Moral Emotions: Reclaiming the Evidence of the Heart

Moral Emotions: Reclaiming the Evidence of the Heart

by Anthony J. Steinbock


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Moral Emotions: Reclaiming the Evidence of the Heart by Anthony J. Steinbock

Winner, 2015 CSCP Symposium Book Award

Moral Emotions builds upon the philosophical theory of persons begun in Phenomenology and Mysticism and marks a new stage of phenomenology. Author Anthony J. Steinbock finds personhood analyzing key emotions, called moral emotions. Moral Emotions offers a systematic account of the moral emotions, described here as pride, shame, and guilt as emotions of self-givenness; repentance, hope, and despair as emotions of possibility; and trusting, loving, and humility as emotions of otherness.
The author argues these reveal basic structures of interpersonal experience. By exhibiting their own kind of cognition and evidence, the moral emotions not only help to clarify the meaning of person, they reveal novel concepts of freedom, critique, and normativity. As such, they are able to engage our contemporary social imaginaries at the impasse of modernity and postmodernity.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780810129559
Publisher: Northwestern University Press
Publication date: 03/31/2014
Pages: 354
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

ANTHONY J. STEINBOCK is a professor of philosophy and the director of the Phenomenology Research Center at Southern Illinois University. He is the editor of Northwestern University Press’s Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy series and the editor in chief of Continental Philosophy Review; his previous books include Phenomenology and Mysticism: The Verticality of Religious Experience (2007) and Home and Beyond: Generative Phenomenology After Husserl (Northwestern, 1995).

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Reclaiming the Evidence of the Heart

By Anthony J. Steinbock

Northwestern University Press

Copyright © 2014 Northwestern University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8101-2955-9



As with all the emotions treated here, pride, like shame, guilt, hope, trust, and so on, can be approached within more limited strictures. For example, it can be treated either sociologically, psychoanalytically, neurologically, or anthropologically. This is justified because trust, for example, does arise as a sociological phenomenon, guilt as a psychoanalytic one, and so forth. But we would miss the import of these experiences if we limited them to these levels and did not consider them within the full context of the human person. This means that it would be misleading to detach the sociological or the psychological meanings, for instance, from the encompassing framework of the person in which they emerge. This framework of the person is comprehensive of what we call "spirit," and this is why the broader context of these emotions needs not only to take into account the sphere of the moral and the divine, but also to be attentive to how the former are situated in relation to the latter. Because the emotions appear in these spheres, they are susceptible to description, and it would be incumbent upon a more restrictive reading (say, that wants to treat the emotions only in a psychological perspective) to prove otherwise.

I begin with the experience of pride as a moral emotion for several reasons. First, pride gives us an important starting point because it can be qualified as a moral subjective attitude: I am given to myself, but in a way that is not self-revelatory, precisely in a dissembled manner. Second, although it seems counterintuitive, pride as a subjective self-oriented act is essentially an interpersonal experience; pride concerns how we are given to ourselves in relation to others. Third, there are genuine basic experiences that are elaborated in pride; while they are peculiar kinds of self-givenness, they are not sufficient "to cause" pride, and this points to the creative, initiatory, "personal" dimension of pride. The emergence of pride raises the question concerning how pride not only is a moral experience (as the resistance to others through the insistence of self), but how it emerges as a moral experience, and further, what creative responses can call pride into question. Finally, pride is not just one emotional experience among others, but a real creative turning point in the meaning of human person such that other emotional experiences of self-givenness such as shame and guilt can function in their style of self-critique as original challenges to pride. These considerations also point this investigation to privileged experiential modes of self-givenness treated in the following two chapters, namely, on shame and guilt.

