Emotional authenticity as sincerity

Most contemporary researchers of emotion, both philosophical and empirical, associate emotional authenticity with sincerity and spontaneity (see e.g. Mulligan, 2009; Bolton, 2005; Steinberg & Figart, 1999; Pugmire, 1998; Erickson & Wharton, 1997; Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993; Wentworth & Ryan, 1992; Hamlyn, 1989; Dilman, 1989; Hochschild, 1983). An authentic or genuine emotion, according to this view, is a sincere and spontaneous response to the eliciting situation. The emotion is founded on the subject's spontaneous apprehension of the object that reliably manifests his or her concern for it. David Pugmire contends: "My emotions must be allowed to take the form they seek to take; and they must be acknowledged as authoritative expressions of part of my actual valuation attitude, as bearing witness to my real beliefs" (Pugmire, 1998, p. 129).[1] I shall focus on Pugmire's version of the sincerity view because it is the most detailed and theoretically elaborate one.

Since most emotions are not entirely transparent to their subject, it is quite easy to misidentify one's emotion or its true object and cause. For example, lust can be mistaken for love, anger at one's bullying boss can be misinterpreted as anger at one's spouse, and drunken confidence can be misconstrued as good self-esteem. Yet none of these difficulties qualifies as a flaw of authenticity as such. Pugmire suggests that an emotion turns inauthentic only when the subject purposefully sticks to his or her misidentification and thereby distorts or masks the underlying real emotion or the lack of it. But how can we distinguish such "counterfeit" emotions from real articles?

Pugmire is a cognitivist who argues that emotions essentially involve thoughts, either in the form of affirmed beliefs or judgements, or in the form of ideas, construals, or imaginings that are merely entertained maintains. However, some emotions demand actual belief instead of a mere construal in order to qualify as genuine. A person may construe a situation as dangerous without believing this to be true, whereas beliefs and affirmed appraisals aim to be true, whether they succeed in this or not. Yet construals are verisimilar in the sense of having an appearance of truth for the construer, as Robert Roberts (1988) points out. Since construing is capable of evoking experientially identical or similar feelings as an appropriate belief, it is easy to mistake these feelings for the manifestation of a genuine emotion. But now a problem emerges: "If I am unaware that what I am doing is construing rather than considering or affirming, I am not in a position to distinguish my construal from a belief" (Pugmire, 1998, p. 116).

Pugmire claims that emotions become artificial "by being sustained by construals rather than beliefs where beliefs are what is really required" (ibid., p. 117). Emotions of this kind are misbegotten because a desire to experience an emotion is not directly concerned with the ostensible object of emotion. Pugmire suggests that there are two general external motives for having an emotion. The Experiential motive is central, for instance, in sentimentality. Sentimental people desire emotions for their intrinsic affective qualities and savor them in the same way as people who use drugs for the sensations and feelings they induce. The superficiality of such emotions is indicated by their subjects' failure to follow the emotion into action (ibid., 119; Hamlyn, 1989). The relational motive figures in an emotion that places its subject in an advantageous position in some way. Pugmire surmises that "choice will centre on emotions that provide advantage of power (e.g. pity), moral advantage (e.g. forgiveness, and above all, righteous anger) or that reassuringly affirm personal qualities (e.g. compassion, remorse)" (ibid., p. 120). Such emotions are often adopted for the purpose of masking another, existing emotion that the subject does not like to experience. Thus, spite can be mistaken for righteous indignation and disdain for pity.

Pugmire argues that his account provides several reasons for the vitality of emotional authenticity. Firstly, a factitious emotion "misrepresents the agent both as to his true emotion and as to his true values" (ibid., p. 124). Secondly, a misrepresentation of the self creates a falsified and potentially dangerous point of departure for social interaction. By interpreting a factitious emotion as a genuine article, other people both support the original self-deception and become deceived themselves. Thirdly, Pugmire claims that "factitious emotions - lack the function that is frequently the warrant for emotion as distinct from dispassionate rational appraisal, namely, creating an immediate urge to act in accordance with the appraisal" (ibid.). And finally, inauthentic emotions are self-defeating as they cannot achieve what they want. It is not a facsimile but a real article that we are after.

The sincerity view offers several important insights into emotional authenticity. The undistorted perception of one's immediate psychological reality is certainly an essential foundation for authenticity. One should therefore recognize one's spontaneous emotions for what they are - with "warts and all" as Pugmire demands. I also agree with Pugmire that emotions are "authoritative expressions of part of my actual valuational attitude". But I do not believe that emotions always bear witness to my "real beliefs", nor that my "actual valuational attitudes" are equivalent to my values. I believe that the following analysis of two significant emotional phenomena, recalcitrant emotions and managed emotions, supports this view.

  • [1] In his Sound Sentiments (2005) Pugmire defends profundity as a normative ideal for emotions. I shall discuss this rival notion of authenticity later in this chapter.
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