Thumos Seminar 2023

weekly research talks on emotions, values, norms


    The Thumos seminar, which is the main research activity of Thumos, the Genevan Research Group on Emotions, Values and Norms, takes place on Thursdays, 16h15-17h45 at UniP hilosophes (room PHIL001). The schedule can be found here. The archives of the Thumos seminar are available here

    February 2, 2023 – Supplemental Thumos Seminar

    Artūrs Logins (Laval) 

    The Zetetic, the Affective, and The Junk​​​​

    Gilbert Harman famously observed that "[...] if one believes P, one's view trivially implies "either P or Q," "either P or P," "P and either P or R," and so on." Moreover, he suggested that "There is no point in cluttering one's mind with all thesepropositions." (Harman 1986: 12). Recently, Jane Friedman (Friedman 2018) has elaborated on the suggestion and shown that it conflicts with a basic evidentialist principle that tells us that we are allowed to form beliefs when we have good evidence for the relevant proposition. In this paper, I consider Friedman's suggestion that the best way to solve the conflict is to give up evidentialist norms. Then, I explore a recent response to Friedman's proposal that appeals to norms of inquiry. Finally, I provide a new solution to the conflict that considers the role of affective states in clutter avoidance and distinguishes between (i) attitudes that are genuinely permitted and (ii) attitudes that would be nice to have (or to avoid).

    February 23, 2023 – Thumos Seminar

    Julien Deonna & Fabrice Teroni (Geneva)

    Introductory session

    March 2, 2023 – Thumos Seminar

    Michael Cholbi (Edinburgh)

    Empathy and Psychopaths’ Inability to Grieve

    Psychopaths exhibit diminished ability to grieve. Here I address whether this inability can be explained by the trademark feature of psychopaths, namely, their diminished capacity for interpersonal empathy. I argue that this hypothesis turns out to be correct, but requires that we reconceputalise empathy not merely as an ability to relate to other individuals but also as an ability to relate to past and present iterations of ourselves. This re-conceptualism accords well with evidence regarding psychopaths’ intense focus on the temporal present and difficulties in engaging in mental time travel, as well as with the essentially egocentric and identity-based nature of grief.

    March 9, 2023 – Thumos Seminar

    Jonathan Way (Southampton)

    Defusing the Normativity Challenge

    Philippa Foot famously argued that moral requirements might not be robustly normative. As she put it, they might lack ‘automatic reason giving force’. In this respect, she suggested, they might be like requirements of etiquette, or the rules of a game. Over the last twenty years, many philosophers have raised parallel worries about other kinds of norms. For instance, it’s been questioned whether requirements of rationality, and the norms of fitting emotions are robustly normative. In this paper, I aim to understand and ultimately rebut this challenge, especially as it arises for rationality, and fittingness. I discuss two sets of criteria for robust normativity, and argue that neither underwrites a strong version of the challenge.

    March 16, 2023 – Thumos Seminar

    Michele Ombrato (Oxford)  

    The Temporal Ontology of Emotions: States, Processes, and Boundaries in Emotional Experience

    Accounts of emotions often start off with preliminary characterisations of their target phenomena which emphasise internal structural complexity and temporality. Emotion episodes, we are told, are complex psychological reactions of the whole person–typically ranging across affect, sensation, attention, cognition, and motivation–which persist and unfold over time (cf. e.g., Mulligan & Scherer 2012; Robinson 2018; Tappolet 2016). Such preliminary characterisations naturally suggest an approach to the temporal ontology of emotions in terms of composite processes (e.g., Goldie 2012; Robinson 2018). Process-centred approaches, however, have been recently criticised for being unable to account for the synchronic and diachronic unity of emotions as conscious, person-level aspects of the mind (Soteriou 2018; cf. Stout 2022). The proposed alternative consists in treating emotion episodes as clusters of changes in various aspects of the mind associated with some single aspect of the mind, namely the emotion-viz., some nameable emotional state. The aim of this talk is to argue that such single-aspect approaches, unlike process-centred approaches, cannot account for the way in which emotions persist and unfold over time, and that the rejection of process-centred approaches on which they rest has been too hasty: one may in fact account for the unity of emotion episodes as composite processes provided that one specifies the causal relations holding amongst their various components. The argument will proceed as follows. Firstly, I will examine what I take to be the most developed attempt to do justice to the complexity and temporality of emotions within a single-aspect ontological framework (Soteriou 2018), and I will argue that it fails to accommodate some central aspects of the way in which emotions unfold over time. Secondly, I will elaborate the process-centred approach by uncovering and articulating the causal interplay between affect, interest, attention, and mental agency which takes place within emotion episodes. Finally, I will elucidate the relevance of these interactions to the temporal ontology of emotions–specifically, to the way in which emotions persist and unfold over time, their synchronic and diachronic unity and their temporal boundedness.

