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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 2016 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. Ron Aboodi (2015). The Wrong Time to Aim at What's Right: When is De Dicto Moral Motivation Less Virtuous? Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 115 (3 pt 3):307-314.
    I argue that there are two contingent factors that can render an instantiation of de dicto moral motivation—which is typically characterized by the agent's conceiving of her goal in moral terms such as doing what's right —less virtuous than some alternative motivation that would lead to the same action: the circumstances are such that it would be more virtuous to be moved directly by certain non-deliberative dispositions ; or the circumstances are such that de dicto moral motivation has practical disadvantages.
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  2. Julia Annas (1981). An Introduction to Plato's Republic. Oxford University Press.
    This interpretive introduction provides unique insight into Plato's Republic. Stressing Plato's desire to stimulate philosophical thinking in his readers, Julia Annas here demonstrates the coherence of his main moral argument on the nature of justice, and expounds related concepts of education, human motivation, knowledge and understanding. In a clear systematic fashion, this book shows that modern moral philosophy still has much to learn from Plato's attempt to move the focus from questions of what acts the just person ought to perform (...)
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  3. 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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  4. Hilliard Aronovitch (1978). Social Explanation and Rational Motivation. American Philosophical Quarterly 15 (3):197 - 204.
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  5. Nomy Arpaly (2014). Duty, Desire and the Good Person: Towards a Non‐Aristotelian Account of Virtue. Philosophical Perspectives 28 (1):59-74.
    This paper presents an account of the virtuous person, which I take to be the same as the good person. I argue that goodness in a person is based on her desires. Contra Aristotelians, I argue that one does not need wisdom to be good. There can be a perfectly good person with mental retardation or autism. Contra Kantians, I argue that the sense of duty - which does exist! - is compatible with a desire-based moral psychology.
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  6. Nomy Arpaly & Timothy Schroeder (2014). Précis of In Praise of Desire. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 89 (2):490-495.
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  7. Nomy Arpaly & Timothy Schroeder (2013). 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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  8. Carla Bagnoli (2009). “Practical Necessity: The Subjective Experience”. In W. Huemer & B. Centi (eds.), Value and Ontology. Ontos-Verlag
  9. Michael D. Barber (2007). Ethical Experience and the Motives for Practical Rationality. International Philosophical Quarterly 47 (4):425-441.
    John McDowell’s ethical writings interpret ethical experience as intentional, socially-conditioned, virtuous responsiveness to situations and develop a modest account of practical rationality. His work converges with investigations of ethical experience by recent Kant scholars (Sherman, Brewer, Herman) and Emmanuel Levinas. The Kantian interpreters and Levinas locate the categorical demands of ethical experience in rational agents’ demands for respect, while McDowell finds it in noble adherence to the demands of virtuous living. For McDowell, moral-practical rational efforts to justify ethics cannot transcend (...)
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  10. 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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  11. Luz Marina Barreto, Moral Reasoning. Moral Motivation and the Rational Foundation of Morals.
    In the following paper I will examine the possibility for a rational foundation of morals, rational in the sense that to ground a moral statement on reason amounts to being able to convince an unmotivated agent to conform to a moral rule - that is to say, to “rationally motivate” him (as Habermas would have said) to act in ways for which he or she had no previous reason to act. We will scrutinize the “internalist’s” objection (in Williams’ definition) to (...)
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  12. C. Daniel Batson & Laura L. Shaw (1991). Evidence for Altruism: Toward a Pluralism of Prosocial Motives. Psychological Inquiry 2 (2):107-122.
    Psychologists have long assumed that the motivation for all intentional action, including all action intended to benefit others, is egoistic. People benefit others because, ultimately, to do so benefits themselves. The empathy-altruism hypothesis challenges this assumption. It claims that empathic emotion evokes truly altruistic motivation, motivation with an ultimate goal ofbenefiting not the self but the person for whom empathy is felt. Logical and psychological distinctions between egoism and altruism are reviewed, providing a conceptualframeworkfor empirical tests for the existence of (...)
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  13. Piers Benn (2000). Ruling Passions by Simon Blackburn Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1998, X + 334pp. [REVIEW] Philosophy 75 (3):452-462.
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  14. 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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  15. 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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  16. 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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  17. D. Beyleveld & S. Pattinson (2000). Precautionary Duty as a Link to Moral Action. In James Torr (ed.), Medical Ethics. Greenhaven Press
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  18. Gunnar Björnsson, Caj Strandberg, Ragnar Francén Olinder, John Eriksson & Fredrik Björklund (2015). Motivational Internalism: Contemporary Debates. In Gunnar Björnsson, Caj Strandberg, Ragnar Francén Olinder, John Eriksson & Fredrik Björklund (eds.), Motivational Internalism. Oxford University Press 1–20.
    Motivational internalism—the idea that moral judgments are intrinsically or necessarily connected to motivation—has played a central role in metaethical debates. In conjunction with a Humean picture of motivation, internalism has provided a challenge for theories that take moral judgments to concern objective aspects of reality, and versions of internalism have been seen as having implications for moral absolutism, realism, and rationalism. But internalism is a controversial thesis, and the apparent possibility of amoralists and the rejection of strong forms of internalism (...)
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  19. 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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  20. Charles Blattberg (2009). Patriotic Elaborations: Essays in Practical Philosophy. McGill-Queen's University Press.
