The Anxious Mind
An Investigation into the Varieties and Virtues of Anxiety
264 pp., 6 x 9 in, 5 b&w illus.
- Published: April 6, 2018
- Publisher: The MIT Press
An empirically informed, philosophical account of the nature of anxiety and its value for agency, virtue, and decision making.
In The Anxious Mind, Charlie Kurth offers a philosophical account of anxiety in its various forms, investigating its nature and arguing for its value in agency, virtue, and decision making. Folk wisdom tells us that anxiety is unpleasant and painful, and scholarly research seems to provide empirical and philosophical confirmation of this. But Kurth points to anxiety's positive effects: enhancing performance, facilitating social interaction, and even contributing to moral thought and action.
Kurth argues that an empirically informed philosophical account of anxiety can help us understand the nature and value of emotions, and he offers just such an account. He develops a model of anxiety as a bio-cognitive emotion—anxiety is an aversive emotional response to uncertainty about threats or challenges—and shows that this model captures the diversity in the types of anxiety we experience. Building on this, he considers a range of issues in moral psychology and ethical theory. He explores the ways in which anxiety can be valuable, arguing that anxiety can be a fitting response and that it undergirds an important form of moral concern. He considers anxiety's role in deliberation and decision making, using the examples of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the abolitionist John Woolman to show that anxiety can be a mechanism of moral progress. Drawing on insights from psychiatry and clinical psychology, Kurth argues that we can cultivate anxiety so that we are better able to experience it at the right time and in the right way.
A novel, philosophically sophisticated, and scientifically informed account of how moral anxiety is a valuable moral emotion.
David B. Wong, Beischer Professor of Philosophy, Duke University; author of Natural Moralities: A Defense of Pluralistic Relativism
Kurth's The Anxious Mind is an excellent book, convincingly arguing that there is much instrumental and non-instrumental value in anxiety. The book is a model of clarity and is remarkable in the way it combines evidence coming from a variety of disciplines into a coherent whole. Kurth's arguments for concluding that anxiety is a distinctive type of emotion that has aretaic value and his discussions of the challenges this poses to influential accounts of virtue and agency deserve special praise. The book is essential reading for anyone with a serious interest in emotion theory and moral psychology.
Fabrice Teroni, Associate Professor, University of Geneva; coauthor of The Emotions: A Philosophical Introduction
[A]n interesting, and engaging book with wide application in both moral psychology and normative ethics.
Kurth doesn't go quite so far as to recommend that we, too, should be in love with our anxiety, but he certainly wants us to appreciate it more than we typically do. His concise and crisply written monograph makes a good case that we should. It deepens our understanding of what anxiety is and of how it animates different facets of our mental and moral lives.
Ethics: An International Journal of Social, Political, and Legal Philosophy