A human baby is born with very basic feelings like pain and hunger. I am not talking about the five senses, but rather what a baby can feel. As babies grows up, they learn other feelings such as fear, anger, love, guilt, jealousy, etc. by watching and learning from their parents and peers.

My point is that, if all other feelings and emotions are learnt socially, then the amount of emotion or feeling a person has is nothing but what they have learnt during their life. And if something is learnt, then it is widely variable depending on a multitude of factors. And if I have the sense, I can choose what to feel or not to feel when I want and where I want.

Yes, I would be called "emotionless" and "stone-like" by a many and people argue that you aren't human if you don't display your emotions.

But what is wrong with my reasoning?

Update: Let me be a bit more specific to my question: Are learned emotions necessary for the growth and survival of humans?

  • Sorry, what specific question you're asking is unclear. Something cannot simply be "overrated," it must be overrated by somebody - so who are you implying overrates emotions? (Certainly, not the members of the Stoic school!) – James Kingsbery Dec 8 '14 at 19:11
  • I don't understand completely your question but I would ask it in cogsci. Neuroscience are strongly studying this stuff. You may also want to read Daniel Goleman's book. He is answering on how emotions work (I'm not very sure if we are learning emotions.. the brain circuit which recognize them is separated from the other. We feel other people's emotions by feeling them inside ourself, and we don't need to think to do that. They made also experiment on some kind of blind people which could steel feel other's people emotions.. they couldn't see, but they could feel them..) – Revious Dec 8 '14 at 23:50
  • Also.. you could relate to the relationship between emotions and beliefs as studied by the cognitive science. I think it could be interesting for you. – Revious Dec 8 '14 at 23:53
  • Psychology might have an answer as this as currently phrased, but it is still a bit unclear. It would be clearer if you could define 'feeling' and 'emotion' — the way you word your question it's unclear if they are the same or different. Also, you insist that "feelings" such as pain and hunger are in-born, and those of fear and others are "learned". Psychology tells us there's no reason they aren't all in-born, since we know the part of the brain that triggers them (the Limbic system). You ought to think of it as a capacity to experience emotions which exists at birth. We have the (part 1/2) – stoicfury Dec 9 '14 at 17:22
  • capacity to experience fear and rage and jealously, but other parts of our brain are simply not developed enough for us to understand other things, like social stratification (jealously), that other people have their own minds different from our own with their own agendas which may conflict with ours (rage), etc. But babies can be scared (fear) if you scream at them or leave them alone in the dark. You speak about pain and hunger, but these aren't emotions. You can feel pain and hunger, but they aren't feelings. The only thing Philosophy (specifically occam's razor) would say (part 2/3) – stoicfury Dec 9 '14 at 17:22

It is surely not clear that your initial statement is correct. We can generally divide phenomena into three categories: the effective (information), the reflective (internal constructions) and the affective (emotional responses). These distinctions have a lot of different names, but they seem to be a stable set of distinctions made in language (Germanic modal verbs), religion (Gnostic theories of the trinity, the three Pillars of the tree of life) and a variety of forms of pre-scientific magic (astrology and alchemy in their late Western forms).

In an absolute logical sense, only the first two are 'real', one can be either a realist or an idealist. But the third category always gets thrown in there, and is generally the main ground of the topic of ethics, the most specifically human part of philosophy.

From one perspective, the reason that the third category is generally not seen as part of either of the other two is that it is partially interior reprocessing and partially mental experience of the body (according to the James-Lange theory of emotions and its more modern improvements). It feeds back into itself so quickly that it becomes, to a certain degree, completely mixed, neither interior nor exterior and so independent of both of the preceding forms.

If that is true, then to the degree that they are partially observations of your body's internal condition, its contents are not really learned from other people. What we tend to learn instead is how to name and channel them, not how to feel them. According to studies of adoption, (Not the greatest reference, but -- http://adoptionvoicesmagazine.com/my-second-mama/do-adoptees-have-more-problems/#.VIXXBTHF-So) if your own emotional landscape is significantly different from your parents' you tend to grow up undercontrolled, rather than underemotional. So your theory seems backward.

To my mind, this is still not a good basis for judging someone else's level of emotional expression - they are either physiological or environmental, not moral. Lower levels of physiological feedback are not a crime, they do not make you less human. Nor are very effective strategies for predicting and restraining responses a commentary on your humanity.

