Proposal: A Philosophy of Human Facial Expression 

This thesis contributes to the study of human facial expression. It is situated between the philosophical psychology of Wittgenstein (1980a; 1980b; 1982; 1992), and the paradigm shift underway in the study of the human face from the “psychology of facial expression” to the “semantics of facial expression” (Wierzbicka, 1999, 2000). In accord with Wittgenstein and his inquiry into meanings and the meaningful, we investigate the difference between communicating a meaning and being meaningful, and show with examples that among the ways in which facial expression can be meaningful, some meanings are directly mediated by language, and some are not.

Two questions frame our investigation: 

(1) Are facial expressions meaningful without our necessarily being able to say in words what it is that is communicated?

(2) What facial expressions communicate meanings that have verbal equivalents? 

Some of the words whereby we mediate facial meanings are expressive; some are mimetic; some are formally descriptive in various ways. People may express faces of fear, anger or contempt. They may express faces fearfully, angrily, or contemptuously, in ways full of feeling to which neither the subjects nor observers put words, and for which conceivably they have no words to put if they would; but they also express faces that say ‘fear’, ‘anger’ or ‘contempt’ to those who have these concepts, and who put their feelings into them as if they were boxes (Wittgenstein, 1958, §166). The foregoing disclose two further tasks which we question: 

(3) Is language too crude to mediate all facial meanings?

(4) Is the recognition of facial expressions an experience of feeling?

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