1. The Argument from Emotion
We are emotional beings. We can be angry, curious, confused, surprised, amused, grateful, joyful, relieved, sorrowful, afraid, disgusted, and so on. The argument of this section will show that these emotions belong to our animals. These observations support animalism. This Argument from Emotion, as we’ll call it, unfolds as follows:
Identity: We are the things that are the best candidates for the emotional office.
Candidates: The things that are the best candidates for the emotional office are our animals.
Therefore, we are our animals (from Identity and Candidates)
Let’s clarify a few points. The emotional office, let us say, is a role occupied by exactly those things (whatever they may be) that have our emotional states. We mean nothing fancy by “have” here; to have a state is to be in it or to be characterized by it. Something has the state of being distressed just when it is distressed; something has the state being angry just when it is angry, and so on.
Our mental lives—whether irenic or tumultuous—are replete with feeling and emotion. You may be feeling something right now (curiosity about the arguments to come, for example). And in general we have these emotional states; they are states of us; they are our states. We are, then, the things that have those states. There is a special and interesting emotional office and we occupy it.
But wait. There are competing candidates for office. According to the brainist, it is filled by the brains we are; according to the pure dualist, it is occupied by the wholly immaterial souls that we are—and so on. In a field rife with candidates, how are we to elect a victor? This is a bit of a puzzle. The first premise of the Argument from Emotion—Identity—proposes a plausible resolution: whichever candidates are best—those are the things we are. Identity uncovers, if you like, a decision procedure for figuring out what we are. First, figure out which things are the best candidates for the emotional office. Then identify us with those best candidates, whichever things they may be.2
It is not obvious how to specify the sense in which some candidates are better than others. Perhaps the following will do. On the data we have, some candidates are more likely to occupy the emotional office than are others (given what we know, brains are more likely candidates than are toes, for example). To put the point in the second person: there is a connection between enjoying that elevated status and being a good answer to the question of what you are. Identity suggests, accordingly, that if there is some candidate that is most likely to stand in that office, then you are that candidate.3
Such is the first premise, Identity. The second premise—Candidates—will take more work to explain and vindicate.
Let us begin as is customary, with banal observations and a supporting quotation from a long-dead sage. Emotions pervade our animal bodies; they (or some of them, at any rate) have a somatic dimension. Some emotions seem as though they land in the gut and others in the head or chest. Yet other emotions land straight on the face, only compounding the embarrassment they evince. In fact, for at least some emotions, it’s unclear what they would be without these somatic elements. Here is how William James put the point over a century ago:
What kind of an emotion of fear would be left, if the feelings neither of quickened heart-beats nor of shallow breathing, neither of trembling lips nor of weakened limbs, neither of goose-flesh nor of visceral stirrings, were present, it is quite impossible to think. Can one fancy the state of rage and picture no ebullition of it in the chest, no flushing of the face, no dilatation of the nostrils, no clenching of the teeth, no impulse to vigorous action, but in their stead limp muscles, calm breathing, and a placid face? The present writer, for one, certainly cannot. The rage is as completely evaporated as the sensation of its so-called manifestations.4
We submit that there’s something deeply correct in what James says here. But what is it, exactly? We do not claim that all emotions (or even all emotions with distinctive bodily expressions) consist strictly of perceptions of changes in bodily states. Instead, we draw a more modest lesson: some of our emotional states occur within our animal bodies. It’s not just that things happen in our bodies, which then occasion in us various emotional reactions. Nor is it that all our emotions are somehow about or directed towards our bodies. Nor is it that all emotions cause changes in our bodies. Rather, some emotions are (among other things) within and states of our bodies. For some emotional states, to be in those states just is for one’s animal body to be in a certain state.