    March 23, 2023 – Thumos Seminar

    Céline Boisserie-Lacroix (Paris)

    Uncertainty, metacognition and emotional rationality

    This paper proposes a new perspective on emotional rationality to defend that it would rely on metacognitive vigilance mechanisms. The starting point is the observation that if emotions are often deemed unreliable, thus linking us erroneously to values, this is because emotional situations present a certain level of uncertainty. We start by proposing a typology of situations of emotional uncertainty and highlight the most decisive ones from an epistemic point of view. We then show why it seems reasonable to suppose the involvement of vigilance mechanisms to account for the role of emotions in epistemic rationality. The investigation of their nature and functioning will occupy the rest of this presentation. We assume that vigilance mechanisms take the form of metacognitive feelings of uncertainty and show that this hypothesis is in a better position than competing hypotheses. Finally, by examining the epistemic properties of feelings of uncertainty, we show that the latter play a determining role to increase the epistemic status of emotions.

    March 30, 2023 – Thumos Seminar

    François Jaquet (Strasbourg)  

    What exactly is speciesism? 

    In the animal ethics literature, speciesism is defined in all sorts of manners: as a behaviour or a philosophical view; as necessarily anthropocentric or possibly centred on other species; as involving the idea that species membership is morally significant or compatible with the rejection of that idea; as necessarily immoral or possibly ethically acceptable. In a way, this variety is unobjectionable. Everyone is, to some extent, at liberty to stipulate the sense in which she will use a term. But this is true only within limits. Some definitions are good and some bad, and on which side of the divide a definition falls hinges on whether it satisfies certain desiderata. In this paper, I define speciesism as unequal treatment based on species and argue that this definition is superior to other extant accounts because it meets two desiderata: matching a good account of racism and making the concept of speciesism useful for discussing our duties to nonhuman animals.

    April 6, 2023 – Thumos Seminar — exceptionally held at Espace Colladon

    Neil Levy (Oxford & Macquarie)

    Do People Really Believe Weird Things?

    One possible answer to the question “why do people believe weird things" is "they don't." I examine the prospects for this response. I argue that many weird  belief reports are insincere. In addition, however, people sincerely report believing things they don't believe. I examine how they come to mistake their imaginings for beliefs. 

    April 20, 2023 — Thumos Seminar

    Florian Cova (Geneva)  

    What makes instrumental music (sound) profound?

    In his book Music Alone: Philosophical Reflections on the Purely Musical Experience, Peter Kivy raises the following question: how is that we sometimes call instrumental music "deep" or "profound"? Indeed, on most accounts of what it takes for a work of art to be profound, an artwork is profound by virtue of its semantic content, and what it speaks about. However, instrumental music seems to have no such semantic content. But how can instrumental music be profound if it is not about anything profound? Several accounts have been put forward to answer this question: some have argued that pure music can truly be profound, while others argue that this is just an illusion. However, both types of account rest on psychological hypotheses about what makes music sound profound. Here, I will report the results of an empirical study in which I investigated the psychological underpinnings of people's experience of instrumental music as "profound". I discuss the implications for the different philosophical accounts in competition.

