The word 'feelings' has become a handy catch-all term which covers a range of quite different experiences. For example, it can be used for bodily sensations: 'I had a feeling of nausea' or 'I lost all feeling in my foot'. It can be used to refer to emotions: 'My feelings for you have not changed' or 'I feel pride at Scottish achievements'. It can be used as a substitute for judgements when we can't formulate our reasons:'I just feel he is not the man for the job'. Many different issues are involved in sorting out the variety of ways in which we use the word, but I shall concentrate on one of them: the difference between 'feelings' as bodily sensations and 'feelings' as emotions.
It is worthwhile to do this as there is a common assumption – with philosophical antecedents going back to Descartes – that emotions are to be construed along the lines of bodily feelings and clearly distinguished from matters of reason ('the head and the heart'). The assumption is that our emotions are bodily sensations/feelings which we identify by looking inward, or by introspection, whereas the world of fact is accessed by looking outwards and using our reason.
This disjunction is sometimes developed to suggest that poets and artists generally enjoy a rich inner life of emotions, whereas outward-looking scientists or philosophers are cerebral and emotionless. Poets have encouraged this idea. For example, in a poem called Lamia
Do not all charms fly
At the mere touch of cold philosophy
And a few lines later, he really puts the boot in:
Philosophy will clip an Angel's wings.
So we have a range of overlapping contrasts: between the inner and the outer; the warm and cuddly as opposed to the cold and detached; the soaring and creative as opposed to the down-to-earth and plodding. And they all derive from assuming an absence of connection between the inner world of feelings/emotions accessed by introspection and the outer world of objectivity accessed by reason. This contrast needs its wings clipped.
Consider this example. Suppose you are in the checkout queue and someone nudges you on the back. This will cause a clear feeling or sensation of touch. But your resultant emotion will depend not on introspecting the feeling and so identifying the emotion but on how, using your reason, you appraise the situation. The resulting emotion might be embarrassment because the nudge made you realise that you have been looking at your phone and holding back the queue, or gratitude because someone is drawing your attention to your dropped credit card, or pleasure at meeting an old chum. In all cases, it is an outward, not an inward awareness that is involved in causing and identifying the emotion.
Emotions certainly involve inward feelings but the feelings are both created and identified as specific emotions, not by introspection, but by taking in the outward situation. We don't first have a feeling and then identify it as, say, the emotion of fear; rather we see the outward situation as one where we are in some kind of danger and simultaneously we experience the characteristic emotion of fear. The outward appraisal and the inner feeling are seamless; there is no dualism.
There is sometimes discussions on how emotional intelligence might be developed. If emotions were entirely a matter of bodily feelings, then perhaps we could have assorted electrodes plugged into our brains and nervous systems, and asked to name the various feeling states aroused. These might be pleasant or unpleasant but they could not be emotions because they would not refer to anything outside the body; they would just be internal happenings. The development of emotional intelligence, if it can be done at all (and that's a big 'if'), does not require the assistance of neurologists or pharmacologists, but rather that of playwrights and novelists (and even poets like Keats). Or more experience of life. Internal sensations/feelings may be the experiential aspect of emotions but they are created, identified and refined by how, with our reason, we understand the world and the nuances of personal relationships.
At a simpler level, consider how we develop emotional intelligence in children. We do it by getting them to think outside themselves. We say to them: 'How would you like it if someone did that to you?'
I have claimed that we experience the emotions we do because of the way we see events in the external world, including our own actions in it. But this basic position requires much more refinement. We can misread a situation, and where our own interests are involved, this is easy to do. More generally, it is easy to get the wrong end of the stick. In such cases, our emotions may be inappropriate.
We may also be unaware of our emotions. The art of a good novelist is to show how events can gradually or abruptly create a new awareness of ourselves or our relationships which alter our emotions. In sum, to explore our emotions or feelings is to explore how we see the world; it is to look outwards rather than inwards. Adam Smith is right that we have an impartial spectator inside us who can caution against delusions or help us to see ourselves as others see us. When that fails, it is a matter for tactful friends or psychotherapists.
A more extended discussion of feelings and emotion would need a much longer account of additional factors such as mood and attitude. But briefly, our moods can be caused by purely bodily events and conditions such as sleep patterns, diet, drugs, alcohol and temperament in general. But they can also be created, like emotions, by the way we understand the events outside ourselves. For example, Remainers contemplating a no-deal Brexit are likely to experience a prevailing mood of gloom about national affairs, whereas Leavers are likely to be cheerful. But, whether created by bodily states or interpretations of outside events, moods will affect our emotional responses to many other matters.
Attitudes are even more fixed than moods. They consist of long-term groupings of emotions and approaches to people and events in the world. Like emotions, they are shaped by our perception and experience of the world, and will obviously affect our emotional responses to a wide range of specific situations and personal relationships.
There is the story of the policeman cautioning a young man, doubtless a student, for persisting with what the policeman considered over-exuberant behaviour...
Policeman: You have an attitude problem.
Student: You have a perception problem.
Both could be right, and the emotions of each would certainly be affected.