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Moral Motivation

Edited by Joshua May (University of Alabama, Birmingham)
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Summary Questions in moral motivation are broad, but often focus on the source and content of one's motivation to do what one judges to be right. For example, is the source of moral motivation more of a cognitive matter, involving reasoning or belief? Or is it primarily a matter of sentiment, desire, or emotion? Is the content of moral motivation, say, a desire to do whatever one believes is right. Or is it something more direct, such as empathy or a concern for features that make the action right? Related questions dealt with in other areas as well concern the apparently internal connection between moral judgments and moral motivation (internalism) and whether benevolent action is always ultimately self-interested (egoism).  The notion of "right" throughout may encompass more than morality, since often philosophers interested in moral motivation have a broader concern for what we might call "normative motivation." This involves, for example, motivation to do what one believes one has most reason to do, whether these reasons are moral or not. Familiar questions can then arise, such as whether it's possible for us to judge that following a strict diet is most prudent, yet lack any motivation to do it. 
Key works Many of the issues in moral motivation dealt with in contemporary literature spring from Hume 1739/2000 and Kant 1785/2002. More recently, Nagel 1970, Korsgaard 1986, and Smith 1994 address the source and structure of moral motivation and have spurred much of the subsequent literature. Herman 1981 provides a key starting point for contemporary discussion of the content of moral motivation---there in connection with the motive of duty (see also Smith 1994, ch. 3).
Introductions The entry by Rosati 2006 provides a detailed introduction; Wallace 1998 is more brief but equally useful. Some of the relevant empirical work is summarized in May 2012 and Schroeder et al 2010Wallace 1990 provides a fairly lengthy but excellent introduction to key arguments for the role of desire in moral motivation.
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  1. Steven Arkonovich (2013). Varieties of Reasons/Motives Internalism. Philosophy Compass 8 (3):210-219.
    Under what conditions do you have a reason to perform some action? Do you only have reason to do what you want to do? Reasons-motives internalism is the appealingly simple view that unless an agent is, or could be, motivated to act in a certain way, he has no normative reason to act in that way. Thus, according to reasons-motives internalism, facts about an individual’s motivational psychology constrain what is rational for that agent to do. This article canvasses several ways (...)
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  2. Carla Bagnoli (2009). “Practical Necessity: The Subjective Experience”. In W. Huemer & B. Centi (eds.), Value and Ontology. Ontos-Verlag.
  3. Marcia Baron (1984). The Alleged Moral Repugnance of Acting From Duty. Journal of Philosophy 81 (4):197-220.
    Friends as well as foes of Kant have long been uneasy over his emphasis on duty, but lately the view that there is something morally repugnant about acting from duty seems to be gaining in popularity. More and more philosophers indicate their readiness to jettison duty and the moral 'ought' and to conceive of the perfectly moral person as someone who has all the right desires and acts accordingly without any notion that (s)he ought to act in this way. Elsewhere' (...)
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  4. Lorraine Besser-Jones (2011). The Motivational State of the Virtuous Agent. Philosophical Psychology 25 (1):93 - 108.
    Julia Annas argues that Aristotle's understanding of the phenomenological experience of the virtuous agent corresponds to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's concept of the ?flow,? which is a form of intrinsic motivation. In this paper, I explore whether or not Annas? understanding of virtuous agency is a plausible one. After a thorough analysis of psychological accounts of intrinsic and extrinsic states of motivation, I argue that despite the attractiveness of Annas? understanding of virtuous agency, it is subject to a serious problem: all (...)
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  5. Lorraine Besser-jones (2008). Social Psychology, Moral Character, and Moral Fallibility. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 76 (2):310–332.
    In recent years, there has been considerable debate in the literature concerning the existence of moral character. One lesson we should take away from these debates is that the concept of character, and the role it plays in guiding our actions, is far more complex than most of us initially took it to be. Just as Gilbert Harman, for example, makes a serious mistake in insisting, plainly and simply, that ther is no such thing as character, defenders of character also (...)
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  6. Lorraine Besser-Jones (2008). Personal Integrity, Moraity, and Psychological Well-Being. Journal of Moral Philosophy 5 (3):361-383.
