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Folk-psychology and Emotions

Page history last edited by philosophyofsocialcognition 16 years, 3 months ago

Folk-psychology and Emotions


Emotion is one of the fundamental elements used to explain intentional behaviours in terms of internal mental states.. The role of Emotion is essential in folk psychology in a sense that it provides an alternate approach to explain characteristics of behaviours that the general belief-desire theory of folk psychology seems insufficient to explain. Emotion is not a potential explanation that will take over folk psychology’s place in explaining intentional behaviour; instead, it is more like an auxiliary unit that will take care of any insufficient explanations, such as why an individual have those beliefs and desires.



Folk psychology and emotions are interrelated. Folk psychology’s belief-desire explanation attempts to explain intentional behaviours in terms of beliefs and desires. Take this sentence for instance: Tom took a day off from work today. The belief-desire explanation will interpret Tom’s action by saying that Tom desires to take more rest, and by taking a day off, he believes that he can rest more. However, the theory fails to explain why Tom has the desire to rest more, and this is where emotion plays an important explanatory role, ie. Tom wanted to take more rest because he was very depressed.



Under the emotion category, things are more than simply emotions. In fact, the category also includes states, moods and other undue influence on thinking. Some familiar state/mood/emotion conditions are as follows:   


  • States: being drunk, being under the influence of drugs, etc.
  • Moods: depressed, tense, irritable, etc.
  • Emotions: angry, happy, love, hate, being jealous, etc.



These mental conditions can affect an individual’s ordinary rational thinking by engaging them to perform certain actions more desperately. For instance, raging parents are more likely to yell at their own children when they failed a test than when they are in a joyful mood. That is why Goldie uses the term ‘undue influence’. Other undue influence on thinking implies that it is not always necessary to refer to a person’s mental state to explain a person’s action. Sometimes, a situation can be as influential to a person’s thinking, and thus to his/her actions, as mental conditions. For instance, there are two basketballs that are exactly the same, each worth $10; one belongs to John and the other belongs to Tom. Social psychologist will tell us that if John is to sell his basketball, he will sell it at $12 while he will sell Tom’s at $10. The fact that people tend to put higher values on stuffs they own than stuffs that belong to others helps to explain why people sometimes perform behaviours or make choices that seem irrational to us.



It seems that the belief-desire explanation on intentional behaviour emphasize too much on first -level causes. That is, it pays too much attention to causes that directly initiate a specific action and overlooks more general causes that can explain a series of actions. For example, Tom gave a poisoned glass of water to Jason. Instead of giving reasons behind each action done by Tom, one can simply conclude: Tom hates Jason. Since Folk psychology is a theory that intends to explain intentional behaviour, emotions will be a factor that can enhance folk psychology explanations.



- Tony Chi Ho Ng, University of Toronto

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