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Motivation

Edited by Joshua May (University of Alabama, Birmingham)
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Summary Philosophers often treat motivation in connection with desire, given that they often use the term "desire" to refer to mental states that are in essence motivational. This does not necessarily lead to the theory that we are all ultimately self-interested (psychological egoism), since our ultimate desires could concern the welfare of others. And some believe motivation can be generated by states other than desire, such as belief, imagination, or intentions. Still, many share the view often labelled psychologism: motivation, even acting on reasons, must involve psychological states of some sort or other. After all, how could the fact that there is salmon on the table motivate me to consume it unless I at least believe this and want some salmon? Not everyone buys into a tight connection between mental states and motivation, however. Some seek to make an exception at least for rational action, which not all animals can exhibit. Proponents of anti-psychologism maintain that we don't need mental states at all in the causation and explanation of rational action. When we act on good reasons, for example, perhaps we can be motivated by something like the contents of those states---the propositions believed or desired.  Settling this dispute doesn't exhaust the philosophical issues surrounding motivation, but they are largely taken up in other categories.
Key works Davidson 1963 and Smith 1987 are contemporary and already classic pieces connecting motivation and desire, though couched in terms of reasons. They build on ideas in Anscombe 1957 (see her shopping list example, section 32). Anti-psychologism has clearly and explicitly been defended by Dancy (19952002).
Introductions Ch. 1 of Mele 2003 provides a comprehensive introduction to motivation, along with a useful glossary of terms (or see Mele 1995). The entries by Schroeder 2009 and Pettit 1998 cover desire, but they are useful introductions to motivation. Lenman 2010 (esp. sects. 5-6) discusses psychologism and related views.
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  1. Maria Alvarez (2010). Kinds of Reasons: An Essay in the Philosophy of Action. Oxford University Press.
    Understanding human beings and their distinctive rational and volitional capacities is one of the central tasks of philosophy. The task requires a clear account of such things as reasons, desires, emotions and motives, and of how they combine to produce and explain human behaviour. In Kinds of Reasons, Maria Alvarez offers a fresh and incisive treatment of these issues, focusing in particular on reasons as they feature in contexts of agency. Her account builds on some important recent work in the (...)
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  2. Maria Alvarez (2010). Kinds of Reasons: An Essay in the Philosophy of Action. OUP Oxford.
    Understanding human beings and their distinctive rational and volitional capacities is one of the central tasks of philosophy. The task requires a clear account of such things as reasons, desires, emotions and motives, and of how they combine to produce and explain human behaviour. In Kinds of Reasons, Maria Alvarez offers a fresh and incisive treatment of these issues, focusing in particular on reasons as they feature in contexts of agency. Her account builds on some important recent work in the (...)
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  3. Mark H. Bickhard (2000). Motivation and Emotion: An Interactive Process Model. In Ralph D. Ellis & Natika Newton (eds.), The Caldron of Consciousness: Motivation, Affect and Self-Organization. John Benjamins. 161.
    In this chapter, I outline dynamic models of motivation and emotion. These turn out not to be autonomous subsystems, but, instead, are deeply integrated in the basic interactive dynamic character of living systems. Motivation is a crucial aspect of particular kinds of interactive systems -- systems for which representation is a sister aspect. Emotion is a special kind of partially reflective interaction process, and yields its own emergent motivational aspects. In addition, the overall model accounts for some of the crucial (...)
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  4. 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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  5. J. A. M. Bransen & S. E. Cuypers (eds.) (1998). Human Action, Deliberation and Causation. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
    The essays collected together in this volume, many of them written by leading scholars in the field, explore the commonsensical fact that our presence as ...
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  6. John Brunero (2004). Korsgaard on Motivational Skepticism. Journal of Value Inquiry 38 (2):253–264.
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  7. Marcia Cavell (1989). Book Review:Irrationality: An Essay on Akrasia, Self-Deception and Self-Control. Alfred R. Mele. [REVIEW] Ethics 99 (2):429-.
  8. Randolph Clarke (2004). Review: Motivation and Agency. [REVIEW] Mind 113 (451):565-569.
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  9. 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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  10. Terence Cuneo (2002). Reconciling Realism with Humeanism. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 80 (4):465 – 486.
    The central purpose of this essay is to consider some of the more prominent reasons why realists have rejected the Humean theory of motivation. I shall argue that these reasons are not persuasive, and that there is nothing about being a moral realist that should make us suspicious of Humeanism.
