de Sousa - what I know about emotions

de Sousa — what I know about emotions

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What is now increasingly clear is that despite their reputation for motivating bad behaviour, emotions are essentially implicated in our capacity to live a coherent and reasonably well-regulated life: unless you care, your life will be a mess; and whether or not you care is surprisingly neatly attested by your galvanic skin response (de Sousa 1987; Damasio 1994).

The role of emotions in learning, memory and recognition provides a good example. It is well known that memory best retains (or perhaps retains only) what is emotionally significant. (There may have been something pedagogically sound, if in other ways deplorable, in old-fashioned methods of instruction based on blows, humiliation and ridicule.)

Yet emotions are, in the end, inevitably the ultimate arbiters of all value including ethical value. At the meta-ethical level, this hegemony of emotion justifies the Wildean adage that ethics is a branch of aesthetics, but it could equally well be formulated by saying that ethics cannot exclude aesthetics from the scope of its vision.