A Defence of Sentiments: Emotions, Dispositions, and Character

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Hichem Naar


Contemporary emotion research typically takes the phenomenon of emotion to be exhausted by a class of mental events that are intentional, conscious, and related to certain sorts of behaviour. Moreover, other affective phenomena, such as moods, are also considered to be relatively short-term, episodic, or occurrent states of the subject undergoing them. Emotions, and other putative emotional phenomena that common-sense takes as long-lasting, non-episodic, or dispositional are things that both philosophers and scientists sometimes recognise, but that are relatively neglected in comparison to emotional episodes. This thesis aims at showing that this neglect is unjustified. I will argue that there is a class of entities, 'sentiments'-broadly characterised as dispositions to undergo emotional episodes-that (1) are irreducible to emotional episodes or collections thereof and (2) have properties that make them a suitable target of study by the emotion researcher.In the first chapter, I argue that an analysis of caring (and related phenomena, such as love) as a pattern of emotional episodes, while more plausible than alternative, non-emotional accounts, faces a number of counterexamples that motivate the search for an account of caring as related in a certain way to emotions but as irreducible to them. I argue that a dispositional account, according to which dispositions are conceived as distinct from their manifestations, is an account for which a strong case can be made.The second chapter is dedicated to defending a modest form of realism about dispositions in general and psychological dispositions in particular. According to realism, dispositions are genuine properties that, although perhaps reducible to non-dispositional properties, cannot be re-described in terms of events (including behaviour) only. In the third chapter, I show in what ways emotional dispositions (or sentiments) can positively contribute to the explanation of the occurrence (or non-occurrence) of emotional episodes. In the fourth chapter, I argue that caring, understood as a species of sentiment, is not to be construed as a mere disposition to produce certain events; rather, we should allow that certain dispositions are genuinely mental or psychological. Assuming realism about the mental, I argue that some dispositions are mental in a way that others (such as fragility) are not. I suggest that being intentional is the property that makes psychological dispositions genuinely mental. I end the chapter by drawing a connection between caring and the notion of character. On my view, caring is at least a necessary ingredient of certain character traits, in particular the virtues. In chapter five, I tackle a recent form of empirically informed scepticism about character and argue, on the basis of general considerations about psychological dispositions, that the sceptic's case is not as strong as she makes out. Finally, in chapter six, I argue that at least certain forms of sentiment, for example romantic love, can be genuinely supported by reasons, thereby suggesting a way they can contribute to the value of our lives. Overall, the aim of this thesis is to establish the respectability of sentiments in a sophisticated account of the mind.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date31 Dec 2013