When grief ends and anger persists. On the temporality of emotions

CFS Lecture by Eva Weber-Guskar, Professor of Philosophy, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany.


When one experiences a big loss, grief takes over. But in most cases, after some time, grief diminishes or even fades away - although the reason for it, for example, the death of a dear person, stays the same. How is this to be explained? Of course, there are pragmatic advantages to having negative emotions end, but when considering theories of the fittingness of emotions, which tie emotions to reasons, this phenomenon needs to be better understood. There are two prominent suggestions in this debate: The first one is that emotions like grief and anger end because circumstances in the world change in a way that the original, persisting object of the emotion has a different context and therefore gets modified. The second is that there are typical forms of the temporal development of emotions including their fading out (which is for grief much slower than for anger, for example). I want to put forward further suggestions: Emotions are always temporally situated reactions. This means that the intentional reference to its object cannot be conceptualized in the same a-temporal way as it is apt for other reason-sensitive states as beliefs. Also, as embodied aspects of persons, they are constantly changing together with the bodily and mental biographical changes of that person.