How is Recalcitrant Emotion Possible?

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29 Scopus citations


A recalcitrant emotion is an emotion that we experience despite a judgment that seems to conflict with it. Having been bitten by a dog in her childhood, Jane cannot shake her fear of dogs, including Fido, the cute little puppy that she knows to be in no way dangerous. There is something puzzling about recalcitrant emotions, which appear to defy the putatively robust connection between emotions and judgments. If Jane really believes that Fido cannot harm her, what is she afraid of? This article seeks to show how recalcitrant emotion is possible. I argue that reductive theories that identify emotions with judgments, desires, or some combination thereof, cannot explain the possibility of emotional irrationality without contradiction. I then show that the appeal to sui generis attitudes also fails to solve the puzzle of recalcitrant emotions, and diagnose this failure as stemming from a misleading analogy between emotions and perceptions, and in particular, between recalcitrant emotions and perceptual illusions. The solution can be found in a different analogy: between emotions and actions; more specifically, between recalcitrant emotions and weakness of the will, akrasia. Like akratic actions, recalcitrant emotions entail responding to reasons, but to inferior reasons. Irrational but non-contradictory emotions are possible just as weakness of will is possible.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)577-599
Number of pages23
JournalAustralasian Journal of Philosophy
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2013


  • akrasia,
  • conativist
  • externalism
  • illusion
  • internalism
  • judgmentalist

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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