Some uses of first-person present tense psychological sentences may be characterized as avowals. Negatively, this means that they are not descriptions of mental states mirrored automatically in the face. Positively, avowals are expressive in the way in which human facial expression manifests emotion, mood or feeling. They are partial substitutes for facial expressions of the mental, such as smiles or frowns, and used in their place. The function of avowals is logically akin to non-verbal facial manifestations. In fact, the uses of first-person psychological sentences form a range of cases.
Descriptions of facial expressions
We find it natural to distinguish between the physical world containing tangible objects, including human bodies, and the human mind, a private world hidden behind our behavior. And we think that each person has a privileged access to his own mind, while our access to the minds of others is indirect, based on observation of their behavior, and uncertain.
This dualism is represented in the paradigm of facial expressions as automatic readouts of ‘basic emotions’ (anger, sadness, happiness, surprise, disgust, fear). On this view, facial expressions ‘mirror’ human emotion. Since the criteria for a basic emotion are to be found in human facial expression, we know the emotional state of someone by perceiving his face: we observe the facial behavior that is within our field of vision and portray it in words, reading the description off the facts.
There is room here for perceptual competence and observational conditions:
– Descriptions may be refined on closer observation
– We may consult other people about what we describe
– Specialist knowledge or expertise may help
– We may make mistakes and correct them
It appears that the inner, emotional world is likewise perceived: we read off a description, e.g. ‘I am angry’ by introspective scrutiny of the facts, which may involve being aware of feelings of joy, or finding out anger from my facial reactions, or describing the course of my embarrassment as it plays out on my face. We think of ourselves as reporting events in our psychological world by introspection, which we then represent in words for the benefit of others in descriptions.
Avowals of facial expressions
Used spontaneously in a suitable context, first-person psychological utterances of basic emotions such as ‘I am angry’ or ‘I am disgusted’ are expressions of emotion, and are comparable to shudders or cries than to descriptions. They no more rest on ‘introspective evidence’ than does a shudder or scream of joy. I do not perceive my state: I avow it.
The model of ‘basic emotions’ tempts us in the case of facial expressions to say ‘I know that he is angry because I see his facial behavior, and I know I am angry because I feel it’. But to feel anger is just to be angry. Consequently, it is senseless to ask, ‘How do you know that you are angry?’
Avowals of basic emotions are learnt extensions of behavior, primarily facial behavior, and are partial replacements for smiles, frowns or shudders. They are forms of behavior: emotion-words are connected with facial expressions and used in their place. Like facial expressions, an avowal of a basic emotion is a criterion for others to assert ‘He is angry’.
Emotion is not identical with emotion-behavior. To shudder is not to say ‘I shudder’, and to shriek ‘I am angry’ is not to say ‘I am manifesting anger-facial behavior’. It is an essential that someone can be in an emotional state and not show it, and so too one can be angry and not shout ‘I am furious!’
The concepts of truth and falsehood are generally out of place here, and the more avowals approximate to exclamations, the less room there is for evaluating them as sincere or insincere; for this gets a firmer grip in relation to confessing one’s facial expression or emotional state.
Psychological utterances form a range of cases
Exclamations – Avowals – Confessions – Reports – Descriptions