Emotional authenticity as integrity

These considerations bring me to my account of emotional authenticity, first formulated in an article "What is Emotional Authenticity?" (2005) My account concurs with the later proposal of de Sousa in explicating emotional authenticity in terms of coherence and integrity within the cognitive and evaluative perspective of a particular person. Integrity, like authenticity, is a normative notion that is often applied both in the context of emotions and self-concepts. Central to both concepts is the ideal of being true to oneself, the ability to resist alien and corrupt influences. Inherent in the meaning of integrity is also the idea of undividedness or wholeness as a regulative ideal that must accommodate cases of ambivalence as well. Therefore, an interpretation of authenticity in terms of integrity is not tautological but informative.[1]

The integrity account is founded on Sousa's observation that our "emotions are linked to each other and to our other mental states" (de Sousa, 1987, p. 324). Accordingly, when discussing authenticity, we should not focus merely on the coherence between emotions but on the coherence of more comprehensive patterns of the subject's cognitive and evaluative attitudes, including her emotions. Even if recalcitrant emotions defy this rational linkage, the fact that many of these emotions are anomalous from the subject's point of view indicates that coherence between a person's emotions, values, beliefs, and action is the default mode.

A viable starting point for a coherentist account of emotional authenticity is Bennett Helm's theory of emotional rationality. In Emotional Reason (2001), Helm proposes that emotions are evaluative feelings of import that both constitute and display our commitment to the focus of emotion. Moreover, emotions with a common focus impose rational commitments on each other. Thus, individual emotions are warranted by virtue of their being elements of a projectable pattern of rationality, formed by the subject's felt evaluations - emotions, desires, and bodily sensations - together with his evaluative judgments. Helm admits that there may be occasional and isolated gaps or anomalies in the overall pattern. A person can, for instance, fail to regret his inability to give up smoking even if he would sincerely like to quit. But if he never regrets his recurrent failures to give up smoking, we may infer that he does not value that goal much or at all, because the project-able pattern of evaluative attitudes rationally demands such a response.

I propose that Helm's coherence theory of emotional rationality provides a good starting point for accommodating my counterexamples against the sincerity view. Anomalous recalcitrant emotions qualify as inauthentic because they do not cohere with the person's second-order emotions and evaluative judgments about the emotion-eliciting situation. This is the case with Dillon's example of Anne, who is ashamed of her emotional incongruity as she cannot help feeling insecure and inadequate even if she judges those emotions as unwarranted in her situation. Due to this internal conflict, Anne does not have a single and unified evaluative perspective that would establish her genuine commitments.

By Helm's account, we may give priority to the coherent pattern of Anne's evaluative judgments and second-order emotions as the latter are especially significant for determining her values. For Helm distinguishes between two evaluative attitudes, caring and valuing. First-order emotions and desires manifest care for objects, whereas valuing is a form of reflexive caring about one's objects of care and, thus, about the kind of person one is. Deliberate judgments about one's concerns obviously play a role here, but Helm argues that rational patterns of second-order emotions constitute value without explicit deliberation as well. This requires that one responds with a coherent and projectable pattern of such reflexive emotions as shame, remorse, pride, or self-approbation to one's first-order emotions or other motives in terms of their worthiness or baseness. This is the reason why Anne's feelings of self-contempt, inadequacy, insecurity, and fear do not qualify as authentic: they do not cohere with the projectable pattern of her second-order emotions and evaluative judgments.

Some managed emotions, on the other hand, qualify as authentic for the same reason. The subject of a managed emotion may not spontaneously experience the relevant first-order emotion. Yet his or her second-order emotions and evaluative judgments indicate that the subject has committed him- or herself to a feeling rule that prescribes him or her to feel in a particular way in the situation. Thus, I may feel ashamed and accuse myself of heartlessness if I do not feel sad upon receiving the news of my dear aunt's death. Accordingly, I induce the relevant first-order emotion of sorrow in myself by construing the situation as a loss for me and the persons I care about. Now my first- and second-order emotions are in synch with each other and with my evaluative judgments. This internal coherence qualifies the managed emotion as authentic even if it does not emerge spontaneously but only as a rational requirement of my values and beliefs.

Helm's theory of emotional rationality provides then a promising starting point for an integrity account of emotional authenticity by highlighting the rational interconnections between emotions and other evaluative attitudes. However, it is only a starting point for several important questions still remain unanswered. The first problem concerns the evaluative judgments that according to Helm constitute a coherent pattern of rationality together with one's felt evaluations. It seems that in order to contribute to such pattern, those evaluative judgments must themselves qualify as rational in the first place for mere coherence with one's felt evaluations does not render them rational. The challenge is then to pin down relevant criteria of rationality for evaluative judgments that together with emotions constitute a coherent pattern characteristic of emotional authenticity. I shall refer to this task as the problem of rationality.

The second problem concerns the origin of our evaluative attitudes, both emotional and judgmental. For it is obvious that mere internal coherence may not amount to authenticity because one's emotional dispositions or evaluative judgments or both may have been adopted in an improper manner, such as through guilt-provoking upbringing, manipulation or indoctrination, distortion of evidence, brainwashing, or through a restricted interaction with the outer world. This is the problem of autonomy.

The third problem focuses on the dynamic and open-ended nature of authenticity. For we would be astonished if someone would tell us that he or she has after years of torment reached a conclusive state of authenticity in his or her emotions. Such conviction would strike us as delusive or downright self-deceptive because authenticity is hardly compatible with any fixed sentiments. On the contrary, it is an ongoing process in which we come to evaluate and re-educate our emotional responses and dispositions on the basis of new information, both factual and evaluative. The challenge is then to provide a flexible account of emotional authenticity that gives sincerity its proper due. I shall call this challenge the problem of flexibility.

  • [1] Integrity is an ideal with several interrelated and partially overriding aspects. Calhoun (1995) distinguishes between three views of integrity: the integrated-self, the identity-view, and the clean-hands view. Calhoun argues that none of these views is adequate without the others, which rings true if we discuss integrity as such. However, my purpose is more limited as I wish to put forward an integrity account of emotional authenticity. Therefore, I will center on the view of integrity that can best accommodate my counterexamples against the sincerity view. This is the integrated-self view.
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