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Enactive Emotion and Impaired Agency in Depression

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We propose an action-oriented understanding of emotion. Emotions are modifications of a basic form of goal-oriented striving characteristic of human life. They are appetitive orientations: pursuits of the good, avoidances of the bad. Thus, emotions are not truly distinct from, let alone opposed to, actions -- as erroneously suggested by the classical understanding of emotions as 'passions'. In the present paper, we will outline and defend this broadly enactive approach and motivate its main claims. Our proposal gains plausibility from a literature- and interview-based investigation of emotional changes characteristic of clinical depression. Much narrative evidence from patient reports points towards the conclusion that many of those changes might result from a catastrophic alteration of the basic form of goal-pursuit at the root of human emotionality. The experience of profound depression could in this respect be a kind of inverted image of non-pathological emotionality--a highly unnatural passivity, giving rise to a profound -- and quite horrifying -- sense of incapacity.

Keywords: Emotion; agency; depression; feeling; lived body; sense of ability

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Freie Universit├Ąt Berlin, Cluster of Excellence 'Languages of Emotion', Habelschwerdter Allee 45, D-14195 Berlin, Germany., Email:

Publication date: January 1, 2013

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