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[xmca] The social and the emotional

David and all,

So I've changed the subject line, and deleted a lot of back messaging on this one. As Mike suggests, go to the archives of "The Interpersonal is not the Sociocultural" for way more context.

I admit to having been a bit unsure how to read your Ahab arguments, David. But I think you are raising some very important questions about the issues of social emotions and moral judgments.

I'd agree that social emotions, in some sense, are primary, just as for higher mental functions there is an already-in-progress community practice which is then internalized and individualized in development. We learn emotions, or we learn how to live emotionally, in the ways that are available and/or sanctioned in our community, by our participation in emotion-laden activities (and I think LSV would say, emotion-generated and -guided activities) with others (and things) in our social life.

That is not to say that emotional life does not build on some phylogenetic capabilities having to do with fight-or-flight, social bonding, swallow-or-spit and other mammalian or pre-mammalian survival functions. Just as intellectual life builds on plenty of mammalian "cognitive" capabilities.

But what I wonder about is how to understand the nature of (a) social emotions in the sense in which ALL emotions are social-interactionally derived and socio-culturally inflected, (b) pro-social emotions such as solidarity, feelings for social justice/fairness, etc., and (c) higher emotions more generally, which are developmentally later, more culture-specific, more fully inseparable from higher mental functioning, but which may or may not all be pro-social in a moral sense (e.g. intellectual curiosity, honor, face, contemplative harmony, indignation, complacency, scorn, alienation ...)?

Your conclusion, below, seems very right about (a) and (b), but is it maybe a little too optimistic or over-generalizing regarding (c)?


Jay Lemke
Professor (Adjunct, 2009-2010)
Educational Studies
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Visiting Scholar
Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition
University of California -- San Diego
La Jolla, CA
USA 92093

On Apr 3, 2010, at 8:04 PM, David Kellogg wrote:

> Jay has brought this thread full circle. Hundreds of years ago, (well,hundreds of hours anyway) the subject line started off with my critical appreciation of precisely this article. I said I thought that it had THREE great advantages (by no means to be despised or lost in the consideration of its ONE disadvantage). And I thought the disadvantage was that there was a tendency to confuse the sociocultural with the interpersonal.
> This developed into a very lively discussion in which I personally learned an awful lot. I learned, for example, that most people interpret the subject line to say that in addition to the sociointeractional there is the CULTURAL, and that we have to keep that at least in the background when we are considering the sociointeractional. But of course Michael Levykh's article DOES do this (and even foregrounds it!), and so that wasn't really my criticism.
> I suppose it is partly MY fault, since I buried a lot of what I DID mean under obscure quotations from Moby Dick. But Larry has my position almost completely upside down when he says that I distrust the word emotion, and that 
> "As a person develops higher mental functions, character and attitudes are formed that support self-reflection and more reasoned and dispassionate activity in collaboration with others. It is this reasonableness which encourages shared mutual activity."
> Melville and I are trying on something a little different. It seems to us that for a very wide range of phenomena (e.g. hunger, death, and elaborate forms of sexuality) our emotions are social from the OUTSET--we learn about these things entirely second hand, often through literature, which is a social expression of emotion, or through shipboard life. 
> Now, that means to me that for a very wide range of very significant phenomena, it's really the "thinking with the spine" that is artificial and derivative, the nineteenth century rage of 
> Caliban not seeing his face in the mirror, as Wilde said. 
> It is often (and in a classroom almost always) inauthenticity of emotion which is original and genuine, because it is inauthenticity (social and not private emotion) which is shared and objective. I personally think that "authenticity" is grossly overrated (there is almost nothing so excruciatingly insincere as attempts at authenticity in the classroom).
> So it seems to me that Spinoza is right and Kant utterly demonstrably and terminally wrong. There is nothing so ethically POSITIVE and morally POWERFUL as a good strong emotion. True, this is only true of SOCIAL and SHARED emotion, emotions such as social justice and solidarity and scientific curiosity.
> But properly understood, precisely these emotions are the primal ones, because socially shared emotion does not grow out of private feelings; it is instead private feelings that are derived (rather painfully, in my case) from public ones. Guilt comes from shame, not the other way around.
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
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