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Summary Often the term "desire" in philosophy has a fairly technical use to simply mean motivational mental state. After all, desires are often defined as mental states with a "world-to-mind" direction of fit: states that function to be efficacious (for the world to fit the mind). Beliefs, in contrast, are states whose function is "mind-to-world"---functioning to accurately represent how things are in the world outside the mind. This naturally leads to what some call "the Humean theory of motivation," which states roughly that motivation always requires desire. One incarnation of this states: whenever one intentionally performs some action, A, one must have a preceding desire to A. Two main camps have disputed such claims. First, besire theorists maintain that sometimes beliefs or other characteristically cognitive states (especially moral beliefs) can themselves be motivational states; they can have both directions of fit. Second, anti-reductionists hold that some characteristically conative or motivational states, like intentions, are not reducible to desires (or combinations of beliefs and desires). Accepting the above brand of "Humeanism" does not commit one to other versions as well. For example, various rationalists maintain that beliefs can directly produce motivation while admitting that one must always have a desire to perform the action prior to executing it intentionally. On such a view, certain beliefs (e.g. the belief that donating $200 to Oxfam is a moral obligation) can directly produce a desire to act in accordance with them (i.e. a desire to donate $200 to Oxfam) without this serving or furthering some antecedent desire (e.g. a desire to do whatever is morally required of me). In this way, we may not be "slaves of our passions" even though desires are required somewhere in the motivational chain.
Key works The seeds of the idea of two key directions of fit are in Hume 1739/2000 (2.3.3), but it is more explicitly drawn out in Anscombe 1957 (with her shopping list example, section 32) and is more recently developed in detail by Davidson 1963 and Smith 1987. For defenses of the besire theory, see Platts 1980. Some also interpret Nagel 1970 and McDowell 1978 as besire theorists. Bratman 1987 and Mele 1987 (see also Mele 1992) defend the idea that intentions are motivational states distinct from desires. Smith 1994 and  Wallace 2006 explicitly defend versions of the rationalist position described above.
Introductions The entry by Schroeder 2009 provides an excellent overview of desire; Pettit 1998 is more brief but also useful. See Schueler 2013 for an introduction to direction of fit. Mele 1995 argues that desires play a key role in motivation, but it also serves as an overview of many relevant issues; see also Mele 2003 (esp. ch. 1). Wallace 1990 provides a fairly lengthy but excellent introduction to key arguments for the role of desire in moral motivation.
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  1. Avery Archer (forthcoming). Do Desires Provide Reasons? An Argument Against the Cognitivist Strategy. Philosophical Studies:1-17.
    According to the cognitivist strategy, the desire to bring about P provides reasons for intending to bring about P in a way analogous to how perceiving that P provides reasons for believing that P. However, while perceiving P provides reasons for believing P by representing P as true, desiring to bring about P provides reasons for intending to bring about P by representing P as good. This paper offers an argument against this view. My argument proceeds via an appeal to (...)
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  2. Avery Archer (2015). Reconceiving Direction of Fit. Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 4 (3):171-180.
    I argue that the concept of direction of fit is best seen as picking out a certain inferential property of a psychological attitude. The property in question is one that believing shares with assuming and fantasizing and fails to share with desire. Unfortunately, the standard analysis of DOF obscures this fact because it conflates two very different properties of an attitude: that in virtue of which it displays a certain DOF, and that in virtue of which it displays certain revision (...)
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  3. Nomy Arpaly & Timothy Schroeder (2014). In Praise of Desire. OUP.
    Joining the debate over the roles of reason and appetite in the moral mind, In Praise of Desire takes the side of appetite. Acting for moral reasons, acting in a praiseworthy manner, and acting out of virtue are simply acting out of intrinsic desires for the right or the good.
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  4. Nomy Arpaly & Timothy Schroeder (2014). Précis of In Praise of Desire. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 89 (2):490-495.
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  5. E. A. Ashcroft (1906). The World's Desires. The Monist 16:473.
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  6. Robert Audi (1986). Intending, Intentional Action, and Desire. In J. Marks (ed.), The Ways of Desire. Precedent 17--38.
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  7. Annette Baier (1986). The Ambiguous Limits of Desire. In J. Marks (ed.), The Ways of Desire. Precedent 39--61.
