Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Feeling Justified

Joe at Oohlah asks "what is a feeling?", and along the way mentions the following:
We cannot justify feelings; we can only 'have' them. Since they are not justifiable, (I take it) epistemology rejects them.

Can 'feelings'/intuitions count as epistemic justification? Although my initial intuition suggests 'no', science may provide us with reason to reconsider. (This could give rise to a fun Liar-style paradox. Should I trust my gut instinct that tells me I shouldn't?)

It might be the case that our feelings arise due to (reliable and accurate) cognitive processing of subconscious cues. For example, I recall Steven Pinker claiming that spouses' suspicions of infidelity are very often accurate, despite their conscious "reason" for the belief being entirely absurd. So if we accept some sort of externalism about justification, then we might well find that beliefs based on inexplicable 'gut feelings' do qualify as justified after all.

So now I'm half-convinced that they should count, I'm wondering how to reconcile that idea with my own views about justification. Maybe I'm an externalist after all? Or can we count feelings as internal evidence?

Well, feelings certainly are internal, at least. But their reliability is not something that is known to most of us. So, to use them as internal justification, one would first have to acquire the complementary belief that gut instincts are reliable indicators. They could then be used just like any other form of perception.

I think I'm happy enough with that, maybe. If someone's only evidence for a belief was their gut feeling, I wouldn't normally consider the belief justified. But if they could say: "I have a gut feeling, and I also know* that gut feelings are often reliable in this context" then I'd be much happier to consider it justified.

However, I don't know what I'd think if I knew the feelings were reliable but they didn't. And that's really the critical case here. According to my previously outlined views, I should say their belief is not (internally) justified, yet might still count as knowledge. I'm not sure that I do want to say that however. It sounds a bit odd, at least.

* = Given my internalist justification / externalist knowledge split, should I want this sort of second-order evidence to be known, or internally justified? I'm confused.

Lastly, I should warn that I'm really exhausted (had to wake up earlier than I'm used to, due to jury service), so this post might not make any sense. I might add a few more thoughts (or clarify existing ones) at some later date. When I'm awake, say.


  1. Do tell us about the jury service. 

    Posted by Nigel Kearney

  2. Richard, you may want to check out the work of Antonio Damasio and his colleagues (the colleagueus do the bulk of the research, and he writes the books -- don't read the one on Spinoza). One of the interesting findings over the last few years is that, some ways, emotion justifies belief. Rational beliefs are in large part dependent on emotions. Without emotions, we tend to make decisions, and hold beliefs, that are significantly less optimal than beliefs held with emotion.  

    Posted by Chris

  3. Feelings and emotions are unusual. So, I am not sure that I'd agree that "feelings certainly are internal."

    Feeling something seems to be internal, but the way that we talk about our feelings and emotions is not. For example, suppose that S reports, "I'm in pain." Dr. NN asks, "is it shooting pain or radiating pain?" How does S know which way to reply? Feeling shooting pain presumes that S has reliable evidence that the experience he has now of the pain resembles everyone else's experience of shooting pain. S could have pain-blindness. Like color-blindness, pain-blindness doesn't allow those affected by the disease to experience certain kinds of pain. S may say that he's having a shooting pain experience, but b/c S has pain-blindness S isn't having an experience like what everyone else calls "shooting pain."

    I realize this argument is suspect, but it might have some merits. 

    Posted by Joe

  4. "Or can we count feelings as internal evidence?"

    feels are inspired by out side events, the darkness causes fear, falling causes fear, sex makes one feal good. Emotion are caused by outside events. 

    Posted by Chase Whittemore

  5. Chris - that sounds really interesting, I'll have to look into it.

    Joe - if conscious experiences aren't internal, I don't know what is! It sounds like you're heading towards a private language objection, but I don't see how you could apply this to feelings without also losing other conscious perceptions (e.g. visual sensations) at the same time.

    Chase - how do causes matter? So long as feelings are internally accessible (e.g. to introspection), as they are, then that enables the possibility that we could appeal to them as a form of evidence. (Indeed, being reliably caused by specific external stimuli would seem to help us here. E.g. feeling fear might be (weak) evidence that you're falling or in darkness!) 

    Posted by Richard

  6. But feeling fear is good evidence that you are in trouble. Though, I would have to say, feelings are very misleading, being in the dark, does not mean we are in trouble. 

    Posted by Chase Whittemore

  7. The calculation that created the emotion may include forgoten or subconcious pieces of information these may be more or less valid that other pieces of information but the emotion itself probably draws concious attention to the issue resulting in more thought being given to it.
    the feeling of a feeling is probably just the sensation of having those chemicals going through your body (i.e. you could give someone fear feeling without a reason using drugs - devils foot or whatever) the trigering of that reaction will be related to certain brain cells - probably pretty standard since these feelings are often very ancient (I personally think most mammals have close to the full set of human emotions - and some may have a more diverse array). 

    Posted by GeniusNZ

  8. I'm not necessarily making a private language type argument at all. In fact, I don't want to touch that right now.

    I'm trying to show that we have to remain skeptical over what it is that we feel b/c there's no evidence our feeling pain in one way is correctly understood as "shooting pain" or "radiating pain."

    I'm in pain (I think this is what you mean by "internal"), but I don't know that it's a shooting pain. 

    Posted by Joe

  9. GeniusNZ - I agree with the drugs idea. People take drugs to be happy all the time. But why do we relase the fear drug into our vains when it is dark out side, or we are being chased. Do we realize because inside we need to, or because after watching horrior movies we have come to belive the being chased is a bad thing.

    Example: you are out in the woods. You come across a baby fawn. It does not run. Why? It is dumb, or is it stuborn, or maybe it just does not understand that the gun you hold in your hand might kill it. You pull the trigger and miss. Your friend cracks a joke about not being able to hit the brode side of a barn. You walk on. Latter you come over a nice little ridge, and what do you see, the same fawn. This time the fawn runs away. Why because it relized you were bad, men were bad. Outside event makes us run. Inspired if i do say so. 

    Posted by Chase Whittemore

  10. For an excellent analysis on the subject check out Gut Reactions: A Perceptual Theory of Emotion by Jesse Prinz. He finds middle ground between cognitive and somatic theories of emotion by maintaining an idea that emotions are appraisals, but not disembodied or necessarily conceptual.


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