Feeling together: can there be group emotion?
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 20:08 authored by Kelly Hamilton
We commonly attribute emotions to groups: we speak of the anger of minority groups, the fear felt by cities after a terror attack, and the joy of sport fans when their team is victorious. Yet at the same time, we think of emotions as subjective, personal experiences that only individuals can feel. Emotions are feelings, and we do not think of groups as entities that can feel. The tension between these two positions gives rise to the central questions investigated in this thesis: What is a group emotion? And who is the subject that experiences a group emotion? Philosophers of emotion are sceptical about group emotion, and pose what I term the Sceptical Challenge. Traditional philosophical accounts of emotion, whether cognitive or non-cognitive, hold that emotions are individual experiences. Sceptics assert that a group emotion refers to the individual emotions felt by group members. The challenge is to establish that a group emotion is a phenomenon that is distinct from individual emotion, and is not reducible to individual emotion. In developing a response to this challenge, I draw on empirical findings in social psychology, which establish that individuals feel different emotions when thinking of themselves as members of different groups. I also discuss and draw on the significant contributions from several existing philosophical accounts of collective emotion. Margaret Gilbert develops her account of collective intentionality to argue that groups place normative constraints on their members, thereby committing them to a collective emotion. Hans Bernhard Schmid focuses on the phenomenology of emotion, arguing that group members experience themselves and their emotions as fused with other group members. Edith Stein, Dan Zahavi, and Thomas Szanto argue that the empathic intersubjective relations between individuals allow them to adopt a shared perspective and share an emotion. I bring these accounts together, to argue that groups can adopt a shared perspective on the world. When their members are in proximity with one another, they mutually influence one another through the process of emotional contagion and with normative pressure to respond in the same way to a particular situation. When group members gather together, they can co-constitute a shared perspective and share an emotion as a unified body. This is a group emotion that is not reducible to individual emotion, and which meets the Sceptical Challenge.