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  11. Gregory Currie (2002). Imagination as Motivation. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 102 (3):201-16.
    What kinds of psychological states motivate us? Beliefs and desires are the obvious candidates. But some aspects of our behaviour suggest another idea. I have in mind the view that imagination can sometimes constitute motivation.
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  12. 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 we started, (...)
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  13. Wayne A. Davis (2003). Psychologism and Humeanism: Review of Dancy's Practical Reality. [REVIEW] Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 67 (2):452 - 459.
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  14. Christopher G. Framarin (2008). Motivation-Encompassing Attitudes. Philosophical Explorations 11 (2):121 – 130.
    Alfred R. Mele defends a broadly 'Humean' theory of motivation. One common dispute between Humeans and anti-Humeans has to do with whether or not a desire is required to motivate action. For the most part Mele avoids this dispute. He claims that there are reasons to think that beliefs cannot motivate action, but finally allows that it might be that it is a contingent fact that beliefs can motivate action in human beings. Instead Mele argues for the claim that certain (...)
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  15. Danny Frederick (2010). Unmotivated Intentional Action. Philosophical Frontiers 5 (1):21-30.
    In opposition to the tenet of contemporary action theory that an intentional action must be done for a reason, I argue that some intentional actions are unmotivated. I provide examples of arbitrary and habitual actions that are done for no reason at all. I consider and rebut an objection to the examples of unmotivated habitual action. I explain how my contention differs from recent challenges to the tenet by Hursthouse, Stocker and Pollard.
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  16. Joshua Gert & Alfred Mele (2005). Lenman on Externalism and Amoralism: An Interplanetary Exploration. Philosophia 32 (1-4):275-283.
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  17. Carl Ginet (2005). Comments on Alfred Mele, Motivation and Agency – Discussion. [REVIEW] Philosophical Studies 123 (3):261 - 272.
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  18. Stuart Goetz (2004). Book Reveiw: Motivation and Agency by Alfred Mele. [REVIEW] Journal of Ethics 8 (2):197-200.
  19. Jeanine M. Grenberg (2001). Feeling, Desire and Interest in Kant's Theory of Action. Kant-Studien 92 (2):153-179.
    Henry Allison's “Incorporation Thesis” has played an important role in recent discussions of Kantian ethics. By focussing on Kant's claim that “a drive [Triebfeder] can determine the will to an action only so far as the individual has incorporated it into his maxim,” (Rel 19, translation slightly modified) Allison has successfully argued against Kant's critics that desire-based non-moral action can be free action. His work has thus opened the door for a wide range of discussions which integrate feeling into (...)
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  20. Bennett W. Helm (2001). Emotions and Practical Reason: Rethinking Evaluation and Motivation. Noûs 35 (2):190–213.
    The motivational problem is the problem of understanding how we can have rational control over what we do. In the face of phenomena like weakness of the will, it is commonly thought that evaluation and reason can always remain intact even as we sever their connection with motivation; consequently, solving the motivational problem is thought to be a matter of figuring out how to bridge this inevitable gap between evaluation and motivation. I argue that this is fundamentally mistaken and results (...)
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  21. Edward Hinchman (2009). Receptivity and the Will. Noûs 43 (3):395-427.
    This paper defends an internalist view of agency. The challenge for an internalist view of agency is to explain how an agent’s all-things-considered judgment has necessary implications for action, a challenge that lies specifically in the possibility of two species of akratic break: between judgment and intention, and between intention and action. I argue that the two breaks are not importantly different: in each case akrasia manifests a single species of irrational self-mistrust. I aim to vindicate internalism by showing how (...)
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  22. 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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  23. Rosalind Hursthouse (1991). Arational Actions. Journal of Philosophy 88 (2):57-68.
    According to the standard account of actions and their explanations, intentional actions are actions done because the agent has a certain desire/belief pair that explains the action by rationalizing it. Any explanation of intentional action in terms of an appetite or occurrent emotion (which might appear to be an explanation solely in terms of desire) is hence assumed to be elliptical, implicitly appealing to some appropriate belief. In this paper, I challenge this assumption with respect to the "arational" actions of (...)
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  24. Jeanette Kennett & Michael Smith (1997). Synchronic Self-Control is Always Non-Actional. Analysis 57 (2):123–131.
