Davies, Ch 6: Expression and Emotional Responses


1.      Davies on the important of expression of emotion in art

         a.      “A major source of its value”

         b.      “Both the expression of emotion in art and the arousal of affective responses in its audience are crucial at every point to what invests art with human significance and worth”



3.      Emotions function to focus our attention on what is important and guide our thoughts and actions

4.      Davies’ main idea is that emotions are a varied lot and we can’t give one account for all emotions (Neill says something similar)

         a.      Some are cognitive (involve beliefs, desires) (e.g. emotional responses to tragedy)

         b.      Some are more instinctive, gut level reactions (e.g., emotional responses to purely instrumental music and abstract art)

         c.      Emotions can involve

                   i.       Physiological responses (heart rate rises, tears)

                   ii.      Intentional objects (directed at things/objects)

                            (1)    Not true for all emotions e.g., sadness in response to instrumental music has no object; nor do moods

                   iii.     Behaviors (sad people weep, scared people run)

5.      Identifying emotions in others and in art

         a.      Identify other people’s emotions by

                   i.       Behavior, facial expressions (some emotions have characteristic facial expressions), what they tells us

         b.      Identify emotions in art by

                   i.       Same mechanisms as are used to identify other people’s emotions (see above)

                   ii.      And more:

                            (1)    Title, narrator tells us what character is feeling

                            (2)    Lighting and music (film noir, soaring melody testifies to hero’s love)

            c.         See question 6.8: In what way can it be easier and in what way harder to learn what a fictional character feels than to learn what another person feels?

6.      For art, in addition to emotions of characters need to consider emotions/attitudes of work itself

         a.      Can be different: “Protagonist might be patriotic and courageous while work expresses rage at way such passions lead to war”

7.      To whom to attribute work’s attitude/emotion?

         a.      Author

                   i.       But sometimes work not autobiographical in this way

                   ii.      Could a novel embrace sexism, yet be written by a feminist who rejects it?

                   iii.     Could a gloomy sort of author write works with a cheerful outlook?

         b.      Narrator (insider) (person telling the story who is part of the story) (1st person?)

                   i.       But narrator can be presented as biased

         c.      Narrator who stands outside work (fictional author) (3rd person?)

8.      Work’s descriptions and representations can be expressive in their own right w/o positing a real (or fictional) person who has that emotion

         a.      Similarly instrumental music, abstract art, and nature can be expressive of emotion, even if there is no person who is thought to have the emotion

                   i.       Music that expresses anger

                   ii.      Painting expressing anger

                   iii.     Natural events that express anger



10.    Musical expressiveness objective or subjective?

         a.      Claiming musical expressiveness is subjective means people can property attribute different expressive properties to music without there being any disagreement

                   i.       True for you music sad and true for me that it is happy

                   ii.      Examples of (objectively?) sad music

                            (1)    One, two, not

11.    Davies argues for some objectivity by

         a.      Discounting opinions of uninformed listeners (e.g., who don’t know genre)

         b.      **Rejects the idea that music’s expressiveness is fine grained

         c.      **Claim music expresses emotions in more general and broad categories

         d.      For example:

                   i.       Sad versus happy (general/broad), rather than sad vs gloomy vs morose (fine grained)

                   ii.      If one person hears music as sad, another says expresses grief, do not really disagree

                   iii.     If one says it is sad and another happy, at least one is wrong

         e.      There is lots of agreement about the general expressive character of some music

         f.       This agreement best accounted for by believing that people are recognizing objective properties/powers in music

12.    Music emotional responses like color perception, depends on both

                   i.       Objective powers of object, and

                   ii.      Shared emotional/perceptual capacities of people

13.    How is expression of emotion in purely instrumental music (and abstract art) possible?

         a.      Music sometimes regarded as the most expressive of the arts

                   i.       Can be happy or sad, calm or angry

         b.       How possible given no words or pictures?

