Aaron Ben-Ze'ev (2001) The Subtlety of Emotions. Psycoloquy: 12(007) Subtlety Emotion (1)

Volume: 12 (next, prev) Issue: 007 (next, prev) Article: 1 (next prev first) Alternate versions: ASCII Summary
PSYCOLOQUY (ISSN 1055-0143) is sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA).
Psycoloquy 12(007): The Subtlety of Emotions

[MIT Press, 2000, 629 pp. ISBN: 0-262-02463-2]
Precis of Ben-Ze'ev on Subtlety-Emotion

Aaron Ben-Ze'ev
Center for Interdisciplinary Research on Emotions
University of Haifa Israel



Although emotions punctuate almost all the significant events in our lives, the nature, causes, and consequences of the emotions are among the least well understood aspects of human experience. Despite their apparent familiarity, emotions are an extremely subtle and complex topic which was neglected by many social scientists and philosophers. Emotions are highly complex and subtle phenomena whose explanation requires an interdisciplinary and systematic analysis of their multiple characteristics and components. Providing such an analysis is the major task of my book. The book is unique in the broad perspective it takes on emotions: it provides both a conceptual framework for understanding emotions and a detailed analysis of the major emotions. Part I provides an answer to the question : "What is an emotion?" It does so by analyzing the typical characteristics and components of emotions, distinguishing emotions from related affective phenomena, classifying the emotions, and discussing major relevant issues such as: emotional intensity, functionality and rationality, emotional intelligence, emotions and imagination, regulating the emotions, and emotions and morality. The principal emotions discussed in Part II are envy, jealousy, pity, compassion, pleasure-in-others'-misfortune, anger, hate, disgust, love, sexual desire, happiness, sadness, pride, regret, pridefulness and shame.


emotion, affect, feeling, change, evaluation, intensity, comparison
    PSYCOLOQUY CALL FOR BOOK REVIEWERS: Below is the Precis of "The
    Subtlety of Emotions" by Aaron Ben-Ze'ev (1202 lines). This book
    has been selected for multiple review in Psycoloquy. If you wish to
    submit a formal book review please write to psyc@pucc.princeton.edu
    indicating what expertise you would bring to bear on reviewing the
    book if you were selected to review it.

    (If you have never reviewed for PSYCOLOQUY or Behavioral & Brain
    Sciences before, it would be helpful if you could also append a
    copy of your CV to your inquiry.) If you are selected as one of the
    reviewers and do not have a copy of the book, you will be sent a
    copy of the book directly by the publisher (please let us know if
    you have a copy already). Reviews may also be submitted without
    invitation, but all reviews will be refereed. The author will reply
    to all accepted reviews.



    Psycoloquy reviews are of the book not the Precis. Length should be
    about 200 lines [c. 1800 words], with a short abstract (about 50
    words), an indexable title, and reviewer's full name and
    institutional address, email and Home Page URL. All references that
    are electronically accessible should also have URLs.


1. Describing the emotions is a very complex task. Emotions are something people think they can recognize when they see them, yet it is difficult to define them unambiguously. Emotional complexity stems from the fact that emotions are highly sensitive to contextual and personal factors; emotions do not appear in isolation, but in a cluster of emotional attitudes; and the linguistic use of emotional terms is confusing.

2. In light of this complexity, it is useful to describe emotions by using prototypical categories in which membership is determined by the degree of similarity of an item to the best example in each category. These categories have neither clear-cut boundaries nor is the degree of membership equal. Each emotion can be analyzed on some level of description, for example, physiological, biological, psychological, or sociological. This book concentrates on the philosophical and psychological levels. Another way of dealing with the complexity of emotions is to use various systematic classifications of different emotional aspects and components.

3. Due to the diverse linguistic usage surrounding the emotions, any discussion of them calls for an explanation of the way the author uses the term "emotion." Since I believe that emotions constitute a prototypical category , it is not necessary to present a precise definition of emotions, but only a characterization of typical cases. Such a characterization may yield an approximation of what an emotion is.


4. The chapter dealing with this issue provides an initial characterization of typical emotions. It is suggested that the typical cause of emotions is a perceived significant change in our situation, the typical emotional concern is a comparative concern, and the typical emotional object is a human being. Typical emotions are considered to have a few basic characteristics: instability, great intensity, a partial perspective, and relative brevity.


5. Emotions typically occur when we perceive positive or negative significant changes in our personal situation-or in that of those related to us. A positive or negative significant change is that which significantly interrupts or improves a smoothly flowing situation relevant to our concerns. Like burglar alarms going off when an intruder appears, emotions signal that something needs attention. Emotions are generated when we deviate from the level of stimulation we have experienced for long enough to get accustomed to it.


6. Emotions occur when a change is appraised as relevant to our personal concerns. Concerns are our short- or long-term dispositions to prefer particular states of the world or of the self. Emotions serve to monitor and safeguard our personal concerns; they give the eliciting event its significance. Emotional meaning is mainly comparative. The emotional environment contains not only what is, and what will be, experienced but also all that could be, or that one desires to be, experienced; for the emotional system, all such possibilities are posited as simultaneously there and are compared to each other. The emotional comparison is done from a personal and interested perspective.

7. The importance of comparative concern in emotions is also connected with the central role of changes in generating emotions. An event can be perceived as a significant change only when compared against a certain background framework. If emotions occur when we confront a significant change in our situation, our concern is mainly comparative, referring to a situation different from the novel one. The background framework against which emotional events are compared may be described as a personal baseline.

8. The comparison underlying emotional significance encompasses the mental construction of an alternative situation. The more available the alternative, namely, the closer the imagined alternative is to reality, the more intense the emotion. A crucial element in emotions is, indeed, the imagined condition of "it could have been otherwise."