    April 27, 2023 – Thumos Seminar

    Patrik Engisch (Geneva) 

    Creativity, Two-Fold

    According to the consensus view in philosophy and psychology, creativity is a species of novelty whose differentia is value. This paper argues that such a conception of creativity must face serious problems that make it collapse into a value-neutral conception of creativity. It then argues that a such conception of creativity cannot account for the central notion of a creative practice and its essential tie to value. It then concludes that creativity must be conceived as two-fold: as a species of novelty contingently related to value and as a species of value contingently related to novelty. 

    May 4, 2023 – Thumos Seminar

    Miriam McCormick (Richmond)

    Conflict without contradiction: Defending Doxasticism about Implicit attitudes and Self-Deception

    Two phenomena that pose a challenge for a certain standard view of belief, and which are my focus here,  are self-deception and holding implicit attitudes. While there are important differences between them, they are puzzling in similar ways. In both cases your behavior seems to indicate that you believe something explicitly disavowed, and we are tempted to ask “what do you really believe”?  My view of belief as emotion can help illuminate what is going on in these cases. If beliefs are emotions, then what we find in these cases is a certain kind of emotional conflict. We can thus employ the resources of emotion theorists to help make sense of these kinds of cases.  I will be defending doxasticism about  implicit attitudes and  self-deception.  That is, I will defend the view that self-deceived agents, and those holding implicit attitudes believe both what they claim to, as well what they disavow. I will begin by offering some clarification about what  I mean when I say that belief is an emotion, and then turn to a discussion of  self-deception and implicit attitudes. Both discussions will have a similar structure. I will introduce earlier attempts to defend doxasticism, discuss problems that have arisen for these views, and show how thinking of beliefs as emotions can address those problems. Thinking about ambivalent or conflicting emotions can help us understand self-deception; thinking about recalcitrant emotions can help us understand implicit attitudes.

    May 11, 2023 – Thumos Seminar

    Lubomira Radoilska (Kent)

    The Value of Grit and The Affect of Despair

    Contemporary analytic philosophers tend to see akrasia, or acting against one’s better judgement, as a problem of motivation. On this standard view, akratic actions are paradoxical since akratic agents know that they have a better alternative but nevertheless take up the worse, akratic option. In other words, akratic agents know what they are doing. They do not make any epistemic mistakes but – inexplicably – engage in behaviours that they correctly identify as wrong. The thought that akratic agents are not flawed as inquirers and knowers but only as affective agents plays a key role in turning akrasia into a textbook example of motivational only, or practical irrationality. This paper will aim to revise the standard view by emphasizing the epistemic dimensions of the phenomenon, that is, the ways in which akrasia affects both how agents understand their own involvement and how they handle evidence about their prospects of success. The ambition is to show that akratic agents typically rationalise their akrasia. They do not recognise it as paradoxical or irrational. Instead, they reinterpret it as separate goal-directed actions undertaken under conditions that are not ideal for them. This rationalisation of akrasia is closely related to another epistemically deficient habit: akratic agents pay too much heed to evidence that they are unlikely to succeed. In so doing, they display too little of what some philosophers have described as ‘epistemic resilience’ or ‘grit’, which opens them to recurrent despair. The upshot is significant for a number of reasons. First, it helps shed light on the relationship between the affective and the epistemic sides of akrasia. Second, it offers a fuller understanding of the phenomenon as a multi-faced process that unfolds over time rather than a sequence of paradoxical actions. Third, it avoids issuing conflicting normative requirements toward agents who, like the akratic, already find themselves in an irrational state.

    May 25, 2023 – Thumos Seminar

    Luke Russell (Sydney)

    Have You Forgiven Me?

    In this paper I address the following questions: Can I know when I have forgiven others, and can I know when I myself have been forgiven? Are these kinds of knowledge easy to come by? Are there specific circumstances in which victims or perpetrators are unable to know whether forgiveness has taken place, and is this lack of knowledge a practical or a moral problem?