                   i.       Music/art can’t feel emotions

                   ii.      Not clear that anyone’s emotions are being expressed

                            (1)    Not like tears express a person’s sadness

                            (2)    Can’t just assume that the artist’s emotions are being expressed by the music

                   iii.     No objects or behaviors in them likely to elicit emotions (like sad face, or crying)



15.    Associative account: Music becomes expressive by being regularly associated with things that clearly are emotional (words/events in people’s lives)

         a.      E.g., Snare drums and fifes and trumpets associated with war, or music listened to during period when dog died eventually expresses sadness (for an individual)

         b.      Problem: Music it is not (in general) emotionally neutral and then picks up emotions of things it associated with. Rather it brings is emotion to those events it is associated with: People choose music because it (already) fits with the mood trying to evoke

16.    Expression theory: Music expresses composer’s emotions

         a.      Sad music expresses the composer’s sadness

         b.      What makes music expressive is that it presents an emotion the composer felt

         c.      When we hear the music we recognize the composer’s sadness much like we would if we saw her burst into tears

         d.      Problems:

                   i.       Music takes months to complete, composer’s emotions greatly varied over that period

                   ii.      Even when music is an expression of composer’s emotions, music not like tears of composer, but more like a sad face she carved to express her sadness; face is still sad even if carver is happy.

                   iii.     So music has its own expressiveness apart from composer’s feelings, just like a carved sad face has its own expressiveness, apart from carver’s emotions

         e.      See question 6.7 for questions exploring this issue

                   i.       Can an artist create an expressive work without at some time having felt what it expresses? Can an artist create an expressive work without feeling what it expresses as part of the creative process? Can a performer create a plausible interpretation of an expressive work without at some time having felt what it expresses? Can a performer create a plausible interpretation of an expressive work without feeling what it expresses during the performance?

17.    Emotivism/arousal theory: Music expresses emotions in so far as it causes/arouses those emotions in its listeners

         a.      For example, music is sad because it makes listeners sad

         b.      Problems:

                   i.       Sometimes cheerful music fails to cheer someone up, but it is still cheerful

                   ii.      Person can recognize and appreciate sadness of music and still not be moved to sadness and/or appreciate composer’s skill in making music sad

                   iii.     **Gets things backwards: Usual idea is that it is because the music is sad (already) that it makes people sad, not the other way (it is sad in virtue of making people sad)

18.    Hypothetical persona: Music is sad because listeners imagine that the music tracks episodes in life of an imagined person

         a.      E.g., imagine the music is about a person’s reluctance to follow a path society has set down for her

         b.      Problem: Competent listeners will deny they are playing this imaginary game

19.    Expressiveness is in the music itself w/o it being any person’s emotions

         a.      The sound itself has an expressive character without regard to anyone’s feelings

                   i.       Listener’s sad response echoes a sadness presented in music sound

         b.      Not saying music is literally sad (or joyful), e.g., that the music has a psychological state

                   i.       This is okay, as we describe other things with emotional terms that can’t feel emotions

                            (1)    Sad willows, happy facemasks

                   ii.      Basset hounds have sad looking face (implies nothing about mood of dog)

         c.      How does this work? Perhaps because of resemblance

20.    Resemblance theory explains how music can itself be expressive

         a.      Perhaps resemblance between the thing (e.g., sound) and the behavior/characteristics of people with that emotion is what makes the music express that emotion

         b.      Stooped willow tree, like stooped sad person

         c.      Happy people move fast and energetically like happy music

         d.      Sad people move slowly as if weighed down by care, similarly sad music moves slowly



22.    Why people respond emotionally to music’s expressiveness if music is not the intentional object of their response?

         a.      Why people feel sad on hearing sad music if not sad about the music?

                   i.       Contrast: When we hear about a child dying, we become sad and we are sad about the child dying

         b.      Music causes the response but the response is not aimed at the music

23.    Davies thinks emotional responses to instrumental music are a non-cognitive type of emotional response

         a.      We don’t have to believe that someone or thing is sad

         b.      We don’t need such a belief because emotional responses need not include beliefs (they may be non-cognitive)

         c.      Nor need they have intentional objects (be about something)

