Hello my name is Aureja, thats pronounced o-ray-ya not orayja, orayua or aurora, as many assume. Well, they guess, but fail. Anyway, how are you? That’s probably my question since I’m not good at forming questions on the spot. How do you feel? How do you know exactly what that feeling is? Yes we title for emotions like joy and sadness, but how do we know our joy is the same to someone else’s joy? How did people explain those feelings when agreeing on what to call it? Are there emotions we have yet to discover? How would we know that it is indeed an emotion with no title instead of just a variation of something already existing? I don’t know if that makes any sense but hey, I tried. Thank you for reading, I hope it was legible.

Philosopher's reply

Dear Aureja,

Thank you so much for your questions about emotions.

I don’t think we’ll ever know whether someone else’s joy feels exactly like our own. We just infer that another person is feeling joy when he or she flings out her arms and smiles up at the sky, or laughs and dances a jig, or does any one of the many other things that we interpret as joyful behaviour. Whatever generally moves someone to do those things is that person’s feeling of joy, whether or not it feels like ours.

But it turns out that “joyful behaviour” is not the same in every culture: different cultures have different ways of expressing emotion. (After all, some cultures don’t dance jigs.) So how do we know which behaviour is “joyful” behaviour in another culture? We’ll have to look at how they behave in situations that typically elicit joy – say, the birth of their first child, or winning the lottery.

Then again, different cultures regard different situations as occasions for joy. (Maybe the birth of a boy is an occasion for disappointment.)

All of these questions are about what philosophers call “radical interpretation” – the difficulty of reading other people’s minds.

Will we discover new emotions? Well, the Ancient Romans had no name for Schadenfreude; the Danish speak of hygge, which can’t be precisely translated into English; in Papua New Guinea, the word awumbuk refers to the feeling of emptiness in a room after visitors depart. Were these emotions discovered? I’d be inclined to say that they were invented.

Best wishes, David Velleman

Philosopher's profile

David Velleman

New York University, USA

Murdoch's reflections on love as "an exercise of justice and realism and *really looking*" have been essential to my writing on "love as a moral emotion".

How would you answer this question?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *