Do Emotions Split into Different Natural Kinds?

In his 1997 book, What Emotions Really Are, Paul Griffiths argues that emotions split into three different natural kinds.  But in his PSA talk a few weeks ago, Andrea Scarantino (a student of Griffiths) said that Griffiths now thinks that emotions do not split in the way he envisioned in his book (or so I understood Andrea’s statement).

Does anyone know whether and why Griffiths in fact rejects his 1997 taxonomy of emotions?

Any further comments on whether emotions split into different natural kinds?


  1. I can’t say anything in regard to Griffiths, but Jonathan Haidt gives a nice taxonomy of emotions relavent to morality in his article “The Moral Emotions” (Handbook of Affective Sciences. Davidson, Scherer, and Goldsmith, eds. OUP, 2003.). Haidt gives an account of “emotion families,” which he seems to take from Paul Ekman’s work, but he doesn’t want to say (I don’t think) that these Emotion Families constitute distinct natural kinds. Moreover, since he takes the label “moral emotions” to pick any and all emotions that might effect moral reasoning, I doubt that he would take them to be a natural kind of their own.

    This strikes me as intuitively appropriate. I’m not even sure how to individuate some emotions, much less designate them as distinct natural kinds, so classifying them into families (according to phenomenal similarity or practical applicability or neural activity, etc) seems to me to be very reasonable.

  2. The disscusion wether emotions are natural kinds or not remembers me what Robert Sapolsky once said. He said that if we monitor from a computer screen some place apart the physiological variables of a person whom is feeling a particular emotion (perhaps via internet in another country) we cannot clearly distinguise in terms of physiological variables if that person is feeling a particular emotion or other one. In a nuttshel, it means that in terms of physiological reponses emotions share basic components among them. Jesse Prinz “calibration” phenomenon (2004), is an example of that when he describes that complex emotions (pride) are merged from basic emotions (joy+satisfaction with one´s own achievments).

    I think one way to individuate emotions is through their intentional objects. Emotions, i believe, are intentional states they are about something (object, person, event…) becuase if not they never are triggered. In that repect, we can create taxonomic families á la Haidt “families of moral emotions”, just because emotions are felt in some contexts (e.g. moral domain) and because some specific stimuli trigger them (viewing somone hit another).

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