24.    Davies rejects idea cognitive theory of emotions applies to all emotions

25.    We get emotions from pure music by contagion or osmosis

         a.      E.g., To get sad from music, we don’t need to believe that someone died or suffered some other misfortune

         b.      We unthinkingly catch the expressive mood

         c.      Although the emotion in response to instrumental music is not about anything, if does require close attention to the music and its expressiveness

                   i.       So it is cognitive in the sense of invovles attention

26.    A possible implication: Someone who does not react to sad music by being sad (or feeling pity) is not callous as would be someone who is unmoved by another person’s sadness

         a.      Question 6.6



         a.      How possible given that the beliefs required for ordinary emotions are not present (e.g., object of emotions do not exist)?

28.    Appeal to idea that emotions can be non-cognitive (as with music–no beliefs about things) won’t work here

         a.      Responses to fiction must be cognitively sophisticated

                   i.       While true that not all emotions are cognitively complex or involve conscious judgment

                   ii.      When imaginatively enter world of fiction must know which beliefs to suspend and which to entertain, must have understanding and insight

29.    Some argue emotional responses to fiction are irrational

         a.      Fits with lots of other irrational human behavior

                   i.       Phobias (irrational fear of heights or darkness)

                   ii.      Golfers talking to the ball and moving body to affect its trajectory

         b.      Problems Davies identifies with the irrational view

                   i.       Having the right emotional responses to fiction indicates sensitive appreciation and understanding of the story (and not that one is irrational)

                            (1)    To pity Anna Karenina is to recognize her circumstances

                   ii.      Fiction’s value includes that it gives us new insights & understanding by stimulating our emotions and getting us involved in world of fiction

                   iii.     Not just irrational behavior

30.    Carroll’s idea that imagining or thinking about an event is enough to provoke an emotional reaction

         a.      Emotions are cognitive and directed at objects, but thoughts entertained w/o believing them are enough of an object

31.    Are emotions directed at fiction less strong and persistent than emotions directed at real life?

         a.      Davies: “More tears are spilled in movies and operas than in front of TV documentaries of real world events”



33.    The problem: Why seek out and return and get pleasure from art that is saddening /harrowing

         a.      How enjoy negative experiences some art produces?

34.    One type of response: Deny experiences are unpleasant

         a.      Hume: Elegance of story transforms the supposedly negative element into positive ones

                   i.       Grief turned into something pleasant

         b.      Gaut: The unenjoyable/negative part of these emotions (e.g., sadness) are the consequences and behavioral responses of the emotion, not the emotion itself

                   i.       When we can savor the emotion alone we find it not unpleasant at all

                   ii.      Kind of fun to be sad when nothing bad happened?

         c.      We are masochists and take pleasure in own suffering

                   i.       Davies thinks masochism is pathological and rare

         d.      Davies problem with denying experiences unpleasant: Sometimes responses are undeniably unpleasant

                   i.       Unredeemed murders, rapes, mutilations, tortures and mayhem in works like American Psycho are unpleasant to experience

                   ii.      But people watch them anyway

                   iii.     Davies is not an “enjoyment” theory proponent

35.    Second response: Perhaps tragedies have positive values (well crafted story with subtle plot) that outweighs and compensates for negative dimension (Carroll’s positive outweighs negative)

         a.      Problem: But then we should seek the stories that have these positive features w/o the negative ones

36.    Davies view: Negative aspects of tragedies integral part of large whole that is good

                   i.       Like Theodicy: evil necessary part of best possible world

         b.      Aristotle argues the good we get is catharsis (purging of feelings)

         c.      Feagan: Negative response allows us to emotionally respond in morally virtuous ways that allows us to feel good about ourselves

                   i.       Pity the suffering of others; respond with sensitivity and compassion

37.    Davies: Can’t get gain w/o pain

         a.      Davies argues that negative parts of art are part of a whole that has great aesthetic value and we can’t appreciate this value fully if we ignore or skip over the unpleasant parts

         b.      Can’t get art’s richest rewards if shun works that elicit unenjoyable feelings or always close our eyes or skip the nasty bits

