The book is composed of preface, three parts, an appendix, bibliography, and an index. It contains a general introduction - the first chapter of the first part - but no separate conclusion (some concluding remarks are appended to the last chapter of the last part). The book's aim is to explain the phenomena of ambivalence where ambivalence concerns mental attitudes (emotion, belief, value judgment, and desire). In Razinsky's view ambivalence occurs when two opposed mental attitudes are held toward one and the same object. One of her recurrent theses is that people are regularly ambivalent subjects and another one is that there is nothing wrong with being ambivalent.
The first part (Beginning, 1-58) has two chapters. The first opens with a couple of examples which are supposed to grasp the essence of ambivalence. Some terminological distinctions are also made here. In the second we are told about the nature of ambivalence and how it is approached, be it denied or explained, in philosophical research and in psychology. The second part (Life with Ambivalence, 59-161) consists of four chapters. First, personality is analyzed as a unity in plurality, next emotional ambivalence is treated, then Razinsky looks at how consciousness makes possible a unity of ambivalence, and, finally, she touches on Freud's concept of unity. The third part (Structures of Ambivalence, 163-258) comprises three chapters. In the first Razinsky expands on the relation between basic rationality on the one hand and theoretical and practical rationality on the other, with particular attention devoted to ambivalence of factual belief. In the second she analyzes ambivalence of value judgment and in the last ambivalence of desire. The book ends with 4-page Appendix (259-263) on some further distinctions (inherent vs contingent ambivalence, strong vs weak ambivalence, and primary vs secondary ambivalence).
This is a rich and dense book with many long technical excursuses and therefore difficult to summarize. There is also a frequent practice of internal references and no transparent plan of the book which makes it hard to follow. But, first and foremost, I find that examples of ambivalence provided by Razinsky do not support her thesis. In a word, they do not account satisfactorily for the possibility of ambivalence. Since there is no discussion of ontology of ambivalence nor ambivalence is explained ontically - we are only repeatedly told that such phenomena exist[] and these assertions are substantiated by examples only - I will focus on her examples.
Let me start from the beginning. Razinsky says this: "Levi loves his mother, but hates her as well." (3). It is simply said and, as it seems, what is referred to is taken for granted. No proof of such thing being possible is conveyed. No doubt, people often express themselves. But unless it is proved that there is more behind these words, the phrase will remain a purely verbal phenomenon, just as the often quoted example of two friends competing for a position in which one will succeed (after Greenspan); here the term itself is used somewhat misleadingly, since friendship (= a genuine one, in Aristotelian sense) does not rule out rivalry. This kind of idea may be easily stated or declared but the question arises as to how love and hatred or friendship and rivalry can actually coexist. Among others, I would be curious to learn about the difference between loving in love tout court and loving in love-cum-hatred. Razinsky does not tell how it is possible nor investigates the meaning of love and hatred (I don't want to deny that there may be such vague and broad meaning of both concepts which allow for their happening simultaneously but this will probably not be their standard meaning[]). Rather she develops her description further and qualifies hatred as wholehearted: "a person wholeheartedly hates his father, but as he cannot endure this fact, he is always trying hard to feel some love toward him, to the effect of actually feeling it, albeit mixed with hate." (113). I wonder if there is no patent confusion in it, since if hatred is wholehearted there is no room, or mental space, so to speak, for another feeling. For if it is mixed, it is not wholehearted. Otherwise, I am inclined to think that there is another meaning to wholehearted than complete but then we obtain a mixture of two feelings in which they are no longer discernible as is in the case of Sandra's ""embittered happiness"" (see 75, Razinsky's inverted commas) which is not an ambivalence either, but a kind of happiness, much different from pure happiness[]. This is to say that even if it originated from two feelings, happiness because of a and unhappiness because of b, where a and b are two separate features of the same person or event, once they have merged into one they are no longer discernible for it is now one and not two feelings. In the same vein, a claim about "a person who loves humanity but doesn't love her family" (140) is, as it seems to me, purely verbal or imprecise and either stands for shortcut meaning that she loves all humanity apart from her family, or the term love is used in two different senses with respect to humanity and family (quite like in loving Laura and loving money loving has non-identical significance), for instance: "she loves humanity as one should, i.e. she respects humanity, but she doesn't love her family as one should love one's family, say profoundly, with attachment or devotion".
