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The above may be a simple question, but it confuses me nonetheless. I would be grateful for your guidance.

To give an example, suppose a dozen wolves rush toward helpless Fred in order to eat him. If Fred fears the dozen wolves, does he experience one emotion of fear directed at twelve particular objects, or twelve slightly different emotions of fear directed at one particular object each? If the former is true, what about Fred's love for his two children? Here, it seems clear to me (although I have no children) that Fred experiences two emotions of love. If so, what differentiates the wolves from the children?

The following are loose thoughts about the question that I wish to share in case they help or reveal more confusion.

  • If one holds that emotions have propositional objects, there seems to be nothing preventing an emotion having many particular objects.
  • Some take moods to have many objects (perhaps the world as a whole) but that doesn't mean ordinary emotions can have multiple particular objects.
  • Enactivism seems to affirm multiple objects; for instance, the people whom an angry person meets. But that seems to be a very niche view.

Again, I appreciate your help.

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  • Welcome to Philosophy.SE! I advise you to theoretically contextualize a bit more your question and explicitly specify within which theory of emotion do you frame it (notmy speciality so I cannot suggest anything), since otherwise it can be difficult to get relevant, specific answers in turn and become opinionated.
    – user64708
    Feb 22, 2023 at 13:34
  • A question worth pondering upon. 🤔 There are 12 wolves you say? Not his lucky day. Fred is dead!! Mar 21, 2023 at 6:41
  • Objects correspond to subjects (no object implies no subject). Emotions "have" no object. Saying "Pierre and Marie are the object of my anger" imply that you-subject create two subject-object relationships that have the emotional "anger" qualia. But it seems wrong to conflate the idea of an emotion targeting something without a human subject.
    – RodolfoAP
    Mar 21, 2023 at 11:37

2 Answers 2

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Emotions are affective states, priming you for types of behaviour. When 'Flight' instincts are triggered we don't need to know what we are running from, it is only that a threshold of danger indicated by whatever cues has been crossed, and the set of behaviours focused on immediate survival have been triggered.

Emotions are not propositions, and don't have propositional objects. You feel love, in association with being with someone, so your logical brain can go from the feeling, to conclude you are in love with the person. But people don't always even realise, if they have a crush on someone and they get a butterflies-in-their-stomach feeling around them, they may need experience or advice to recognise what it signals. Oxytocin surges in both women and men after a child is born, have been found to mediate bonding, and trigger the set of behaviours around infant care, even despite sleep deprivation and teething and so on. But it's still about associational dispositions.

That emotions aren't logical, is almost a tautology. Things like identities and objects belong to the logical brain. Experience, inference and reasoning may reveal to us that it would be appropriate to be scared. But whether we then have the physiological experience of fear is another matter, which we have little conscious control over.

You might like this related discussion: Can emotions be logical? And can logic and emotion co-exist?

You might consider Hume's Is-Ought distinction for key grounding of the role of emotion in philosophical thought.

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I have never heard talk before of emotions being directed, in any precise sense. Does Fred have one emotion directed at the pack of wolves? Or does Fred have twelve emotions directed at the twelve individual wolves? To explore the issue further, you should ask yourself how we could in principle verify which of the two cases is true.

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  • The vast majority of philosophers of emotion hold that emotions are directed, that they possess particular and formal objects.
    – J M
    Feb 19, 2023 at 9:34
  • @JM That doesn't ring any bells with me. I still suggest the verification principle.
    – Daron
    Feb 19, 2023 at 11:53
  • The constructions "being angry with" and "being in love with" are directed emotions.
    – J D
    Jul 19, 2023 at 14:52
  • @JD I gathered something like that, and I have never heard talk of emotions have objects with enough precision to make sense of the difference between being afraid of a single wolf pack, and being afraid of a single wolf, once for each wolf in the pack.
    – Daron
    Jul 20, 2023 at 10:54
  • @Daron Fair. However, one can have fear of a mob, and fear of the leader of the mob specifically. Most radical leftists will claim disgust with the alt right, but specifically single out Donald Trump as an object of disgust. One can love one's family, but really love one's wife in one manner, and one's children in another. The lack of precision over a wolf pack is probably because most people don't actually have experience with wolf packs, so the example is dubious.
    – J D
    Jul 20, 2023 at 22:13

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