    September 21, 2023 – Thumos Seminar

    Andrea Rivadulla Duró (Geneva)

    Iconic Prioritization and Representational Silence in Emotion

    Emotions can be insensitive to certain attributes of a situation: Fear of flying is not always reduced by remembering air crash probabilities. A large body of evidence shows that information on probabilities, large numerical counts, or intentions is frequently disregarded in the elicitation and regulation of emotions. To date, no existing theory comprehensively accounts for the features that tend to be overlooked by emotion. In this talk I call attention to the common denominator of such features: they cannot be perceived nor contribute to the iconic representation of events. For instance, the exceedingly low probability of a plane crash does not affect its imagistic representation (i.e., the iconic representation of the event is silent about the event’s probability). This paper introduces the Iconic Prioritization Hypothesis, positing that the prioritization of the iconic format in emotion can explain the neglect of information that is representationally silent in this format. Delving into the causes of this format prioritization, I argue that emotion may favour iconicity as it is the format of immediate information about our surroundings (perception) and of stored first-hand evidence (episodic memory). Lastly, the hypothesis's compatibility with philosophical theories of emotion causation and its implications for experimental research are examined.

    September 28, 2023 – Thumos Seminar

    Radu Bumbacea (Geneva)

    An Acquaintance Principle in Ethics

    I will argue for what I call ‘an acquaintance principle’ when it comes to our ethical judgments of attachments, such as those involved in love and friendship. The claim is that the value of an individual attachments is revealed in that instance and is only minimally connected to a general description of it. It will follow that if we want to understand the value of attachments in human life, we should not ponder on the value of general characteristics of such attachments, but rather acquaint ourselves with remarkable instances, such as those depicted in great works of literature.

    October 5, 2023 – Thumos Seminar

    Benjamin Matheson (Berne)

    Collective Guilt

    This paper investigates collective guilt, including its nature, whether it is ever fitting to feel, and its ethical and political significance. As we’ll see, to understand collective guilt, we must not only understand guilt, but also the nature of collectives. Thus, this paper also investigates the nature of collectives. I will develop and defend an account of collective guilt according to which it is felt by a member of a group about a group wrong. I will consider whether such guilt can ever be fitting, but I will also argue that whether it is fitting misses its point. I argue that collective guilt is valuable because it can lead to a person taking responsibility for the wrongs of their group and because it aims to steer the attitudes, in particular the values, of a group.

    October 26, 2023 – Thumos Seminar

    Agnès Baehni (Geneva)

    Let Me Blame Myself 

    The tendency to treat other-blame as the paradigmatic form of blame has provided fertile ground for various misunderstandings about the nature and norms of self-blame. As a result, two objections have recently been directed against self-blame. The first, championed by David Shoemaker, targets the coherence of moral self-blame by claiming that neither moral self-anger nor guilt can constitute self-blame. The second, raised by Patrick Todd and Brian Rabern, targets the moral dimension of self-blame by claiming that it is always inappropriate to blame oneself because one always lacks the standing to do so. In this presentation, I argue that both objections stem from a similar misconception of the links between self-blame and other-blame and that they can both be overcome if one treats self-blame as a distinct phenomenon. 

    November 2, 2023 – Thumos Seminar

    André Sant'Anna (Geneva)

    Deweyan Experiences and the Aesthetics of Remembering

    In Art as Experience, John Dewey offered what is arguably the most influential pragmatist account of the nature of aesthetic experience. A crucial feature of this account, which has been at the core of much contemporary interest in Dewey’s work in aesthetics, is the idea that aesthetic experiences are not restricted to the objects of the “fine arts”. For Dewey, even the most ordinary of experiences, such as enjoying a meal at a restaurant or having a conversation with a friend, can have an aesthetic quality as long as it has a specific internal structure—that is, one in which there is rhythmic progression between phases that ends in a culmination point. Building on this idea, my goal in this paper is to argue that some occurrences of personal remembering have the relevant internal structure that, according to Dewey, makes an experience aesthetic in nature. More specifically, I will argue that occurrences of remembering can be “Deweyan experiences” when they have narrative structure. In discussing the role played by narrative structure in attributing aesthetic quality to remembering, I will identify some key features of remembering that make it particularly suited to being experienced aesthetically. These features, I will argue, highlight crucial differences between remembering and other forms of narrative thinking vis-à-vis their aesthetic character.

