Feeling Reasons
: How emotions explain action

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


There is a growing body of literature across disciplines emphasising the way in
which emotions are not straightforwardly opposed to reason, as was once typically supposed. In particular, it is often argued that emotions give us evaluative information about the world around us and that they are crucial for the good-functioning of our rational decision-making capacities. Despite this enhanced understanding of the functional role of emotions, however, the extent to which it has implications for our conception of rational agency has yet to be comprehensively addressed. This thesis fills some of that gap.
Part of our conception of ourselves as rational agents is that we guide our actions by reasons, and part of our conception of rational action is that it is action done in light of reasons. In this thesis, I examine what implications an enhanced understanding of emotion has on our conception of rational agency and argue that we can act rationally when acting on the basis of an emotional experience. By examining our concept of ‘emotion’ and how we explain action via emotion, I argue for four main claims. First, by looking at the role of emotions in explanations of action, I argue that there is conceptual space for emotions to be involved in rational action.
Second, I argue that emotions provide access to reasons which could be the reasons in light of which an agent acts and, third, the agent can indeed act in light of them and guide her action when acting on the basis of an emotional experience. Finally, I argue that such action is reasonable, understood as being subjectively rational. My arguments contribute towards a robust conception of rational agency, one which acknowledges our emotional nature and which is able to incorporate emotions into an account of how we do indeed act in many of the cases when we act rationally.
Date of Award2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorMaria Alvarez (Supervisor) & Bill Brewer (Supervisor)

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