The Ascent of AffectGenealogy and Critique

The Ascent of AffectGenealogy and Critique

Ruth Leys

Print publication date: 2018

ISBN: 9780226488424

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


This book analyzes the conflicting paradigms and interpretations that have governed the study of the emotions from the 1960s to the present. It seems obvious to the majority of today's researchers and commentators that the affects, defined as a limited set of phylogenetically old, indeed universal "basic emotions," are inherently independent of cognition or meaning. They are not "about" objects in the world but rather are reflex-like discharges of "affect programs located subcortically in the brain. Such a claim has underwritten hundreds of experiments and research papers, as well as arguments to the effect that under the right conditions our emotions tend to leak out in the form of characteristic involuntary facial movements. The body does not lie. But what if those claims are erroneous? What if emotional states and actions cannot be segregated experimentally into six or seven "basic emotions" with distinct facial expressions? What if, on the contrary, emotions are meaningful, intentional states that are intrinsically conceptual and cognitive in nature? In short, how sound is the evidence for the existence of the basic emotions and what are the stakes involved in alternative accounts of affective behavior? The Ascent of Affect: Genealogy and Critique examines this experimental and interpretive conflict for the light it throws on some of the most fundamental issues not only in the cognitive and neurosciences but also the humanities and social sciences today.