Candidates is near at hand. Here are two independent routes to that premise. We do not claim that they are individually irresistible; but their disjunction strikes us as powerful support for our premise; together they show the premise to be in good shape. First, the more complicated route:
Take some emotions—one that feels like it’s in the gut, and the other in the face. First, these states may well seem to be in different locations. They happen in different places within the animal body. One might conclude from this that they are state of distinct things—the first a state of, say, some bits of spinal cord and brain, and the second a state of, say, some facial flesh and associated nervous tissue. But this is implausible, and that is our second observation. For it is exactly one thing that feels both emotions. One and the selfsame item is the subject of both states, despite their apparently distinct locations. There is, then, both locative diversity and unity of subject at play here. A better way to account for this locative diversity and subjective unity—a better way than either positing a unique subject for each emotion or denying that emotions are indeed within your animal body—is to postulate that the subject of your emotions, the thing that has them, is your entire animal body. This body has, of course, various parts at various places (a spinal cord here, some facial flesh there, a toe or two over there), and the activity of these items at least partly explains why the animal body feels this or that. But—and this is the main point—it is the animal body as a whole that feels this or that. Our animals, that is, are good candidates for the emotional office.
To see why our animals might in fact be the best candidates for that office, we’ll briefly examine some alternatives. The reasons we’ll raise here are not, to be sure, dispositive, but they strongly support Candidates. The brain may be a fine candidate when it comes to explaining unity of subject; there is typically just one brain within each animal body. But the brain does not include the reddening facial tissue characteristic of embarrassment, or the elevated heartbeat characteristic of fear. If emotions are states of brains alone, as would be the case were our brains the proper candidate for the emotional office, why should those states so invariably involve these other body parts? Any answer the brainist can give here will not be nearly so neat and clean as the simple hypothesis that our animal bodies as a whole—bodies which include all of the relevant parts (facial tissue and so on)—have our emotions. Similarly, some flesh and nervous tissue may be a fine candidate when it comes to explaining the location of embarrassment somewhere on the surface of the face. But it’s not as though one thing (the face, say) feels embarrassment, while another (the heart, say) feels fear. One and the same item feels them both. What’s needed, again, is a candidate that can explain both the locative data and the unity of subject.5 The body as a whole does the job much better, and so is the leading candidate for the emotional office.6
Second, an independent, simple, and perhaps more obvious route to Candidates:
The somatic theory of emotions is correct; it is, at any rate, a leading and perhaps the leading theory on the table.7 As we’ll think of things, a minimal somatic theory maintains that our emotions are at least in part states of our animal bodies.8 It is quite plausible on this minimal thesis that our animal bodies are the best candidates for the emotional office.9 Two brief points are in order. First, the somatic theory does not all by itself support animalism, and can consistently be affirmed by non-animalists. It is only in conjunction with Identity that the derivation of animalism is valid. This is, then, an important respect in which this case for Candidates is independent of and does not presuppose our ultimate conclusion. Second, the somatic theory is in part an empirical hypothesis. It makes predictions, and evaluating the extent to which those predictions have been confirmed is beyond the scope of this paper. But anyone attracted to philosophical theorizing about emotions that is responsible to empirical psychology will find something to like in the somatic theory, we suspect.
We have some doubts about this simpler route to Candidates. For one, it relies on the controversial scientific and philosophical hypotheses the somatic theory of emotion comprises. For another, not all who call themselves somatic theorists plainly affirm the minimal thesis as we’ve formulated it. Some use seemingly weaker terms in formulating a somatic view of emotion; for example, “bodily responses are unique for each emotion and that it is in virtue of the unique patterns of somatic activity that the emotions are differentiated . . . there is one set of bodily changes for sadness, one set for anger, one for happiness, and so on” (Johnson 2017). Have we mis-identified or overstated the somatic theory? We think not. First, some somatic theorists do in fact affirm the minimal thesis we’ve identified. Second, and more importantly, we think the somatic theory as we’ve put it can very nicely accommodate and explain the apparently weaker view described above. Each emotion has a unique pattern of somatic activity associated with it because each emotion is a unique pattern of somatic activity. That said, we will not attempt to settle intramural debates between somatic theories here, and we concede the road from a somatic theory to Candidates may have a few twists and turns. But it appears promising to us, and we think it supports the premise.