9. Among humans, the social world is a principal theater of emotions since other people are most important for our well-being. Emotions are a very important glue that links us to others, and the links to others are important determinants for the generation of emotions. Our emotional environment is mainly social and our social environment is highly emotional. Social emotional comparison is not exercised indiscriminately; it typically refers to people and domains currently perceived to be relevant to our well-being or predominant in our concerns. We neither compare ourselves with everyone nor do we compare every aspect of ourselves. Although social comparison typically occurs with those close to us, it can also occur upon a merely casual contact with another person. Accordingly, group membership is one of the most powerful factors in our emotional lives: the mere act of assigning people to different groups tends to accentuate the perceived cognitive and evaluative differences between them.


10. The typical emotional object is either the person experiencing the emotion or another person. People are more interesting to people than anything else. The things that people do and say, including the things that we ourselves do and say, are the things that influence us most. Emotions are typically directed toward agents who are capable of enjoyment and suffering. Emotions may also be directed at objects which are actually not agents but have some properties resembling agents or at least are construed to have such properties.

11. We may distinguish between the emotional object and the focus of emotional concern. The emotional object is the focus of our attention; it is the cognitive object. The focus of emotional concern is the evaluative object; it is the basis for our evaluative stand. We may also speak about the emotional cause, which may be characterized as the specific event eliciting the emotional attitude. The emotional cause often precedes the emotion and is separate from it. The focus of concern and the emotional object are constitutive parts of the emotional experience.



12. I suggest that instability, great intensity, a partial perspective, and relative brevity be considered as the basic characteristics of typical emotions. This characterization refers to "hot emotions," which are the typical intense emotions. The more moderate emotions lack some of the characteristics associated with typical emotions. Hot emotions, or, simply, emotions, should be distinguished from other affective experiences such as moods, affective disorders, and sentiments.

13. In light of the crucial role that changes play in generating emotions, instability of the mental (as well as the physiological) system is a basic characteristic of emotions. Emotions indicate a transition in which the preceding context has changed, but no new context has yet stabilized. Emotional instability is applicable not only to the personal domain, but also to the sociological arena: emotions are more intense in unstable societies where, for example, the regime can rapidly change or people's personal status is subject to fluctuations. In stable, or static, societies, the availability of alternatives hardly exists, and hence emotional intensity is reduced.

14. One of the typical characteristics of emotions is their relative great intensity. Emotions are intense reactions. In emotions the mental system has not yet adapted to the given change, and due to its significance, the change requires the mobilization of many resources. One basic evolutionary function of emotions is indeed that of immediate mobilization. No wonder that emotions are associated with urgency and heat.

15. Emotions are partial in two basic senses: they are focused on a narrow target as on one person or a very few people; and they express a personal and interested perspective. Emotions direct and color our attention by selecting what attracts and holds our attention; they make us preoccupied with some things and oblivious to others. Emotions are not detached theoretical states; they address a practical concern from a personal perspective. This perspective may also include considerations of those related to us. These people are like extensions of our egos, even though their emotional weight is typically of a lesser degree than the weight of personal considerations having direct bearing upon our own lives. Not everyone and not everything is of emotional significance to us. We cannot assume an emotional state toward everyone or those with whom we have no relation whatsoever. The intensity of emotions is achieved by their focus upon a limited group of objects. Emotions express our values and preferences; hence, they cannot be indiscriminate. Being indiscriminate is tantamount to having no preferences and values; in other words, it is a state of nonemotion.

16. Contrary to the partial nature of emotions, intellectual reasoning is typically not partial: it may be focused on a broad, rather than narrow, target, and it is not done from a personal and interested perspective. Intellectual reasoning is often a detached state: it looks at all implications of a current state; it takes us far beyond the current situation. Intellectual reasoning is committed to formal logical rules of valid arguments, but it has no commitment to values; it is value-free. In intellectual reasoning we are supposed to consider all available alternatives and then choose the best one. Unlike the case in emotions, the present situation has no privileged status in intellectual reasoning; on the contrary, we are required not to be influenced by that situation, but to consider all other possible situations in an objective manner.

17. Typical emotions are essentially transient states. The mobilization of all resources to focus on one event cannot last forever. A system cannot be unstable for a long period and still function normally; it may explode due to continuous increase in emotional intensity. A change cannot persist a very long time; after a while, the system construes the change as a normal and stable situation. The association of emotional intensity with change causes the intensity to decrease steadily due to the transient nature of changes. This association is a natural mechanism enabling the system to return within a relatively short period to normal functioning-which may be somewhat different from the previous normal functioning.



18. In addition to the typical characteristics, that is, instability, intensity, partiality, and brevity, there are other relevant features of emotions which might help us to understand emotions. One such feature is the division of emotions into four basic components, namely, cognition, evaluation, motivation, and feeling. The difference between typical characteristics and basic components is that characteristics are properties of the whole emotional experience, whereas components express a conceptual division of the elements of this experience. It is arguable that one could perhaps find a few relevant characteristics other than those I have discussed; however, the conceptual division of emotions into four components is more comprehensive and is supposed to cover all possible components.

19. I consider intentionality and feeling to be the two basic mental dimensions. Intentionality refers to a subject-object relation, whereas feeling expresses the subject's own state of mind. When a person is in love with someone, the feeling dimension surfaces in a particular feeling, say a thrill, that is experienced when they are together; the intentional dimension is expressed in the person's knowledge of her beloved, her evaluation of his attributes, and her desires toward him.

