Berys Gaut, "The Paradox of Horror"


1.       Paradox of horror/tragedy

          a.       Some of us enjoy horror fictions

          b.       They typically produce fear and disgust in audience

          c.       Fear and disgust are intrinsically unpleasant emotions

          d.       Seems we enjoy the fear/disgust fictions produce in us

          e.       Seems we enjoy intrinsically unpleasant emotions

2.       Paradox of enjoyment of negative emotions (e.g., fear, disgust, sorrow, anger)

3.       Hume’s version: How can spectators of tragedy enjoy sorrow, terror, and anxiety when such feelings essentially involve feelings of pain


4.       Gaut’s solution: (Enjoyment theory using evaluative theory of emotions)

          a.       Argues that there is nothing paradoxical about enjoying negative emotions

          b.       Nothing paradoxical about enjoying horror/tragedy

          c.       We can enjoy fear and disgust

          d.       These negative emotions are not intrinsically (by their nature) unpleasant

                    i.        They can be experience as pleasant (enjoyed) by some (in atypical cases) and unpleasant by others (typically)

          e.       Negative emotions (because they are negative) are conceptually (necessarily) tied to unpleasant sensations, but only in that they are necessarily typically tied with unpleasantness

                    i.        If a tribe described feelings as a result of their loved ones dying as pleasant (enjoyed the feeling) we’d be justified in denying they feeling was grief–

          f.       This allows for the atypical case of enjoying negative emotions (as with those who like horror or mtn climbing)

          g.       What makes negative emotions negative

                    i.        Is not that they are experienced (phenomenologically) as unpleasant

                    ii.       But that they include negative evaluations (negative evaluative thoughts)

                              (1)     Their objects are judged to be disvaluable

                                         (a)     Unfortunate that person died

                    iii.      But such thoughts need not feel negative


5.       Noel Carroll’s solution (that Gaut rejects)

6.       We are not enjoying these negative emotions but something else (curiosity at story) which outweighs the negative emotions.

          a.       The disgust/fear in response to horror fiction are unpleasant–we do not enjoy them

          b.       Rather, we enjoy some other feature of the situation,

                    i.        e.g., curiosity we feel about what is going to happen

                    ii.       Will the character’s escape the monster, when will they find out it exists, will they be able to destroy it

                    iii.      Monsters and other things in horror and tragedy fascinate us

          c.       The same thing that produces fear and disgust (weird monsters) also produces fascination and curiosity in their story (which is pleasant)

                    i.        “The disgust part of the price we pay for pleasure at their disclosure”

          d.       The fear and disgust aimed at fiction are muted in comparison to fear and disgust if same events were real life

          e.       This allows pleasure of curiosity to outweigh the displeasure of fear/disgust

7.       Gaut’s objection to Carroll

          a.       To formulaic to engender much curiosity: Most horror films are too formulaic in plots and monsters/killers so stereotypical that for the pleasures of curiosity to be high enough to outweigh the (alleged) disagreeable emotions of disgust/fear

          b.       People can come out of horror films disappointed that it was not frightening enough (and might agree plenty to engage their curiosity)

                    i.        So people do seem to be enjoying experiencing negative emotions


8.       An expressivist (catharsis) solution (that Gaut rejects)

                    i.        Expressivist responses claim tragedy/horror allow us to lighten or unburden ourselves of these negative emotions

          b.       Do not enjoy negative emotions horror give us

          c.       We enjoy the expression of these emotions (in the story??)

          d.       By which we relieve ourselves of them and/or lighten the grip they have on us

                    i.        Aristotle’s catharsis

9.       Gaut’s objections to expressivist catharsis

          a.       Catharsis is like talking out one’s fears (getting rid of them)

          b.       But horror films are least attractive if one is in an uneasy or fearful mood

                    i.        Don’t say: “I’m scared, so I think I’ll go to see a horror film”

          c.       Also, films often (designed to) leave a lingering sense of fear in audience (scared as walk home and uneasy as go to sleep)

                    i.        Opposite to idea these films lighten our fear

          d.       If what was pleasurable was the dissipation of the emotion as a result of experience the emotion during the film, we would only enjoy the end of the movie instead of enjoying the movie throughout as those who like horror do.


10.     Gaunt accepts the enjoyment theory: Horror attracts because people can enjoy being scared and disgusted

11.     Enjoyment theory helps explain the horror genre

          a.       Its aim is to produce fear and disgust in audience and has become increasingly sophisticated and successful in achieving this effect

          b.       Majority of horror works lack any serious artistic worth

                    i.        Are pure entertainment

                    ii.       Aim simply to provide audiences with enjoyable experiences

          c.       Simplest, most straightforward explanation of all this is that sometimes people enjoy being scared


12.     Examples of people enjoying so called negative emotions

          a.       Mountaineer and roller coaster rider take pleasure in being scared

                    i.        Does one enjoy the queasiness or just the “novel way of moving through space” or overall thrill of the ride?

          b.       One can enjoy disgusting stories (disgust movies)

          c.       Irascible people sometimes seek out situations there they can get angry (and they enjoy this feeling of anger)

          d.       Enjoy sadness, weeping for the sadness of the world


13.     How is the enjoyment of negative emotions possible

          a.       If they are “intrinsically unpleasant emotions”

14.     Control thesis

          a.       Enjoy neg emotions when in control of the situation that produces the emotion

                    i.        One has the ability to direct one’s thoughts and actions

          b.       E.g., Mountaineer enjoys daring climbs because she knows she is skillful enough to avoid harm

          c.       With fiction, it is easy to control the emotion

                    i.        As it has no practical consequences for the audience

                    ii.       One easily directs one’s attention and thoughts

          d.       If lose control because depicted violence and suffering is so graphic that one’ negative emotion becomes too strong, then one will not enjoy the emotion

