothing quite like a swift kick to the fanny to get one energized. I thank Professor Gentzler for arousing me from my stupor. All I did last night, of course, was to suggest that tiredness was not an emotion because it didn't look much like standard emotions such as anger, remorse, and fear. I did not explain the difference. But Professor Gentzler is too modest about her own contribution to this thread, and exaggerates my ability to improve its quality. What she taught us about Plato is superb, while I merely dabble in the theory of the emotions. Nonetheless, here goes. (Maybe another panelist can help by telling us something about the Solomon-Schachter experiments.)
On a currently popular model of emotion (see Daniel Farrell and O. Harvey Green, for starters), emotions are composed of three elements: a belief (the cognitive feature), a desire (the conative), and a feeling (the affective). I believe that the animal is a hyena and that it is about to strike; I desire not to have my limbs torn off; I experience the feeling of fright. In addition, emotions have behavioral correlates: I run, or I draw my pistol (or, being stunned, frozen like a deer in headlights, I am mauled.) The point that Professor Gentzler makes, relying on Plato, is that emotions are about something; they are directed at an object (the ontology of which is a matter of some dispute); or they have "intentionality," at least in the sense of depending on beliefs and being eliminable in response to changes in belief. If I come to believe that the hyena is really my daughter in her halloween costume, my fear dissipates. (I had better be right.) A technical issue: when Professor Gentzler brings up, in Plato's account of emotion, "views about how the world should be," might we assimilate or equate that to the contemporary conative feature of emotion? Or did Plato not want to include desire in his account of emotion? (More about "intentionality": I am angry that something happened. But I cannot be tired that. . . . The thing about which I am angry is the "intentional object" of the emotion. Tiredness has no intentional object. There is nothing "about which" I am tired. I am just tired.)
Being tired seems not to exhibit intentionality: my being exhausted is not about something, a state of affairs; it seems not to depend on any beliefs which, if altered, would eliminate my being tired (getting sleep does that, with or without sweet dreams). Being tired seems to be only a feeling or sensation, or have only an affective dimension, brought on primarily by the biochemical state of our bodies (lactates, and so forth). It is not rich enough a phenomenon to rise to the level of an emotion.
Can animals have emotions? They can be tired, as we can, and from similar causes. But there is no intentionality in animal exhaustion. This is not to deny that some animals might have sufficient cognition and conation to exhibit emotions. A dog, for example, might show pride in having accomplished a task set for it.
One question in the theory of emotions is whether each emotion has it own distinctive or constitutive beliefs, desires, affects, and behaviors and, if so, what they are. We can, for example, distinguish fear from jealousy in terms of their respective beliefs, desires, and so forth. The model works well in many cases. Does it always? (See below, on hate versus love.) What would be the constitutive belief of being tired, such that without that belief one would not be tired?
Another question has to do with completing the taxonomy. There are feelings, sentiments, attitudes, moods, and emotions, all of which apparently have some things in common but also differ in various ways. For example, is being depressed a mood or an emotion? Some say it is a mood, when or because it lacks "aboutness." We cannot pin down the belief in which it is grounded, or the beliefs are too amorphous, or there are no beliefs at all involved, but only disturbed seratonin distributions. Does this mean that for a phenomenon to be an emotion, the beliefs must be conscious? Couldn't we have unconscious emotions? (Freud thought so.) Being tired might well put us in a bad mood or cause us to have an emotion (frustration-anger), but having this causal power doesn't make it an emotion. Further, being tired is sometimes phenomenologically indistinguishable from being depressed. But this should not make us think that being tired is either a mood or an emotion.
Yet another fascinating question about the emotions has to do with Professor Genztler's expression "answerable to reason." Some think that emotion is not the kind of thing that can be judged as being rational or irrational, or that reason has little to do with passion. Professor Genzler's account of Plato shows this to be weak. Emotions can be judged in terms of rationality at least in the sense that the beliefs underlying the emotion can be judged as being rational or irrational. If I believe irrationally (on the basis of poor evidence) that John is out to get me, then my fear of John is irrational. Whether emotions can be irrational also in virtue of a defect in the conative element is unclear. Might certain desires be irrational? In jealousy, I believe that a third party is drawing the attention of my lover away from me, and I desire my lover's exclusive attention. If my belief that the interloper is or might be successful is irrational, then so is my jealousy; and it should go away upon my finding out the truth. But could my jealousy be irrational, instead, because my desire for my lover's exclusive attention is irrational? Might someone talk me out of that desire and dispell my jealousy?
Finally: hate and love. In paradigmatic cases of hatred, it is an emotion, having cognitive, conative, and affective features. Even if the cognitive feature is difficult to state precisely, hate seems to be distinguished from other emotions by the sort of belief it involves, a negative judgment about the person hated, a dislike about certain characteristics of the person hated. We might say that hatred is reason- or property-dependent: something about the person hated instigates the hate or, better, something we believe about the person hated does so. That property we perceive or believe exists is or provides the reason we hate the person, and the hate can be judged rational (or not) depending on the accuracy of the perception or belief. Rational hate, on this view, should dissipate were the truth to be revealed.
Is love the same? If it is an emotion, and if the belief-desire-affect model is correct, then we should be able to say quite similar things about love: that it is instigated by the properties of the beloved, or at least by our believing he or she has those properties, and that love can be judged rational (or not) on the basis of the rationality of its underlying beliefs.
Many philosophers raise serious questions about this account of love. For one thing, they argue that it gets things backwards: I do not love Jane because (I believe) Jane is gorgeous and smart (as in Platonic eros); rather, I judge her gorgeous and smart (or attribute other values to her) because I love her. Second (as a corollary?), they claim that just because my beliefs about my beloved change, that does not mean (or should not mean) that my love should disappear. Quite the contrary. If I genuinely love you, I will continue to do so no matter what you are (or no matter what I believe about you). Love is constant: A love that changes in response to changes in the beloved was not love to begin with. (See one of Shakepeare's sonnets.) Third, it makes no sense (in contrast to hate) to speak of love as rational or irrational. If it is not grounded in beliefs, then it cannot be faulted for being cognitively irrational.
Whether we should conclude that love shows that the belief-desire-affect model of emotions is wrong, or that love is not an emotion at all (but a mood, like depression), or that love is an emotion about which we believe many silly things, I will leave to other panelists to ponder.