C. Fine-grained nonconceptual content

The final, phenomenological version of nonconceptual content highlights the fine-grained nature of such content. This property of nonconceptual content plays a significant role in the argument from noninferential structure, but it constitutes an independent argument leading to the same conclusion as well. This argument refers to the qualitative and informational richness of nonconceptual content in comparison to conceptual content. Dretske (1981) illustrates this point with his distinction between analogue and digital forms of representation. Their main difference is that when a representation carries the information that s is F in digital form, it only carries this piece of information, whereas an analogue representation of the same information always carries some additional information about s. The sentence, "There is a table in the room" is an example of a digital representation, while a photograph of the table in the room represents the same information in an analog form. The photograph contains much more information than the sentence because it also carries information about the shape, colour, and texture of the table, its location in the room, objects placed on the table, and so on. A picture is literally worth a thousand or even more words as these can never capture and reproduce the qualitative richness of the picture in a conceptual form. The same point applies to visual experience whose details and nuances evade an exhaustive propositional rendering. We can also perceptually discriminate scenarios with determinate shapes and shades without possessing concepts that characterize specific aspects of those scenarios (Crane, 1992; Peacocke, 1992).

Emotions typically strike us with an immediacy and vivacity comparable to sense perceptions. Vividness, in turn, is related to intensity, another phenomenological aspect of emotion. In contrast to beliefs and thoughts where intensity is a measure of their subjective probability, the intensity of an emotion refers to its motivational force and vividness, both of which are reflected in the urgency and compellingness of the emotional experience. Some emotions such as fear and anger or love and hate can also be distinguished from one another by their phenomenal quail in the same way as perceptual qualities. Last but not least, the what-is-it-likeness and intentionality appear to be inseparable in the representational content of both emotion and sense perception even if they obviously do not have the same phenomenology. Emotional content is shot through with feeling which renders it verbally ineffable. This inseparability of phenomenology and intentionality, affect and attitude in the emotional content, is the core idea behind arguments for the fine-grained phenomenology of emotions. Nevertheless, most theorists who emphasize the fine-grained character of emotional content believe that this content is conceptually structured (see Roberts, 1988, 2003; Helm, 2001; Goldie, 2000, 2002, 2009). This leaves Döring (2004, 2007, 2009) as the sole protagonist of nonconceptual content on the basis of fine-grained phenomenology of emotion.

Döring (2004) argues that emotional content is structured by perceptual gestalt qualities such as fearsomeness and offensiveness that organize the various details of emotional content in the same way as the gestalts of duck and rabbit organize the content of the picture that can be seen either as a duck or rabbit, depending on the dominant gestalt. A gestalt cannot be inferred from a detailed description of its parts and their relations. Instead, it is the whole that organizes the parts and determines the terms in which the parts are perceived. Thus for instance the gestalt of fearsomeness organizes the sensory properties of an aggressive-looking pit bull terrier, such as its raised hackles, sharp bared teeth, low growl, and fixed glare, which together give rise to an affective perception of the dog as fearsome. We can respond to this affective perception with fear even before realising that the animal is a dog of notorious breed that has all the classic symptoms of canine aggression and therefore is fearsome. Nor do we need concepts of those perceptual properties that together constitute an affective perception of the dog as fearsome. Instead, we are capable of responding to this property emotionally even before our perceptual system has produced a conscious representation - let alone a conceptual classification- of the object. In a like manner, Deigh (2008) suggests that the content of some emotions resembles perceptual content in being constituted of sensory evaluative representations of objects as, for instance, scary (fear) or rotten (disgust). Unlike Döring, however, Deigh does not generalize this claim to all human emotions. Instead, he distinguishes between primitive and tutored instances of the same emotion type: primitive emotions with sensory, nonconceptual content, and tutored emotions with evaluative, propositional content.

Dörings phenomenological argument for the nonconceptual content of emotion runs together two claims that are actually separate. One is the feeling-laden content of emotions and the other is the capacity of emotions to emerge from simple perceptual cues before a conscious categorisation and evaluation of the situation. The first claim is true of all emotions whereas the second applies only to some emotions. The separation of these claims is important because only the latter requires explanation in terms of nonconceptual content.

Emotions always have phenomenologically fine-grained content as they are multimodal states whose constituents intertwine in emotional experiences, giving rise to intentional affective experiences (Salmela, 2002, 2005). However, emotions may come to possess content of this kind in many ways. Döring describes one instance in which the emotion emerges from a sense perception before the subject conceptually recognizes the object of his or her emotion. Yet affective perceptions can emerge in another ways as well, as Goldie (2000) has pointed out. He gives an example in which we look at a gorilla in a zoo and think of it as dangerous without fear because the gorilla seems to be in a cage behind bars. But then we notice that the cage door has been left open. This perception frightens us, giving our thought that the gorilla is dangerous a new affective flavour that Goldie describes as "thinking with feeling". Goldie claims that thinking with feeling involves a direct and original type of affective intentionality. This means that when we come to think of an object as dangerous with fear, "the dangerousness of the object, and the determinate features towards which the thought is directed, is grasped in a different way. That is to say, one's way of thinking of it is completely new. It is not just the old way of thinking of it, plus some new element" (Goldie 2002, p. 243). Yet as important as the new phenomenological features of thinking with feeling are, as a form of thinking this activity still has conceptual content, albeit shot through with feeling. This shows that emotions may have conceptual content in spite of their finegrained affective phenomenology.

In contrast, emotion generation on the basis of perceptual gestalt qualities relates to the kind of affective or automatic information processing that Jenefer Robinson, Paul Griffiths, Paul Ekman, and other affect programme theorists have associated with basic emotions. Indeed, these two forms of nonconceptual content complement each other as perceptual gestalt qualities are good candidates for elicitors of emotions that operate on subdoxastic and subpersonal representations. Perception of such qualities does not require conceptual capacities from the subject; an ability to recognize perceptually similar objects in light of the subject's active goals and to respond to those objects with the same, specific emotion is sufficient. The emotions of nonhuman animals and human infants who do not possess concepts are likely to operate in this manner.[1] The same mechanism continues to operate in language users whose emotions may then emerge from either evaluative perceptions or evaluative judgments, as Deigh (2008) points out. His distinction between primitive and tutored emotions with dissimilar content, sensory and evaluative, offers a viable hypothesis of this difference while being consistent with the distinction between conceptual and nonconceptual content. However, conceptual capacities bring an important new dimension to post-infantile human emotions as they allow further information processing during emotion generation, allowing us to modulate the emerging emotional response if perceptual impressions and conceptual appraisals of the emotion-eliciting situation differ from each other. Again, we must conclude that emotions with perceptually organized nonconceptual content are a minority among human emotions.

  • [1] Thus McDowell (2009, p. 130) observes that "If an animal has in its repertoire behaviour appropriately conceived as fleeing, it must be able to discriminate (perhaps not very accurately) between situations that pose danger to it and situations that do not. But given my stipulation, this ability to discriminate does not suffice for having the concept of danger. The concept requires a subject who can respond to dangerousness as the reason it is. And that requires in turn the ability to take dangerousness into account in reasoning" (my italics).
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