    Most moral theories purport to make claims upon agents, yet often it is not clear why those claims are ones that can be justifiably demanded of agents. In this paper, I develop a justification of moral requirements that explains why it is that morality makes legitimate claims on agents. This justification is grounded in the idea that there is an essential connection between morality and psychological well-being. I go on to suggest how, using this justification as a springboard, we might (...)
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  7. Gunnar Björnsson, Caj Strandberg, Ragnar Francén Olinder, John Eriksson & Fredrik Björklund (eds.) (forthcoming). Motivational Internalism. Oxford University Press.
    Motivational internalism—the idea that there is an intrinsic or necessary connection between moral judgment and moral motivation—is a central thesis in a number of metaethical debates. In conjunction with a Humean picture of motivation, it provides a challenge for cognitivist theories that take moral judgments to concern objective aspects of reality. Versions of internalism have potential implications for moral absolutism, realism, non-naturalism, and rationalism. Being a constraint on more detailed conceptoins of moral motivation and moral judgment, it is also directly (...)
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  8. Simon Blackburn (2000). Humanity's Natural Face. Philosophical Explorations 3 (3):282 – 296.
    In my article I summarize a 'Humean' view of deliberation, and in particular deliberation with an ethical aspect. I regard Hume as having paved the way for a 'naturalistic' account of these things, avoiding Kantian fantasies of agency that dominate much current work. Contrary to what is often supposed, the Humean story gives a satisfactory account of dutiful or principled motivations, and a rich account of the ways in which different aspects of character are selected as 'useful or agreeable to (...)
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  9. Hilary Bok (1996). Acting Without Choosing. Noûs 30 (2):174-196.
    I will argue that this intuitive description is in fact accurate: that we can and do perform actions we know to be wrong simply because we fail to decide what to do. I will then try to show that once we recognize this fact, we can identify a character trait which any plausible moral theory which is not strictly self-defeating must require that we develop. Finally, I will sketch some implications of this argument for the role of virtue in moral (...)
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  10. David Brax (2009). Hedonism as the Explanation of Value. Dissertation, Lund University
    This thesis defends a hedonistic theory of value consisting of two main components. Part 1 offers a theory of pleasure. Pleasures are experiences distinguished by a distinct phenomenological quality. This quality is attitudinal in nature: it is the feeling of liking. The pleasure experience is also an object of this attitude: when feeling pleasure, we like what we feel, and part of how it feels is how this liking feels: Pleasures are Internally Liked Experiences. Pleasure plays a central role in (...)
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  11. Talbot Brewer (2002). The Character of Temptation: Towards a More Plausible Kantian Moral Psychology. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 83 (2):103–130.
    Kant maintained that dutiful action can have the fullest measure of moral worth even if chosen in the face of powerful inclinations to act immorally, and indeed that opposing inclinations only highlight the worth of the action. I argue that this conclusion rests on an implausibly mechanistic account of desires, and that many desires are constituted by tendencies to see certain features of one’s circumstances as reasons to perform one or another action. I try to show that inclinations to violate (...)
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  12. David O. Brink (1997). Moral Motivation. Ethics 108 (1):4-32.
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  13. Danielle Bromwich (2010). Clearing Conceptual Space for Cognitivist Motivational Internalism. Philosophical Studies 148 (3):343 - 367.
    Cognitivist motivational internalism is the thesis that, if one believes that 'It is right to ϕ', then one will be motivated to ϕ. This thesis—which captures the practical nature of morality—is in tension with a Humean constraint on belief: belief cannot motivate action without the assistance of a conceptually independent desire. When defending cognitivist motivational internalism it is tempting to either argue that the Humean constraint only applies to non-moral beliefs or that moral beliefs only motivate ceteris paribus . But (...)
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  14. Wesley Buckwalter & John Turri, In the Thick of Moral Motivation.
    We accomplish three things in this paper. First, we expose the motivational internalism/externalism debate in moral psychology as a false dichotomy born of ambiguity. Second, we provide further evidence for a crucial distinction between two different categories of belief in folk psychology: thick belief and thin belief. Third, we demonstrate how careful attention to deep features of folk psychology can help diagnose and defuse seemingly intractable philosophical disagreement in metaethics.
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  15. Daniel Callcut (2009). Mill, Sentimentalism and the Problem of Moral Authority. Utilitas 21 (1):22-35.