However, emotional empathy is a basic form of communication. According to attachment theory, the ability for one's own emotions to inspire empathy in others is their basic purpose. To the degree others do not feel your emotions, they may find you to not be communicating clearly. Communication is a basic way of being human, so they have some justification in the feeling you are withholding your humanity from them.

It is also true that overrestrained emotion is often an overadaptation to strong emotion enforced by a family with a history of trouble keeping normal levels of emotion from growing excessive and violent. So a lot of people are frightened by a lack of emotional display, as it can be a predictor that someone will overreact in some later situation, perhaps violently, or perhaps simply at the worst possible time. If what your emotional presentation causes in most other people is fear, then you may be unconsciously manipulating them, and they are then justified in looking at you as something of a criminal, who gets his way by using their negative emotions against them, and so 'less human' than someone with a more average presentation.

So basically, they could be wrong, or you could be wrong, or there could be nothing wrong. But this is not as simple as you would like it to be, primarily because you have an interpretation of the source of emotion that most of us do not find compelling.

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Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio describes what happens when you have brain lesions in areas associated with emotions:

When emotion is entirely left out of the reasoning picture, as happens in certain neurological conditions, reason turns out to be even more flawed than when emotion plays bad tricks on our decisions. (Descartes' Error, xii)

You can learn more about this from somatic marker hypothesis, and especially via looking at "VMPFC patients", who are people who have brain lesions which very likely hinder the brain's access to emotion information. These people exhibit very poor goal-directed behavior, suggesting that emotions are more important and function differently than we are want to believe. The very book title, Descartes' Error, is meant to attack Cogito ergo sum. I used to really like Descartes' saying; now I am much more drawn to Augustine's Si enim fallor, sum.

It is also worth asking what the connections are between what you mean by 'emotions', and:

  1. your values (ethical, moral aesthetic)
  2. your motivations

What is particularly interesting about the patients Antonio Damasio studied is that their analytic, 'pure' reason was unaffected by their brain lesions, but their practical reason was tremendously damaged.

The remaining question is whether you can simply choose when to feel and when not to feel. I suggest an in-depth study of psychological repression:

Psychological repression, or simply repression, is the psychological attempt by an individual to repel one's own desires and impulses toward pleasurable instincts by excluding the desire from one's consciousness and holding or subduing it in the unconscious. Repression plays a major role in many mental illnesses, and in the psyche of average people.

For more, I suggest two books: Paul E. Griffiths' What Emotions Really Are: The Problem of Psychological Categories and Julien Deonna and Fabrice Teroni's The Emotions: A Philosophical Introduction.

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Most emotions and feelings are learned. They inexplicit knowledge learned in order to solve various problems to do with getting along with other people, and possibly for some aesthetic stuff too.

If you do something that pisses off somebody else, then you and the other person has a problem. Should that person cooperate with you in future? If you are sorry then they might still be willing to cooperate with you in future because being sorry is conventionally taken as a sign the off-pissing act in question. Other emotions solve other problems like this.

Some people think of moral problems solely in terms of their emotions. If the person feels pissed off with you, then that person may claim you were in the wrong regardless of the actual situation. This emotional way of dealing with problems has some flaws. First, people can pretend to feel an emotion when they don't. If you are interested in trying to explain what's going on rather than taking emotions at face value you might spot this. So thinking of morality in terms of emotions alone leaves you without a way to spot problems. Secondly, the emotions don't supply you with the knowledge necessary to solve moral problems. Hence the problem of the person who feels sorry for doing something but does it again anyway. What is needed is for him to think of a better way of living, not just a feeling of sorriness.

Sometimes other people may not want to deal with you if you don't exhibit certain emotions because that's the only way they know of to deal with moral problems. They have no reason to change unless you explain your position properly, so they are not necessarily in the wrong.

In addition, it is not enough for you to simply say you're not going to feel emotions or whatever. You would have to go to the trouble of replacing emotional ways of dealing with problems with non-emotional ways of solving problems. so deciding not to feel is not enough to actually stop feelings. Replacing emotions with better ideas may be worth doing in cases where your emotional way of dealing with a problem gets in the way of solving the problem. But in the absence of such problems there's no point in wrecking what works.




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