A new seminar in the History of Distributed Cognition series (Professor Giovanna Colombetti on ‘Emotions in the Body and the World’) is now available here.
Summary: In recent years the affective sciences, including the psychology and philosophy of emotion, have re-evaluated the role of the body in emotion; accordingly, I think it is fair to say that today it is uncontroversial for affective scientists to view emotions as centrally involving a variety of bodily changes. However, this was not always the case. Cognitive approaches to emotion in philosophy and psychology that were particularly influential in the 1960s and 1970s characterized the body as either merely a contingent concomitant of emotional states, or as contributing at most to the intensity of felt emotions. After briefly discussing this cognitive approach, I present more recent approaches and explain in which sense they involve a re-appreciation of the role of the body in emotion. Here I argue that, from an embodied-mind perspective, even if these more recent approaches regard the body as central and even necessary for emotion, they still assume a dichotomy between the cognitive and the bodily components of emotion. This dichotomy implies that cognition is itself not embodied, and that the body is itself unable to provide meaning. This division is reflected in so-called “componential models” of emotion popular in psychology, for example, as well as in some recent proposals, in philosophy, to reconcile somatic and feeling theories of emotion with cognitive theories of emotion. My own view is that the embodied-mind perspective ought to give up on this dichotomy of the body vs. cognition that is still influential in emotion theory and affective science. Instead, we should characterize the cognitive aspects of emotion as embodied, and the bodily aspects of emotion as cognitive. I say something in more detail about this view, and provide related references. Towards the end of the presentation I briefly list other issues that, in my opinion, are topical for an embodied approach to emotion. This includes referring to recent works that argue that emotions involve not just the body, but also parts of the world located beyond the skin—in other words that emotions are not just embodied but also extended.