You may, for all that, still doubt our premises and the various lines of evidence that support them. If so, we suggest that you think of our argument as establishing a conditional claim: if these premises are correct, then animalism follows. This conditional is of interest to a wide range of philosophers who deny its antecedent. First, it draws heretofore unnoticed connections between empirical theories of emotion and the metaphysics of human persons. Our argument shows that these inquiries may be productively pursued in tandem rather than in isolation. Second, it suggests a new argument against somatic theories of emotion: since animalism is false, so too are those theories. Third, it suggests a new argument against animalism: since somatic theories of emotion are false, so too is animalism (it is brains, for example, that have emotional states rather than animal bodies—contra the somatic theory—the argument might go, and since we are the things that have our emotions, we are brains rather than animals). Finally, our argument uncovers an interesting and surprising consequence of denying animalism. Denying animalism requires the denial of either a promising procedure for doing the metaphysics of human persons or a leading empirical theory of emotion. In any case, the Argument from Emotion is of considerable interest.
2. Derivative Emotion
The anti-animalist speaks:
You have emotions. So does your animal. I can even grant for the sake of argument that the somatic theory of emotion is true; so emotions are indeed states of (at least) animal bodies. But there is an important hierarchy or priority which relates your emotions to those of your animal.
According to the First Epistle of Saint John, we love because God first loved us. So it is with you and your animal. You have emotions because your animal has them first—not temporally, but metaphysically or ontologically. Your emotions are derived from (or grounded in or ontologically dependent on) your animal’s. It is your animal that has emotions in the primary and non-derivative sense; you have them only in a secondary and derivative sense. Just as you are more than four feet tall only because your animal is more than four feet tall, so also you have emotions only because your animal does.
This is a challenging and fascinating speech; and it is consonant with the kinds of speeches actual anti-animalists give. It is also an illustration of a more general strategy which finds a kind of covert duality in our target phenomena (between, say, derivative and primary emotion or between sensation and feeling) and uses that duality to drive an objection to our premises. So we think it deserves some attention. But we note first that the speech requires supplementation before it is an objection to a specific premise of the Argument from Emotion. For the Johannine Hypothesis (as we might call it, after the epistle quoted in the speech above), according to which we emote only in a derivative and secondary sense, is consistent with both Identity and Candidates.
Perhaps the required supplement is this:
The Johannine Hypothesis uncovers an ambiguity in the Argument from Emotion. We may take “the emotional office” in either the primary and non-derivative sense or in the secondary and derivative sense. To occupy the emotional office in the primary sense is to have emotions non-derivatively. To occupy the emotional office in the secondary sense is to have emotions derivatively. So: if interpreted in the former way, Identity turns out to be dubious; if in the latter, Candidates turns out to be dubious. And if the argument waffles between senses to maintain the truth of both premises, it equivocates into invalidity.10
First, the Johannine Hypothesis comes at a price. It posits two feeling things in your immediate vicinity—you and your animal. This is an unattractive consequence for philosophers committed to ontological parsimony.
Second, the notion of priority at play here is notoriously obscure. What is it, exactly, for something to derive a property from another? We don’t know. We’re not sure anyone does. But even if they do, deploying such notions comes at a price—it trades off against ideological parsimony.11
Third, and most importantly, the Johannine Hypothesis is implausible. Suppose there is indeed a relation of priority between you (a feeling human person), and your animal body (itself a distinct feeling being). So, when you are embarrassed, your animal is also embarrassed; but one of you is embarrassed in the primary sense and the other only in the secondary sense. Suppose so. But then, we think it much more plausible to say that the former embarrassed being is you. You come first in the chain of embarrassment. If anyone in your vicinity is embarrassed, by contrast, in the secondary and derivative sense, it is your animal. Not you. As Roderick Chisholm said long ago:
. . . I may be said to hope for rain only in virtue of the fact that my present stand-in hopes for rain. I borrow the property, so to speak, from the thing that constitutes me now.
But surely that hypothesis is not to be taken seriously. There is no reason whatever for supposing that I hope for rain only in virtue of the fact that some other thing hopes for rain—some stand-in that, strictly and philosophically speaking, is not identical with me but happens to be doing duty for me at this particular moment
If there are thus two things that now hope for rain, the one doing it on its own and the other such that its hoping is done for it by the thing that now happens to constitute it, then I am the former thing and not the latter thing.12
What Chisholm says here about hoping for rain applies with equal force to our emotions, we think. We feel our emotions in the primary and non-derivative sense.
