Journal of Social Philosophy I introduce what I call the conceptual act theory of sexual orientation, and argue that even if interpretation were not necessary to constitute sexual desires, it is a necessary element to constitute what we call sexual orientation. However, I conclude that even if we agree that interpretation is involved in sexual orientation, it does not follow that there is a choice involved.
My contribution to this debate has two parts. According to her, Wilkerson does not provide a sound argument in favor of the idea that sexual orientation requires interpretation of feelings and desires. I have two comments on this. In order to build my argument, I draw a parallel with the conceptual act theory of emotions Barrett ; Barrett et al. I argue that this independently constituted layer of desires could consist of basic affects that need to be conceptualized in a particular way in order to become what we call sexual orientation.
Thus I conclude that even if interpretation is not necessary to constitute sexual desires, it is a necessary element to constitute what we call sexual orientation. I argue that even if we agree that interpretation is involved in sexual orientation, it does not follow that there is choice.
From these two premises the conclusion follows that sexual orientation involves choice Wilkerson , p. In particular, I will focus on her response to the metaphysical argument that Wilkerson puts forward. And they transform our feelings and sexual desires in a constitutive sense. That is, the way we conceptualize and classify our desires changes their nature. The assumption here is that there is only one correct way of classifying something that is already constituted independently of the classification.
If different classifications are possible, this means that what is being classified is undetermined. Also, the fact that over time we might change our interpretation of the same sexual desires or experiences we can call this diachronic flexibility , does not imply that they were not fully formed prior to our interpretative act. The same series of color experiences can be classified in different ways, but this only shows that the same token experience instantiates more than one type of phenomenal state.
Depending on several factors e. That is, variation in how we conceptualize visual experiences does not affect the nature of those experiences. The same applies to our conceptualization of sexual desires and experiences of sexual attraction. We can group our sexual attractions in different ways, depending on factors like the contrast class we find significant e.
No conclusion about the metaphysical nature of something can be directly drawn from the dynamics of its conceptualization. We can draw a parallel here between the conceptualizing act and the thing conceptualized, on the one hand, and an explanation and the explanandum, on the other.
How we explain something e. An adequate explanation in a particular context responds to several factors, e.
This normative principle is also descriptively correct, e. Similarly, we should not expect that sexual orientation-relevant states determine one single way of categorizing them. Our acts of conceptualization respond to several factors, not only the constitution of that which we conceptualize. There are two points I want to make with regards to the question of whether or not sexual desires and feelings relevant for sexual orientation are fully and independently constituted prior to our conceptualizing them.
I present each at a time. First, in relation to the existence of a raw layer, I argue that even if we concede that there must be such a layer of feelings that is fully determined prior to interpretation, this layer might still need interpretation in order to arrive to what we usually understand as sexual orientation.
In order to argue for this possibility, I draw a parallel with the conceptual act theory of emotions proposed by Lisa F. Barrett Barrett ; Barrett et al. According to this theory, physical sensations become emotional episodes only when they are conceptualized and therefore take on a certain meaning in a particular situation. That is, emotions are not biological primitives, but are constructed via a categorization process.
Barrett identifies two building blocks of emotions: This state, which responds to very basic clues e. That is, it feels as good or bad, and as more or less activated. By means of conceptualizing the core affect e. Importantly, the conceptualization process is tailored to the specific situation that the individual is in, and it is constrained by the conceptual repertoire available to the individual.
The conceptual act theory of emotion stays in sharp contrast to theories that postulate a certain small number of emotions as natural kinds, which everyone will experience independently of the conceptual knowledge they have relative to emotions.
According to this natural kinds story, individuals might differ in how accurately they report their emotional states, but they all experience the same emotions. In the conceptual act theory, however, not everyone experiences the same emotions, for this depends on the conceptual knowledge individuals bring to bear when categorizing core affect, which responds to both individual and cultural differences.
If we apply the conceptual act theory of emotion to sexual orientation, we could postulate a core affect module consisting of some sort of neurophysiological state of the individual in relation to sexual-affective affects. This state would also be characterized by valence and arousal, but this time will also have sexual responses as characteristics.
This conceptual act theory of sexual orientation nicely accounts for variability in granularity and richness of sexual-affective experiences. One possible alternative to this would claim, parallel to the natural kinds theory of emotions Barrett criticizes, that there is a small set of sexual orientations that are given biologically at some primitive level as dispositions, perhaps?
This reading of sexual orientation as a conceptualization act over basic affects that is situated, tailored to the context, also accounts for cultural differences in how sexual orientations are lived and classified.