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  25. Jeanette Kennett & Michael Smith (1996). Frog and Toad Lose Control. Analysis 56 (2):63–73.
    It seems to be a truism that whenever we do something - and so, given the omnipresence of trying (Hornsby 1980), whenever we try to do something - we want to do that thing more than we want to do anything else we can do (Davidson 1970). However, according to Frog, when we have will power we are able to try not to do something that we ‘really want to do’. In context the idea is clearly meant to be that (...)
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  26. Christine M. Korsgaard (2009). Self-Constitution: Agency, Identity, and Integrity. Oxford University Press.
    Agency and identity -- Necessitation -- Acts and actions -- Aristotle and Kant -- Agency and practical identity -- The metaphysics of normativity -- Constitutive standards -- The constitution of life -- In defense of teleology -- The paradox of self-constitution -- Formal and substantive principles of reason -- Formal versus substantive -- Testing versus weighing -- Maximizing and prudence -- Practical reason and the unity of the will -- The empiricist account of normativity -- The rationalist account of normativity (...)
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  27. Ramon M. Lemos (1996). Schueler, G. F. Desire: Its Role in Practical Reason and the Explanation of Action. Review of Metaphysics 50 (2):423-424.
  28. James Lenman (2008). Actions, Motives and Causes. [REVIEW] Philosophical Quarterly 58 (231):353–362.
    In this book Alfred Mele [Motivation and Agency, 2003 OUP] seeks to elaborate and defend a neo-Davidsonian understanding of human agency which is fundamentally causalist: intentional actions are, he thinks, caused and caused in such a way that a causal explanation of them is available in terms of the desires and intentions of the agent.
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  29. Clayton Littlejohn (2011). Alvarez , Maria . Kinds of Reasons .Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Pp. X+209. $60.00 (Cloth). Ethics 121 (3):638-642.
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  30. Don Locke (1974). Reasons, Wants, and Causes. American Philosophical Quarterly 11 (3):169 - 179.
  31. Alfred R. Mele (2005). Motivation and Agency: Replies. [REVIEW] Philosophical Studies 123 (3):295 - 311.
    What place does motivation have in the lives of intelligent agents? Mele's answer is sensitive to the concerns of philosophers of mind and moral philosophers and informed by empirical work. He offers a distinctive, comprehensive, attractive view of human agency. This book stands boldly at the intersection of philosophy of mind, moral philosophy, and metaphysics.
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  32. Alfred R. Mele (2005). Motivation and Agency: Precis. [REVIEW] Philosophical Studies 123 (3):243–247.
    In Motivation and Agency, I defend answers to a web of questions about motivation and human agency. I benefit from – and react to – not only important philosophical work on mind, action, and morality but also relevant empirical work in such fields as the psychology of motivation, social psychology, physiological psychology, and neurobiology. The questions include the following. Can a plausible cognitivist moral theory require that moral ought-beliefs essentially encompass motivation to act accordingly? Where does the motivational power of (...)
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  33. Alfred R. Mele (2003). Motivation and Agency. Oxford University Press.
    What place does motivation have in the lives of intelligent agents? Mele's answer is sensitive to the concerns of philosophers of mind and moral philosophers and informed by empirical work. He offers a distinctive, comprehensive, attractive view of human agency. This book stands boldly at the intersection of philosophy of mind, moral philosophy, and metaphysics.
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  34. Alfred R. Mele (1999). Motivation, Self-Control, and the Agglomeration of Desires. Facta Philosophica 1:77-86.
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  35. Alfred R. Mele (1998). Motivational Strength. Noûs 32 (1):23-36.
    It is often suggested that our desires vary in motivational strength or power. In a paper expressing skepticism about this idea, Irving Thalberg asked what he described, tongue in cheek, as "a disgracefully naive question" (1985, p. 88): "What do causal and any other theorists mean when they rate the strength of our PAs," that is, our "desires, aversions, preferences, schemes, and so forth"? His "guiding question" in the paper seems straightforward (p. 98): "What is it for our motivational states (...)
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  36. Alfred R. Mele (1998). Synchronic Self-Control Revisited: Frog and Toad Shape Up. Analysis 58 (4):305–310.
