Davies, Ch 6: Expression and Emotional Responses


1.       Function of emotions to focus our attention on what is important

          a.       Emotions guide our thoughts and actions

2.       A reason for censorship

          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

3.       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


4.       Nature of emotions

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

          b.       Some are cognitive (involve beliefs, desires) (e.g. emotional responses to tragedy) (and require action )and some do not and are more instinctive, gut level reactions (e.g., emotional responses to purely instrumental music and abstract art)

          c.       Emotions can involve physiological responses (heart rate rises), intentional objects (directed at things–not true for emotions, e.g., sadness, in response to instrumental music or moods), behaviors (sad people weep, scared people run)


5.       Identifying emotions in others and in art

          a.       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?

          b.       Other people’s emotions can be identified by

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

          c.       Emotions in art can be identified by

                    i.        Same mechanism as use to identify other people’s emotions

                    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)

6.       For art, in addition to emotions of character 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.

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

                    i.        Author: Protagonist might be patriotic and courageous while work expresses rage at way such passion s lead to war.

                              (1)     But sometimes work not autobiographical in this way

                    ii.       Narrator (story teller)

                              (1)     But narrator can be presented as biased

                    iii.      Fictional author or narrator who stands outside work

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

          d.       This is like the way in which instrumental music, abstract art, and nature can be expressive, even if there is no person who is thought to have the emotion.

                    i.        Angry music, angry sea, angry abstract painting?

                              (1)     Angry flowers

                              (2)     Angry clouds

                              (3)     Angry painting

                              (4)     angry abstract art


7.       Musical expressiveness objective or subjective?

          a.       The claim it is subjective amounts to the view that 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

          b.       Davies argues that

                    i.        If one discounts opinions of uninformed listeners (e.g., who don’t know genre)

                    ii.       And rejects the idea the music is fine grained in its expressiveness and claims it expresses emotions in more general and broad categories

                              (1)     Sad versus happy, rather than sad vs gloomy vs morose

                    iii.      Then there is lots of agreement

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

                    v.       Music emotional responses like color perception, depends on both objective powers of object and shared emotional/perceptual capacities of person

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

                              (1)     If one says it is sad and another happy, at least one is wrong.


8.       Expression of emotion in purely instrumental music and abstract art

          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 and not clear that anyone’s emotions are being expressed

                              (1)     Like tears express a person’s sadness

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

9.       Accounts for how music can express emotions

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

                    i.        E.g., Snare drums and fifes and trumpets associated with war or music listened to during period when dog died eventually expresses sadness

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


          c.       Expression theory: Music expresses composer’s emotions

                              (1)     Sad music expresses the composer’s sadness

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

                    iii.      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.       Music not like tears of composer, but more like a sad face she carved to express her sadness; face is sad even if carver is happy.

                    iii.      So music has its own expressiveness apart from composes feelings


          e.       Emotivism/arousal theory: Music is sad because it makes listeners sad

          f.       Problems:

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

                    ii.       Person can recognize and appreciate sadness of music and still not be moved to sadness and/or appreciate composers 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)


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

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

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


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

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

                              (1)     Listener’s sad response echoes a sadness presented in music sound

                              (2)     Not saying music is literally sad (or joyful)

                    ii.       We describe other things with emotional terms that can’t feel emotions

                              (1)     Sad willows, happy facemasks, basset hounds has sad looking face (implies nothing about mood of dog)

                    iii.      Why? How does this work? Perhaps based on resemblance

                              (1)     Perhaps resemblance between the thing and the behavior/characteristics of people with that emotion

                              (2)     Stooped willow tree, like stooped sad person

                              (3)     Happy people move fast and energetically like happy music

                              (4)     Sad people move slowly as if weighed down by care, as does sad music

10.     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.

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

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

          a.       We don’t have belief that someone or thing is sad, but we don’t need them because emotional responses need not include beliefs

          b.       We get emotions from music by contagion or osmosis

                    i.        Unthinkingly catch the expressive mood

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

          c.       An 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


12.     Davies on emotional responses to fiction

          a.       How possible given that the beliefs required for ordinary emotions are not present (object does not exist)

13.     Solution that emotions are non-cognitive won’t work here (like it did with music)

          a.       While true that not all emotions are cognitively complex or involve conscious judgment, responses to fiction must be cognitively sophisticated

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

14.     Radford’s view that emotional responses to fiction are irrational

          a.       And fits with lots of irrational human behavior

                    i.        Phobias, golfers talking to the ball and moving body to affect its trajectory

15.     Problem: Claiming emotional responses to fiction irrational or non-rational goes against idea that having the right emotional responses to fiction indicate sensitive appreciation and understanding of the story

          a.       Pity Anna Karenina is to recognize her circumstances

          b.       Also conflicts with idea that fiction’s value includes that it gives us new insights/understanding by stimulating our emotions and getting us involved in world of fiction


16.     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 is enough


17.     Are emotions directed at fiction are less strong and persistent?

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


18.     Davies on response to tragedies

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

          a.       How enjoy neg experiences some art produces?

20.     Various responses

21.     One: Deny experiences are unpleasant

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

                    i.        Grief turned into something pleasant

          b.       Gaut: The unenjoyable part of these emotions (sadness) are the consequences and behavioral responses

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

                    ii.       Kind of fun to be sad?

          c.       Three: WE are masochists and take pleasure in own suffering

                    i.        Davies thinks masochism is pathological and rare

22.     Problem: Davies argues that sometimes responses are undeniably unpleasant

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


23.     Perhaps tragedies have positive values (well crafted story with subtle plot) that outweighs and compensates for negative dimension

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


24.     Negative aspects of tragedies integral part of large whole that is good

          a.       Can’t get gain w/o pain

                              (1)     Like Theodicy: evil necessary part of best pos world

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

          c.       Feagan: Neg 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

25.     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.

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

26.     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

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

          a.       Art is deep source of satisfaction that 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