Document Type



Master of Arts



Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Stephanie A. Ross, Professor of Philosophy


Berit Brogaard, PhD

Jon McGinnis, PhD


The purpose of this paper is to show that the shape of the dispute over a central issue in the philosophy of emotion—namely, the disagreement over the role of cognition in emotion—provides a useful way of seeing the twin aesthetic paradoxes of horror and tragedy. Recent theories of emotion can be helpfully divided into two camps, the affective and the cognitive. Affective theories hold that emotions consist of bodily affect alone, and are therefore cognitively impenetrable. Cognitive theories hold that emotions are or entail cognition. To discuss the differences between affective and cognitive views, I consider the theories of Jesse Prinz, a committed non-cognitivist, and Martha Nussbaum, perhaps the most cognitive of the cognitive theorists. Though their theories diverge, both Prinz and Nussbaum think of emotions as appraisals. The phenomenal properties of the instances of emotion that Prinz and Nussbaum, respectively, take as paradigm cases are notably distinct. But, because they think of appraisal as the underlying structure of emotion, they are describing phenomena of the same kind. This commonality warrants a distinction between different instances of emotion, which is what I propose. I call simple those instances of emotion best described by affective theories. Simple instances are automatic, embodied responses to environmental stimuli, such as proximate fear. I call complex those instances of emotion best described by cognitive theories. Complex instances of emotion are long-lasting, cognitively rich responses often prompted by mental stimuli, such as grief. By considering some medium-specific qualities of film and theatre, the primary (though not exclusive) media of the genres of horror and tragedy respectively, I show that the emotions elicited by horror are primarily simple and the emotions elicited by tragedy are primarily complex. Having made this distinction, I turn my attention to solving the paradoxes of horror and tragedy, both of which ask why we would willingly submit ourselves to works of art designed to elicit negative emotions. Following recent work in developmental psychology, I argue that experience with emotions aroused by fictions fosters flexibility with our emotions in real life.