    Mill’s aim in chapter 3 of Utilitarianism is to show that his revisionary moral theory can preserve the kind of authority typically and traditionally associated with moral demands. One of his main targets is the idea that if people come to believe that morality is rooted in human sentiment then they will feel less bound by moral obligation. Chapter 3 emphasizes two claims: (1) The main motivation to ethical action comes from feelings and not from beliefs and (2) Ethical feelings (...)
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  16. Timothy Chan & Guy Kahane (2011). The Trouble with Being Sincere. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 41 (2):215-234.
    Questions about sincerity play a central role in our lives. But what makes an assertion insincere? In this paper we argue that the answer to this question is not as straightforward as it has sometimes been taken to be. Until recently the dominant answer has been that a speaker makes an insincere assertion if and only if he does not believe the proposition asserted. There are, however, persuasive counterexamples to this simple account. It has been proposed instead that an insincere (...)
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  17. Michael Cholbi (2011). Depression, Listlessness, and Moral Motivation. Ratio 24 (1):28-45.
    Motivational internalism (MI) holds that, necessarily, if an agent judges that she is morally obligated to ø, then, that agent is, to at least some minimal extent, motivated to ø. Opponents of MI sometimes invoke depression as a counterexample on the grounds that depressed individuals appear to sincerely affirm moral judgments but are ‘listless’ and unmotivated by such judgments. Such listlessness is a credible counterexample to MI, I argue, only if the actual clinical disorder of depression, rather than a merely (...)
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  18. Philip Clark, Mackie's Motivational Argument Philip Clark.
    Mackie doubted anything objective could have the motivational properties of a value. In thinking we are morally required to act in a certain way, he said, we attribute objective value to the action. Since nothing has objective value, these moral judgments are all false. As to whether Mackie proved his error theory, opinions vary. But there is broad agreement on one issue. A litany of examples, ranging from amoralism to depression to downright evil, has everyone convinced that Mackie vastly overstated (...)
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  19. David Copp (1995). Moral Obligation and Moral Motivation. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Supplement 21 (sup1):187–219.
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  20. David Copp & David Sobel (2002). Desires, Motives, and Reasons: Scanlon's Rationalistic Moral Psychology. Social Theory and Practice 28 (2):243-76.
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  21. Jonathan Dancy (1993). Moral Reasons. Blackwell.
    This book attempts to place a realist view of ethics (the claim that there are facts of the matter in ethics as elsewhere) within a broader context. It starts with a discussion of why we should mind about the difference between right and wrong, asks what account we should give of our ability to learn from our moral experience, and looks in some detail at the different sorts of ways in which moral reasons can combine to show us what we (...)
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  22. John J. Davenport (2007). Review of R. Jay Wallace, Normativity and the Will: Selected Essays on Moral Psychology and Practical Reason. [REVIEW] Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2007 (12).
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  23. John Deigh (1996). The Sources of Moral Agency: Essays in Moral Psychology and Freudian Theory. Cambridge University Press.
    The essays in this collection are concerned with the psychology of moral agency. They focus on moral feelings and moral motivation, and seek to understand the operations and origins of these phenomena as rooted in the natural desires and emotions of human beings. An important feature of the essays, and one that distinguishes the book from most philosophical work in moral psychology, is the attention to the writings of Freud. Many of the essays draw on Freud's ideas about conscience and (...)
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  24. John Deigh (ed.) (1992). Ethics and Personality: Essays in Moral Psychology. University of Chicago Press.
    This anthology focuses on emotions and motives that relate to our status as moral agents, our capacity for moral judgement, and the practices that help to define our social lives. Attachment, trust, respect, conscience, guilt, revenge, depravity, and forgiveness are among the topics discussed. Collectively, the thirteen essays in this collection represent a time-honored tradition in ethics: the effort to throw light on fundamental questions concerning the complexities of the human soul.
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  25. Lara Denis (2005). Autonomy and the Highest Good. Kantian Review 10 (1):33-59.
