Book Review

Doing Valuable Time by Cheshire Calhoun

Rick A. Furtak

Colorado College, USA


Furtak, Rick A. 2020. "Book Review: Doing Valuable Time by Cheshire Calhoun." Journal of Philosophy of Emotion 2, no. 1: 2020.8-4. https://doi.org/10.33497/2020.8.

Key words: care, identity, boredom, narrative, depression, time, value

Cheshire Calhoun, Doing Valuable Time: The Present, the Future, and Meaningful Living, vii + 185 pages (Oxford University Press, 2018), $74.00 hardcover.


Cheshire Calhoun's name is well known among those working in the philosophy of emotion, largely on the basis of two prominent essays: "Cognitive Emotions?" written for a collection she co-edited with Robert Solomon, and "Subjectivity and Emotion," which was originally published as a journal article and subsequently appeared in another book edited by Solomon.[1] In the former, Calhoun develops the notion of a "dark cognitive set" as the dispositional background that is relevant to emotional responses, and which includes tacit biases and unconsciously held intellectual attitudes which if articulated would not be endorsed by the moral agent. In the latter, she extends this focus on overall affective outlook—an episode of emotion must be true to a person's temperament and characteristic way of interpreting the world—while arguing that emotions need not be "subjective" in a pejorative sense. Each of these essays illustrates a distinct virtue of Calhoun's work, which is the ability to shed light on an issue by taking a unique angle of approach.

This virtue is evident in Doing Valuable Time, which analyzes such specific affective states as boredom, hope, interest, disappointment, and love, and has implications throughout for the philosophy of emotion. Although the book's title does not obviously indicate the degree to which it is continuous with Calhoun's other work about emotions, it plainly is. The claim that emotions are evaluative attitudes that track "distinctive patterns of salience" (79) underlies much of Calhoun's discussion of what it is to be an evaluating subject situated in a context of finite temporality. A "normative outlook" (44), which is above all an ongoing pattern of making affective evaluations about what we take to be worthwhile, is what must govern and guide our lives in order for them to be meaningful. Opposing the Aristotelian notion that the best life is maximally dominated by the most

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objectively valuable activity, as well as the views of such philosophers as Susan Wolf and Thaddeus Metz,[2] Calhoun argues that "crowding out a plurality of less valuable activities in order to devote all of your time to the most agent-independently valuable activities may not be the most meaningful way of living" (26). Furthermore, for any moral agent, there are inevitably some choiceworthy pursuits which are not part of her life at all (36).

Why is this? According to Calhoun, we can dispassionately judge that something is worth doing without therefore being moved to do it ourselves: it may be valuable for some human agent, but not for us in particular. One can, in other words, acknowledge that golf is a worthy activity without allowing it to become part of the meaning of one's own life. Within a finite existence, we cannot afford to engage in every objectively valuable activity;so we need a notion of what is valuable-for-me, to be distinguished from what has agent-independent value. However, there is still room for objectivity on Calhoun's account. One of the things that allows me to find an activity worth doing is that I think there are "reasons-for-anyone" to do it (33), even if "assessments of meaning are fundamentally subjective" in that "they appeal to the individual's own reasons for spending her life's time the way that she does" (40). Baseball may have an intrinsic beauty and intricacy that is intersubjectively available to be discovered, even if it is unlikely to be appreciated by those who lack an acquaintance with the game: at the same time, I can give a more personal, idiosyncratically biographical, account of why baseball matters to me. Calhoun's theory captures both of these intuitions about value.

Unlike moral philosophers according to whom all rational agents would ideally converge upon the same values, Calhoun in Doing Valuable Time makes room for a variety of different persons with differing normative frameworks. These are shaped by external contingencies as well as native inclinations, and do not originate in an impartial survey of all that is worth caring about. It thus makes sense to speak of different styles of inhabiting time, depending for instance on whether one prefers the future to be more or less open-ended (116); and these could be equally well portrayed as different affective styles. Calhoun at her best is pluralistic about the range of evaluators who might have normatively reasonable outlooks, although she sometimes betrays where her own preferences lie: for example, she is loath to praise those who are especially disposed to prize things and to seek familiarity, so her readers are offered some apparently reductive biological and social reasons why this kind of outlook is likely to be favored by many (114). No such deflationary explanations are given for normative styles toward which Calhoun herself happens to be partial.

Regardless of what our emotional orientation may be, it will include some activities we find to be worth doing "for their own sake," and time spent on these Calhoun describes as primary spending (14). Intrinsically valuable pursuits, however, may involve some expenditures of time that are not worthwhile ends in themselves. Time used on these she calls "entailed spending" (16): this would include the way that being a good parent, an eminently worthy aim, might nonetheless be a job that leads us to spend many hours watching low-skill dramatic and athletic performances, or partaking in even less inherently valuable tasks. And she emphasizes the importance of focusing not only on whether we have meaningful long-term pursuits but also on whether or how often we are spending our time meaningfully. Even within a life that is devoted to choiceworthy endeavors, we can "end up expending most of our time on entailed activities that we don't value for their own sake," and that we even find boring (171). Relationships, careers, or avocations that are part of our "global" life's meaning are liable to require that we dedicate time to "locally" unrewarding activities. It is therefore not only those suffering from a "crisis of value and meaning" (127) who must grapple with boredom, but all of us.

