Crane on the Intentionality of Emotions

Filed under: by: Kevin

In “Intentionality as the Mark of the Mental,” Crane argues that, against Searle, emotions have intentionality. Searle uses the example of “undirected anxiety” as a case of a mental state that is non-intentional, and therefore as a refutation of Brentano's thesis that the distinctive mark of all mental states is that they are intentional (i.e. “directed” toward certain states of the world or the mind). Crane first points out that our ordinary cases of undirected anxiety are not sufficient to make Searle's claim: they may just be instances where we are unable to identify what it is toward which our anxiety is directed. Nevertheless, if the “non-intentionalist” is to maintain his ground, he will have to distinguish between the functional characterization of anxiety (call it 'anxietyF') and the qualitative characterization of anxiety (call it 'anxietyQ'). Crane notes that any description of anxietyF will be intentional: it will describe our attitude to our world and the kinds of activities that we tend to engage in or refrain from, etc. So, we cannot give a functional characterization of undirected intentionality.

So, there must be a significant divergence between directed and undirected anxiety. The non-intentionalist needs to adduce some anxietyQ feeling that is common to both directed and undirected anxiety, despite the differences in our capacity to functionally characterize them. Now, anxietyQ cannot hold any necessary relation to anxietyF. Qualia are, we tend to think, intrinsic qualities, and do not hold relations to functions or states of affairs in the world. If they did, they might arguably be construed as intentional (anxietyQ must be epiphenomenal). This leads us to wonder whether an analogue of the inverted spectrum thought-experiment can hold for emotional states like anxiety. In the case of the inverted spectrum, we can (it is argued) conceive of a possible world in which people are functionally indiscernible from us, but where in the place of red, they experience green, and so on. But Crane wonders whether we can make sense of something like an “inverted emotion spectrum” possibility. He says, “For here we are supposing that the same emotion might feel in opposite ways to two subjects in different possible worlds - emotions have their distinctive 'feel' only contingently. But does this possibility make sense?” He seems to take this as more or less sufficient to make his point.

A plausible initial response is that the possibility does make sense. In good Kripkean fashion, we might say that anxietyF is a contingent way of picking out anxiety, while 'anxiety' refers essentially to anxietyQ. In that case, there is a possible world in which all our outward manifestations resemble 'contentment' in our world, but in which the subject still has anxietyQ. Crane's characterization, then, is reversed: emotions have their distinctive 'feel' essentially, and their functional map only contingently. Again, at first glance this seems plausible, and would undermine Crane's claim that emotions are intentional: anxietyQ is non-intentional and, we think, the essential referent of 'anxiety.' All that we are really committed to is that “The same emotionF might feelQ in opposite ways to two subjects in different possible worlds.” But that is not so easily dismissed if, for instance, we take Kripke's argument against materialism (and other arguments of the spirit) as reasonable.

To answer this, we have to more carefully investigate what 'anxiety' does in fact refer essentially to. And it is not clear that it is an anxiety-qualia. The feeling of anxiety is swept up in how we relate to the world while anxious. We may be more nervous, clumsy, distracted, frightened, etc. And these seem to come together in a more or less structured attitude. The response must be, then, that there is no anxietyQ that is separate from anxietyF – that, in fact, what we take to be two different properties are one and the same. Or, to put it another way, the 'feel' of anxiety in this sense just is an intentional feel, or one that governs a certain attitude to the world: anxiety is essentially world-directed. The disanalogy between the inverted spectrum (assuming, for the sake of argument, that it is a coherent possibility) and the inverted emotion spectrum has to be pointed out at the beginning and not at the end.

So far, though, this only begs the question: it is the non-intentionalist's claim that there is a distinctive anxietyQ that is essential to both directed and undirected anxiety, despite their different, contingent functional realizations (in the case of undirected anxiety, maybe there is no functionally describable realization). Crane's positive characterization of anxiety may (and I think is) be more plausible that the non-intentionalist's, but ideally we should already disarm the intentionalist of his own characterization, which will give a plausible replacement much more appeal. My sympathies are with Crane on the issue, but he has failed in this article to give a strong objection to the non-intentionalist.