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  8. Alexander Bain, W. R. Sorley, J. S. Mann, E. P. Scrymgour & Shadworth H. Hodgson (1887). Symposium: The Distinction Between Will and Desire. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 1 (1):54 - 69.
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  9. Derek Baker (2010). Ambivalent Desires and the Problem with Reduction. Philosophical Studies 150 (1):37-47.
    Ambivalence is most naturally characterized as a case of conflicting desires. In most cases, an agent’s intrinsic desires conflict contingently: there is some possible world in which both desires would be satisfied. This paper argues, though, that there are cases in which intrinsic desires necessarily conflict—i.e., the desires are not jointly satisfiable in any possible world. Desiring a challenge for its own sake is a paradigm case of such a desire. Ambivalence of this sort in an agent’s desires creates special (...)
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  10. Eric Barnes (2000). Ruling Passions: A Theory of Practical Reason, Simon Blackburn. Clarendon Press, 1998, 344 Pages. [REVIEW] Economics and Philosophy 16 (2):372-378.
  11. Melissa Barry (2007). Realism, Rational Action, and the Humean Theory of Motivation. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 10 (3):231-242.
    Realists about practical reasons agree that judgments regarding reasons are beliefs. They disagree, however, over the question of how such beliefs motivate rational action. Some adopt a Humean conception of motivation, according to which beliefs about reasons must combine with independently existing desires in order to motivate rational action; others adopt an anti-Humean view, according to which beliefs can motivate rational action in their own right, either directly or by giving rise to a new desire that in turn motivates the (...)
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  12. Melissa Barry (2007). Realism, Rational Action, and the Humean Theory of Motivation. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 10 (3):231-242.
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  13. Peter Brian Barry, Two Dogmas of Moral Psychology.
    I contend that there are two dogmas that are still popular among philosophers of action: that agents can only desire what they think is good and that they can only intentionally pursue what they think is good. I also argue that both dogmas are false. Broadly, I argue that our best theories of action can explain the possibility of intentionally pursuing what one thinks is not at all good, that we need to allow for the possibility of intentionally pursuing what (...)
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  14. Peter Brian Barry (2007). Sergio Tenenbaum, Appearances of the Good: An Essay on the Nature of Practical Reason:Appearances of the Good: An Essay on the Nature of Practical Reason. Ethics 118 (1):181-184.
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  15. Piers Benn (2000). Ruling Passions by Simon Blackburn Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1998, X + 334pp. [REVIEW] Philosophy 75 (3):452-462.
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  16. Alexandre Billon (2011). Have We Vindicated the Motivational Unconscious Yet? A Conceptual Review. Frontiers in Psychoanalysis and Neuropsychoanalysis 2.
    Motivationally unconscious (M-unconscious) states are unconscious states that can directly motivate a subject’s behavior and whose unconscious character typically results from a form of repression. The basic argument for M-unconscious states claims that they provide the best explanation to some seemingly non rational behaviors, like akrasia, impulsivity or apparent self-deception. This basic argument has been challenged on theoretical, empirical and conceptual grounds. Drawing on recent works on apparent self-deception and on the ‘cognitive unconscious’ I assess those objections. I argue that (...)
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  17. Simon Blackburn (2001). Ruling Passions: A Theory of Practical Reason. Philosophical Quarterly 51 (202):110-114.
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  18. E. J. Bond (1979). Desire, Action, and the Good. American Philosophical Quarterly 16 (1):53 - 59.
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  19. Bijoy Boruah (1989). Fictional Emotion, Quasi Desire and Background Belief. Indian Philosophical Quarterly 16 (4):409.
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  20. Nick Bostrom (2012). The Superintelligent Will: Motivation and Instrumental Rationality in Advanced Artificial Agents. [REVIEW] Minds and Machines 22 (2):71-85.
    This paper discusses the relation between intelligence and motivation in artificial agents, developing and briefly arguing for two theses. The first, the orthogonality thesis, holds (with some caveats) that intelligence and final goals (purposes) are orthogonal axes along which possible artificial intellects can freely vary—more or less any level of intelligence could be combined with more or less any final goal. The second, the instrumental convergence thesis, holds that as long as they possess a sufficient level of intelligence, agents having (...)
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  21. Paul Boswell (forthcoming). Making Sense of Unpleasantness: Evaluationism and Shooting the Messenger. Philosophical Studies:1-24.