In this chapter, I begin by investigating pride as an interpersonal experience (1) and then examine the basic experiences that are creatively elaborated in pride (2). After characterizing pride as a moral subjective attitude by describing the peculiar self-givenness involved here (3), I describe pride as non-self-revelatory and entertain the possibility of a "moral reduction" (4). The issues of pride being called into question, and pride as non-self-revelatory, provoke a discussion of how pride is self-dissembling and actually self-limiting (5). As this negative or restrictive movement, pride is founded in the positive movement of genuine self-love (6). These determinations allow pride to be distinguished from phenomena often conflated with pride, like being proud of, boasting, and self-confidence (7). This serves as the transition to the experience of shame as a moral self-revelatory emotion.

Pride as an Interpersonal Experience and as a Moral Emotion

Insofar as pride entails an exclusion of otherness (in ways I will explore below), pride can be understood as a closing down or narrowing movement in and through a peculiar assertion of the self. The contention that pride is essentially an interpersonal experience, namely, that it has an interpersonal basis, and that it unfolds only in an interpersonal nexus, might sound contradictory at first because pride is usually thought to devolve upon the self. Pride, therefore, is a peculiar starting point because pride, in which the self is self-given, always already occurs within the context of others. Thus, the self as given in pride is not really a self-sufficient point of departure. Pride is interpersonal because it presupposes an implicit movement toward others, and includes others only by resisting them in the constitution of who I am through the vaulting self-valuation. Thus pride is a twofold movement. It is both (1) a subjective self-movement, as (2) a resistance to others. This twofold movement is what gives to pride both what we might call its "truth-character" (see the "basic experiences" below) as well its "dissembling-character."

Due to this dissembling character, pride is not self-revelatory, even though it may strike us as such due to the peculiar focus that we have on ourselves in pride. For example, I can be conceited about my accomplishments without—hypothetically—the intervention of others in any way. Yet in order for such an experience to be pride, this conceit would have to be constituted in and through the positing of and resistance to others in the same movement. I do not have to resist others actively in order to live in the movement of pride. It is sufficient to fixate on the basic experiences (that I detail below) to such a qualitative extent that it winds up being a resistance to others in my very presupposition of these others and their contributions. So, rather than pride being the putative happy confluence of excitement or joy and personal efficacy in a reciprocal relation with shame, pride is simultaneously the insistence on the self as the denial of shared meaning, and hence the resistance to the interpersonal nexus. In this way, pride "blinds" me to others in the sense that I do not see them, and in the sense that I presuppose them, while nevertheless refusing their contributions. In pride, I take myself as sovereign.

Placing myself as the constitutive source or as the highest constitutive source, I admit no significant contribution of sense from the outside; but in pride I do so as excluding the others which I presuppose in this exclusion. This is why if pride is to have sense, it must occur within an interpersonal nexus. A complete reduction to myself as the point-zero of meaning-constitution actually begs the question, since it begins with an abstraction from others from the very start. I would have already withdrawn from the interpersonal context from the very beginning in order to see how others get their meaning from me. If I were to take this abstraction as an isolated meaning-giver as my starting point, I could never have access to the experience of pride.

For example, it is possible to identify as prideful the individual who takes all or the major credit in a group project; pride is evident in someone who wants to be called out as special in front of others, to be recognized, say, as the better or best painter deserving special recognition among his peers; we can see the movement of pride, for example, in patriarchy when men capitalize on women's contributions, taking credit for the accomplishments in their name, thereby including them through their exclusion, materially-reproductively and spiritually-emotionally. One can discern pride in cultural accomplishments that we take to be our own through the labor of others; I would go so far as to say that even though there are other meanings surrounding this as well, the attribution of the invention of the cotton gin to Eli Whitney in the place of the real designer, Katherine Littlefield Greene, is expressive of pride. One can also detect the movement of pride in what Agamben has characterized as bio-political sovereignty (as we will see below in chapter 2), where others are included precisely through their exclusion; we can see pride operative in making others in our own image (which is another way of expressing self-assertion as resistance to others); and the movement of pride is expressed in the myth of the "self-made man," as the person who is self-grounding; and precisely because he made it (ostensibly all himself)—which is expressive of this self-grounding character—he takes himself as deserving the gain, in whatever form. Even narcissism can be seen as an expression of pride, and not the reverse. While not exclusive, all of these can be interpreted as examples of pride because they share this basic movement of self-insistence and presupposition of others through their exclusion.

