Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Authentic Affect

Ben Casnocha writes:
It's astonishing how effective pharmaceuticals are today with only very minor side effects. But there's one side effect yet solved and I suspect it's the most potent for some drugs: the identity confusion of whether the you on drugs is really "you."

For drugs that deal with personality issues or depression, I imagine even a successful patient must grapple with whether their newly improved state is artificial. (Artificial in a more serious way than the effect of myriad everyday things like coffee.) Am I really happy or is it just the drug that's tricking me into thinking so?

Such questions have the ring of conceptual confusion, so perhaps analytic philosophy can have some therapeutic benefit after all. What, exactly, is the question in italics asking? What is the difference between being 'really happy' as opposed to being 'tricked' into such feelings? The only real question I can see in this vicinity is whether one's situation warrants the emotions one is feeling. If your affect matches your evaluative judgments, and these in turn are not unreasonable, then there is nothing left to worry about. (If you're feeling chirpy at a funeral, then you should be worried. But if you are, say, enjoying the company of good friends -- sharing in their cheer and good humour -- then that seems entirely appropriate, and as authentic as anything. How could it not be?)

The 'artificiality' of the cause is neither here nor there. In fact, we might expect genuine 'identity confusion' (or incoherence between one's evaluative judgments and emotional affect) to be more common without medication. I've never been on antidepressants myself, but at times when I have felt slightly depressed what's struck me is how out of sync such feelings seemed to be with my evaluative judgments. And I guess similar things can happen even now if I'm simply feeling a bit socially anxious or uncomfortable: those are feelings I take to not be warranted by my situation, and so it is they which strike me as alien and artificial. To be free of such impediments is to be more truly ourselves, or so I would think. What say you?


  1. Richard - thanks for the very interesting reply to this post...

  2. While part of me is very sympathetic to this reply (and I've said the same thing at times) there seems something off as well.

    Consider someone taking recreational drugs who has personality changes. Let's say for discussion sake that the changes don't lead to unwarranted behavior. So someone is taking ecstasy and while they are normally shy suddenly they are outgoing and flirtatious. One might say there's nothing to worry about (beyond the issue of drug abuse itself). Yet the question of whether you are really you seems a perfectly valid one.

    To say this isn't really a worry seems to be the answer that there is no authentic you at all. (Which is what I think you are saying)

    But consider now some scientist plants a device in your mind that makes you so you find Conservative arguments strongly compelling and want to move to America and vote Republican. Now I don't think you ought say that this situation is unwarranted. That is clearly there are justifications for this behavior. But I think you'd probably think something was wrong if this happened abruptly.

    Given that isn't there more to the question than merely what is warranted? (Given that there is a rather large swath of possible behaviors and desires warranted by any particular situation)

  3. To add, it also seems odd to say that to be free of impediments is to be more truly ourselves. How can one say that I wonder? I'd taken you to be saying there is no authentic self but now that I think of it you seem to be saying the authentic self is the one who only does what is warranted. But that seems odd also. Surely I've made lots of unwarranted choices. But also surely it was me making those choices. I don't think that had I not made the choices that I'd somehow be "more me."

    If, for instance, I'm shy, surely that is me whether my shyness is wanted or warranted.

    I recognize that this is probably more a semantic issue than a philosophical one. But it still is odd.

  4. it is probably useful to distinguish between really feeling an emotion and really being oneself.
    it does seem strange to say one is not 'really' happy at time x, if one feels over the moon. but it is perhaps not strange to say that someone is not 'really' obnoxious in spite of a series of unfortunate and ill-considered statements made while drunk.

  5. What's happiness? Is it a long-term emotional disposition, a short-term emotional disposition a fleeting phenomenal state, or something else?

    If happiness is a fleeting phenomenal state or a short-term disposition, I don't see how warrant has anything to do with whether the happiness is real. It doesn't make sense that my 5th drink of the evening tricked me into feeling woozy, although I'm not really woozy, and it doesn't make sense to say that my hunger and exhaustion tricked me into feeling cranky, although I'm not really cranky.

    (For the record, it does seem possible to be deceived about one's fleeting phenomenal states. When I have to get a shot, I probably overestimate the pain that the needle is causing to me.)

    If you think happiness is a long-term emotional disposition, then you might also think that drugs can deceive me into how happy I am by producing something that looks like the manifestation of the disposition, even though I haven't got it. (Sort of the inverse of masking--is there a name for this?) I'm inclined to think that the drugs just give me the disposition, but I'm not sure how to separate my contribution from my environment's contribution in a principled way.

    Someone close to me takes drugs for an anxiety disorder, and I think of the drugs as either removing or masking a disposition whose manifestation leads to unpleasant consequences. I wonder whether there's any kind of principled distinction between adding something (e.g., happiness) and removing something (e.g., anxiety or depression). I kind of suspect not, but I do think the removing talk is less misleading than the adding talk, because anti-depressants don't usually produce euphoria.

  6. Wizard - "I don't see how warrant has anything to do with whether the happiness is real"

    Right, I don't think that either. I think the initial question was incoherent (if you feel happy, you are happy, end of story), which is why I replaced it with a different question, namely, whether one's emotions are a proper fit to one's situation.

    Your 'inverse masking' suggestion is interesting though. I'll have to think more about that.

    Clark - my thought is that it's possible to suffer long-term 'inauthenticity' or obstacles to self-realization (e.g. if previously brainwashed). So in such cases a sudden change really will set one's "true self" free. But there's no purely descriptive/naturalistic way to make this distinction (as I'll argue in a future post on counterfactual analyses of idealization). So the only option left, as I see it, is to make the distinction a normative one: your true self is simply who you should be.

    (That's not to deny that one happens to be actually shy, or whatever. That's a mere descriptive claim. But, normatively, one could be 'more fully oneself' if one were freed of that shyness.)


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