    Unpleasant sensations possess a unique ability to make certain aversive actions seem reasonable to us. But what is it about these experiences that give them that ability? According to some recent evaluationist accounts, it is their representational content: unpleasant sensations represent a certain event as bad for one. Unfortunately evaluationism seems unable to make sense of our aversive behavior to the sensations themselves, for it appears to entail that taking a painkiller is akin to shooting the messenger, and is every (...)
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  22. Sophie Botros (2006). Hume, Reason and Morality: A Legacy of Contradiction. Routledge.
    Covering an important theme in Humean studies, this book focuses on Hume's hugely influential attempt in book three of his _Treatise of Human Nature _to derive the conclusion that morality is a matter of feeling, not reason, from its link with action. Claiming that Hume's argument contains a fundamental contradiction that has gone unnoticed in modern debate, this fascinating volume contains a refreshing combination of historical-scholarly work and contemporary analysis that seeks to expose this contradiction and therefore provide a significant (...)
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  23. Richard Bradley (2007). The Kinematics of Belief and Desire. Synthese 156 (3):513-535.
    Richard Jeffrey regarded the version of Bayesian decision theory he floated in ‘The Logic of Decision’ and the idea of a probability kinematics—a generalisation of Bayesian conditioning to contexts in which the evidence is ‘uncertain’—as his two most important contributions to philosophy. This paper aims to connect them by developing kinematical models for the study of preference change and practical deliberation. Preference change is treated in a manner analogous to Jeffrey’s handling of belief change: not as mechanical outputs of combinations (...)
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  24. Richard Brandt, Jaegwon Kim & Sidney Morgenbesser (1963). Wants as Explanations of Actions. Journal of Philosophy 60 (15):425-435.
    Some features of the concept of a want, and of the explaining relation in which a want may stand to an action, have not received sufficient attention. In what follows we shall offer some suggestions and descriptions which may be one step toward remedy of this situationi. We shall be at pains to point out the extent to which the features we describe fit in with a conception of the explanations of actions conforming to the inferential (deductive or inductive) and (...)
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  25. T. Brewer (2008). Appearances of the Good: An Essay on the Nature of Practical Reason. Philosophical Review 117 (4):618-620.
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  26. John Bricke (1988). Hume, Motivation and Morality. Hume Studies 14 (1):1-24.
  27. John Broome (2009). Motivation. Theoria 75 (2):79-99.
    I develop a scheme for the explanation of rational action. I start from a scheme that may be attributed to Thomas Nagel in The Possibility of Altruism , and develop it step by step to arrive at a sharper and more accurate scheme. The development includes a progressive refinement of the notion of motivation. I end by explaining the role of reasoning within the scheme.
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  28. John Broome (1994). The Mutual Determination of Wants and Benefits. Theory and Decision 37 (3):333-338.
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  29. Sarah Buss (1997). Weakness of Will. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 78 (1):13–44.
    My chief aim is to explain how someone can act freely against her own best judgment. But I also have a second aim: to defend a conception of practical rationality according to which someone cannot do something freely if she believes it would be better to do something else. These aims may appear incompatible. But I argue that practical reason has the capacity to undermine itself in such a way that it produces reasons for behaving irrationally. Weakness of will is (...)
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  30. K. Bykvist (2012). Desire, Practical Reason, and the Good * Edited by Sergio Tenenbaum. Analysis 72 (1):200-202.
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  31. John Camacho, Belief and Desire: Direction and Fit.
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  32. David Charles (2011). Desire in Action : Aristotle's Move. In Michael Pakaluk & Giles Pearson (eds.), Moral Psychology and Human Action in Aristotle. Oxford University Press
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  33. David Charles (2009). Aristotle on Desire and Action. In Dorothea Frede & Burkhard Reis (eds.), Body and Soul in Ancient Philosophy. Walter de Gruyter 291--308.
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  34. David Charles (1985). Practical Reason, Aristotle and Weakness of the Will. Philosophical Books 26 (4):209-212.
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  35. James Elwood Cheney (1974). The Concept of Desire. Dissertation, The University of Wisconsin - Madison
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  36. Y. N. Chopra (1973). Desire And Capacity. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 3 (September):115-119.
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  37. Philip Clark (2010). Aspects, Guises, Species and Knowing Something to Be Good. In Sergio Tenenbaum (ed.), Desire, Practical Reason, and the Good. Oxford University Press 234.
