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Monday, August 5, 2013

Emotions and Ascriptions of Value, Part 2

     In Stoicism and Emotion, Margaret R. Graver discusses "the relation of the judgments involved in emotion" to the particular type of judgment she calls a "simple ascription of value," i.e., "a judgment to the effect that 'X is good' or 'X is bad,' where X is an object type such as 'money' or (more properly) 'having money.' . . . such judgments figure prominently in the Stoic account, but what exactly is their role in the emotion event?"

     She clarifies, "For instance, would it be right to say that an emotion in Stoicism simply is a simple ascription of value? Should one say that what happens when a person has an emotion is fully captured by stating that he or she judges some external object to  be either good or evil? Certainly this is not a position that matches our immediate intuitions about what an emotion could be. Anger, fear, desire, and grief surely do not seem very much like deciding that something is valuable; they seem like responses to events in our lives . . . All the same, there is some reason to believe that the Stoics did identify emotions with judgments of value."

     Of course, this is exactly the position many Stoics take. If I grieve "because I have lost" someone or something, it isn't really the loss that is causing the emotion. It is the ascription of some value to the person or thing lost. I lose carbon dioxide every time I breathe, I lose skin cells with nearly every movement, yet I do not go into deep grief with these daily losses. I ascribe no value to them, so they are not really "losses." But if I lose $100, or if someone I love dies, I might grieve, because I believe that having money or having the person in my life is a genuinely good thing, and that not having them is a genuinely bad thing. I ascribe positive value to the having and negative value to the losing. Hence my emotion. Stoicism, however, teaches that nothing can be said to be truly good except moral choice. Other things may seem good, but they are fleeting, temporary. I should not ascribe true goodness to something I can gain or lose . . .

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