Finally, the Johannine Hypothesis submits that your animal is—as an exact emotional duplicate of you—an exact emotional duplicate of a person. If she is an exact emotional duplicate of a person, then plausibly, she is a person. But if she is a person, then there is an animal that is a person. And if there are animals that are people, it’s hard to find good reason to believe that we are not those very animal people—that is, it’s hard to resist animalism.
We conclude that the Johannine Hypothesis is not a powerful challenge to the Argument from Emotion or to animalism.
3. Compare and Contrast
We now compare and contrast our Argument from Emotion with two extant arguments for animalism.
One leading argument for animalism is the Thinking Animal Argument.13 According to that argument (very roughly): you are the only thinking thing in your chair, the only thinking thing in your chair is an animal, so you are that animal. The Thinking Animal Argument has some appeal. But it has liabilities too. For it has not been obvious to everyone that animals can think at all. We note that our Argument from Emotion does not suffer this liability. Even if it is not obviously true that animals can emote, we suspect it is more plainly true that animals can emote than that they can think. Reflection on non-human animals and their similarity to our animal bodies supports our claim. Dogs and apes, for example, appear to have emotions. Those with doubts may watch one of the many ‘dog reunites with long-lost owner’ videos for reassurance on this point. Non-human animals have emotions. It is implausible to suggest that our animal bodies cannot enjoy similar emotions, too.14
The Animal Interest Argument goes like this: your interests are systematically correlated with your animal’s; the best explanation of this correlation is that you are that animal, so you are that animal.15 The Animal Interest Argument bears a superficial resemblance to the Argument from Emotion; both find something we have in common with our animals and on that basis identify us with them. But the Argument from Emotion adds important elements to the discussion. For the Argument from Emotion draws on a partly empirical theory for support, rather than on normative judgements about what benefits or harms a given person or organism. Even philosophers and cognitive scientists with doubts about those normative judgements can find our reasoning attractive.
So much for a pro-animalism comparison. Let’s look at one of animalism’s detractors and see how the Argument from Emotion can help. Hud Hudson has deployed the following Elimination Principle in an argument against animalism:
If and are both human person candidates and at most one of and is a human person, but has superfluous parts whereas doesn’t, then is the better candidate for the office.16
For Hudson, a part is superfluous if it is irrelevant to supporting a psychological profile constitutive of personhood.17 Animals apparently have superfluous parts (toes, extraneous tissue, bones, other organs, and so on) in that sense and so lose the race to leaner nominees, like brains and brain parts. Thus, concludes Hudson, we are not animals at all.
The Argument from Emotion suggests a reply to Hudson’s argument. In detecting whether some part is superfluous, it is tempting to fixate on a narrow range of mental phenomena (conscious thoughts, for example) and the roles various parts of the body play in generating or sustaining those phenomena. This is roughly the approach Hudson adopts, and it is unsurprising that Hudson concludes that we are each roughly brain-sized items (and so, at most, proper parts of but distinct from human animals). Perhaps all parts outside the brain are superfluous for some kinds of thought.
But we need not—must not—fixate on a narrow range of mental phenomena. Our mental lives are not exhausted by our thoughts. We feel emotions too. Might these, too, be elements within a psychological profile constitutive of personhood? It seems possible, at least. So we would do well to consider what parts are superfluous when it comes to emotions—fear, embarrassment, and so on.
The somatic dimension of emotion, however, uncovers a weakness in Hudson’s argument. If anything we’ve said above is right, our emotions crucially involve our bodies. A wide range of body parts are psychologically relevant and figure into our emotional and thus our mental lives: extremities that tingle, hearts that beat, facial tissue that burns red, and so on. Our bodies support our emotional profiles, not merely by supplying fuel to our brains, but also by figuring into our very emotions themselves. If Hudson is to resist this, he must maintain that our non-brain body parts (extremities, hearts, faces, and so on) do not enter into or manifest properties that are within a supervenience base for any of our emotions. This does not square well with the somatic theory; for according to that theory, at least some emotions have non-dispensable somatic elements. The somatic theorist can here reply, for example, that one simply can’t throw a mere brain into genuine shame; what’s needed for genuine shame is, say, a body transitioning from sympathetic-dominant to parasympathetic-dominant nervous system activity. If any emotions at all have such somatic requirements, then our non-brain parts aren’t so superfluous as they might seem.