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  38. Philip Clark (2000). What Goes Without Saying in Metaethics. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 60 (2):357-379.
    Reflection on the nature of practical thought has led some philosophers to hold that some beliefs have a necessary influence on the will. Reflection on the nature of motivational explanation has led other philosophers to say that no belief can motivate without the assistance of a background desire. An assumption common to both groups of philosophers is that these views cannot be combined. Agreement on this assumption is so deep that it is taken as going without saying. The only option (...)
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  39. Randolph Clarke (1994). Doing What One Wants Less: A Reappraisal of the Law of Desire. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 75 (1):1-11.
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  40. Robert Greer Cohn (1989). Desire. Philosophy Today 33 (4):318-329.
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  41. Mary Clayton Coleman (2008). Directions of Fit and the Humean Theory of Motivation. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 86 (1):127 – 139.
    According to the Humean theory of motivation, a person can only be motivated to act by a desire together with a relevantly related belief. More specifically, a person can only be motivated to ϕ by a desire to ψ together with a belief that ϕ-ing is a means to or a way of ψ-ing. In recent writings, Michael Smith gives what has become a very influential argument in favour of the Humean claim that desire is a necessary part of motivation, (...)
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  42. Thomas D. Connor (2014). Self-Control, Willpower and the Problem of Diminished Motivation. Philosophical Studies 168 (3):783-796.
    Self-control has been described as the ability to master motivation that is contrary to one’s better judgement; that is, an ability that prevents such motivation from resulting in behaviour that is contrary to one’s overall better judgement (Mele, Irrationality: An essay on Akrasia, self-deception and self-control, p. 54, 1987). Recent discussions in philosophy have centred on the question of whether synchronic self-control, in which one exercises self-control whilst one is currently experiencing opposing motivation, is actional or non-actional. The actional theorist (...)
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  43. John M. Cooper (1984). Plato's Theory of Human Motivation. History of Philosophy Quarterly 1 (1):3 - 21.
    I discuss the division of the soul in plato's "republic". i concentrate on the arguments and illustrative examples given in book iv, but i treat the descriptions of different types of person in viii-ix and elsewhere as further constituents of a single, coherent theory. on my interpretation plato distinguishes three basic kinds of motivation which he claims all human beings regularly experience in some degree. reason is itself the immediate source of certain desires. in addition, there are appetitive and also--quite (...)
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  44. Christopher Cordner (1985). Jackson on Weakness of Will. Mind 94 (374):273-280.
    I begin with a resume ofJ ackson's position. I shall follow this with some counter- examples; and end with a diagnosis of why the problems with Jackson's account arise. In objecting to Jackson's account I am not presupposing the truth of one or other particular account of akrasia. What I am supposing is that unless we recognize some kind of conflict of mind as engaged at the time of action, we are not speaking of akrasia. I hive argued that Jackson, (...)
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  45. W. Miles Cox (1976). Eight Drive-Reward Combinations: A Test of Incentive-Motivational Theory. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society 7 (2):121-124.
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  46. M. B. Crowe (1958). Ultimate Desires. Philosophical Studies 8:242-243.
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  47. Jonathan Dancy (1999). Motivation, Dispositions And Aims. Theoria 65 (2-3):212-224.
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  48. Jonathan Dancy (1995). The Presidential Address: Why There Is Really No Such Thing as the Theory of Motivation. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 95:1 - 18.
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  49. Jonathan Dancy (1995). Why There Is Really No Such Thing as the Theory of Motivation. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 95:1-18.
    To the extent, then, that we set our face against admitting the truth of Humeanism in the theory of motivation, to that extent we are probably going to feel that there is no such thing as the theory of motivation, so conceived, at all. And that will be the position that this paper is trying to defend, though not only for this reason. It might seem miraculous that so much can be extracted from the little distinction with which (...)
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  50. Marc-Kevin Daoust (ed.) (2015). Le désir et la philosophie. Les Cahiers d'Ithaque.
    Quels désirs sont dignes de la raison ? Comment satisfaire nos désirs sans perdre le contrôle de soi ? Ce recueil offre un éclairage sur les différents aspects de ces problèmes. Nous proposons au lecteur un parcours historique, allant de Platon à Hume, sur la question du désir et sa place dans les textes fondateurs de la philosophie.
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