We are unable to display your institutional affiliation without JavaScript turned on.
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Find using OpenURL

Introduction: Modularity and the Nature of Emotions

From: Canadian Journal of Philosophy
Volume 36 (2006) Supplement [vol. 32]
pp. vii-xxxi | 10.1353/cjp.2007.0038

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Are our experiences of fear, disgust, anger, joy, pride or compassion, for instance, more akin to states such as feelings or sensations, which are often thought to lack cognitive content, or are they more like perceptions or else like judgments? If emotions are informational or cognitive states, should we take emotions to be perceptions of a certain kind or else propositional states with a fully conceptual content? Are emotions passive states or are they at least to a certain extent subject to the will? Are some or all emotions basic, in the sense of being universally shared and innate or are they cultural constructions? Do some, or all, emotions threaten theoretical or practical rationality or are they, to the contrary, essential preconditions of rational thought and action? These are some of the many questions that emotion theorists have tried to answer.

Since the publication of Jerry Fodor's The Modularity of Mind (1983), a new set of questions, answers to which provide at least partial replies to the questions just mentioned, has emerged in the philosophy of emotions. Are emotions, or at least some of them, modular? This would mean, minimally, that emotions are cognitive capacities that can be explained in terms of mental components that are functionally dissociable from other parts of the mind. This is what is suggested by the often noticed conflicts between emotions and thought. [End Page vii] For instance, Hume asks us to consider "the case of a man, who being hung out from a high tower in a cage of iron cannot forbear trembling, when he surveys the precipice below him, tho' he knows himself to be perfectly secure from falling, by his experience of the solidity of the iron, which supports him." The emotion of fear this man experiences is characterized by recalcitrance with respect to thought. Since this is taken to be one of the hallmarks of modularity, one might be tempted to conclude that emotions, or at least some types of emotions, are modular (especially if you think that modules are natural kinds, because then the presence of one characteristic of modularity would be a reliable basis to infer the presence of the others).

Several authors have argued that emotional phenomena exhibit some of the properties Fodor attributes to modules (Charland 1995; Griffiths 1997; Öhman and Mineka 2001; Prinz 2004). Obviously, the answer to the question whether emotions are modular depends on what modularity is taken to be. The concept of modularity in which most recent discussions about the modularity of emotions have been framed is the one put forward by Fodor himself. However, different concepts of modularity, corresponding to different kinds of modular systems, have been proposed in the literature. In this introduction, we shall give a brief overview of the main concepts of modularity that have been offered in recent literature. After this, we turn to a summary of the papers collected in this volume. Our primary aim will be to explain how the modularity of emotion question relates to traditional debates in emotion theory.

1. Varieties of modularity concepts

As has been pointed out by Richard Samuels (2000), the term 'module' usually refers to functionally specific mental structures supposed to underlie particular cognitive capacities. But this general idea has been spelled out very differently, the term having been used to refer to quite different things. Though Samuels distinguishes between three kinds of modules, we think it useful instead to consider six kinds of modules. [End Page viii] We do not hereafter propose a typology of modularity, but try instead of identify some of the ways in which the term is used. Thus, it should not come as a surprise that some uses of the term are compatible with or even encompass other uses.

(1). The first kind of modules are what could be called boxological modules.

For instance, they are the boxes that cognitive scientists posit to explain a capacity when they proceed to a functional decomposition. According to Fodor (2000), this form of modularity is a pretty diluted and non-contentious one. Almost everybody accepts the idea that cognitive capacities will have to be explained by invoking functionally individuated mechanisms (which Fodor prefers not to call "modules...

You must be logged in through an institution that subscribes to this journal or book to access the full text.


Shibboleth authentication is only available to registered institutions.

Project MUSE

For subscribing associations only.