Philosophy major Brian Kim ’21 embarked on a research project this summer, supervised by Professor Sara Protasi, to explore the rationality of anger. (For more information on Summer Research Grants in Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, look here!) Here is Brian’s own description of the project:
My summer research project is focused on answering what seems like a relatively unassuming question: Is anger irrational? Separate from acting angry, or demonstrating one’s anger, the question is asking whether or not having anger is irrational. This isn’t a relatively new question to answer, rather it’s one that continues to escape consensus. When expanding out to literature on anger, I found a disparity in terms of a consistent definition on anger. Then, when looking to differences in the philosophical and empirical work, an even bigger problem arose: what is an emotion? A lack of consensus not only within disciplines, but between them on what emotions are adds another layer of depth. So in order to ask my primary question of “is anger irrational”, I had to answer “what is an emotion” and “what is anger” in that order to have a consistent answer.
To build my model of emotions, I use Heidegger’s Being and Time and his literature on moods as foundation. I chose Heidegger specifically because his work priorities an experiential viewpoint, something that is lacking in much of the literature. Empirical literature reveals anger and emotions to be understood by its physiological effects, in a sense by its outcomes. Philosophical works captured the opposite end of the spectrum, and instead craft anger through cognitive interpretation. While neither field ignores what it does not primarily focuses on, it’s often the case that certain elements of emotions are prioritized within disciplines. The experiential view that Heidegger offers a way to talk about emotions in terms of phenomena rather than physiological or cognitive responses. I do this by constructing further from his work on moods. It’s rather surprising, but very little is said about emotions in Being and Time. Heidegger elaborates extensively on moods and their relation to Being, but does not go further in separating out moods from emotions. My model is, in a sense, a possible interpretation of what an emotion is under a Heideggerian framework. This is, of course, just the outlines of a sketch, but even the scaffolding of my model revealed our emotions simultaneously in a new light and yet also in a familiar and intuitive way.
This project was deeply inspired by Professor Sara Protasi’s Philosophy of Emotions course that I took in Spring of 2020. I found, in doing research for the class, a niche of literature surrounding emotions, cognition, and continental philosophers ranging from Husserl to Sartre. I found myself particularly fascinated by this area and developed and grew that ideas I had about them into the research paper I completed this summer. While I found myself constantly revising and updating my theory, it was a really enlightening experience to struggle with such a broad and messy topic.
Studying emotions during quarantine was both an intensely positive and revealing experience, but also a particularly difficult and, often, frustrating one. I am incredibly thankful for the guidance and direction from Professor Protasi for not only for being my academic advisor for the project, but also for supporting me during the application process. I’m excited to see how my idea on the issue will grow as I continue to reflect as a learner.
You can hear more about Brian’s research, as well as other summer research by students in the philosophy department’s orbit, at Summer Quest: A Celebration of Student Research, Scholarship and Creative Work, on September 10, 2020 from 4-6pm PDT!