Bits and Pieces – Emotional prescription / Standpoint statements
by Daniel A. Kaufman
- Does it make sense to speak of “prescribing” or “critically examining” an emotion or feeling?
- People often say things like this:
“You should be happy.”
“You should care about what happens to your sister.”
“You shouldn’t be mad about that.”
What do we ask of a person by way of expressions like these? Are they akin to telling someone he should believe something is true or that he should change his mind regarding what he believes to be true?
- Religions like Buddhism and certain branches of clinical psychology tell us that we should never entertain negative emotions like anger and resentment. Stoics say that anger is unproductive and unnecessary. All employ the language of “standing back” and “examining our emotions and feelings” and “deciding which one’s we should act on and which we should not.” Does this involve Platonic or Cartesian confusions?
- Who (or what) are “we”? Where are “we” when we “stand back and examine our emotions and feelings”? Am I one thing and my emotions and feelings another? Do I stand in relation to my emotions and feelings in the same way that I do to the things I believe to be true? Is “I am angry” like “I believe that the moon orbits the earth” or “I believe that my dog is white”?
- It’s as if I am in my house and deciding whom I should allow in. Negative emotions and feelings are treated like troublesome neighbors.
- Can I keep parts of myself out of my own house? Or in a different part of the house than the one I am in? I could cut off some of my hair and leave it in the foyer, while I decamp to the living room. Is this the sort of thing we are talking about?
- What if I don’t want to be productive? Or don’t care about what’s necessary? Am I to be told, “You should want to be productive” and “You should care about what’s necessary”? What could the reason be other than some further appeal to productivity or necessity?
- To say that something is unproductive or unnecessary is to say that it is an obstacle to achieving some aim or goal. But aren’t these just other things that we value? Things about which we have positive feelings or that we care about?
- If I stop being angry in order to do what’s productive or necessary, haven’t I just done what you or I or someone else wants? Are things different if I continue being angry in order not to do what’s productive or necessary? Will I then be told that it’s unproductive to fail to want to do what’s productive? Is there an infinite regress here?
- Is this just Plato versus Hume again? Or is there something else going on?
- Someone says “As a — [Jew, woman, Hispanic, trans person], I think Y.” Is this like saying “As a car mechanic I think you should change the oil in your car every 3,000 miles”?
- Does a particular identity – religious, ethnic, sexual – confer expertise on a person? In what?
- We sometimes are told that those who for racial or gender or sexual reasons have suffered or who have been subordinated or marginalized understand things about suffering, subordination, and marginalization that those who have not do not. Are such experiences incommensurable? If I am insulted for being overweight can I understand the feelings of the person who is insulted for being black?
- Is there anyone who has not suffered or been subordinated or marginalized in one way or another?
- Is the oppressor’s perception of the oppressed less accurate than the oppressed’s perception of himself? Or of the oppressor? Might they not be equally inaccurate, just in different ways? And what of the person who is neither oppressor nor oppressed? Wouldn’t he have a more accurate picture of both?
- Lately, a number of people have been saying: “By saying such-and-such, you are invalidating my existence.” What would it mean to do such a thing?
- If I kill you, I deny you existence. If I torture or enslave you, I make your existence miserable. What would I have to do to you in order to invalidate your existence?
- I invalidate a statement by demonstrating that it is ungrammatical or false. What is the analogy for people or lives?
- Suppose that you claim to be a lawyer. I investigate your background and discover that you’ve never been to law school or passed any bar exam and that in fact, you work in a supermarket. I have thereby demonstrated that the statement “I am a lawyer,” as made by you is false. Have I thereby also invalidated you as a lawyer? Is invalidating you as a lawyer something above and beyond demonstrating that your claim to be a lawyer is false?
- A male-to-female transsexual claims to be a woman. Is this like claiming to be a lawyer?
- Germaine Greer has said “I deny that male-to-female transsexuals are women.” If she had added “As a woman,” at the beginning of that sentence, could she have claimed expertise, along the lines discussed earlier?
- Suppose an orthodox Jew tells me that Reform Jews like me are not real Jews. If he fails to convince me that I am not a real Jew, does he nonetheless make me not one, by having said it? Could he have this effect simply by thinking it?
- Do the sorts of identities that are typically involved in these kinds of disputes have defining characteristics, such that it is possible to demonstrate whether the claim “I am such-and-such” is true or false, as one can with the claim “I am a lawyer”? Or is it more like trying to decide whether something sufficiently resembles something else to share its name, as is the case with games? The latter would seem to be a matter of public negotiation.
- Is the real fear not that by saying “You’re not a –” you invalidate my existence, but rather that in doing so, you may convince enough people so as to cause me to fail in the relevant public negotiations over whether I am a –? Can there be public negotiation without the possibility of such failure?
- A variation on the complaint that X has invalidated the existence of Y is that X has invalidated the experience of Y. So, when someone says “I don’t believe you are a –,” he has invalidated the other person’s experience of themselves as a –.
- Is the idea of invalidating someone’s experience any clearer than that of invalidating his identity?
- You claim that you are a lawyer, and I say that you are not. You then claim that your experience is such that you feel like a lawyer. Did what I said make that untrue? Is there anything I could say that would make that untrue?
- Descartes said that “I see a table” is dubitable, because I might be dreaming it. But “I seem to see a table” is indubitable, because it remains true, even if I am dreaming it. Isn’t “I feel like a lawyer” or “I feel like a woman” akin to the latter?
- If something is indubitable, can it be invalidated?
Categories: Bits and Pieces