    Kant’s ethics conceives of rational beings as autonomous–capable of legislating the moral law, and of motivating themselves to act out of respect for that law. Kant’s ethics also includes a notion of the highest good, the union of virtue with happiness proportional to, and consequent on, virtue. According to Kant, morality sets forth the highest good as an object of the totality of all things good as ends. Much about Kant’s conception of the highest good is controversial. This paper focuses (...)
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  26. Michael D. Doan (2013). Climate Change and Complacency. Hypatia 29 (2).
    In this paper I engage interdisciplinary conversation on inaction as the dominant response to climate change, and develop an analysis of the specific phenomenon of complacency through a critical-feminist lens. I suggest that Chris Cuomo's discussion of the “insufficiency” problem and Susan Sherwin's call for a “public ethics” jointly point toward particularly promising harm-reduction strategies. I draw upon and extend their work by arguing that extant philosophical accounts of complacency are inadequate to the task of sorting out what it means (...)
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  27. John Doris (ed.) (2010). Moral Psychology Handbook. Oxford University Press.
    The Moral Psychology Handbook offers a survey of contemporary moral psychology, integrating evidence and argument from philosophy and the human sciences.
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  28. James N. Druckman (2012). The Politics of Motivation. Critical Review 24 (2):199-216.
    Taber and Lodge offer a powerful case for the prevalence of directional reasoning that aims not at truth, but at the vindication of prior opinions. Taber and Lodge's results have far-reaching implications for empirical scholarship and normative theory; indeed, the very citizens often seen as performing ?best? on tests of political knowledge, sophistication, and ideological constraint appear to be the ones who are the most susceptible to directional reasoning. However, Taber and Lodge's study, while internally beyond reproach, may substantially overstate (...)
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  29. Pablo Gilabert (2005). A Substantivist Construal of Discourse Ethics. International Journal of Philosophical Studies 13 (3):405 – 437.
    This paper presents a substantivist construal of discourse ethics, which claims that we should see our engagement in public deliberation as expressing and elaborating a substantive commitment to basic moral ideas of solidarity, equality, and freedom. This view is different from Habermas's standard formalist defence of discourse ethics, which attempts to derive the principle of discursive moral justification from primarily non-moral presuppositions of rational argumentation as such. After explicating the difference between the substantivist and the formalist construal, I (...)
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  30. Irwin Goldstein (2002). The Good's Magnetism and Ethical Realism. Philosophical Studies 108 (1-2):1-14.
    People support ethical antirealism with various arguments. Gilbert Harman thinks if a property of goodness existed, it would have detectable effects on objects that have it. However, Harman reasons, the good has no such detectable effects. Internalists think if good objects had some goodness property, that property would bond to desire and action in a way inconsistent with ethical realism. I defend ethical realism from the two arguments. I explain how good can both name a property and how objects with (...)
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  31. Alex Gregory (2013). The Guise of Reasons. American Philosophical Quarterly 50 (1):63-72.
    In this paper it is argued that we should amend the traditional understanding of the view known as the guise of the good. The guise of the good is traditionally understood as the view that we only want to act in ways that we believe to be good in some way. But it is argued that a more plausible view is that we only want to act in ways that we believe we have normative reason to act in. This change (...)
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  32. John Hardwig (1983). Action From Duty but Not in Accord with Duty. Ethics 93 (2):283-290.
    In thc Foundations, Kant draws a distinction bctwccn action which is in accord with duty and action which is done from the motive of duty. This is 21 famous distinction, of course, and thcrc arc many interesting issues concerning it and its implications for ethical thcory. In this paper, I wish t0 focus on just 0nc noteworthy feature of K2mt’s usc of this distinction. Likc any distinction bctwccn logical compatiblcs, this 0nc yields four logically possible classes of action: (1) actions (...)
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  33. Joseph Heath (1997). Foundationalism and Practical Reason. Mind 106 (423):451-474.
    In this paper, I argue that Humean theories of moral motivation appear preferable to Kantian approaches only if one assumes a broadly foundationalist conception of rational justification. Like foundationalist approaches to justification generally, Humean psychology aims to counter the regress-of-justification argument by positing a set of ultimate regress-stoppers-in this case, unmotivated desires. If the need for regress-stoppers of this type in the realm of practical deliberation is accepted, desires do indeed appear to be the most likely candidate. But if this (...)