15.     Gaut’s criticism of control thesis

          a.       False that the enjoyment of these negative emotions linked with one’s ability to control them

          b.       **People vary greatly and unpredictably as to whether or not enjoy horror films

          c.       If one person does not enjoy them , it need not be because she can’t adequately control her attention with respect to them

                    i.        Her reason for not enjoying them is when she does direct here attention to the bloody corpse, she does not like what she experiences

          d.       Person who enjoys horror may think that the height of enjoyable fear is when his gaze is riveted to the gruesome spectacle and can’t take his eyes off the unfolding carnage


16.     Walton/Neill account of negative emotions: Object of emotion unpleasant, not the emotion itself

          a.       Such emotional responses are not intrinsically unpleasant

          b.       Purely a contingent matter whether or not people enjoy the emotions themselves

          c.       Not the emotions themselves that are intrinsically unpleasant, but rather the objects of the emotions which are unpleasant or disvaluable

                    i.        What is disagreeable, what we regret, are the things we are sorrowful about (loss of an opportunity, death of a friend), not the feeling/experience of sorrow itself

                    ii.       When we say an emotion is negative/unpleasant/painful, we are in fact saying something about the situation in response to which we exp those emotions

                              (1)     It is the situations rather than the emotions which are distasteful or undesirable

17.     Gaut’s objections to Walton/Neill view

          a.       Not purely a contingent matter that these emotions are felt as unpleasant

                    i.        Conceptual constraint on negative emotions being felt as unpleasant

                    ii.       If a tribe said they felt a certain emotion at death of loved one and it was most enjoyable emotion they had, we’d be justified in denying the emotion was grief

          b.       If claim an object is unpleasant, one is saying that it is the sort of thing that causes unpleasant experiences in people

                    i.        So if the objects are unpleasant, then so likely is the emotional reaction to them.


18.     Gaut revision of Walton/Neill view

19.     When people enjoy negative emotions not because regard objects of emotions as unpleasant (even though the enjoy the emotions), but because they regard the objects of the emotions as undesirable (and believing something is undesirable is not itself to find it unpleasant)


20.     Gaut’s view: Uses evaluative theory of emotions

21.     Rejects Hume’s view that emotions like sorrow, terror essentially involve feelings of pain.

22.     Negative emotions are negative, not in respect to the unpleasantness of feelings, nor unpleasantness of objects (of the emotions), but because the incorporate/involve negative evaluative thoughts


23.     Rejects the traditional view of emotions as (phenomenologically) characterized by feelings (they feel a certain way)

          a.       One reason is that emotions may be associated with different sensations in different people

24.     Accepts dominant modern view of emotions

          a.       Cognitive

          b.       Essentially incorporating evaluations

                    i.        To fear is evaluate something as threatening

                    ii.       To be angry with someone is to evaluate her actions as wrong


25.     Individuate emotions by evaluations

26.     Different positive and negative emotions are a diff in the evaluative thoughts; evaluations incorporated into former positive and evaluations part of later are negative

          a.       No phenomenal character to a thought

27.     What makes negative emotion negative, not painfulness of either emotional response or of the object

28.     Rather it is that the objects to which these emotions directed are brought under negative evaluative concepts: the dangerous, wrongful, shameful

29.     Because we can disvalue something w/o finding it unpleasant, it is possible fo find both negative emotional responses and their objects pleasant

30.     Evaluative theory of emotions shows nothing paradoxical about enjoying negative emotions

31.     All that is requires is that one disvalue the objects of these emotions.


32.     Negative emotions are negative not because feel bad but because one disvalues objects of those emotions

          a.       “The negativity of the emotion can be explained in terms of the object of the emotion being negatively evaluated, rather than the emotion itself being unpleasant”


33.     Objection to Gaut: This solution makes it contingent (not necessary) that we generally experience negative emotions as unpleasant.

          a.       Fails to provide a conceptual connection between these (negative) emotions and unpleasant experience

          b.       Gaut seems to think there should be such a connection


34.     Conceptual connection between judging something good and having a motivating reason to pursue it (Modest internalism necessarily typically there is this connection, but not necessary always–moral pervert who wants to do x just because it is bad)

35.     Conceptual connection between desire (motivating reason) and pleasure

          a.       Necessary typically if someone desires something, idea of achiving it givers here pleasure

36.     Together; a conceptual connection between evaluation and pleasure; necessary typically if someone values a state of affairs, she will feel pleasure at idea of achieving it.


37.     For negative emotions, view of emotions as evaluative entails informed agents will typically exp object of their emotions and the emotions themselves as unpleasant


38.     So not stuck with problem that the tribal people who feel sorry find the emotion pleasant, for the emotion concerned is not typically unpleasant for them and therefore is not sorrow.


39.     So atypical people in atypical situations can enjoy negative emotions, even though there is a conceptual connection between the emotion and unpleasantness (in that typically they go together).

40.     This allows the mtn climber to enjoy her fear

41.     And aficionados of horror to enjoy their fear and disgust

          a.       Helped by fact they know film is fiction and neither they are the actors depicted are in real danger

42.     Atypical cases are only possible against background where people do not enjoy these negative emotions

43.     Background of typical unpleasant responses is necessary for these emotions to be negative.


44.     Conclusion p. 327

45.     Paradox rests on idea negative emotions are intrinsically unpleasant emotions

46.     Instead of seeing the negativity of emotions as intrinsically unpleasant, their negativity results from fact these emotions incorporate negative evaluations

47.     But then typically people will find emotions and objects of emotions unpleasant

          a.       So not merely continent, non-conceptual matter whether or not people enjoy these emotions or not

                    i.        For people typically don’t’ enjoy them

          b.       But this allows room for some individuals on some occasions to enjoy them