Whereas smugness might be an artful expression of pride, I could be conceited without any interpersonal nexus, but I could not be prideful. A Nietzschean overman, for instance, could never be accused of pride. Statements like: "Well, that's all because of me; it's just the truth," could register a mere statement of fact; it might be a mistaken assumption; it could be an overestimation; it might be an expression of my conscience; it could be an entirely different phenomenon, like sheer meaning-giving, but it would not be pride. The fact that Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice expects to be regarded in certain ways, to keep a certain company, and holds himself to a high standard that he may not hold others to is not necessarily pride in our sense because it can exist within the sphere of solitude—though this sense has fallen for us colloquially under the rubric of "pride." It is more accurately self-esteem, moral superiority at best, or arrogance, as we will see below. For example, I can be selfish in my acquisition of toys (I want them all for myself, I don't want to share), or I can be self-centered in a conversation at a party (I want all the attention); but in order for this to be lived as pride, this experience has to be accompanied by an "I deserve it" in the face of others.

Accordingly, pride is not simply the epistemic non-recognition of others, not simply self-esteem or vanity. For in vanity, I implicitly give myself over to the opinions of others, adopting the judgments from those very others I seek to surpass by being showy or showing off how good I am. But pride is the refusal of or resistance to the contributions of meaning by others to my very self and to the world—contributions among which I implicitly or explicitly live. This is why pride can also take the form of refusing help or receiving instruction from others ("I can do it on my own," "I don't need anyone to teach me how to swim"), as well as assuming the contributions of others as my own, and in this sense, refusing the contribution of others.

Descartes understands such a resistance to the contribution of others as one of the defining characteristics of pride (l'orgueil). For example, Descartes describes pride in distinction to true generosity: whereas generosity proceeds from the will to make good use of our free will, holding nothing more important than doing good for others and disdaining individual interests, pride arises when "glory [gloire] is regarded as nothing but usurpation," when gifts are used to depreciate all others such that the more glory/ gifts I ascribe to myself, the more prideful I become. This would be the justification for calling pride "vainglory" as does Hobbes, and of Rousseau placing pride (l'orgueil) among the spirit of domination.

Pride therefore is never innocent. In epistemic terms, we might be tempted to say that it is a second-order denial of what I know on the first order. Still, we want to be careful about how we portray pride merely in terms of knowledge, because pride is not situated on an epistemic continuum (as more or less belief, recognition, or awareness, say). Pride is a moral emotion, belonging to a moral dimension of experience, because it is a resistance to others and to their contributions to shared meaning in and through asserting myself as the only or the highest source of meaning. I am given to myself in pride as self-grounding. It is no coincidence that the bodily posture attributed to pride, even as a synonym for pride, is not just being puffed-up, but being "stiff-necked"—unable to turn to or recognize others; and it is also telling that someone like Dante could speak of pride in terms of the "proud neck," and that the metaphors associated with entering the first level of purgatory to overcome pride are portrayed as a suppleness of bowing one's head.

Having suggested that pride is morally problematic, it would be simplistic to rebuke the experience of pride as if it arose from nowhere, as if it were simply some wild or random design that the ego invents, something that had no impetus or spur. Even though pride is understood to be an ultimately negative moral emotion because of its resistance to otherness—by claiming the contributions of others as my own or refusing the contribution of others—we do find that there are fundamental experiences that function as "lures" for pride given within experience itself. Specifically, there are at least five such basic experiences, two that arise on the level of the person as such, three that can be found pertaining to the aesthetic dimension of our lives.

