Signs of Muses: Feeling, Emotion and Inference

It is commonly supposed that the theoretical approaches of Charles Sanders Peirce and William James are fundamentally opposed, however, we believe that especially in the case of the analysis of emotions they have deeply influenced each other. The main goal of the paper is to serve as an excursion both into Peirce’s sign theory which has a deep connection with his understanding of emotion and into James' behavioral theory of emotions. The paper aims to apply these theoretical findings to the field of the cognitive semiotic of music. Subsequently the paper touches upon the possible differences and similarities between the use of terms such as cognition, emotion and feeling among both authors in question, since there tend to be terminological inconsistencies which must be eliminated for a better chance at a concise interpretation of both theories in question. 

Firstly, this paper aims to explain Peirce's notions on the interconnection of general forms of inference with regards to his understanding of the origin and function of emotions and the categories of firstness, secondness and thirdness. This paper puts great emphasis on this aspect of Peirce's semiotic and subsequently outlines how emotions function in music according to Peirce. From his point of view, feelings and emotions are one of the essential components of cognition. However, they differ from immediate consciousness and rather resemble a lasting process, which is vital for the reception and general apprehension of art as such, especially with regard to music.

Secondly, although the theory of emotion presented by William James has been subjected to substantial criticism, we believe that it is crucial to be acquainted with this theory. His approach makes important remarks about the origin of emotions which has not been definitively explained to this day. In contrast to Peirce, James builds his approach on the hypothesis that the typical notion that emotions as mental states are followed by physical responses is wrong. On the contrary, while emotions might be intuitively perceived as the force which initiates our actions, it is actually the action or bodily expression – be it voluntary or involuntary – which precedes the emotion, hence the emotion is the consequence, not the cause of the present bodily change. This part aims to describe James' theory, according to which the sequence of the formation of emotions begins with an external stimulus generating an external behaviour. In the penultimate part of our paper, we also, above all else, draw attention to the main two categories of coarser and subtler emotions, which James distinguishes with regard to their nature and degree of apparent bodily response. The latter category has an important role to the aesthetic reception of art, which means that we are, once again, returning to the topic of music and art as such, which undoubtedly generates emotions and requires their presence for its purpose to be truly fulfilled.

Martin Švantner, Ph. D.

Charles University in Prague, Faculty of Humanities

assistant professor at Charles University in Prague. He studied political science, philosophy, semiotics and anthropology. His main interests are general semiotics, history of semiotics, theory of rhetoric, semiotics of music, contemporary social theory and the work of Ch. S. Peirce.

Linda Šagátová, B. A.

Charles University in Prague, Faculty of Humanities

studied philosophy and English philology at Palacký University in Olomouc, currently studies semiotics at the Department of Electronic Culture and Semiotics at Charles University in Prague. Her main interests are general semiotics, history of semiotics, philology, history of philosophy, and empiricism.

music theory