The aim of this paper is to extract from Kant’s various writings an account of the nature of the emotions and their function – and to do so despite the fact that Kant himself neither uses the term ‘emotion’ nor offers a unified treatment of it. Kant’s position, as I interpret it, challenges the contemporary trends that define emotions in terms of other mental states and defines them instead first and foremost as feelings. Although Kant’s account of the faculty of feeling has not attracted much attention, I argue that it plays the crucial role of producing mental states that function as appraisals of the way our faculties relate to each other and to the world. Insofar as feelings play a crucial orientational role in the general economy of the mind, they are indispensable for beings who act and need to make sense of the world and of themselves in order to act. After spelling out Kant’s distinction between feeling and desire (§1), I show that feelings are not only non-cognitive, they play no cognitive function (§2). Despite being non-cognitive, however, I argue that they have a form of aboutness – what I will call “quasi-intentionality”. §3 argues that they manifest our relation to the world and to ourselves insofar as they function as appraisals of our condition as agents. §4 discusses the examples of epistemic pleasure and moral contentment and shows that their roles consist in manifesting the conditions of cognitive and moral agency respectively.
Post-Kantian European Philosophy Seminar Convenors: Dr Joseph Schear, Dr Manuel Dries, and Prof Mark Wrathall