Explanation pp 167-184 | Cite as

The Explanation of Emotions

Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 302)


Emotions are highly complex and subtle phenomena whose explanation requires a careful and systematic analysis of their multiple characteristics and components. The dispute concerning the explanation of emotions is not limited to the methods we should adopt, but also extends to what the subject matter of that explanation might be. Concerning the latter issue, I suggest characterizing emotions as a general mode of the whole mental system. This characterization expresses the complexity of emotions and hence of their explanation. The following features contribute further to this complexity: Emotions are highly sensitive to contextual and personal factors; emotions do not appear in isolation, but in a cluster of affective attitudes; and the everyday use of emotional terms is confusing. I suggest to take advantage of a few conceptual tools for dealing with this complexity: (a) using various levels of description and various cognitive perspectives; (b) using prototype categories; (c) using systematic classifications of the emotions. Despite the enormous difficulties in describing and explaining the emotions, the concept of emotion is useful in both philosophical theories and psychological research.1


Mental Capacity Conceptual Tool Mental Mode Emotion Category Intentional Content 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2001

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