Published online by Cambridge University Press: 03 December 2009
The Varieties of Emotions
A remarkable fact about natural languages is their high articulation about emotions. In speaking about people's beliefs, we always mention or assume a particular content: Amos believes that the pliers are in the toolbox. It is virtually uninformative to say simply that Amos believes, unless the context supplies implicit reference to what is believed; and the same goes for the variants of belief: doubt, conjecture, strong conviction, and so on. Desire is in a like case. To speak significantly of desire is to designate some more or less particular desired thing, action, or state of affairs, or to exploit a context that makes this clear. Amos wants (desires, wishes for) a pair of pliers. It is almost uninformative about Amos's state of mind to say simply, “Amos desires.” By contrast, to hear that Amos is angry, afraid, or contrite is to receive significant information about his state of mind, quite apart from knowing what Amos is angry about or afraid of. By the account given in Section 2.5c, this informativeness can be explained in terms of the two kinds of propositional content of relatively mature human beings' paradigm emotions. Even if we do not know the material proposition forming Amos's emotion – that Jeremy has maliciously hidden my pliers just when I need them – if we know his emotion is anger, we know a great deal about his state of mind because we know anger's defining proposition.