20. The feeling dimension is a primitive mode of consciousness associated with our own state. It is the lowest level of consciousness; unlike higher levels of awareness, such as those found in perception, memory, and thinking, the feeling dimension has no meaningful cognitive content. It expresses our own state, but is not in itself directed at this state or at any other object. Since this dimension is a mode of consciousness, one cannot be unconscious of it; there are no unfelt feelings.

21. The intentional dimension in emotions can be divided into three components: cognitive, evaluative, and motivational. The cognitive component consists of information about the given circumstances; the evaluative component assesses the personal significance of this information; the motivational component addresses our desires, or readiness to act, in these circumstances. When John envies Adam for having better grades, John has some information about Adam's grades, evaluates his own inferior position negatively, and wishes to abolish this inferiority.


22. Cognition, which contains descriptive information about the object, logically comes prior to the evaluation of this object, namely, to a normative appraisal of its value. Hence, there can be cognition without evaluation. Evaluation presupposes a certain degree of cognition; we cannot evaluate something without having some information about it. Evaluation typically occurs prior to motivation; motivation usually implies evaluation. In having desires one makes certain evaluations, but one can evaluate something as good without being thereby motivated to pursue it. The pursuit involves practical considerations which may result in different types of desires. However, when the evaluation is highly positive or negative, it is likely to be expressed by a certain motivation. The feeling component has no logical connection with the intentional components, but is associated with them in typical emotions. The actual link between the cognitive and other components is contingent: the same cognitive content may give rise to different evaluations, motivations, and feelings. The link between the evaluative and the motivational and feeling components is more rigid: all these components are correlated with the positive or negative nature of the emotion.

23. Despite the logical priority of the cognitive component over the evaluative component, the evaluative component is the most important component in emotions: emotions are basically evaluative attitudes rather than cognitive states. Perception, on the other hand, is essentially a cognitive state. Accordingly, an emotion may be described as reasonable or justified, but not as true or false; whereas a perceptual state may be described as true or false, but not as reasonable or justified. To perceive something is to be aware of a particular content. Although an emotion involves some type of awareness, it is not merely a mode of awareness in the same way as perception.

24. The emphasis upon the evaluative component suggested here is not a new explanatory direction. It can be found in the writings of ancient and contemporary philosophers and psychologists. Indeed, today evaluative theories are the foremost approach to emotions in philosophy and psychology. The general assumption underlying these theories is that evaluations (appraisals) are the most crucial factor in emotions. This assumption may imply at least two different claims:

    (a) Evaluative patterns distinguish one emotion from another;
    (b) Evaluative patterns distinguish emotions from nonemotions;

These claims, which are not clearly distinguished by appraisal theorists, are not necessarily related. I believe that whereas a simplistic formulation of (b) is false, (a) is basically true.

25. The view suggested here may be considered as an evaluative view, or an appraisal theory of emotions. We may distinguish two types of appraisal theory: constitutive and causal. In the constitutive type, which is a weaker version of appraisal theory, appraisals (or evaluations) are necessary constituents in the emotional state; in the causal type, appraisals are necessary constituents not only in the emotional state but in its cause as well. Take, for example, joy. The constitutive view claims that joy must include a certain evaluation, for instance, a positive evaluation of my present situation. The causal view agrees with this claim but also adds that such evaluation is included in the cause of this emotions-that is, I had evaluated the eliciting event positively prior to the emergence of joy.

26. I believe that although in typical emotions appraisals are a constitutive element in both the cause and the experience of the emotion, this is not necessarily so. There may be emotional states whose generation does not involve evaluations; they are generating by merely having the suitable facial or physiological features. Thus, joy may be induced by merely changing the facial configurations in a way typical of a smile. In such a case, we should not say that we smile because we are happy, but that we are happy because we smile. These cases are problematic only for the causal type of appraisal theories but not for the constitutive type which is adopted here-while remembering that in typical cases the causal view is valid as well. Many heated disputes concerning the role of appraisals in emotions could be settled by clarifying the distinction between these two types of appraisal theories; as yet, little attention has been paid to such a distinction.



27. In characterizing the mental aspects of the affective realm, a reference to the two basic dimensions, namely, intentionality and feeling, is in order. Accordingly, I characterize an affective phenomenon as having an inherent positive or negative evaluation (this is the intentional feature) and a significant feeling component. The combination of a valenced aspect, namely, an inherent evaluation, with a significant feeling component is what distinguishes affective phenomena from nonaffective ones. A mere positive or negative evaluation, as is expressed for example in verbal praise, is not an affective attitude; similarly, a mere feeling, such as a tickle, which is devoid of an inherent evaluation, is not included within the affective spectrum.

28. The two suggested characteristics, namely, inherent evaluation and a significant feeling component, may serve not only to distinguish affective from nonaffective phenomena, but also to discern the various phenomena within the affective realm. Accordingly, I suggest that we characterize the differences between the major types of affective phenomena by referring to (a) the specific or general type of evaluation involved, and (b) the occurrent or dispositional nature of the given phenomenon. These suggested criteria form four possible combinations which can be considered as the basic types of affective phenomena:

    1. Specific intentionality, occurrent state-emotions, such as envy,
    anger, guilt, and sexual desire;

    2. Specific intentionality, dispositional state-sentiments, such as
    enduring love or grief;

    3. General intentionality, occurrent state-moods, such as being
    cheerful, satisfied, "blue," and gloomy;

    4. General intentionality, dispositional state-affective traits,
    such as shyness and enviousness.

29. Emotions and sentiments have a specific intentional object, whereas the intentional object of moods, affective disorders, and affective traits is general and diffuse. Emotions and moods are essentially occurrent states; sentiments and affective traits are dispositional in nature. These differences are expressed in temporal differences. Emotions and moods, which are occurrent states, are relatively short, whereas sentiments and affective traits, which are essentially dispositional, last for a longer period. Emotions typically last between a few minutes and a few hours, although in some cases they can also be described as lasting seconds or days. Moods usually last for hours, days, weeks, and sometimes even for months. Sentiments last for weeks, months, or even many years. Affective traits can last a lifetime.