Basic Experiences as Lures for Pride

This fundamental context within which pride emerges is a positive orientation toward others, ultimately a creative openness toward another as loving (and trusting, sympathy, etc.). The orientation of pride can be seen as a negative one, not because it is deemed good or bad, but because it narrows in a qualitative sense rather than opens to the interpersonal sphere that it presupposes. It is itself a creative turning that fixes on what we can call "basic experiences," and, retrospectively, "lures." Pride emerges within a basic interpersonal nexus, and this interpersonal nexus is evinced by the very experience of pride itself.

Pride emerges in the interpersonal nexus by means of "basic experiences" constituted in the movement of pride as lures for pride. By "basic experiences" I mean those fundamental features of being a person or an embodied being, ways of being that we find "given" and that can be taken for granted. I discuss these basic experiences below, each in their turn. In and of themselves there is nothing wrong with them; in and of themselves, they are fundamental experiences of ourselves.

These basic experiences can take on meaning retroactively as "lures for pride" when they are viewed after the fact and within the very movement of pride. By "lure," then, I do not mean a motivation or cause that preexists pride and then provokes pride, but rather that "condition" that is fixed upon (such that the basic experience in question becomes a non-relational relation). Viewed within the circuit of pride, within a pride already accomplished, the basic experiences become constituted as contributing to this experience. But the fact that we can identify such conditions or lures does not mitigate the fact that pride emerges as another creative, personal way of being with others. Indeed, it is a spontaneous, expressive mode of experiencing that differentiates itself from other experiences, having a phenomenologically identifiable unique structure. We must accordingly identify the structure of pride guided by these basic experiences that serve as conditions or lures.

On the one hand, pride is not arbitrary, because it draws on elements that arise within experience and that become precisely lures in the direction of pride from the standpoint of pride. These are what I characterize as personal and aesthetic basic experiences. In a general sense, pride works from the inherent value of ourselves, as we are given to ourselves in specific ways. As such, they harbor something "true" or "affirmative" in the movement. These basic experiences are not nothing or insignificant. Yet, this affirmative moment of them (that can be taken up in humility—see chapter 7) should be conflated neither with the positive valence that accompanies any act of pride, nor with pride's negative moral tenor. Whereas shame has a negative valence, as we will see, but can be positive (as self-critique when it is not a matter of debilitating shame), pride is always given with a positive valence, but is morally negative. This is not because it is "bad" according to prescribed norms, but due to its contraction of the field of interpersonal experience in favor of self-salience. Further, even though these experiences can be described and articulated conceptually as basic experiences, they are not first thought and then applied.

On the other hand, to say that pride is non-arbitrary because there are basic experiences does not mean that they are causes, justifications, or rational necessities that have to lead to pride; they are not "potentialities" for pride prior to the pride-experience. Given the basic positive orientation of the person as immediately and directly interpersonal; given that these basic experiences do not cause pride or are not reducible to pride; given that pride as a moral emotion is not an affect, not merely a psychological disorder, not an impulse or a product of practical intelligence, how is it possible for pride to arise as an ultimately negative moral emotion? For there is nothing in these genuine human experiences that says we must fixate on them such that "I" take myself so seriously (as self-important, as grandiose, etc.) that I include others only excluding their sense, worth, or in general, their contributions. Pride is not a compulsory experience, but a creative, free emergence that works from these basic experiences, and that are taken up into the current of pride. Let me now turn to explicating these basic experiences.


Excerpted from MORAL EMOTIONS by Anthony J. Steinbock. Copyright © 2014 Northwestern University Press. Excerpted by permission of Northwestern University Press.
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Table of Contents


Acknowledgments, xi,
Introduction: The Distinctiveness of Moral Emotions, 3,
Part 1. Moral Emotions of Self-Givenness,
1 Pride, 31,
2 Shame, 67,
3 Guilt, 100,
Part 2. Moral Emotions of Possibility,
4 Repentance, 137,
5 Hope and Despair, 160,
Part 3. Moral Emotions of Otherness,
6 Trust, 197,
7 Loving and Humility, 223,
Conclusion: Moral Emotions, the Person, and the Social Imaginary, 261,
Notes, 279,
Bibliography, 319,
Index, 333,

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