An Enactive Theory of Emotion

Aaron Kagan, Fordham University


This dissertation examines of the role of the body in emotional experience. I argue that in the full story of emotions, one must recognize several key notions: passive elements such as physiological responses, active elements such as action or behavioral tokens, cognitive elements such as judgments, and others. I examine these features and the capability of different emotion theories to successfully preserve them. Theories currently on offer fail to capture one or more of these features. Given the failure of those theories when construed as targeting whole emotion episodes, I aim to carve out a unified and theoretically fruitful delineation of emotion in such a way as to capture all these features. This motivates the search for a new theory. I turn to perception to help guide emotion theory since perception has similar features. While modeling emotion on perception is promising, the ‘perceptualist’ emotion theories that do so are still unable to adequately account for the above features. I therefore look toward a theory of perception that can successfully avoid these pitfalls, namely, one that relies heavily on the active and embodied nature of perception—i.e., enactive perception. Given enactive theory’s ability to accommodate the features, I then proceed to develop an account of emotion based on enactive theory—constructing an enactive perceptual account of emotion. Lastly, I revisit the key features and go on to answer objections that might be raised against my view.

Subject Area

Philosophy|Cognitive psychology

Recommended Citation

Kagan, Aaron, "An Enactive Theory of Emotion" (2017). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10272602.