30. The above types of affective phenomena represent major paradigmatic cases; there are various phenomena which are borderline cases. This should be expected in light of the fact that one of the defining criteria of affective phenomena, namely, the specificity of the intentional object, admits various degrees.

31. Affective disorders, such as depression and anxiety, do not clearly fit in either group of affective phenomena; their intentionality is not as specific as that of emotions, nor as general as that of moods. Furthermore, with regard to the dispositional and occurrent nature, affective disorders are in an intermediate position between emotions and moods on the one hand, and sentiments and affective traits on the other hand. I suggest that we explain affective disorders as extreme, or pathological, instances of the above typical cases. For example, when fear takes a very extreme form, it may turn into anxiety and in a similar vein, sadness may turn into depression.


32. A comprehensive classification of emotions is suggested. The proposed classification is based on two evaluative characteristics: (a) the positive or negative nature of the state, and (b) the object at which the state is directed. Concerning their object, emotions have been divided into three basic groups: (a) fortunes of agents, (b) actions of agents, and (c) the agent as a whole. Each group is further divided into emotions directed at others and at oneself. Various issues related to the suggested conceptual framework should be determined by further empirical investigations. Among these are the prevalence of particular emotions in a specific individual or in a specific society, as well as the developmental order and functional value of various emotions.

33. The division of emotions into positive and negative ones is a basic division expressing the centrality of the evaluative component in emotions: an emotional evaluation can be either positive or negative. Although in the proposed classification, every negative emotion has a corresponding positive emotion, negative emotions are more noticeable and more differentiated than positive emotions. It seems that, in general, negative emotions are closer to the prototype of emotions than are positive emotions. This does not mean that different explanatory models should explain the two types of emotions.


34. Though various classifications of emotions have been suggested, classification into basic and nonbasic emotions has a continuing fascination, and is seen as central by many theorists. Above all, "basic" means simple, as opposed to complex. Criteria for simple or basic emotions vary from one theory to another, however, and such differences may cast doubt on the existence of basic emotions.

35. In light of their similar eliciting circumstances and functions, we can postulate that both basic and nonbasic emotions are made of similar psychological components, including cognition, evaluation, motivation, and feelings. The characteristics of both groups include instability of the system, substantial intensity, relative brevity, and a partial perspective. If the psychological aspects of basic and nonbasic emotions were more clearly differentiated, then it would be easier to distinguish between them.

36. The classical dispute about basic emotions is formulated in terms of the possibility of reducing nonbasic emotions to basic emotions. Those favoring such a reduction suppose that basic emotions express reactions to basic types of emotional situations, but that nonbasic emotions are reactions to situations that maintain some similarity with these basic types. Those opposing the notion of basic emotions argue against this reduction. They argue that in the course of evolutionary and individual development, the environment has changed and brought about entirely new emotional situations, especially complex social ones. In this new emotional environment, social comparative concerns become as crucial as the self-preservative biological concerns and cannot be reduced to them.

37. I believe that the dispute concerning reduction of nonbasic emotions to basic ones may be less important than questions of how intentional capacities and social concerns have developed. The notion of basic emotions is valuable for certain explanatory purposes - especially those referring to the development of emotions. The development of complex social environments has generated novel emotions which do not seem to derive from basic emotions. Moreover, the major concerns of basic emotions have become social as well. In this sense, a major evolution in human emotions is this development of basic emotions, thus bringing them closer to nonbasic emotions.

38. The emotional realm has been frequently explained by reducing emotions either to their components, such as feeling, cognition, evaluation, and motivation, or to basic emotions, such as anger, sadness, fear, and happiness. The two explanations are not contradictory in that they refer to different aspects of emotions; as such, they both have some explanatory value. However, a simple reduction to either one component or to one or a few basic emotions ignores other interesting aspects of emotions. The complexity of the emotional realm is unlikely to be compatible with any kind of a simple reduction.



39. People often talk about the intensity of their emotions: they tell us that their anger is overwhelming, that they feel extremely sad, or that they are madly in love. Despite the common usage of terms which measure emotional intensity, the notion of "emotional intensity" is far from clear as it applies to different phenomena, not all of which are correlated.

40. The diverse features of emotional intensity are expressed in two basic aspects: magnitude (peak intensity) and temporal structure (mainly, duration). The two basic aspects of emotional intensity, namely, peak intensity and duration, are expressed in each of the four basic emotional components: feeling, motivation, evaluation, and cognition. We may speak about the peak intensity and duration of a certain feeling, urge to act, extremity of evaluation, and cognitive preoccupation. Highly significant emotional events are expressed by the two aspects of all four components.

41. From a psychological point of view, then, an emotional state of great intensity is a state in which the two aspects of the basic four components or a certain combined measure of them, have high values. From a physiological point of view, an emotional of great intensity has different measures referring to the strength of various physiological activities. In both perspectives, emotional intensity is a property of the agent experiencing the emotion and not of the event giving rise to the emotion.

42. Various difficulties in determining the intensity of different emotions exist. The central ones concern the relative weight of the various aspects and components of emotional intensity. The concept of "emotional intensity" denotes a complex construct whose components seem to be incommensurable; nevertheless, the intensity of the whole emotional state can be estimated by comparison with similar states. Our ability to compare various emotional intensities is based on finding a certain feature whose changes are typically correlated with intensity changes of the whole state. Instability may be such a feature, as it is a basic characteristic of emotions, and it is easy to make comparative estimate of its value. Greater instability manifests itself in many obvious physiological and psychological aspects. Another factor like this may be overall felt intensity. Referring merely to one feature in order to get a rough approximation of emotional intensity represents a psychological abbreviation of complex mathematical formulas.


