UCL Philosophy


Rowson: Expressions of emotion as perceptual media

13 June 2023

Rebecca Rowson: Expressions of emotion as perceptual media (2023), Synthese

Expressions of emotion pose a serious challenge to the view that we perceive other people’s emotions directly. If we must perceive expressions in order to perceive emotions, then it is only ever the expressions that we are directly aware of, not emotions themselves. This paper develops a new response to this challenge by drawing an analogy between expressions of emotion and perceptual media. It is through illumination and sound, the paradigmatic examples of perceptual media, that we can see and hear objects around us. Instead of screening these objects from view, however, they enable our perception while being transparent to us. With reference to perceptual constancy and transparency, I show how expressions show up in our experience of emotions in a surprisingly similar way. Given this, we can understand expressions as the media through which we perceive emotions and overcome the above challenge to an otherwise attractive view.