Some of the states of consciousness or physiological reactions that movies seem calculated to produce are arguably pleasurable in themselves (for instance, consider comedies and porn films), but there are some emotions that aren't as obviously pleasurable (for instance, fear, disgust, pity) but which still have a market, and there are some emotions that don't seem to have a market at all (for instance, anger). Have philosophers said much in the way of explaining the attraction of non-pleasurable emotions?

There's a large literature on this problem, going back at least four decades. The most oft-cited paper is Kendall Walton's "Fearing Fictions," Journal of Philosophy 75 (1):5-27 (1978). Walton's thesis, developed at length in his later book, is that when we are "frightened" by a horror movie, for example, our mental state isn't accurately described as fear/fright. Instead, says Walton, what's going on is a complex form of make-believe. We derive pleasure and, arguably, other psychological benefits from this way of making-believe, or so the theory goes.

Walton's view isn't the only one, of course. If you want to explore further, there's a recent collection of essays, Suffering Art Gladly: The Paradox of Negative Emotion in Art, edited by my colleague Jerrold Levinson.

Although I've never been convinced by the make-believe account, it does seem right that I'm not literally frightened of the monster when I watch the horror movie. After all: I don't believe there's any monster to be frightened of. But fear needs an object to count as fear. So Walton seems to be on to something: the emotions, if that's the apt word, elicited by a film or a novel aren't simply the same ones as their real-life counterparts. Something else is going on. The problem is to find the best way to describe it.

Of course it's complicated. Take your example of anger. I think we do watch some movies or read some books partly for the anger-like reaction they provoke. It's hard to read Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath without finding yourself feeling something that feels a lot like anger. And while you may not be angry at any character in the book (since, after all, they're not real people), you might feel genuine anger about situations like the ones in the story that we know exist in real life. The fact that the novel brings you in touch with that anger is actually a pretty good reason to read it. The feeling of anger isn't pleasant, but feeling it may be a good thing. The same goes for other negative emotions in the right context, tied to the right beliefs. And the same may sometimes be true even for the simulacra of emotions ("fear," or "sadness"...) that fiction provokes.

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