Motivational cognitivism and the argument from direction of fit

Philosophical Studies 127 (3):561 - 580 (2006)
Abstract
An important argument for the belief-desire thesis is based on the idea that an agent can be motivated to act only if her mental states include one which aims at changing the world, that is, one with a “world-to-mind”, or “telic”, direction of fit. Some cognitivists accept this claim, but argue that some beliefs, notably moral ones, have not only a “mind-to-world”, or “thetic”, direction of fit, but also a telic one. The paper first argues that this cognitivist reply is deficient, for only the “dominant” direction of fit of an attitude is responsible for its character and function. Further, it seems that the dominant direction of fit of an attitude is determined by its psychological mode, and so all beliefs seem to have a dominant thetic direction of fit, and to be motivationally inert. The main part of this paper, however, is devoted to explaining how it is that attitudes, like moral attitudes, can truly have two directions of fit in a way which enables them to be both cognitive and motivational. Reflection on the nature of beliefs suggests that the claim that the dominant direction of fit of an attitude is determined by its psychological mode should be qualified. The reasons beliefs provide draw their authority for the agent – their demanding nature – from the objects represented by these beliefs, and so, it is the beliefs’ content which determine their dominant direction of fit, as far as their role in practical reasoning is concerned. Thus, in the sense relevant to practical reasoning a belief with a normative content does have a dominant telic direction of fit. At the same time, in the sense relevant to its satisfaction conditions a moral belief has a dominant thetic direction of fit, which underlies its classification as a cognitive attitude. Cognitivists, then, can have it both ways.
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References found in this work BETA
John McDowell (1979). Virtue and Reason. The Monist 62 (3):331-350.

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