- Feelings of Believing: Psychology, History, Phenomenology by Ryan Hickerson
There has been a slowly developing appreciation from various quarters in recent decades that the overlap between the philosophy of the emotions and epistemology might be greater than one would initially assume. Ryan Hickerson's Feelings of Believing: Psychology, History, and Phenomenology makes a timely and highly original contribution to this discussion. But its scope and appeal reach far beyond that somewhat niche issue, extending (as the subtitle promises) to psychology, history of philosophy, phenomenology, and beyond.
The book's central theses are that doxastic sentimentalism "plays a central role in the history of modern epistemology" (30), and that it ought to play a greater role in contemporary systematic work in epistemology. Doxastic sentiments are feelings related to beliefs, or "beliefy feelings" (1). Though there are various beliefy feelings, certainty and related feelings have been the most prominent and important in the history of epistemology. Hickerson admits various formulations of doxastic sentimentalism, varying from weak to strong (55), but the basic idea of doxastic sentimentalism is that "doxastic sentiments always accompany beliefs about what exists, or about what is the case" (2). Hickerson argues that doxastic sentimentalism has been an important strand in the history of modern philosophy, though one that has been largely neglected. It has gone unnoticed in part because certainty has been conceptualized by psychologists and philosophers alike in ways that obscure its sentimental character. Hickerson proposes to remedy this neglect by providing highlights of an alternative history of philosophy, critical overviews of the psychological research on certainty, and novel phenomenological analyses of the feeling of believing.
The book consists of a substantial introduction and conclusion bookending six chapters on history, psychology, and phenomenology. The four historical chapters on Hume, Descartes, Husserl, and James tease out the overt and covert strands of doxastic sentimentalism in each thinker. Interrogating these classic texts in this light leads to refreshing, highly original readings, even where Hickerson needs to hack through a thicket of secondary literature to return to the original sources. The chapter on Descartes breaks an interpretive stalemate and refines the classic Cartesian circle by interpreting "clarity and distinctness" as doxastic sentiments. The chapter on Husserl carefully disentangles the various notions of Evidenz in Husserl's corpus to arrive at a doxastic sentimentalist understanding of imperfect self-evidence, a finding that is as provocative on first glance as it is compelling after considering Hickerson's careful exegesis and argument. A chapter reviewing recent decades of psychological research on overconfidence highlights the need to distinguish between metacognitive judgments and metacognitive feelings, an insight as important for psychology as for philosophy. And a chapter on the phenomenology and psychology of beliefy feelings makes the case, critical for the book's overall argument, that doxastic sentiments can go unnoticed and hence may be more prevalent in our conscious experience than we are wont to acknowledge. The book concludes with a segue to virtue epistemology, arguing that attending to these usually unnoticed doxastic sentiments is epistemically virtuous.
Feelings of Believing is thoroughly researched and cogently argued. It spans a broad range of historical and contemporary issues from diverse perspectives, but with minimal sacrifice of depth on all fronts. Of course, any book that covers this much territory is bound to leave some gaps. One might have expected to find greater engagement with the burgeoning cognitive phenomenology literature. While the book stresses the distinction between beliefs and judgments, it does little to elucidate the process(es) of deliberation that lead from the former to the latter. And though the fruits of Hickerson's investigations themselves stand as a provisional proof of concept for the hybrid method of incorporating phenomenology, psychology, and history of philosophy, some specialists in each field will surely be irked by what will be perceived as external meddling from practitioners of the others.
But these are niggling points of critique in the face of the book's many merits. Substantively, Hickerson advances an original, highly controversial thesis, and by the [End Page 340] book's end doxastic sentimentalism stands...