Emotional truth and accuracy

Adam Morton does not deny that emotions are capable of being true. His concern is rather that their truth comes too easily. "My elation that life has many joys and my depression that life is a grim business are both true since life is a grim business with many joys. But there's no philosophical pride to be had from bringing home these trophies" (Morton, 2002, p. 266). The problem is that such truths are not accurate enough to be interesting and valuable, for it is accuracy that we value in truth, not truth as such. And since the two are independent of each other, as the accuracy of good literary fiction shows, we should focus on accuracy rather than truth.

Morton argues that an accurate emotion contains detailed representations that fit a person's actual situation and its possibilities. For instance, my fear is accurate if I am actually in danger. An accurate emotion hinges on the subject's actual situation and its potentialities for action, whereas an inaccurate emotion misconstrues these things. However, accuracy is not well described as truth, because there are often many accurate depictions of the same situation and its possibilities. For example, Morton suggests that there is not one single, accurate emotional response for the situation of being laid off by one's employer. One may feel relieved, unhappy, or angry, either accurately or inaccurately. An emotion is accurate if it is both elicited by and directed at features of the situation, whereas it is inaccurate if it is only elicited by the situation but directed at a factitious or otherwise irrelevant object. Thus, a laid-off person may become angry at her boss for her unjust treatment and take revenge by pouring a cup of coffee over his head, or she may get mad at American policy in the Middle East and become a fervent campaigner for the internationalization of Jerusalem. American policy in the Middle East may well be unjust, but it hardly has anything to do with a person's being laid off from her job.

Morton's critique of cheap emotional truth is well-founded, because it is important for the mind-to-world direction of fit of emotions that they latch onto the evidence provided by the emotion-eliciting situation. This is indeed a problem for de Sousa's rendering of emotional truth that focuses on the fittingness or success of an emotion. My proposed account alleviates this problem, since it also requires that the propositional content of a true emotion is semantically satisfied or that the target of such an emotion exists. I admit that truth and accuracy are independent of each other. But we should be interested in both, because emotional truth that depends on both success and satisfaction of emotion is not as cheap as Morton suggests.


Emotions are truth-apt mental states by virtue of having an evaluative content that presents the relevant evaluation of the particular object of emotion as correct or justified. However, an emotion is true if and only if there is an actual fit between the particular object of emotion and its formal object, and the emotion's propositional content is semantically satisfied or the target of the emotion exists. For fictive emotions, the standard of semantic satisfaction is truth, whereas an epistemic emotion is semantically satisfied if the subjective probability that the emotion ascribes to the actualisation of the relevant future state of affairs corresponds to the objective probability of the actualisation of that state of affairs. Fittingness between the actual and formal object of emotion is based on the former's lower-level properties whose warrant for ascribing the relevant formal property is superassertible. Moreover, the proposed notion of emotional truth is capable of challenging or refuting even widely shared communal standards of warrant if these are founded on false, insufficient, or otherwise distorted information, or faulty, inconsistent, prejudicial, ideological, or similar reasoning in the processing of information. Finally, emotional truth is distinct from appropriateness and accuracy as a normative standard of emotions. Accordingly, I believe that it provides the best available theoretical account of what it is for an emotion to fit the world.

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