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Henids and the doxic life

Notes on:
Cheshire Calhoun, “Cognitive Emotions?”

Calhoun seeks to stress the “conceptual gulf” between emotion and belief that she feels cognitivist theorists such as Robert Solomon ignore.

Belief “lies near ‘responsibility’” Whereas

‘emotion’ has a different sort of conceptual consort. Although often tied to (causal or constitutive) cognitions, emotion is paradigmatically passive (it happens to us) involuntary (we are not culpable), and a- or irrational (it is part of our animal-physical nature and often interferes in our rational-intellectual life).

Calhoun thinks this difference is better faced head-on by “unity accounts” of emotion such as those of Dewey and Sartre than by the “patchwork theories” (of Solomon, et al.)

But what about cases such as that Calhoun describes in Tessa who, having been brought up in a conservative household and acquired a deep revulsion of homosexuality, later comes to believe through various educational experiences that this emotion was irrational and untenable? Nevertheless, she still feels the revulsion even in the face of her changed and avowed beliefs.

She would not claim that she holds conflicting beliefs. Her beliefs clearly say one thing, her emotions express another.

Again, suppose Tessa has an irrational fear of spiders in the face of authoritative knowledge of their harmlessness.

Cognitivists tend to fall back on two ways of handling this conflict:

i. Emotional inertia —the idea that emotions have a greater force and weight, making them more difficult to nudge in their progress by relatively weaker beliefs. But Calhoun points out that this only shows how distant emotion and belief are from each other; any analysis of the former in terms of the latter is even less plausible.

ii. Conflicting beliefs —“People may hold inconsistent beliefs at different levels.” “Thus, [in Tessa’s case] an unresolved tension pervades her belief system.” We are to picture “a complex portrait of doxic life”.

But Calhoun notes that since such situations are quite common and the picture is one of rampant irrationality. Moreover, it does not quite do justice to clearer situations of conflicting beliefs where we vacillate between one belief and another. In Tessa, both the belief and the emotion are fixed firmly.

Calhoun offers an account of what may be absent from Tessa’s belief about spiders.

Beliefs may be held intellectually or evidentially: that is, on the basis of other beliefs or first hand experience, respectively. The first hand experience may be perceptual in the case of empirical beliefs, cases of insight as in a logic student’s first acknowledging, feeling the force of, an abstract law such as modus ponens, or emotional as in evaluative beliefs.

Defect enters in when a belief could be held evidentially, but we fail to hold it so under just those circumstances when a person ordinarily would. Here, believing merely intellectually is a defective way of believing.

Thus, we explain the logic student who cannot, for all the world, see the validity of modus ponens but nevertheless is able to use and believe it intellectually. Or the art critic who knows the rules of good taste, applies them in coming to the technically correct evaluation of a work, but whose unregenerate sensibility fails to appreciate the work accordingly.

Defective beliefs may stem from different sources: incapacity, capacity but weakness of will, inertia… One may be faulted for them when they stem from failing to be grounded in experience when that experience is possible.

Or ignoring counter experience. “Habitual patterns of attention” hinder evidential belief. Calhoun describes the case of Carl whose upbringing predisposes him to slight the intellectual capacities of women.

To his mind, he has good reason for thinking that men and women are equally capable of intellectual achievement. In spite of this, he finds himself preferring male to female colleagues, more inclined to accept the opinions of male interlocutors, and more critical of women teachers.

Carl “experiences women as less capable.” He may not be conscious of the fact of his conditioned thralldom.

Calhoun points out three things:

i. Carl has two kinds of experiences. He has experience to back up his enlightened intellectual belief. At the same time he plainly feels women as subpar sources information. Calhoun likens this to the perception of water on a highway while knowing it to be an illusion. It is not so much “the weakness of the belief” as “the force of the illusion”.

ii. But unlike the mirage, Carl’s error stems from baggage consisting of a set of ingrained cognitions at the “prereflective level”.

iii. There is thus a cognitive set of associations and also there is a conscious belief system. Calhoun writes,

…our cognitive life is not limited to clear, fully conceptualized, articulated beliefs. Instead, beliefs constitute only a small illuminated portion of that life. The greater portion is rather a dark, cognitive set, an unarticulated framework for interpreting our world, which, if articulated, would be an enormous network of claims not all of which would be accepted by the individual as his beliefs.

[Calhoun seems here to be describing something akin to what Weininger called henids, the prereflective disarray of undifferentiated mental contents. Women, qua women or men qua women, he argued, are comparatively comfortable operating at this level. Viewed from within the typically male moral framework, the henid may seem a defect and is largely responsible for that very real feeling described in Carl that women are somehow, despite counter evidence, morally and intellectually discountable. For men, a moral imperative harries consciousness to transform these cognitions into discrete logically accountable beliefs–logically accountable so that they may then be morally assessed. (Or so it should be. The reality is that the imperative is especially theirs for the precise reason of an innate male intransigence.)

What Calhoun appears to be doing is pointedly singling out male backsliding which takes the form of hypocrisy. Because of the moral imperative, proprietary to him, his failure is especially grievous where hers might not be. A woman, laboring under a different moral aegis, in a corresponding situation would be criticized in a different way. The terms “arbitrary,” “flaky,”… come to mind, but not quite “hypocrite”. Hypocrisy describes one who knows or ought to know better. The former adjectives suggest failed or arrested development.]

In footnote (9) to the above:

This thesis (that dark cognitive sets comprise a large portion of our cognitive life) suggests that striving for the ideal of rationality may be largely a matter of bringing to light and articulating our cognitive set. The unreflective, intellectually inactive person may have just as complex a cognitive set as the reflective, intellectually active person; but they differ in the number of beliefs they hold, the former holding very few in the sense of ‘belief’ I have been urging, the latter sustaining an extensive belief system.

[Calhoun, as many women thinkers, is clearly pragmatic here. The conception of rationality assumed is one in the service of life, not one that is supervenient upon it—as in Weininger, for whom every cognitive set not converted into a belief system is a moral atrocity begging for atonement.

No woman would take such an extreme view. For she is constitutionally less resentful of her place in the thick of things, including her prereflective cognitive sets, henids. She is less likely to dampen her instincts in the service of misguiding abstractions. But because a man is guided by abstractions, the burden falls especially hard on him to scrutinize them.]

Emotion becomes for Calhoun less partially constituted of beliefs than of the experiences of “seeing the world as…” It is “for the world to seem to be a certain way”: a way that facilitates the holding of evidential beliefs.

Thus, when emotion and belief are in conflict, something like, although not identical with, a conflict of belief transpires.

Tessa’s beliefs are defective because she should not be feeling what she feels in the face of her beliefs. Carl’s behavior, expressive of his deep-seated discounting of women and in contrast to his avowed beliefs, should not be colored as it is.

Cognitive sets are difficult to alter because we–almost by definition—“lack a clear view” of them. And because they may be passively acquired, their etiology may not be evident.

Calhoun concludes that this way of looking at emotions explains better apparent “belief conflict” behavior than cognitive models that analyze emotion in terms of judgment and belief.

[What strikes us most about Calhoun’s account is how her conclusions focus responsibility for resolving conflict in the process of conditioning and reconditioning in opposition to the cognitivist proclivity to will and conscious decision. She acknowledges and defends the power of the noncognitive Weiningerian henid. The henid is powerful and to be harnessed. There is less embarrassment in acknowledging its role in determining a total cognitive state.]

Posted by luno in aesthetics, henids, Moral Consciousness, Moral Sentiment, sex differences, Weininger (Wednesday August 31, 2005 at 1:29 pm)

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