    November 9, 2023 – Thumos Seminar

    Rebecca Wallbank (Geneva)

    Trust and Aesthetic Authenticity

    It has been argued that many of us are committed to a certain kind of aesthetic ideal wherein we ought to live our lives with aesthetic authenticity. It has also been argued that deference to aesthetic testimony undermines our pursuit of this kind of aesthetic ideal. This paper will argue that this kind of argument operates on a flawed conception of what it is to live our lives with aesthetic authenticity, and relatedly a flawed conception of what it means to trust others when conducting deferential engagements. Such misconceptions have had significant consequences, many have failed to see the real problem with deference to aesthetic testimony, and more interestingly, the real virtues. 

    November 16, 2023 – Thumos Seminar

    Angela Abatista (Geneva)

    Positive Emotions and Feeling of Meaning in Life

    This presentation aims to address the limitations of current psychological models of subjective well-being in fully comprehending the role of positive emotions within the context of eudemonic well-being. The discussion will focus on integrating existing research on self-transcendent positive emotions into the framework and assert that positive emotions extend beyond mere pleasurable experiences. Instead, they can serve as foundational elements for the self-transcendent experience of imbuing life with a sense of meaning. The theoretical framework presented here will draw support from three experimental studies, collectively suggesting a distinct and noteworthy connection between a specific category of self-transcendent positive emotions and experiencing meaning in life.

    November 23, 2023 – Thumos Seminar

    Julia Langkau & Mathilde Cappelli (Geneva)

    Is Fantasizing a Kind of Creative Imagining?

    In this talk, we aim to distinguish creative imagining from fantasizing. Fantasizing is usually understood as a form of pleasurable imagining: fantasizing seems to always involve a positively valenced affective component, whereas imagining can be emotionally neutral. Creative imagining can be defined as imagining according to what one values, which can but does not have to be pleasurable. So, are cases of pleasurable creative imagining simply cases of fantasizing? To answer this question, we will look at intuitive cases of both and then explore more ambiguous cases in which it is unclear whether we are concerned with fantasy or creative imagination.

    November 30, 2023 – Thumos Seminar

    Patrizia Pedrini (Geneva)

    Normative Abuse in Personal Relationships (and Its Many Subtleties)

    Abusing relationships are a dramatic reality, and are of diverse sorts. Psychologists are generous in instructing us about how to identify abusing techniques and how to counteract them and protect us from them. We all have the intuition that abusing techniques involve the violation of something absolutely fundamental of us qua persons and agents—centrally, some basic form of respect which is instrumental to grant us an integrity that grounds our psychological and practical well-being. But what does this integrity exactly amount to?

    In this paper I wish to explore the nature of such integrity and the many ways in which it can be attacked by forms of abuse that need not reach egregious cases of psychological and/or physical violence, although the latter can (and dramatically do) happen. By taking stock of some of the main tenets of recent works on “normative isolation” (Bagnoli 2023) and on the perturbance of the “normative landscape” (Sliwa, forthcoming), I will suggest that such integrity is best qualified as normative integrity and that all attempts to produce a morally illegitimate modification of the normative field within which we live count as a normative abuse targeting normative integrity. I will distinguish legitimate and illegitimate attempts to produce modifications of the normative field of others, and I will show how all forms of morally illegitimate modifications belong to one unique spectrum of violations, ranging from egregious to less egregious forms.

    My aim and hope is to contribute to a general increase of ethical awareness and self-awareness about forms of abuse that, given their subtleties, may well escape our moral and psychological attention, not only as potential (more or less conscious) victims, but also as potential (more or less conscious) perpetrators.

