In a visionary paper published in 1967, Herbert Simon suggested that emotions can be thought of as interrupt systems. This idea makes it in principle possible to ascribe emotions to artificial creatures, as long as we can assign to them a hierarchy of goals and the ability to suddenly switch from one form of goal-pursuit to another. One powerful source of resistance to the idea of robotic emotions is that many think of emotions as being essentially feelings, and doubt robots’ ability to feel anything. In recent times, a crop of new theories of emotions have emerged which suggest that we think of emotions not as feelings but as motivational mechanisms of a particular sort. I will discuss the opportunities and the challenges of this new research program on emotions, sketching a development of Simon’s pioneering ideas in light of what we have learned since the 1960s about the nature and function of emotions.
Andrea Scarantino is Professor of Philosophy at Georgia State University. His current work has two main objectives, which he tries to achieve by combining philosophical and scientific methods. First, to develop a motivational theory of emotions, according to which emotions are essentially irruptive and prioritized impulses to behave (rather than feelings or evaluations). Second, to develop a theory of affective pragmatics, which holds that emotional expressions are not only means of expressing an inner state, but alsosocial tools for directing other people’s behavior, representing what the world is like and committing to future courses of action.