Genuine Rational Fictional Emotions

Tamar Szabó Gendler

in Intuition, Imagination, and Philosophical Methodology

Published in print December 2010 | ISBN: 9780199589760
Published online January 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191595486 | DOI:
Genuine Rational Fictional Emotions

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This chapter offers an account of the paradox of fictional emotions: the puzzle of why we seem to feel genuine emotions in response to descriptions of characters that we know to be fictional. It draws on neuroscientific work by Antonio Damasio showing that patients with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex typically show a pair of deficits: they lack autonomic (but not cognitive) responses to emotionally disturbing images, and they reveal a marked tendency to engage in high‐risk behavior despite describing themselves as fully aware of its inadvisability. This suggests that subjects who lack somatized emotional responses to imagined courses of action are unable to translate knowledge of their advantages and disadvantages into action‐guiding behavior, which in turn suggests that the capacity to respond emotionally to merely imagined situations is central to practical reasoning. This means that in a well‐functioning mind, even when content is explicitly and consciously represented as imaginary or hypothetical, a vivid emotional response is to be expected.

Keywords: paradox of fictional emotions; Antonio Damasio; somatically encoded response; emotion; imagination; neuroscience

Chapter.  5273 words. 

Subjects: Metaphysics

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