    December 13, 2023 – Supplemental Seminar

    Artūrs Logins (Laval)

    Suspension as Mood

    Suspension of judgement is a ubiquitous phenomenon in our lives. It is also relevant for several debates in contemporary epistemology (e.g. evidentialism/pragmatism; peer-disagreement/higher-order evidence; inquiry). The goal of this paper is to arrive at a better understanding of what suspension of judgement is. We first question the popular assumption that we call the Triad view according to which there are three and only three (paradigmatic) doxastic attitudes, namely, belief, disbelief, and suspension of judgment. We elaborate a cumulative argument regarding crucial differences between belief/disbelief and suspension and conclude tentatively that suspension is not a doxastic state. On the constructive side, we defend the positive thesis (with special attention to justification/rationality and reasons for suspension) that suspension is rather an affective phenomenon, viz. a sort of mood.  Finally, we consider further consequences of our view for contemporary debates in epistemology, and how it relates to ancient skepticism.

    December 14, 2023 – Thumos Seminar

    Alex Grzankowski  (London)

    Emotions as Transitions

    One task of psychology is to identify cognitive capacities. We have a capacity to parse sentences, to identify faces, to sort things by their colour, and so on. Capacities serve as theoretical data – they are observed phenomena that one then seeks to better understand. One thing we might wish to understand is how these capacities are implemented. Take sentence parsing. Is this something achieved through some compositional process or, more like Natural Language Processing AI (e.g. GPT), by predicting the next word or token based on the previous words and training data? What structures underly our ability to parse sentences? There are likely to be many candidates, at least in principle.

    In order to uncover the inner workings of our capacities, we look to ‘effects’. Most of us have the capacity to distinguish between spoken ‘ba’ and ‘fa’ sounds. One thought is that this is achieved through aural sensitivities that detect changes in vibration picked up by the eardrum. But the McGurk Effect suggests that there is more to the story. Without changing the incoming vibrations, sound experience can be modulated by showing a video of a mouth making a ‘ba’ sound or a ‘fa’ sound with a consistent sound overlaid. We learn that our overall auditory experiences are at least in part determined by visual cues in addition to what’s first picked up by our eardrums. The McGurk Effect gives us a hint into the inner workings of audition and helps us better understand the capacity to discriminate sounds of a certain sort.

    In the present paper, the focus is on emotional capacities and a well-known effect – recalcitrance. Recalcitrant emotions, such as fearing the dog even though one knows that the dog is harmless or being angry with one’s partner even when one realises it was only in a dream that the partner was nasty, have played the role of effect in much theorising about emotions. But in my view, we’ve stayed a bit too close to home, aiming to fit the effect into a paradigm – the representationalist paradigm – that isn’t fit for purpose. I will use this criticism as a launching off point to introduce a different way of thinking about emotions that is better suited to making sense of recalcitrance. I will argue that emotions are transitions between representational states rather than being representational states themselves. The view is better suited to make sense of recalcitrance and, at the end of the paper, I will offer reasons for thinking that main points that speak in favour of a representationalist approach to emotion can be recaptured or explained away by the transitions view.

    December 21, 2023 —Thumos Seminar

    Emma Tieffenbach (Lugano/Zürich)

    Is Warm Glow Giving Self-Defeating?  

    Why do people choose to give part of their hard-earned income away? A scientifically popular answer, known as “the warm glow from giving”, is that donors seek praiseworthiness. I first contrast the related warm-glow givers’ desire for deserved praiseworthiness with the non-reflective desire to do good to others, on the one hand, and with the dubious desire to be praised by others. I then characterize warm glow giving as deliberately attempting to act in the way that is required for being the virtuous — i.e. the generous, efficient, charitable or righteous — donors one desires to be. In light of the proposed characterization, I then consider an objection raised against warm glow giving: its alleged vanity. If the desire to be praiseworthy is doomed to fail, there is a paradox: if generosity is a virtue, and if knowledge is a virtue, why isn’t knowledge of one’s virtue also a virtue, and, in fact, why is it a vice, known as moral self-complacency? I review and argue against various ways of making sense of the related paradox.