Classifying emotion: a developmental account

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Synthese DOI 10.1007/s11229-006-9149-2 O R I G I NA L PA P E R

Classifying emotion: a developmental account
Alexandra Zinck · Albert Newen

Received: 29 August 2006 / Accepted: 14 November 2006 © Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Abstract The aim of this paper is to propose a systematic classification of emotions which can also characterize their nature. The first challenge weaddress is the submission of clear criteria for a theory of emotions that determine which mental phenomena are emotions and which are not. We suggest that emotions as a subclass of mental states are determined by their functional roles. The second and main challenge is the presentation of a classification and theory of emotions that can account for all existing varieties. We argue that we must classifyemotions according to four developmental stages: 1. pre-emotions as unfocussed expressive emotion states, 2. basic emotions, 3. primary cognitive emotions, and 4. secondary cognitive emotions. We suggest four types of basic emotions (fear, anger, joy and sadness) which are systematically differentiated into a diversity of more complex emotions during emotional development. The classificationdistinguishes between basic and non-basic emotions and our multi-factorial account considers cognitive, experiential, physiological and behavioral parameters as relevant for constituting an emotion. However, each emotion type is constituted by a typical pattern according to which some features may be more significant than others. Emotions differ strongly where these patterns of features are concerned,while their essential functional roles are the same. We argue that emotions form a unified ontological category that is coherent and can be well defined by their characteristic functional roles. Our account of emotions is supported by data from developmental psychology, neurobiology, evolutionary biology and sociology. Keywords Emotion · Mental phenomena · Development · Cognition

A. Zinck · A.Newen (B ) Philosophisches Seminar, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen, Bursagasse 1, Tuebingen 72070, Germany e-mail: A. Zinck e-mail:


1 Introduction: challenges and conditions for a theory of emotion Emotions are fundamental for human life. Nevertheless, in the current debate there are fundamental differences in thedefinition, conceptualization and ontology of emotions. There is little agreement not only on (1) which mental phenomena are emotions and (2) how to classify different types of emotions, but also (3) what the nature of emotions is. The aim of this paper is to propose a systematic classification which allows us also to characterize the nature of emotions. Emotions in the range of other mental phenomena:The first challenge for a theory of emotions must be to submit clear criteria that determine which mental phenomena are emotions and which are not. We will argue for a classification of mental phenomena that distinguishes emotions from not only the more basic mental phenomena such as perceptions, felt body-states and basic mental dispositions, but also more elaborated mental phenomena such ascognitive attitudes. Classifying varieties of emotion: The main challenge for a theory of emotions is to give a classification and theory of emotions that can account for central criteria of adequacy for any such theory. In our own account, we will introduce a classification of emotions according to developmental stages that distinguishes between basic and non-basic emotions, and that considers cognitiveas well as feeling parameters as relevant for defining the emotion patterns which individuate emotion types. Non-basic emotions can be characterized as essentially involving not only physiological and phenomenal but also behavioral and cognitive features while the latter are especially significant for the emotion pattern. The nature of emotion: Griffiths (1997) denies that there is a homologous...
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