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Emotions as Motivational Systems: Our Best Bet for Ascribing Emotions to Artificial Creatures

Dr. Andrea Scarantino

Professor, Department of Philosophy

Georgia State University

  • October 19th, 2021 at 4:00pm

This online lecture, co-sponsored by the Department of Philosophy and the Institute for Artificial Intelligence, is part of the Scott & Heather Kleiner Lecture Series.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.


In a visionary paper in the 1960s, 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 a Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Georgia State University, and he is also a member of Georgia State's Neuroscience Institute.

His primary research focuses on three main areas:

  • Emotion (How have theories of emotion changed over time? What are the advantages and shortcomings of competing theories of emotion?);
  • Information (What is information? How can we move from a theory of information to a theory of mental content?);
  • Communication (How did language evolve from more primitive forms of non-verbal communication, for instance from the non-verbal expression of emotion?).

In 2017, he received the Herbert Simon Award for Outstanding Research in Computing and Philosophy. He has also been awarded a John Templeton Foundation Grant on the Philosophy and Science of Self-Control (2016) and a Humboldt Fellowship for Experienced Researchers (Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, 2015-2017). 

Dr. Scarantino holds PhDs from the University of Pittsburgh (History and Philosophy of Science) and Università Cattolica of Milan (Economics) and master's degrees from the University of Pittsburgh and The London School of Economics and Political Science (Philosophy, Logic, and Scientific Method). He is the editor of the forthcoming Routledge Handbook of Emotion Theory.

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