Imagining Emotions and Appreciating Fiction
SUSAN L. FEAGIN
The capacity of a work of fictional literature to elicit (some) emotional responses is part of what is valuable about it, and having (relevant) emotional responses is part of appreciating it. These claims are not very controversial; perhaps they are even common sense. But philosophy rushes in where common sense fears to tread, raising questions and looking for explanations.
Are the emotions we have in appreciating fictional works of art, what I call art emotions, of the same sort as those which occur in "real life"? Which emotions are appropriate to the work, and why: what justifies having one emotion rather that another? And why should we think emotionally responding to fiction is desirable, something that should be respected and encouraged, rather than looked at as a little weird or a waste of time?
These questions are given more urgency by the currently well-entrenched view that emotions involve beliefs. For example, fear involves the belief that what one is afraid of is dangerous, pride requires the belief that what one is proud of reflects well on oneself, and anger entails that one believes that there has been an injustice. 1 There will also be beliefs about what makes the situation dangerous, what qualities reflect well on oneself, and what makes something an injustice. These beliefs identify the object of the emotion and help explain why the emotion is a fitting one.
But when reading fiction, precisely because we know it is fiction and we are appreciating it as such, we do not have the relevant beliefs. When reading