    How might we mend the world? Charles Blattberg suggests a "new patriotism," one that reconciles conflict through a form of dialogue that prioritizes conversation over negotiation and the common good over victory. This patriotism can be global as well as local, left as well as right. Blattberg's is a genuinely original philosophical voice. The essays collected here discuss how to re-conceive the political spectrum, where "deliberative deomocrats" go wrong, why human rights language is tragically counterproductive, how nationalism is not really (...)
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  21. 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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  22. Matthew Boyle & Douglas Lavin (2010). Goodness and Desire. In Sergio Tenenbaum (ed.), Desire, Practical Reason, and the Good. Oxford University Press 161--201.
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  23. 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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  24. 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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  25. 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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  26. David O. Brink (1997). Moral Motivation. Ethics 108 (1):4-32.
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  27. Justin Broakes (ed.) (2011). Iris Murdoch, Philosopher. OUP Oxford.
    Iris Murdoch was a notable philosopher before she was a notable novelist and her work was brave, brilliant, and independent. She made her name first for her challenges to Gilbert Ryle and behaviourism, and later for her book on Sartre (1953), but she had the greatest impact with her work in moral philosophy--and especially her book The Sovereignty of Good (1970). She turned expectantly from British linguistic philosophy to continental existentialism, but was dissatisfied there too; she devised a philosophy and (...)
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  28. Danielle Bromwich (2016). Motivational Internalism and the Challenge of Amoralism. European Journal of Philosophy 24 (2):452-471.
    Motivational internalism is the thesis that captures the commonplace thought that moral judgements are necessarily motivationally efficacious. But this thesis appears to be in tension with another aspect of our ordinary moral experience. Proponents of the contrast thesis, motivational externalism, cite everyday examples of amoralism to demonstrate that it is conceptually possible to be completely unmoved by what seem to be sincere first-person moral judgements. This paper argues that the challenge of amoralism gives us no reason to reject or modify (...)
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  29. 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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  30. Lajos L. Brons (2016). Facing Death From a Safe Distance: Saṃvega and Moral Psychology. Journal of Buddhist Ethics 23:83-128.
    Saṃvega is a morally motivating state of shock that -- according to Buddhaghosa -- should be evoked by meditating on death. What kind of mental state it is exactly, and how it is morally motivating is unclear, however. This article presents a theory of saṃvega -- what it is and how it works -- based on recent insights in psychology. According to dual process theories there are two kinds of mental processes organized in two" systems" : the experiential, automatic system (...)
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  31. Stuart M. Brown Jr (1952). Duty and the Production of Good. Philosophical Review 61 (3):299-311.
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  32. Wesley Buckwalter & John Turri (forthcoming). In the Thick of Moral Motivation. Review of Philosophy and Psychology:1-21.
    We accomplish three things in this paper. First, we provide evidence that the motivational internalism/externalism debate in moral psychology could be 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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  33. K. Bykvist (2012). Desire, Practical Reason, and the Good * Edited by Sergio Tenenbaum. Analysis 72 (1):200-202.
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  34. Mar Cabezas (2011). Moral Judgments, Emotions, and Some Expectations From Moral Motivation. Public Reason 3 (1).
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  35. 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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  36. 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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  37. 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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  38. 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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  39. 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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  40. Christine Clavien & Michel Chapuisat (forthcoming). The Evolution of Utility Functions and Psychological Altruism. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences.
    Numerous studies show that humans tend to be more cooperative than expected given the assumption that they are rational maximizers of personal gain. As a result, theoreticians have proposed elaborated formal representations of human decision-making, in which utility functions including “altruistic” or “moral” preferences replace the purely self-oriented "Homo economicus" function. Here we review mathematical approaches that provide insights into the mathematical stability of alternative utility functions. Candidate utility functions may be evaluated with help of game theory, classical modeling of (...)
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  41. David Copp (1995). Moral Obligation and Moral Motivation. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Supplement 21 (sup1):187–219.
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  42. David Copp (1995). Moral Obligation and Moral Motivation. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 25 (sup1):187-219.
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  43. 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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  44. Richard Corrigan (2008). Evaluative Judgement, Motivation and the Moral Standard. Philosophy Pathways 133.
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  45. Parker Crutchfield (2015). The Epistemology of Moral Bioenhancement. Bioethics 30 (5):n/a-n/a.
    Moral bioenhancement is the potential practice of manipulating individuals’ moral behaviors by biological means in order to help resolve pressing moral issues such as climate change and terrorism. This practice has obvious ethical implications, and these implications have been and continue to be discussed in the bioethics literature. What have not been discussed are the epistemological implications of moral bioenhancement. This article details some of these implications of engaging in moral bioenhancement. The argument begins by making the distinction between moral (...)
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  46. 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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  47. 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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  48. J. David Velleman (2002). Motivation by Ideal. Philosophical Explorations 5 (2):89-103.
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  49. Dan López de Sa (2006). The Case Against Evaluative Realism. Theoria: Revista de Teoría, Historia y Fundamentos de la Ciencia 21 (57):277-294.
    In this paper I offer a characterization of evaluative realism, present the intuitive case against it, and offer two considerations to support it further: one concerning the internalist connection between values and motivation, and the other concerning the intuitibve causal inefficacy of evaluative properties. The considerations ultimately rely on the former intuitions themselves, but are not devoid of interest, as they might make one revise what one took to be his own realistic supporting intuitions, if such one had.
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  50. 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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