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  • Commentary on “Towards a Design-Based Analysis of Emotional Episodes”
  • Cristiano Castelfranchi (bio) and Maria Miceli (bio)

grief, suffering, attachment, agent architecture

This paper is significant in many respects: its approach (the design-based analysis); its proposed architecture; its description of grief; and its self-control/perturbance theory. We would offer some remarks on each of these aspects.

AI: Back to the Future

After some years of crisis, AI seems now to have recovered its original challenging attitude and its identity. In particular all the original ambitions of AI have been renewed under the label of “autonomous agents” (see, for example, Russell and Norvig 1995; Wooldridge and Jennings 1995). This paper and its authors are good representatives of this challenging attitude. Of course, the AI appearing at century’s end is different from, say, the AI of the 1980s. AI systems and models are now conceived for reasoning and acting in open unpredictable worlds, with limited and uncertain knowledge, in real time, with bounded (both cognitive and material) resources, with hybrid architectures, interfering—either co-operatively or competitively—with other systems. The new password for the AI of the 1990s is interaction (Bobrow 1991): interaction with an evolving environment; among several, distributed and heterogeneous artificial systems in a network; with human users; and among humans through computers.

This renewed AI, however different though it is in some ways, can be understood as returning to its original aim of modeling “intelligence”: not only static and isolated sub-functions of intelligence but the integrated and pragmatic functioning of autonomous agent architectures as against algorithms. Our renewed AI, based on architectures, can again have important exchanges with other (psychological and social) sciences. This paper is a good example of the fruitful cross-fertilization of ideas which may result from such exchanges. It was indeed just this which originally gave rise to cognitive science.

The Architecture

The proposed architecture, although quite speculative, and—as the authors themselves emphasize—very much a first sketch, is directly relevant to this new AI. In fact, recent research efforts in the agent-architecture domain are focused exactly on the problem of “goal dynamics” [End Page 129] or “motive processing,” which is the core of this architecture, and on the problem of integrating reactivity and deliberation. Compared with current AI architectures (for example, BDI systems) it is important to note that this “motive-processing” architecture is not yet formalized or implemented to the same extent. On the other hand, it is more interesting from a psychological point of view, and is already able to give us some important insights into human emotions, in particular those emotions (like grief) that involve all or total loss of control of management processes.

The Report-Based Analysis of Grief

The report-based description of grief provides a persuasive and rich basis for both modeling and discussing the model. The relevant features of this emotion are well characterized with reference to the self-control problem and motive-processing (though, as we shall see, to use grief as an example of those emotions that involve all or total loss of control of thought processes may provide a partially distorted view of grief itself). In particular, we would stress the relevance of the “intrusive” character of grief-related contents; the rejection of certain beliefs due to the psychic pain they cause; the coping strategies people describe; and the second order motivations related to the control of the emotional state. We believe that psychological models especially of these aspects are usually less specific and explanatory.

Let us now try to synthesize some criticisms one could advance of this analysis. We will first address two core notions of the model—perturbance and self-control—and then consider more specifically the treatment of grief.


This notion is potentially very interesting, unless it is reduced to an information processing perspective (e.g., perturbance of attentive processes). An information processing perspective is much more limited than a motive-processing one—at least in the limitative sense of the term, as it is generally used in the psychology of cognitive processes—and is in our view insufficient for understanding human emotions and their role. This limiting interpretation of perturbance fails...

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pp. 129-133
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