43. Emotional intensity depends on the way in which we evaluate the significance of events. Although emotions arise from an immediate eliciting event, their intensity depend on broader sets of circumstances that circumscribe our sensitivity to such an event. Since the typical emotional cause is a perceived significant change in our situation, the circumstances influencing emotional sensitivity determine which, of the multiple changes we continuously undergo, are perceived as significant. The significance of a change is not an intensity variable, but the way in which we evaluate the situation on the basis of the different intensity variables.

44. The various intensity variables may be divided into two major groups, one referring to the perceived impact of the event eliciting the emotional state and the other to background circumstances of the agents involved in the emotional state. The major variables constituting the event's impact are the strength, reality, and relevance of the event; the major variables constituting the background circumstances are accountability, readiness, and deservingness. The suggested classification is not arbitrary; it expresses two major aspects of the emotional situation: the impact of the eliciting event and the subjective background circumstances preceding it. The first group is crucial for determining our current situation; the importance of the second group is in realizing whether the situation could have been prevented and whether we deserve to be in such a situation.


45. The event's strength is a major factor in determining the intensity of the emotional encounter. It refers, for example, to the extent of the misfortune in pity or the level of damage we suffer in anger. A positive correlation usually exists between the strength of the event as we perceive it and emotional intensity: the stronger the event is, the more intense is the emotion. Though positive, the correlation is not always linear: a stronger event may result in a more intense emotion, but the increase in intensity is not always proportional to the increase in the event's strength. In very strong events, an additional increase in their strength will hardly increase emotional intensity which is anyway quite high and almost at its peak. This kind of correlation is also typical of other variables. The typical curve of emotional intensity rises up to a point with increases in the given variable; from this point on, emotional intensity hardly changes with an increase in the given variable.


46. The more we believe the situation to be real, the more intense the emotion. The importance of the degree of reality in inducing powerful emotions is illustrated by the fact that a very strong event, which may be quite relevant to our well-being, may not provoke excitement if we succeed in considering it as fantasy: the emotional intensity decreases accordingly.

47. In analyzing the notion of "emotional reality" two major senses should be discerned: (a) ontological, and (b) epistemological. The ontological sense is expressed in the actual existence of the emotional object, and the epistemological sense is typically expressed in its vividness. The degree of reality is highest when the object is real in both senses. Interesting cases are those with a conflict between the two senses, for example, when a fictional character is more vivid than a person we have just met. Both persons are real for us, and it is not obvious as to who may induce greater emotional intensity.

48. Works of art are not real in the ontological sense, but they are quite real in the epistemological sense of being vivid. They provide us with more vivid information than that reported about actual existing events. We have some background knowledge about the imaginary nature of the emotional object-this is what distinguishes emotional and aesthetic imagination from hallucination, psychotic fantasy, or dreams. Despite this knowledge, we attribute to the object some kind of existence. It is as if we "put in brackets" its imaginary existence. We are moved by a book or movie despite and not because of its being imaginary: its higher degree of reality in the sense of its being vivid generates intense emotions despite its low degree of reality in the sense of its actual existence.


49. The more relevant the event is, the greater the emotional significance and hence intensity. Relevance is of utmost importance in determining the significance of an emotional encounter. What is irrelevant to us cannot be emotionally significant for us.

50. Emotional relevance typically refers either (a) to the achievement of our goals, or (b) to our self-esteem. The two related aspects of relevance are associated with all emotions, but to varying degrees. Sometimes greater relevance changes the nature of a given emotion. If someone is better than us in an area that is of little relevance to our self-evaluation, then our attitude toward this person may often be admiration. However, in a case of high relevance, other things being equal, the attitude is more likely to be envy.

51. Emotional relevance is closely related to emotional closeness. Events close to us in time, space, or effect are usually emotionally relevant and significant. Closeness may be broken down into two factors: (a) similarity in background, for example, biological background, place of birth, education, significant experiences, and opportunities; and (b) proximity in current situation, for example, proximity in time, space, age, status, salary, or possession of a certain object.


52. Accountability refers to the nature of the agency generating the emotional encounter. Generally, the more responsible we are for the given change, the more available is the alternative and hence the more intense the emotion. The major issues relevant in this regard are: (a) degree of controllability, (b) invested effort, and (c) intent.

53. The various types of controllability may be divided into two major groups: (a) personal controllability, and (b) external controllability. Each group may be further divided into two subgroups. In the first group we can distinguish between events due to (a1) our deliberative behavior, (a2) behavior stemming from our character and habits, and (a3) our nondeliberative behavior. The second group may be divided into events due to (b1) others' deliberative behavior, (b2) others' nondeliberative behavior, and (b3) impersonal circumstances. The order of controllability is as follows: (a1), (a2), (a3), (b1), (b2) and (b3). The order of emotional intensity is similar: events due to our deliberative behavior have the greatest emotional impact and those due to impersonal circumstances the least.

54. Effort is an additional factor constituting the variable of accountability. Like controllability, effort describes the extent of our involvement in the generation of emotions. Effort should be understood as including physical and mental effort as well as investment of all types of resources. Generally, the more effort we invest in something, the more significant it becomes and the more intense is the emotion surrounding it. As the saying goes: the more you pay, the more it is worth. The converse is, of course, also true: when the stakes are greater, we invest more effort.