First, to what extent the conceptualization process that is necessary to arrive to a sexual orientation is or remains a conscious process. It is reasonable to think that as it happens with the conceptualization of affects that become emotions, this process can be automatized and performed unconsciously. One possibility is to say that you need to have concepts of sexual orientations themselves.
Another option is to say that while these might be necessary conditions, they are not sufficient. In this process, the desire is represented as desire for a person qua someone gendered in a particular way e. Like the properties of a country when we make a map of it, affects are there prior to our interpretation. But only when we select some of the properties of a country e. Interpretation does not have neither a causal nor a constitutive effect on the affects, but rather on what we call sexual orientation.
The analogy with mapmaking reveals that selection is a critical part in the interpretation process. In her view, desires and concepts are connected in a different way. It is true that one can have these desires only when one possesses those concepts, but this does not entail that one can have those desires only when one interprets those very desires as being a desire-for-men or desire-for-women.
To sum up, even if we agree that sexual orientation involves a raw layer of desires that is metaphysically autonomous and entirely determined prior to any conceptualization exercise, this layer might not coincide with what we identify as sexual orientation, but rather with one of its composing elements i.
But she also makes a more specific point about one particular dimension of classification, i. According to this more specific idea, the possibility of having different options along the granularity dimension in our categorization i.
And this is because granularity in the conceptualization of experiences is independent of the granularity of the experiences themselves. This specific point about conceptualizing experiences in more or less fine-grained ways seems uncontroversial. In particular, there is a dimension of classification that, in my opinion, undermines the conclusion that the granularity criterion so neatly conveys.
I am referring to how sharp we take the boundaries of categorical types to be. Let us call it the category boundaries dimension. Now let us take an example and see how conceptualization might work along this other dimension.
Let us consider a stimulus consisting of a series of consonant-vowel syllables, artificially generated, that gradually moves along a continuum with 14 different values.
The two endpoints i. The interesting question is how we would categorize the in-between sounds i. On the category boundaries dimension, there are two main ways we could categorize that set of stimuli. First, we could categorize it as a continuum; this means that the stimuli values in between the two endpoints i. Empirical research suggests that people opt for the second categorization style when presented with the continuum syllable series described above Liberman et al.
This case is an example of what in the psychological literature is called categorical perception. One way to read this result is that our categorization act i. If we opted for the first, continuum way of categorizing the syllable series, we could confidently say that our auditory experience is entirely determined by the sound, for ambiguous stimulus values would be categorized as ambiguous.
But imposing sharp category boundaries makes our categorization act part of what defines and constitutes the experience. Now, what if we categorize sexual desires and feelings similarly to how we categorize speech stimuli?
It seems possible now that how we group stimuli matters a lot for how our experiences of them are constituted. If the latter, then it is not clear we can conclude that our categorization practices do not affect the constitution of our sexual desires.
If we were to categorize sexual orientation-relevant affects in a categorical way, similar to how we categorize speech stimuli, we would group slightly different affects into a few discrete categories, and would feel only those paradigmatic categorical affects.
If so, the ambiguous in-between affects for which we perhaps do not have concepts for, would be assimilated into one of the categories we already have created. Interpretation does not entail constitution. That being said, I emphasize that it could be the case that the specific way in which we conceptualize the feelings and affects relevant to sexual orientation could be one that imposes sharp category boundaries and, in such a case, ambiguous feelings although perhaps not unambiguous ones would be transformed by how we categorize them, turning them into one or another type of experience depending on where our categorization act draws the boundary.
The main point I make is that the existence of interpretation does not imply choice; only ideal interpretation requires choice. That is, in a process of interpretation there must be alternatives in order to be a proper interpretation, even if the number of them is small.
Wilkerson illustrates this idea with the example of a literature scholar who interprets the work of some author by choosing amongst possible alternative interpretations. There is, however, another possible reading of what interpretation consists of that sees interpretation as figuring out the meaning or dynamics of something, as making sense of it. This other reading might or might not involve choosing amongst different alternatives.
Let me illustrate this with an example. Imagine you need to activate a machine you have never encountered before. In order to do that, you need to make sense of it, understand what at least some of its parts do, figuring out how it works.
In this process, you might or might not have access to different alternative ways of how the machine works. If you are not given an instructions manual, you would probably consider different alternative hypothesis of how the machine works, and test them, until you arrive at some successful interpretation.
If you are given the instructions manual, however, you will probably follow it without considering different alternatives. In both cases you are interpreting the machine, in the sense of making sense of it I assume that in following the instructions manual you understand something about how the machine works, that is, you do not just merely do what the manual says without understanding anything.
And this reading fits nicely with the above considerations about a conceptual act theory of sexual orientation: