Interdisciplinary perspectives on jealousy

July 12th A1.02
Arina Pismenny (University of Florida) & Ronald de Sousa (University of Toronto)

In philosophy, a crucial question concerns the extent to which jealousy is “natural”, rather than a consequence of socially relative ideological commitments about gender roles, or social norms governing love and relationships. The answer will have an important bearing on the core philosophical question of the value of jealousy as an avowable emotion, and its possible alternatives. But we philosophers are ill-equipped to answer that question on their own. Scientific perspectives have an important contribution to make. In this symposium we will look forward to hearing Aaron Ben-Ze’ev, who will draw our attention to philosophical issues of value, by contrasting jealousy with compersion—the joy felt in your partner's romantic or sexual intimacy with someone else. Compersion has been of increasing interest in philosophy, but has not drawn much attention in experimental science. When and how might it replace jealousy? Arina Pismenny will discuss the semantic structure of attributions of jealousy, exploring the “formal objects” that constitute its fittingness conditions, as well as discussing the bearing on these conditions of the ideology of monogamy. Pelin Gul will report on some experimental work on the effect of jealousy on attitudes to female honour-based constraints on female sexuality. Finally, Ronnie de Sousa will comment on what we can take home from the different perspectives presented by the three main speakers.

Jealousy and Compersion

Aaron Ben-Ze'ev

“Compersion” refers to the joy felt in your partner's romantic or sexual intimacy with someone else. Although of increasing interest in philosophy, compersion has not drawn much attention in experimental science. When and how might it replace jealousy? Which emotion is closer to romantic love (Hart & Legerstee, Jealousy, 2010)? Our emotions toward the good fortune of others can be divided into those in which our evaluation conflicts with the other’s evaluation, such as jealousy and envy, and those in which the two evaluations correlate, such as “happy-for” and admiration. At the basis of the difference is the opposing impact on self-esteem. Compersion is not a new emotion, but a kind of “happy-for.” Jealousy, which involves the fear of losing to someone something personally precious, includes a painful threat to our self-esteem that lead some men to kill their partners (Ben-Ze’ev & Goussinsky, In the Name of Love, 2008). Although jealousy is much more common than compersion, compersion is not conceptually impossible. A spouse might experience compersion in the following circumstances: low sexual intensity in the relation; differences between the spouse and the lover; the spouse is also having an affair; and the spouse is heavily occupied with nonromantic activities (Ben-Ze’ev, The Arc of Love, 2019). Compersion can be valuable in some circumstances, for some people - if such circumstances are not harmful in other ways. Making our partner happy is, after all, what underlies profound love (De Sousa, “Love, Jealousy, and Compersion,” 2018).

Sexual jealousy motivates men’s support for female honor norms

Pelin Gul & Tom Kupfer

In cultures with “female honor” norms, women are expected to cultivate a reputation for purity, chastity, and loyal behaviors such as wearing modest clothes and maintaining virginity before marriage. The dominant explanation for men’s support for female honor norms is that female infidelity and promiscuity threaten men’s honor, whereby such acts reflect badly on the reputation of the husband, and damage family and community relationships. Beyond this, the literature affords little understanding of the individual-level psychological mechanisms which produce men’s support for female honor norms. We propose that male sexual jealousy motivates men’s support of female honor norms beyond feelings of threat to male honor. Experimental studies conducted with MTurk samples found that men who were manipulated to feel sexual jealousy showed stronger support for female honor norms than men did in a control condition. The effect of sexual jealousy manipulation was specific to men’s support for female honor norms, and it did not lead to stronger support for other types of honor norms (masculine, family, and integrity honor). Furthermore, results showed that sexual jealousy was a stronger predictor of men’s support for female honor norms than feelings of threat to male honor. These findings can enhance understanding of the individual-level psychological and affective mechanisms that contribute to the evolution and maintenance of ideologies that enable the control of women’s reproductive behavior.

The Rationality of Jealousy

Arina Pismenny

What makes romantic jealousy rational or fitting? To answer this question, I outline the psychological profile of jealousy as a complex emotion, contrasting it with envy, a different kind of rivalrous emotion. Unlike envy, jealousy presupposes a three-party relationship, in which the rival poses a threat to the romantic relationship between the lover and the beloved. Its formal object – the jealousy-worthy – represents this threat. Jealousy is apt when the threat is real, and inapt, when it is not. Aptness assessments of jealousy ordinarily take for granted the monogamous relationship model. Thus, monogamous norms significantly affect the aptness conditions of jealousy by determining the threshold for the criteria of 'threat' and 'rival'. I argue that in evaluating the rationality of jealousy, the presupposed monogamous norms are themselves in need of defense.