38.    Davies thinks art is like life in this regard

         a.      Best can only come if we are willing to suffer and risk and not just go for the easy pleasure

         b.      Person who pursues only pleasure and shuns everything that might be uncomfortable will have a shallow and unfulfilled life

         c.      Deepest satisfactions in life come not from clinging to small pleasures of the easy path but “From mustering the grace and courage to face the challenges and difficulties that come to anyone who commits to occupations, associations, and values that foster love, dignity, respect and realization of human potential”

         d.      Arts rewards come no more easily or cheaply

39.    Teaches us to reject assumption that pleasure alone is why we are interested in art

         a.      Art’s deep source of satisfaction comes from overcoming difficulties and challenges and achieving understanding

         b.      This is not pleasure (like sensuous delight like we get from cold beer on hot day)

         c.      Silly to think satisfactions of art is pleasure alone and so we should be prepared to face what is unpleasant to get art’s full payoff

Davies, Ch 6: Expression and Emotional Responses Study Questions


1.         Using examples, explain how emotions are varied lot (according to Davies).

2.         Give an example where the emotions/attitudes of a work of art differ from the emotions/attitudes of its protagonist (the main character).

3.         *Does Davies think musical expressiveness is objective or subjective? Explain these terms. How does his view on this related to the issue of whether or not music is fine grained in its expressiveness? If one person hears music as sad, another says it expresses grief, do they disagree (according to Davies)?

4.         *Explain and contrast the following accounts of how it is that abstract music (w/o words) can be expressive: Associative account, expression theory, emotivism/arousal theory, expressiveness is in the music itself without it being any person’s emotions. What are some problems with each of these theories?

5.         Must a composer of music feel the emotion the music expresses while she composes the music?

6.         Is it because a piece of music is sad, that it makes people sad, or is it sad because it makes people sad? What is the difference? What is Davies view on this?

7.         Explain how the idea of resemblance might help explain how music can express emotions.

8.         What does it mean to say that emotional responses to music are non-cognitive? Wht does it mean to say we get emotions from music by contagion or osmosis, and why is this a non-cognitive account of how music moves us?

9.         *In terms of being cognitive or not (that is, do they involve beliefs or not), does Davies believe the emotional responses to music and emotional responses to fiction are similar? Why or why not? What are his views about the cognitivity of emotional responses to fiction and to music?

10.       What is Davies criticism of the idea that emotional responses to fiction are irrational?

11.       Explain why Davies (and others) think the appreciation of tragedy needs explanation?

12.       *What is one explanation of why we seek out tragedies that Davies rejects? (Hint: It has to do with whether or not the experience of tragedies is unpleasant). Why does he reject it?

13.       *What is Davies response to this “paradox” of tragedy? In other words, what is his account of why it is worthwhile to appreciate tragedy even thought the experience is often saddening, harrowing, or unpleasant?

14.       In what way does Davies think appreciating difficult art (e.g., tragedy) is like life?

15.       Does Davies think it is pleasure alone that explains our interest in art? Explain why or why not.



16.    A reason for censorship of music

         a.      Plato argued that music that makes people feel war-like should be banned

         b.      20th century conservatives detect an undercurrent of raw sexuality in modern music that could corrupt feelings/behavior of young people who listen to it

17.    Manipulative narratives

         a.      Try to elicit stronger reaction than is warranted by its content

         b.      Try to get us to sympathize with values we do not share

         c.      We resist the manipulation of our feelings by

                   i.       Not blindly responding

                   ii.      Shift our attention from internal to external perspective

                            (1)    Internal: direct imaginative involvement in the world of work (recognizing and responding to emotions expressed)

                            (2)    External: Focus on the fictionality of the work, its structure, how it works


18.    Using examples, explain Davies distinction between the internal and external perspectives on a work of fiction.