55. Intent is another factor constituting our accountability. If we intended to do something, then our involvement and responsibility will typically be greater than when the event happened without our prior intention. Accordingly, emotional intensity is typically greater. Thus, our anger will be more intense if we believe that the other person intended to hurt us, and our shame will be more intense if we intended to act in the abysmal way we did.


56. The variable of readiness measures the cognitive change in our mind; major factors in this variable are unexpectedness (or anticipation) and uncertainty.

57. Unexpectedness, which may be measured by how surprised one is by the situation, is widely recognized as central in emotions. Since emotions are generated at the time of sudden change, unexpectedness is typical of emotions and is usually positively correlated with their intensity, at least up to a certain point. We are more angry if we happen to be expecting a contrary result, just as the quite unexpected fulfillment of our wishes is especially sweet. In light of the importance of unexpectedness in determining emotional intensity, one way to decrease negative emotional impact is to lower our expectations.

58. A factor related to, but not identical with, unexpectedness is uncertainty. We can expect some event to happen but may not be certain of its actual likelihood. Uncertainty is positively correlated with emotional intensity. The more we are certain that the eliciting event will occur, the less we are surprised at its actual occurrence and the lesser the emotional intensity accompanying it. In situations of certainty, the alternative to the situation is perceived as less available and hence emotions are less intense.


59. The perceived deservingness (equity, fairness) of our situation or that of others is of great importance in determining the nature and intensity of emotions. No one wants to be unjustly treated, or to receive what is contrary to one's wish. Even though people disagree about what is just and unjust, most people would like the world to be just. Most people believe, whether explicitly or implicitly, that the world is a benevolent and meaningful place and that the self is a worthwhile person. Accordingly, the feeling of injustice is hard to bear-sometimes even more so than actual hardship caused. When we perceive ourselves to be treated unjustly, or when the world in general is perceived to be unjust, this is perceived as a deviation and generates emotional reactions. The more exceptional the situation, the more we consider the negative situation to be unfair or the positive situation to be lucky. In such circumstances, the issue of deservingness is crucial and emotions are intense.

60. The characterization of deservingness is complex due to its similarity to, yet difference from, moral entitlement. Claims of desert, such as "I deserve to win the lottery," are based on our sense of the value of our attributes and actions; claims based on moral right, such as "she is entitled to receive a raise in her salary," often refer to obligations constitutive of the relationships with other agents. Claims of desert are not necessarily grounded in anyone's obligations, but rather in the value persons perceive themselves to deserve. Entitlement requires eligibility and satisfying some general rules, whereas deservingness requires satisfying certain conditions of personal worthiness which are not written down in any legal or official regulation. It is obvious that claims based on right do not exhaust the normative terrain of fairness.

61. The relationship between emotional intensity and deservingness is complex due to the personal nature of deservingness. Generally, undeserved situations are perceived to be less normal; hence the availability of an alternative is stronger and consequently emotional intensity is also stronger.

62. The complex, personal considerations underlying deservingness often change not merely the intensity, but also the nature of the emotional attitude. Considering the other's superiority to be undeserved may change the emotion from envy to resentment or anger. On the other hand, considering their superiority to be deserved may change the emotion from envy to admiration.

63. There are various phenomena which seem to contradict a suggested correlation between a certain intensity variable and emotional intensity. I believe that in such cases, the correlation is absent because other variables besides the given one have also changed and these are responsible for the apparent exception to the general correlation.


64. In assessing the significance of an emotional change, our personal make-up should be taken into consideration. Factors such as personality traits, world views, cultural background, and current personal situation are crucial for determining the emotional significance of given events. Differences in personal make-up may result in assigning different significance to given events, but they do not undermine general regularities concerning a certain intensity variable and emotional intensity. For example, different people may evaluate differently the reality of a given event: some consider the event to pose a real threat to their self-image, while others consider it to be imaginary. Thus, trivial social conversations between married women and other men may be perceived differently by their husbands depending on their personalities and cultural backgrounds. One man may perceive the situation as posing a real threat for him, while another will consider it as posing no real threat at all. The differences in attached significance will result in differences in the intensity of jealousy. However, in both cases the general correlation between the degree of reality and emotional intensity is maintained; the more real the event is perceived to be, the greater the emotional intensity it provokes.

65. Personal make-up can be divided into two parts: (a) personality, and (b) personal current situation. Variables of the first group are relatively stable and include, for example, personality type (e.g., nervous or calm), sensitivity to other people, fundamental beliefs (for instance, moral and religious beliefs), gender, age, and cultural background. Variables constituting our current situation are more transient and include, for instance, our moods, attitudes, and personal resources.

66. The intensity variables are global in the sense that they are related to all emotions. This does not mean that they are necessarily prominent in every emotional situation. For instance, the issue of readiness may not be significant in sexual desire, but it is not entirely irrelevant to this emotion either-in some cases, readiness greatly influences the intensity of sexual desire. Generally, the more complex the emotion, the more variables of emotional intensity are likely to be associated with its emergence. In addition to global variables associated with all emotions, there may be also local variables which derive from the particular nature of the given emotion.

67. Determining the influence of a certain variable should be limited to comparisons within a given emotion. Thus, it is misleading to say that anger, which is typically characterized as having a low degree of controllability, since it is primarily caused by others, would always be a less intense emotion than shame, which is characterized as having a high degree of controllability. The positive correlation between controllability and emotional intensity is maintained in both anger and shame: a greater degree of controllability will result in more intense anger and in more intense shame. Although the correlation between each intensity variable and emotional intensity is positive in all emotions, the specific curve depicting the details of this correlation may vary from one emotion to another. An important task for future research is that of determining the adequacy of the suggested correlation in specific emotions.

