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When something just doesn’t feel right…

Commentary on:
Patricia Greenspan, “Reasons to Feel”

Henid or sneaky suspicion or “practical adaptiveness”

[In my comparisons to Weininger’s notion of henids here and elsewhere, I am only attributing to him the perspective of a man and observer of women. (And part of the point is that a man (in his moral role) is never not an observer—even of his own feelings, which carries with it both juridical advantages and barefaced liabilities, as Weininger noted.) A full characterization of what he noticed about women (and the feminine in men) has long needed supplementation from a woman’s more ensconced position. Greenspan (among others) takes significant steps in that direction.]

Greenspan is critical of “judgmentalist” accounts of emotion that place too great an emphasis on articulable belief in their analysis of emotion.

She describes a case of her “wary suspicion,” an uneasiness with a salesman’s pitch akin to the fear that her self-interest might be compromised. But the suspicion afflicts her in a situation where she has far from any conviction about the matter.

I am uncomfortable about that presumed state of affairs and thus am undergoing an emotion even though my discomfort may resist explanation in terms of any very specific mental event. Rather, it amounts to a general state of negative feeling, perhaps a kind of mental tension, directed towards an evaluative proposition of the sort that is characteristic of fear.

Greenspan stresses that there is an intentional object of this emotion that is not the actual fear that the salesman is taking advantage of her; rather, the target of the emotion is the content of the thought that he might. And it may exist even in the face of abundant counter-evidence: the man’s excellent reputation, etc.


Although I keep thinking—entertaining the thought—that X is apt to mislead me, I do not think that he is, in the sense that involves assent to the content of my thought. Rather, the case supposes, I attribute it to own imagination.

My ‘intuitive’ suspicion may be warranted, however, even though I do not take it to be and even though the corresponding belief would not be, under the circumstances. [A suspicion may be warranted where a belief might not be. And a suspicion, of course, is a feeling.] There may be some features of X’s way of presenting himself that do back up my reaction, that is, but are not perceived clearly enough to justify a belief that X is untrustworthy. All the evidence I have—including any memories of my similar reactions on past occasions—counts against that judgment. And yet my emotion may be appropriate, not just because in this case it happens to fit the facts, but rather because it is here controlled by some relevant features of my perceptual situation. I might have at least prima facie evidence for belief, if I were able to specify those features at least roughly; but as things stand now, I do not know enough about the subliminal sources of my emotion even to attribute them to its object. I am reacting to something about X’s eye movements, say, something whose relevance to untrustworthiness could be explained by a developed science of ‘body language,’ if there were one. But from my current evidential standpoint the emotion would seem to be best explained by my own uneasiness. So it seems that the emotion may be appropriate in a case where its corresponding belief is neither warranted nor held.

[The description Greenspan offers reminds us of that given by Weininger of a henid in Sex & Character.]

She considers the possibility of widening the concept of belief:

….Here let me just say that I am suspicious of this apparent appeal to simplicity. Its use in defense of a neatly reductionist theory runs the risk of slighting the special rational significance of emotion. … I shall eventually argue that what emotions add to beliefs depends on their partial justification in extraevidential terms—in terms of practical ‘adaptiveness,’ or a kind of instrumental value that is not properly brought to bear on assessments of belief warrant. This means that in at least some cases an appropriate emotion may be one that parts from warranted belief. But to make out this rational possibility as a real one, we need to put some limits on the attribution of beliefs. In general, it seems that belief is just one propositional attitude among others.

[While Weininger’s notion of rationality was clearly non-instrumental and attuned to a Kantian heterocosmos, read carefully, it does leave ample room for a wholly “sensible” conception of rationality, one endemic to women—and plainly evident in Greenspan. The prescriptive sense of “sensible” is, of course, exactly what is in contention. But there is no objection to it apparently from either side—both Weininger’s and the female theorist’s—as description.

It is also noteworthy that Greenspan, from her side, wants to preserve the distinction between a fully propositional belief and her intentional but not fully articulable notion of an emotion or suspicion under the auspices of a “practical adaptiveness.” Henidical cognitions, Weininger implied, are not liable to the same hubris of perspicuous propositional content severed from first experience. The latter ceases to preserve a live connection to it source: what it gains in utility it loses in at least one kind of authenticity. “A woman is never so stupid as a man can be” writes the “misogynist” Weininger.]


…. Thus, in the case of suspicion, as long as I am uncomfortable at the thought that X is likely to injure my interests, my discomfort puts me on guard against that possibility. [Thus serving an adaptive end.]

…. On the view proposed here, the emotion itself serves as a reason for action insofar as it yields discomfort about an action requirement. Discomfort at the thought that I ought to keep an eye on X–that there is a need to do so, which I have yet to satisfy fully—follows from my suspicion in its situational context and amounts to a motivating desire on this view. My discomfort apparently will continue unless and until I satisfy the requirement; so it adds a rational motive for action to that provided by affectless thought and desire, even in combination with affective emotion symptoms.

[This pushing role or “motivating desire” of the henid contrasts with the alluring or pulling function of almost “affectless” abstraction in the masculine mental economy. It is because she is not at bottom as vulnerable to the allure of the latter that the former serves as it does for her. Put another way, he is so deficient in “intuition” (or, at least, respect for it) that he must find—if he finds it anywhere—awe in a rationally disciplined abstraction, e.g., rule, principle, a moral law.]


The claim that I actually ought to feel suspicious in my business dealings with X must rest on some view about the practical insufficiency, without emotion, of my concern for my own interests. An evaluation, especially one from which I withhold belief, is unlikely to have the same grip on my behavior in the absence of negative feeling tone; and it is this fact that lets us complete our justification of the emotion. Appropriateness is not enough to mandate feeling, in short. Where there are no moral ‘reasons to feel,’ as in this case, we need to bring in practical adaptiveness.

[The pre-moral or amoral, almost biological notion of “practical adaptiveness” again fits well with Weininger’s description of feminine cognition.]

Posted by luno in henids, aesthetics, Moral Sentiment, sex differences, Weininger (Friday September 2, 2005 at 1:17 pm)

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