What is an Emotion in the Belief-Desire Theory of Emotion?

In F. Paglieri, M. Tummolini, F. Falcone & M. Miceli (eds.), The goals of cognition: Essays in honor of Cristiano Castelfranchi. College Publications (forthcoming)
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Let us assume that the basic claim of the belief-desire theory of emotion is true: What, then, is an emotion? According to Castelfranchi and Miceli (2009), emotions are mental compounds that emerge from the gestalt integration of beliefs, desires, and hedonic feelings (pleasure or displeasure). By contrast, I propose that emotions are affective feelings caused by beliefs and desires, without the latter being a part of the emotion. My argumentation for the causal feeling theory proceeds in three steps. First, I argue that affective feelings should be regarded as components of emotions because this assumption provides the best available explanation of the phenomenal character and the intensity of emotional experiences. Second, I examine the two main arguments for regarding beliefs and desires as emotion components—that doing so is needed to explain the finer distinctions among emotions and their object-directedness—and argue that they are unconvincing: Emotions can be distinguished by referring to their cognitive and motivational causes, and their appearance of object-directedness could be an illusion. Third, I present three objections against the hypothesis that beliefs and desires are components of emotions: This hypothesis fails, at second sight, to explain the directedness of emotions at specific objects; it has difficulty accounting for the duration of emotional reactions caused by the fulfillment of desires and the disconfirmation of beliefs; and there are reasons to question the existence of the postulated emotional gestalts and the process that presumably generates them. The causal feeling theory avoids these problems. I therefore recommend abandoning the belief-desire compound theory of the nature of emotions in favor of the causal feeling theory. However, a partial reconciliation of the two theories is possible with respect to the concept of “affectively tinged” thoughts.

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