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  34. Richard G. Henson (1979). What Kant Might Have Said: Moral Worth and the Overdetermination of Dutiful Action. Philosophical Review 88 (1):39-54.
    My purpose is to account for some oddities in what Kant did and did not say about "moral worth," and for another in what commentators tell us about his intent. The stone with which I hope to dispatch these several birds is-as one would expect a philosopher's stone to be-a distinction. I distinguish between two things Kant might have had in mind under the heading of moral worth. They come readily to mind when one both takes account of what he (...)
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  35. Barbara Herman (1981). On the Value of Acting From the Motive of Duty. Philosophical Review 90 (3):359-382.
    Richard Henson attempts to take the sting out of this view of Kant on moral worth by arguing (i) that attending to the phenomenon of the overdetermination of actions leads one to see that Kant might have had two distinct views of moral worth, only one of which requires the absence of cooperating inclinations, and (ii) that when Kant insists that there is moral worth only when an action is done from the motive of duty alone, he need not also (...)
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  36. Ulrike Heuer (2012). Thick Concepts and Internal Reasons. In Ulrike Heuer & Gerald Lang (eds.), Luck, Value, and Commitment: Themes From the Ethics of Bernard Williams. Oxford University Press, Usa. 219.
  37. Ulrike Heuer & Gerald Lang (eds.) (2012). Luck, Value, and Commitment: Themes From the Ethics of Bernard Williams. Oxford University Press, USA.
    Luck, Value, and Commitment comprises eleven new essays which engage with, or take their point of departure from, the influential work in moral and political philosophy of Bernard Williams (1929-2003).
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  38. Pamela Hieronymi (2011). Of Metaethics and Motivation: The Appeal of Contractualism. In R. Jay Wallace, Rahul Kumar & Samuel Richard Freeman (eds.), Reasons and Recognition: Essays on the Philosophy of T. M. Scanlon. Oxford University Press.
    In 1982, when T. M. Scanlon published “Contractualism and Utilitarianism,” he noted that, despite the widespread attention to Rawls’ A Theory of Justice, the appeal of contractualism as a moral theory had been under appreciated. In particular, the appeal of contractualism’s account of what he then called “moral motivation” had been under appreciated.1 It seems to me that, in the intervening quarter century, despite the widespread discussion of Scanlon’s work, the appeal of contractualism, in precisely this regard, has still been (...)
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  39. Richard Holton (2003). How is Strength of Will Possible? In Christine Tappolet & Sarah Stroud (eds.), Weakness of Will and Practical Irrationality. Oxford. 39-67.
    Most recent accounts of will-power have tried to explain it as reducible to the operation of beliefs and desires. In opposition to such accounts, this paper argues for a distinct faculty of will-power. Considerations from philosophy and from social psychology are used in support.
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  40. Graham Hubbs (forthcoming). On Humean Explanation and Practical Normativity. Journal of the American Philosophical Association.
    If Hume is correct that the descriptive and the normative are “entirely different” matters, then it would seem to follow that endorsing a given account of action-explanation does not restrict the account of practical normativity one may simultaneously endorse. In this essay, I challenge the antecedent of this conditional by targeting its consequent. Specifically, I argue that if one endorses a Humean account of action-explanation, which many find attractive, one is thereby committed to a Humean account of practical normativity, which (...)
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  41. Rosalind Hursthouse, Gavin Lawrence & Warren Quinn (eds.) (1995). Virtues and Reasons: Philippa Foot and Moral Theory: Essays in Honour of Philippa Foot. Oxford University Press.
    Philippa Foot is one of the most original and widely respected philosophers of our time; her work has exerted a lasting influence on the development of moral philosophy. In tribute to her, twelve leading philosophers from both sides of the Atlantic have contributed essays exploring the various topics in moral philosophy to which she has made a distinctive contribution--virtue ethics, naturalism, non-cognitivism, relativism, categorical requirements, and the role of rationality in morality.
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  42. Diane Jeske (1998). A Defense of Acting From Duty. Journal of Value Inquiry 32 (1):61–74.
    Philosophers who, in the light of these attacks, have attempted to vindicate the motive of duty have done so in a half-hearted way, by stressing the motive of duty’s function as a secondary or limiting motivation, or by denying “that acting from duty primarily concerns isolated actions.” I will defend duty as a primary motive with respect to isolated actions. Critics of acting from duty and philosophers who have attempted to respond to them have done little work spelling out exactly (...)