In "Dinah, having heard that her brothers sold Joseph, cannot believe it, yet believes it anyway" (3), Razinsky exploits the vagueness of believe. It is used in two different senses which may be translated into, say: "Dinah, having heard that her brothers sold Joseph, is reluctant to recognize it, yet is aware that this is the case". Yet another example (same page) reads: "Dan understands that the family should leave for Egypt, but really does not want to." The qualification really betrays[], I would say, that he does not understand it really but only apparently, for what is real is his not-wanting. Otherwise we should say: "Dan really understands that [...], but really does not want to." In order to take this example as standing for ambivalence one should prove that understanding and really wanting are opposite. Instead Razinsky says that "the point is that he is hostile to something - the move to Egypt - that he himself takes to be essential" (7). This is what she adds but this is a different description from the former one, for to be hostile is a different thing to not wanting to and taking to be essential is different to understanding one's duty. The latter description reveals - if it in fact accurately corresponds to the former - that there is no ambivalence, for I may consider fing as an essential thing to do and, at the same time, be hostile to it. Think about acquiring some skills and some exercises as essential to acquire them and still being hostile to these exercises.
I don't wish to deny that there are circumstances in which I want (really) to go to the swimming pool and I don't (really) want to go to the swimming pool, and that this results in my not deciding about what to do. But if I do want to do so for one reason and/or under one description of what going to swimming pool is, and I don't want to do so for another reason and/or another description of what going to swimming pool is, this is not an ambivalence strictly speaking. Also, however overwhelming my difficulty in deciding about going to the swimming pool is, the result is such that either I will go or I will not go to the swimming pool since both cannot be realized. More particularly, if I am remaining in my indecision for longer than the swimming pool is open, my indecision (Razinsky's ambivalence) equals to a decision of not going to the swimming pool even if is inaccurate to say that I have taken such a decision. And the same works for Buridan's ass who because of its indecision whether to go for one of the two piles of hay died of hunger (in this case the full picture should be presented as threefold: one pile, another pile, neither pile = death).
Another case of ambivalence is that of "the ambivalent holding of contradictory beliefs" (170) exemplified by diachronic ambivalence (see 174: "[...] in latter years [...]") which may be rejected out of hand because the condition of at-the-same-time is not satisfied. And curiously Razinsky recognizes that "the simultaneous but separate consciousness of the opposed poles is rare and hardly comprehensible" (112) but it looks as if elsewhere she does not do justice to this claim. Once again, when Razinsky offers an example of "Sam [who] trusts his son, who has just learned how to cross the street, and yet continues to worry about him" (98), trust and worry are not distinguishable and well-delineated but they compose one mental state which is, obviously, different to trust without any worry at all as well as to worry with no trust at all. The complexity of trust-cum-worry - unlike simplicity of trust tout court or worry tout court - reflects the complexity of the state of affairs. In this sense the intricacy of mental states mirrors the complexity of the world as given in mental states. So is the father's feeling which responds to the actual state of affairs: his son knows already how to cross the street but not yet in a sure, certain, and reliable way[]. I don't see why saying that Sam is confident and worries is a better way to grasp his affective situation than to say that he feels a feeling for which we have no single word and which we can describe as a-weak-confidence-cum-a-weak-worry (or similar), that is as a mixture of two mental states for which we have words. This is rather because we lack a lexeme for trust-cum-worry which we therefore describe in such a way and then infer from there that there are distinct because there are two distinct words (a kind of linguistic fallacy). In point of fact this should be a term accurately grasping the feeling. For if one suggests to use, say, a weak confidence or growing confidence, one may ask in each single case why is it weak or growing and pointed to its origin, in which, admittedly, these are two distinct feelings but which are now merged into one and are no longer distinguishable.