68. The proposed framework for characterizing emotional intensity has important implications for understanding the emotional process and for emotional management. Regulating emotional experiences should refer, among other things, to the intensity variables.


69. The rationality and functionality of emotions have often been regarded in negative terms: because of their assumed irrational nature, emotions were perceived as disrupting optimal functioning. I believe that this contention is wrong. Emotions are not irrational in the sense of preventing optimal functioning; on the contrary, they serve important functions in everyday life. Even emotional pretense is often functional.


70. There are two senses according to which something has usually been considered rational: (a) a descriptive sense, in that the generation of X involves intellectual calculations, and (b) a normative sense, in that X may express an appropriate response in the given circumstances. The two senses are not interdependent-something can be rational in one sense or both. Emotions are essentially nonrational in the descriptive sense, since they are typically not the result of deliberative, intellectual calculations. Emotions are often rational in the normative sense: frequently, they are the most appropriate response. In many cases, emotions, rather than deliberative, intellectual calculations, offer the best means to achieve our optimal response. This may be true from a cognitive point of view-emotions may supply the most reliable information in the given circumstances; from a moral point of view-the emotional response is the best moral response in the given circumstances; or from a functional point of view-emotions constitute the most efficient response in the given circumstances. In such cases, it is rational (in the normative sense) to behave nonrationally (in the descriptive sense). The failure to distinguish between these two senses of rationality underlies much of the heated dispute about the rationality of emotions.

71. There is a long tradition criticizing the rationality and functionality of emotions. In this tradition, which pervades much of current culture, emotions are regarded as nonrational in the descriptive sense-they are not the product of intellectual thinking-and hence as irrational in the normative sense-they are an impediment to rational reasoning and an obstacle to normal functioning and moral behavior. While I accept that emotions are nonrational in the descriptive sense, I reject the assumption that they are irrational in the normative sense. Typical emotions are not the product of intellectual thinking, but this does not imply that they are not the optimal response in many circumstances.

72. A similar analysis can apply to the notion of "intelligence." Intelligence may be characterized as our ability to function in an appropriate (or even optimal) manner in complex situations. It has often been assumed that such ability is basically an intellectual ability. I reject this assumption as well and argue that this ability usually consists of both emotional and intellectual capacities. Hence, we may speak about emotional intelligence; that is, intelligence in which the emotional system plays a major role.


73. The emotional and intellectual systems may be regarded as two systems of reasoning, each with its own set of different basic principles. Accordingly, something that may be regarded as reasonable in one system may not be regarded so in the other system. Hence, we can easily understand expressions such as, "Emotionally, you're an idiot." The different principles of the two systems stem from their different focus of concern: whereas the emotional system is concerned with the personal and volatile, the intellectual system is concerned with the general and stable. However, both concerns are of great importance in our lives; hence, our ability to combine them is of great value for us. We may say, therefore, that intelligence in its broad sense, which includes both intellectual and emotional intelligence, is the ability to use in an optimal manner both types of intelligence.

74. In light of the differences between the two systems, we may speak of emotional reasoning as different from intellectual reasoning. Neither type violates the rules of formal logic, such as the rules of contradiction and identity, but they do follow different principles from the point of view of their content. (This distinction is in a certain sense similar to Kant's distinction between formal and transcendental logic.) To give one example. A basic principle of emotional reasoning is that those who are close to us are more precious; an alternative principle, more typical of intellectual thinking, states that our distance from an object does not change its value. There are certain everyday and moral circumstances in which following the emotional principle is more appropriate and hence taking the emotional avenue is more rational. The differences between the two types of reasoning suggest that integrating them is not going to be an easy task.

75. We may speak about two domains of emotional intelligence:

    (One) Recognizing emotions, in ourselves and others; 
    (Two) Regulating emotions, in ourselves and others.

A spontaneous, emotional system and a deliberative, intellectual system are both important for conducting a valuable life. The presence of several systems in the psychological domain is as valuable as the presence of several powers in the political domain.


76. Along with the tradition which considers emotions to be irrational, there is a tradition considering emotions as disorganized interruptions of mental activity and as impediments to normal functioning. Some even consider emotions to be a kind of disease that we need to cure, since to neglect these illnesses would be little short of suicidal. I believe that this view is unfounded. Emotions are the optimal response in many circumstances associated with their generation, namely, when we face a sudden significant change in our situation but have limited and imperfect resources to cope with it. In these circumstances the emotional response is often the most optimal, because optimal conditions for the normal functioning of the intellectual system are absent. Emotions constitute an adaptive mechanism in the sense that they are flexible, immediate responses to changing stimuli. They are useful urgent responses to emergencies; indeed, emotions are often the most practical and useful states that we can assume.

77. The functional value of emotions can be clarified by considering three basic constraints imposed upon human activities:

    (a) human beings often encounter uncertain circumstances in which 
	they must make immediate decisions;
    (b) human beings have limited resources and multiple goals;
    (c) human beings need other humans to achieve their goals. 

In light of these constraints, emotions may be described as having three basic evolutionary functions:

    (a) an initial indication of the proper manner in which to respond;
    (b) quick mobilization of resources;
    (c) a means of social communication.

78. Emotions function within individuals to indicate and regulate priorities, and between individuals to communicate intentions. Since emotions are generated when we perceive a significant change in our situation, their purposes must be related to our ability to function in these circumstances. This is clearly expressed in the first two functions. The indicative function is required to give us an initial indication for how to cope with the uncertain circumstances we are facing. The mobilizing function is needed to regulate the locus of investment, that is, away from situations where resources would be wasted, and toward those urgent circumstances where investment will yield a significant payoff. The communicative function is used to reveal our evaluative stand and thereby elicit aid from others and insist upon social status. The cognitive component is essential for the indicative function, the motivational component for the mobilizing function, and the evaluative component is quite significant in the communicative function. All functions are particularly important when urgency is in evidence.


79. Imagination has a crucial role in generating emotions. This role has to do with the comparative nature of emotions: emotional comparison involves reference to a situation which is different from the present one. Emotional imagination does not merely refer to situations which are not present to our senses, but also to situations which do not exist at the moment-most of which will never exist at all. An important type of emotional imagination is counterfactual imagination, namely, imagination whose content is incompatible with reality.

80. The reference to imaginary situations has important cognitive and affective functions: (a) it helps us to understand our environment and prepare ourselves for future situations, and (b) it improves our affective attitudes. Like emotions, lucky experiences also involve comparison to situations which do not exist, but unlike emotions they do not refer to situations whose likelihood of existing approaches zero; on the contrary, lucky experiences involve "almost" situations. Although emotional imagination is frequently connected to illusions and self-deception, it is often advantageous as it helps us to cope with the harsh reality around us. The escape into emotional imagination may be more pronounced in modern society. Although television and computer communication create some links between people, they also separate us from actual experiences of the world by creating an environment in which images are substituted for reality.


81. The description of the circumstances in which emotions are generated and terminated is quite helpful for the discussion of the means of regulating, and hence of coping with, emotions. Being aware of these means is of the utmost importance if we are to use them beneficially. Emotional regulation, or management, refers to any initiative we take to influence which emotions we have, when we have them, and how we experience and express these emotions.

82. Regulating emotions is quite common in our everyday life. Nevertheless, reaching an optimal level of regulation usually requires long practice. There are many kinds of regulating means; these can be classified in light of the extent, focus, nature, and content of the regulatory means. One important division is that between behavioral, cognitive, and evaluative means. I suggest that whereas behavioral and cognitive means are easier to apply, evaluative means have more profound impact. Since regulating emotions can be accomplished in many different ways, it is useful to be aware of these ways in order to utilize them in our daily life.


83. The long tradition that criticizes emotions as being irrational and nonfunctional also considers emotions to be essentially immoral. The difficulties in attaching to emotions a significant moral value stem from two basic characteristics of emotions: (a) the lack of intellectual deliberations, and (b) their partial nature. The first characteristic seems to contradict the possibility of assigning moral responsibility to emotions and the second characteristic would appear to contradict the general and egalitarian nature of many moral evaluations. I argue that these characteristics eliminate neither emotional responsibility nor the role of emotions in morality; they do, however, introduce certain constraints in this regard.

84. Emotions are of special moral value in our relationships with those near and dear to us. In such circumstances, which constitute the bulk of our everyday behavior, partial emotional attitudes are not only possible but morally commendable. Sincerity and particular attention to specific needs, both typical of emotional attitudes, are of crucial importance. Emotional attitudes are also a moral barrier against many crimes. Emotional evaluations have emerged through a long process of evolutionary and personal moral development. Accordingly, they are significant in expressing some of our deepest values and commitments and in providing basic guidelines for moral behavior. The crucial role of emotions in moral life does not imply their exclusivity; the intellectual capacity is important as well.

85. We can consider as moral a person who possesses an emotional disposition which fits our moral values, as well as an intellectual reasoning which can direct our moral behavior when there is no secure emotional direction or when the emotional direction is obviously morally distorted. Accordingly, our moral education should aim at increasing the correlation between emotional dispositions and moral values as well as developing the capacity for critical intellectual reasoning which can examine our emotional behavior from a broader perspective.


86. After providing in the first part of the book, a general framework for understanding emotions, I turn in the second part to apply this framework to individual emotions. The principal emotions discussed are envy, jealousy, pity, compassion, pleasure-in-others'-misfortune, anger, hate, disgust, love, sexual desire, happiness, sadness, pride, regret, pridefulness and shame.

87. The analysis of particular emotions is made by comparing at least two emotions. Such a comparison demonstrates the different relationships between emotions, thereby improving our understanding of each. A somewhat rigid form of discussion was chosen in order to emphasize similarities and differences among the different emotions. Such a systematic discussion is quite useful owing to the complex and diverse perspectives of the relevant phenomena. Without a systematic discussion we may uncover some interesting emotional phenomena, but would not understand the realm as a whole. The discussion of each emotion begins with describing its general characteristics to be followed by an analysis of its relationships with other emotions. Then, an examination of the intensity variables influencing the emotion is presented. A discussion of the moral value of the emotion ends each discussion.


88. Philosophers (and lay people) have criticized the very possibility of doing research on emotions. This criticism consists of two separate claims; the first is descriptive and the second normative:

    (a) In light of the complexity of emotions, there is no general
    regularity typical of emotions and we must settle for descriptions
    of specific cases;

    (b) Knowing the nature of our emotions will ruin emotional

89. I believe that both claims are basically mistaken and we can speak about The Science of Emotions. Despite the generality and diversity inherent in the concept of emotions, we nevertheless can provide plausible generalizations. There are many studies on the emotions- including this book-where this is exemplified. I also believe that the normative claim is mistaken: although scientific progress is not a unitary and direct march toward greater happiness, neither is it a constant downward spiral into misery. The life of our ancestors was not better than ours and they were not happier than we are.

90. I have tried in this book to somewhat reduce the mystery surrounding the emotions. Although this work is merely a small step toward understanding the emotions, it may indicate some initial directions and the importance of emotions in everyday life.

Volume: 12 (next, prev) Issue: 007 (next, prev) Article: 1 (next prev first) Alternate versions: ASCII Summary