Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 30, Issue 6, pp 831–844 | Cite as

Emotions without objects

  • Daniel ShargelEmail author


It is widely assumed that emotions have particular intentional objects. This assumption is consistent with the way that we talk: when we attribute states of anger, we often attribute anger at someone, or at something. It is also consistent with leading theories of emotion among philosophers and psychologists, according to which emotions are like judgments or appraisals. However, there is evidence from the social psychology literature suggesting that this assumption is actually false. I will begin by presenting a criterion for determining whether a mental state has a particular object. It is not sufficient for that state to be caused by an object or by a representation of a given object—the state must influence the subject’s thought and behavior in ways that are specific to that object. I will present evidence that emotions fail this test, and describe some of the reasons why we persistently attribute objects to our emotions. My view may seem untenable, because the literature on various aspects of emotional life such as normativity, linguistic expression, and behavioral influence consistently appeals to intentional objects. I will conclude by presenting a sketch of how I could address this concern.


Emotions Objects Intentionality Moods 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy ProgramThe Graduate Center, CUNYNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Humanities, Social Sciences and CommunicationsLawrence Technological UniversitySouthfieldUSA

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