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Reviewed by:
  • Becoming Human: The Ontogenesis, Metaphysics, and Expression of Human Emotionality by Jennifer Greenwood
  • Jay Odenbaugh
Review: Jennifer Greenwood, Becoming Human: The Ontogenesis, Metaphysics, and Expression of Human Emotionality, MIT Press, 2015

Becoming Human by Jennifer Greenwood is one of the most thought-provoking books on emotion and its expression I have read. At its core, it attempts to provide an account of the development of full human emotionality and in so doing argues the emotions are “transcranial.” Emotions are radically realized outside our nervous systems and beyond our skin. As children, we are functionally integrated affectively with our mothers; so much so that in a sense our emotions are not ours alone. Regardless of whether one agrees with her radical claims, it is a must-read for those interested in emotion and expression. In order to appreciate the significance of this book, let me sketch its contents and raise a few criticisms.

Many, but certainly not all, psychologists and philosophers assume that there are basic emotions (BEs) and higher-cognitive emotions (HCEs). The former include fear, anger, disgust, happiness, surprise, and sadness; and the later include guilt, shame, and pride amongst others. BEs are thought of as natural kinds involving facial expression, homologous traits shared with non-human primates, specific brain structures, and stereotyped behaviors. HCEs differ in that they often do not have unique physiological profiles, facial expressions, dedicated brain regions, and culturally vary quite a bit. Greenwood argues that there are affective precursors that develop into BEs and HCEs. However, the distinction between BEs and HCEs lulls us into naïve views about nature and nurture, biology and culture. We have not taken their development from childhood as seriously as we should. Both develop through time.

Greenwood has us consider human infants. They are completely dependent on their caregiver who is usually their mother. They can cry and exhibit motor unrest to convey how things are going for them. Their emotional precursors are ostensive and expressive. They are ostensive insofar as they direct the attention of the mother to sources of displeasure and they are expressive insofar as they signal that displeasure. They are referentially opaque but through time become less so. Thus, these emotional precursors are natural signs which occur when proprioceptive [End Page E-1] and interoceptive thresholds have been crossed and help is needed. Crying and motor unrest are assistance-soliciting devices. Mothers are equipped with “intuitive parenting” skills by which they can identify what things are helpful and harmful to their child. They instinctually respond to the child’s stress and try to remove the sources of it. This also involves mimicry in speech and mirrored facial expressions of their child. These are assistance-producing devices. Through repeated interactions of these assistance-soliciting and assistance-providing devices, the child’s emotionality advances through functional integration with the mother. Not only do these interactions provide feelings of pleasure but also new neural machinery develops as the result of these dynamic interactions. There are complex causal interactions between child and mother, which scaffold the child’s emotions and their expression. It is also through the same mechanisms that language appears as well. “Motherese” helps the child to understand the boundaries between clauses and how to command, request, declare, and to question. Thus, our first conversations are with our mothers. Greenwood offers an explanation of how infants begin with affect expressions and species-typical behaviors to express themselves, move to communicating with gestures and inflected vocalization, and finally develop language. And, referential clarity increases with the development of the emotions and language. The child’s species-typical behavior patterns coupled with the mother’s intuitive parenting skills provides the necessary and sufficient conditions for generating a semantic lexicon. These natural and conventional signs have their declarative and imperative content secured by a kind of teleosemantics inspired by the work of Ruth Millikan.

These are bold hypotheses that Greenwood has offered. She additionally argues that the hypothesis above gives strong support to Transcranialism, or the Extended Mind hypothesis, about the emotions. It says that mental states and processes extend outside the nervous system. Intracranialists deny this claiming that the scaffolding provided by the world outside the...


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