With all this in mind, the hypothesis that we are animals—organisms composed of all of this flesh and bone from head to toe—seems much more plausible, we think, even granting Hudson’s Elimination Principle.18 Animals do not, after all, have superfluous parts and thus aren’t worse candidates for the human person office.
We draw two lessons from this section. First, the Argument from Emotion has some advantages over extant arguments for animalism. It can thus play a strategic offensive role in the contest between animalism and its rivals. Second, the Argument from Emotion can play defense too, undercutting an important objection to animalism. Proponents and opponents of animalism alike should give it careful consideration.
Our point here is not, to be clear, that committed anti-animalists will or should be convinced by the Argument from Emotion. Such theorists will, no doubt, find ways to resist our reasoning just as they have done with the Thinking Animal and Animal Interest arguments. Our point, rather, is that the Argument from Emotion is in certain respects novel and adds to a cumulative case for animalism. It deserves attention.
A brief note on what does and does not follow from the previous discussion. The Argument from Emotion is valid; so if its premises are true, so too is animalism. We are therefore animals.
Animalism is an answer to the question of what we are. But it is not a complete answer or one not in need of supplementation and explanation; for questions remain about the nature of human animals. The argument presented here does not answer those questions. First, it does not tell us whether the human animals to which we are identical are wholly material or not. For all we’ve said, every animal contains, in some sense, an immaterial item like a Cartesian soul or an Aristotelian form.19 Second, our argument does not indicate whether human animals have criteria of identity over time and (if so) whether those criteria are purely biological. For all we’ve said, human animals have no criteria of identity over time, or strictly biological criteria, or strictly psychological criteria, or some mixture of biological and psychological criteria.20 Our argument, finally, does not settle disputes about whether animals can outlast their own deaths; it is silent on disputes between somatic and organic animalists.21
The position supported here—mere animalism, we might call it—is neutral on all these points.22 But the Argument from Emotion is of significant interest for several reasons. First, it advances mere animalism without commitment to controversial theses about our materiality or persistence over time. Those who have doubts about whether we have criteria of identity over time or who harbor dualist sympathies, for example, need not recoil at our conclusion. Mere animalism is capacious and inviting, even to anti-criterialists and dualists of various kinds.23 Second, and in spite of its modesty, mere animalism is still a minority view and one that conflicts with a variety of theories about what we are. If our argument is sound, for example, we can rule out the views that we are brains, or proper temporal parts of animals, or persons that are distinct from but constituted by animals.24 Third, mere animalism may be united with other ambitious theses to advance a more exciting research program. Mere animalism in conjunction with the view that ‘anything is an animal must be an animal’, for example, would entail not only that we are animals, but that we couldn’t exist without being animals, a controversial thesis indeed.25
Thanks to Nathan Ballantyne, Bradley Rettler, anonymous reviewers, and an Alabama Philosophical Society audience for helpful comments.
- For surveys of animalism in its various flavors and arguments pro and con, see Bailey (2015a), Blatti (2014), all the essays in Blatti and Snowdon (2016), and Thornton (2016). For recent arguments pro, see Bailey (2016; 2017), and Licon (2012; 2013; 2014). [^]
- Parallel reasoning applies to our thoughts too: we are exactly those items that think our thoughts. See Bailey (2015b) for more. [^]
It may be helpful to think of Identity and Candidates as dealing in conditional epistemic probabilities—roughly, what one should expect or believe, given one’s evidence. This comes to something like the following (for simplicity’s sake, we put this in the singular second-person). Where D is the relevant data—that is, whatever evidence philosophical theories must take into account—and x is a candidate:
P-Identity: If P(x fills the emotional office/D) is high, then either: D is strong evidence that you = x, or you = x
P-Candidates: P(your animal fills the emotional office/D) is high
Therefore, either D is strong evidence that you = x, or you = x (from P-Identity and P-Candidates, MP)
The conclusion here is either that animalism is strongly confirmed by the evidence or that animalism is simply true. In either case, the argument supports animalism.
If you cannot make sense of some candidates being better suited for the emotional office than others or of one candidate being the best, we offer this alternative formulation of the argument:
Identity*: We are the things that have our emotional states.
Candidates*: The things that have our emotional states are our animals.
