Depression, listlessness, and moral motivation

Ratio 24 (1):28-45 (2011)
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 hypothetical example of such listlessness, is the source of this listlessness. However, empirical evidence concerning depression shows that, to the extent that the depressed are motivationally listless at all, they are abnormally listless only with respect to an important class of non-moral judgments, namely, their prudential normative judgments (i.e., those concerning their own happiness and well-being), not their moral judgments. Hence, depressed individuals do not constitute a counterexample to MI. This conclusion has important methodological implications concerning how supporters and opponents of MI can best defend their respective theses.
Keywords motivational internalism  depression  moral judgment
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DOI 10.1111/j.1467-9329.2010.00481.x
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Benedict Smith (2013). Depression and Motivation. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 12 (4):615-635.

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