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Fortunate are the moral agents whose loves and cares enable them to engage most of the time in pursuits they find to be intrinsically fulfilling, without much time wasted on boring necessities. Here, Calhoun's view has admitted affinities with Frankfurt's, albeit without the same wholehearted affirmation of will-binding commitment. Also to be counted as fortunate are those of us who are emotionally disposed to find the good in situations that are ambiguous but not entirely bad, as well as those of us who can be hopeful in looking toward the uncertain future—on this last topic, Calhoun is in agreement with Adrienne Martin (87, 154).[3] Moreover, the good fortune to which I refer is not only a matter of being lucky enough in one's circumstances to be relatively free in choosing one's own pursuits: it also means not suffering from inward obstacles to free and emotionally animated agency. The prospect of encountering such internal obstacles is what prompts Calhoun to call attention to the motivational paralysis that takes place in depression (46, 54-55).

The lack of possibilities experienced by depressed subjects is described by Calhoun as a loss of "interest in their future," in which they are no longer moved to "deliberate, choose, and act" (3). She designates the depressed person's lack of interest in the activities that he or she normally finds fulfilling as an "estrangement from [his or her] own normative outlook" (56). This, she says, is an especially deplorable condition when there is no other normative outlook that we wish to have, no other life that we wish to be living, and yet we feel alienated from what had been our identity-conferring pursuits and attachments. We are then apt to feel empty, like a shadow of ourselves (59-60), as we hold our normative outlook only "in a bloodless, intellectual way that is detached from [our] perceptual, desiderative, and emotional experience" (58). Calhoun considers yet rejects the notion that such affectively felt alienation from our evaluative framework must be a sign that we do not actually value what we say we do, or that our true values are different from the ones we overtly profess:

When individuals are obviously repressing strong and persistent desires, there is prima facie reason to suspect that the repressed desires may be more indicative of the person's true normative outlook than are the person's avowals. The situation is otherwise, however, in cases where a person loses interest in her normative outlook but in the absence of any evidence that some strong, persistent, and more identity-defining desires are being repressed (61-62).

Curiously enough, in one of the numerous literary examples that enrich Calhoun's discussion—namely, Michael Cunningham's novel The Hours—a character viewed by Calhoun as illustrating the lack of any other normative outlook than the one from which she is alienated would seem to be more obviously an instance of a person with other, perhaps repressed, evaluations. We know this because she eventually abandons her current way of life and pursues a quite different path, which engages her emotionally as her old life did not. Yet the general point stands intact: one could feel estranged from one's evaluative framework without being drawn to another one.

Another feature of depression is a comprehensive loss of hope. Calhoun rightly notes that this is not merely the loss of a set of particular hoped-for outcomes: instead, she appeals to the idea of a "phenomenological idea of the future" which is largely unreflective and "not readily available to consciousness," yet which shapes our awareness and has "a qualitative character"—an "affectively laden" sense of what it's like, in other words, to see the future as amenable to meaningful action and to live forward in light of this "basal hopefulness" (72-74). This is an emotional background disposition which makes possible the formation of specific hopes, and it is to Calhoun's credit that she brings this dimension of affective life into her account. It helps her reader to understand what we

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ordinarily rely upon in being able to hope, and what it is that a person loses in depression. When "the background frame of confidence in the hospitableness of the world to ongoing human agency is disrupted, one may lose the sense that deliberation has a point" (66). Furthermore, as other phenomenologically sensitive authors would agree, "we typically discover what future we were expecting" only when our implicit expectations are not fulfilled (9).

One might wish that Calhoun would develop this line of thought further, since it is one that is too often neglected in the literature on emotions. As it is, the work of such a pertinent interlocutor as Matthew Ratcliffe gets only a few references. Another desideratum worthy of mention is that Calhoun might have more explicitly brought the notion of "cognitive sets" from her earlier work into conversation with what she has to say about "normative outlooks" in Doing Valuable Time: this would make it more obvious that the conceptual vocabulary she develops here is continuous with her other work on the nature of emotion. However, as what I have said already ought to make clear, I regard Doing Valuable Time as an excellent contribution not only to the philosophy of emotion but also to moral philosophy and to existential reflection on what it means to be finite.

Notes

[1] "Cognitive Emotions?" in What Is an Emotion? Classic Readings in Philosophical Psychology, ed. by Cheshire Calhoun and Robert C. Solomon (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 327-342. "Subjectivity and Emotion," Philosophical Forum 22 (1989): 195-210; revised version in Thinking about Feeling, ed. by Solomon (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 107-121.

[2] Metz, for instance, defends the view that a person's "life is more meaningful, the more that she lives in the ways all human agents would prefer upon the dispassionate consideration of their properties." Meaning in Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 178. As Calhoun comments, "I don't know how we could be certain" that we had found "reasons from some ideally rational perspective" (34).

[3] Adrienne Martin, How We Hope: A Moral Psychology (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014).

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Rick A. Furtak © 2020.

Author email: rfurtak@coloradocollege.edu.