Lyrical Emotions and Sentimentality



I investigate the normative status of an unexamined category of emotions: ‘lyrical’ emotions about the transience of things. Lyrical emotions are often accused of sentimentality—a charge that expresses the idea that they are unfitting responses to their objects. However, when we test the merits of that charge using the standard model of emotion evaluation, a surprising problem emerges: it turns out that we cannot make normative distinctions between episodes of such feelings. Instead, it seems that lyrical emotions are always fitting. Although this claim is counterintuitive, the price of denying it is to hold that such emotions are never fitting—an equally strange result. If this is correct, then the commonplace discourse of sentimentality surrounding lyrical emotions lacks normative moorings.