To conclude. Razinsky makes an enormous effort to prove the existence of ambivalence. She succeeds as long as she understands ambivalence vaguely. But the use of such vague categories and descriptions is in itself questionable. Do we need them indeed for another purpose than demonstrating the truth of ambivalence? By contrast, strictly ambivalent feelings and beliefs are non-existent or, at the least, are not acceptably accounted for despite the numerous and often convoluted arguments put forward by Razinsky. A part of the problem may be that she is not clear enough about the distinction between mixture, ambivalence, and conflict. Ambivalence is but a vague and too a general shorthand for describing the complexity of the world[] or an approximation from a long distance. Accordingly, the approach misses the point because - to use the common phrase - we are given trees instead of forest or even worse insofar as the forest is actually composed of trees which may be subtracted or added, while in a mental state there are no separate or even distinguishable components. If, however, one wishes to pursue this kind of approach one will be quickly committed to say that any mental state is ambivalent with the only exception of those which are simple - but which are few.
Let me then end with a modest assumption: maybe there is such thing as ambivalence of emotions, beliefs, and desires, that is of opposed emotions, beliefs, and desires towards the same object. Razinsky says a lot about it yet she does not provide a decisive argument in favour of the possibility of ambivalence nor are her examples adequate for this purpose. Hence, as long as it has not been done, I prefer to comply with the Aristotelian law of non-contradiction which, in its full version, posits that ""It is impossible for the same attribute at once to belong and not to belong to the same thing and in the same relation"; and we must add any further qualifications that may be necessary to meet logical objections." (Aristotle, Met. 1005b19-22, transl. H. Tredennick, my italics).
[] For example: "[p]eople are ambivalent. They want things that are repelling or frightening to them, hold beliefs that all the same they doubt, and are both happy and unhappy, be about their lives, or the new baby, or the new government." (97)
[] Think about a peculiar meaning of love as in Descartes' PA, art. 82: "a brutish man's for a woman he wants to rape" - he may hate her at the same time, this is, as in PA, art. 79, he may mentally "want to be separated" from her.
[] The example of longing and being frightened at the prospect of the meeting (see 79) is similarly an example of a mixture or, else, if longing and being frightened are not felt at the same time, they don't reveal the ambivalence of Peter because they have different objects and as such express the intricacy of Peter's relation to the prospect of meeting. As Razinsky expresses it clearly, "Peter longs to see [...]" while "is frightened and repelled by the prospect [...]". Were she said "Peter longs to see his friend and is frightened by seeing him", this would call for an explanation.
[] I cannot say if this is incidental but again in another passage there is a similar parlance: "when one consciously loves yet hates someone" (121). If the qualification consciously is to be taken seriously then it is manifest that ambivalence vanishes since the two - love and hatred - are displayed at different levels, one is conscious, while another is not, and as such there are not in conflict because they are not opposed to each other.
[] As much as we don't have a single word for Sam's state, we do not any for his son's knowledge either: he neither knows nor does not know how to cross the street. His is in-between. Does this mean that his knowledge is ambivalent because mixed of full ignorance and full knowledge? If one answers in the affirmative one will be committed to label any state between 0 (full absence) and 1 (full presence) as ambivalent. But Razinsky goes even further, for she assumes that "emotional ambivalence suggests two behavioral wholehearted inclinations" (91).
[] Imagine a student who considers four ways (of which only one may be fulfiled at the same time) of spending her holidays (Razinsky's example, 19). If this is an ambivalence - in this case multivalence - , then any act of pondering, reflection, or philosophizing would be inherently ambivalent. But we are used to call it research, not ambivalence.
© 2019 Robert Zaborowski