Therefore, we are our animals (from Identity* and Candidates*)
The conclusion is the same. And nothing we’ll say on behalf of our argument will hinge on this difference in formulation.
- James (1884: 193–194). Another important historical root of contemporary theories of emotion along these lines is Darwin (1872/1998). [^]
- For a sense of how constitutionalists (a rather different anti-animalist than the brainists here in view) might best respond to our argument—and why we find that response unconvincing—see the section “Derivative Emotion”, below. [^]
- Thanks to an anonymous referee for pressing us to better explain the point here. [^]
- On which see Barrett and Lindquist (2008), Prinz (2004a; 2004b), and Colombetti (2014: Ch. 5). Mixed views—as in Adamos (2007), Damasio (2001), and Maiese (2014)—according to which (roughly) emotions are or require both somatic states and cognitive evaluations also support this route to Candidates, since those mixed views maintain that emotions are (at least) states of animal bodies. [^]
- We call this a minimal somatic theory, because it is not committed to any auxiliary hypotheses about how those states relate to behavior or whether our emotions consist in more than bodily states (cognitive evaluations or perceptions of change, for example). Thanks to an anonymous referee for pressing us to be clearer on this point. [^]
- This route to Candidates shares an interesting feature with Blatti’s (2012) argument for animalism: it begins with the plain reading of a leading scientific theory (the theory of evolution, in Blatti’s case) and ends with a philosophically interesting conclusion (animalism). A point of departure is this: though somatic or mixed theories of emotion are perhaps a majority view among contemporary researchers, they do not command full consensus; see, for example, Kriegel (2014). [^]
- Baker appears to affirm the Johannine Hypothesis; see her discussion of animal pain (2000: 101–103). [^]
- For helpful coverage of the distinction between ontological and ideological parsimony and the latter’s role in theory choice, see Finocchiaro (in press). [^]
- Chisholm (1976: 104). For extensive discussion and application of the principle Chisholm hints at here, see Bailey (2015b). [^]
- On which see Olson (2009), and Snowdon (1990; 2014: Ch. 4). For penetrating critical discussion connecting this argument to various challenges animalists face, see Whaley (2020). [^]
- Olson (2018: §7) turns similar considerations about non-human animals and their capacity to bear mental properties into another argument for animalism. [^]
- See Bailey (2017). Thanks to an anonymous referee for suggesting we engage this argument. [^]
- Hudson (2007). For discussion of the principle and Hudson’s argument, see Bailey (2014) and, especially, Whaley (2020). [^]
- A part is superfluous if it “plays no contributory role in supporting a psychological profile constitutive of personhood” (Hudson 2007: 218). Further, what it means for a part to “play a contributory role in supporting a psychological profile” is for the part in question to “[manifest] certain properties and [stand] in certain relations upon which a particular collection of psychological properties supervene” (Hudson 2007: 219). [^]
- More plausible, we say—but perhaps not maximally so. Hudson’s argument could be preserved here if at least some parts of the body are involved in no emotions at all. In that case, we would each turn out to be less than animals (overlapping large swaths of an animal body) but much more than the brain-sized things Hudson takes us to be. [^]
- See Thornton (2019). On the compatibility of materialism and hylomorphism, see Bailey (in press: 13). [^]
- For discussion of three kinds of criterialist versions of animalism that endorse non-biological criteria, see Bailey (2015a: 874). Madden (2011) and (2016) argue convincingly that animalists may accept typical judgements about cerebrum transplant cases, judgements central to the usual case for psychological criteria. Sharpe (2015) defends the intriguing conjunction of animalism with purely psychological criteria. Olson (1997) is the classic defense of biological criteria and animalism. [^]
- On which see Blatti (2014: §1.2). [^]
- This is what Olson (2015) calls ‘weak animalism’. For more discussion of the various kinds of animalism, see Thornton (2016). [^]
- For one animalist’s version of anti-criterialism, see Merricks (1998). On dualist-friendly animalism, see Thornton (2019). [^]
- For more on the various views ruled out by mere animalism (and citations), see Blatti (2014: §1.1) and Bailey (2015a: 867–870). [^]
- See Thornton (2020) for further discussion of how animalists can supplement their core thesis and the costs and benefits of so doing. [^]
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