  37. Alfred R. Mele (1997). Underestimating Self-Control: Kennett and Smith on Frog and Toad. Analysis 57 (2):119–123.
  38. Alfred R. Mele (1996). Internalist Moral Cognitivism and Listlessness. Ethics 106 (4):727-753.
    This paper criticizes the conjunction of two theses: 1) cognitivism about first-person moral ought-beliefs, the thesis (roughly) that such beliefs are attitudes with truth-valued contents; 2) robust internalism about these beliefs, the thesis that, necessarily, agents' beliefs that they ought, morally, to A constitute motivation to A. It is argued that the conjunction of these two theses places our moral agency at serious risk. The argument, which centrally involves attention to clinical depression, is extended to a less demanding, recent brand (...)
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  39. Alfred R. Mele (1996). Motivation and Intention. Journal of Philosophical Research 21:51-67.
    This essay defends the compatibility of a pair of popular theses in the philosophy of action and rebuts arguments of Hugh McCann’s (1995) designed to show that my earlier efforts, in Springs of Action, to resolve the apparent tension were unsuccessful. One thesis links what agents intentionally do at a time, t, to what they are most strongly motivated to do at t. The other is a thesis about the nature and functions of intent.
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  40. Alfred R. Mele (1995). Motivation: Essentially Motivation-Constituting Attitudes. Philosophical Review 104 (3):387-423.
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  41. Alfred R. Mele (1993). Motivated Belief. Behavior and Philosophy 21 (2):19 - 27.
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  42. Alfred R. Mele (1990). Exciting Intentions. Philosophical Studies 59 (3):289-312.
    In this paper, I restrict the discussion to overt intentional action, intentional action that essentially involves peripheral bodily movement. My guiding question is this: If there is a specific motivational role that intention is plausibly regarded as playing in all cases of overt intentional action, in virtue of what feature(s) of intention does it play this role? I am looking for an answer that can be articulated in the terminology of intentionalist psychology.
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  43. Alfred R. Mele (1990). Intending and Motivation: A Rejoinder. Analysis 50 (3):194 - 197.
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  44. Alfred R. Mele (1989). Motivational Internalism: The Powers and Limits of Practical Reasoning. Philosophia 19 (4):417-36.
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  45. Alfred R. Mele (1984). Intending and the Balance of Motivation. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 66:370-376.
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  46. Alfred R. Mele (1984). Aristotle on the Roles of Reason in Motivation and Justification. Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 66 (22):124–147.
  47. Alfred R. Mele & Piers Rawling (eds.) (2004). The Oxford Handbook of Rationality. Oxford University Press.
    Rationality has long been a central topic in philosophy, crossing standard divisions and categories. It continues to attract much attention in published research and teaching by philosophers as well as scholars in other disciplines, including economics, psychology, and law. The Oxford Handbook of Rationality is an indispensable reference to the current state of play in this vital and interdisciplinary area of study. Twenty-two newly commissioned chapters by a roster of distinguished philosophers provide an overview of the prominent views on rationality, (...)
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  48. Chris Meyers (2005). Wants and Desires: A Critique of Conativist Theory of Motivation. Journal of Philosophical Research 30:357-370.
    In this paper I will argue against the Humean theory of motivation, or “conativism” which claims that all actions are ultimately generated by desires. Conativism is supported by (1) a behavioral analysis of desire as a disposition to act in certain ways, and (2) the difference between belief and desire in terms of their different “direction of fi t” with the world. I will show that this behavioral account of desire cannot provide an adequate explanation of action. Mere disposition to (...)
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  49. Christian Miller (2014). Furlong and Santos on Desire and Choice. In Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (ed.), Moral Psychology: Freedom and Responsibility. MIT Press. 367-374.
    Ellen Furlong and Laurie Santos helpfully summarize a number of fascinating studies of certain influences on both human and monkey behavior. As someone who works primarily in philosophy, I am not in a position to dispute the details of the studies themselves. But in this brief commentary I do want to raise some questions about the inferences Furlong and Santos make on the basis of those studies. In general, I worry that they may be overreaching beyond what their own data (...)
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  50. Christian Miller (2008). Motivation in Agents. Noûs 42 (2):222–266.
    The Humean theory of motivation remains the default position in much of the contemporary literature in meta-ethics, moral psychology, and action theory. Yet despite its widespread support, the theory is implausible as a view about what motivates agents to act. More specifically, my reasons for dissatisfaction with the Humean theory stem from its incompatibility with what I take to be a compelling model of the role of motivating reasons in first-person practical deliberation and third-person action explanations. So after first introducing (...)
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