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  43. Robert Johnson (2009). Good Will and the Moral Worth of Acting From Duty. In Thomas E. Hill (ed.), The Blackwell Guide to Kant's Ethics. Wiley-Blackwell.
    The first section of the Groundwork begins “It is impossible to imagine anything at all in the world, or even beyond it, that can be called good without qualification— except a good will.”1 Kant’s explanation and defense of this claim is followed by an explanation and defense of another related claim, that only actions performed out of duty have moral worth. He explains that actions performed out of duty are those done from respect for the moral law, and then culminates (...)
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  44. Robert N. Johnson (1996). Expressing a Good Will: Kant on the Motive of Duty. Southern Journal of Philosophy 34 (2):147-168.
    If any action is to be morally good it is not enough that it should conform to the moral law-it must also be done for the sake of the moral law: where this is not so, the conformity is only too contingent and precarious, since the nonmoral ground at work will now and then produce actions which accord with the law, but very often actions which transgress it.
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  45. Andrew Jordan (forthcoming). Whole-Hearted Motivation and Relevant Alternatives: A Problem for the Contrastivist Account of Moral Reasons. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice:1-11.
    Recently, Walter Sinott-Armstrong and Justin Snedegar have argued for a general contrastivist theory of reasons. According to the contrastivist account of reasons, all reasons claims should be understood as a relation with an additional place for a contrast class. For example, rather than X being a reason for A to P simpliciter, the contrastivist claims that X is a reason for A to P out of {P,Q,R…}. The main goal of this paper is to argue that the contrastivist account of (...)
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  46. Andrew Jordan (2014). On Reasons, Evidence of Oughts, and Morally Fitting Motives. Philosophia 42 (2):391-403.
    In a series of papers, Stephen Kearns and Daniel Star defend the following general account of reasons: R: Necessarily, a fact F is a reason for an agent A to Φ iff F is evidence that an agent ought to Φ.In this paper, I argue that the reasons as evidence view will run afoul of a motivational constraint on moral reasons, and that this is a powerful reason to reject the reasons as evidence view. The motivational constraint is as follows: (...)
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  47. Antti Kauppinen (forthcoming). Intuition and Belief in Moral Motivation. In Gunnar Björnsson (ed.), Moral Internalism.
    It seems to many that moral opinions must make a difference to what we’re motivated to do, at least in suitable conditions. For others, it seems that it is possible to have genuine moral opinions that make no motivational difference. Both sides – internalists and externalists about moral motivation – can tell persuasive stories of actual and hypothetical cases. My proposal for a kind of reconciliation is to distinguish between two kinds of psychological states with moral content. There are both (...)
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  48. Antti Kauppinen (2013). Sentimentalism (International Encyclopedia of Ethics). In Hugh LaFollette (ed.), International Encyclopedia of Ethics. Blackwell.
    Sentimentalism comes in many varieties: explanatory sentimentalism, judgment sentimentalism, metaphysical sentimentalism, and epistemic sentimentalism. This encyclopedia entry gives an overview of the positions and main arguments pro and con.
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  49. Jason Kawall (2004). Moral Response-Dependence, Ideal Observers, and the Motive of Duty: Responding to Zangwill. [REVIEW] Erkenntnis 60 (3):357-369.
    Moral response-dependent metaethical theories characterize moral properties in terms of the reactions of certain classes of individuals. Nick Zangwill has argued that such theories are flawed: they are unable to accommodate the motive of duty. That is, they are unable to provide a suitable reason for anyone to perform morally right actions simply because they are morally right. I argue that Zangwill ignores significant differences between various approvals, and various individuals, and that moral response-dependent theories can accommodate the motive of (...)
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  50. Jeanette Kennett (1993). Mixed Motives. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 71 (3):256 – 269.
    My aim in this paper is, by process of elimination, to elucidate and defend an account of how ordinary people act on their values. I will be making both a descriptive claim about our psychology and a further claim about its effectiveness and rational status. I want to suggest that the way in which most of us in fact put our values into practice is, over time, preferable to the ways which initially seem required or at least desirable.
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