Wants and desires: A critique of conativist theory of motivation

Abstract
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 act (what I call “wanting”) does not explain why the agent acts; insofar as it explains the action desire is a feeling. I will then argue against the direction of fit argument by showing that beliefs about what we ought to do have both directions of fit—the belief has one direction of fit, and the content of the belief (the ought-clause) has the opposite direction of fit
Keywords Action  Belief  Desire  Metaphysics  Motivation  Hume, David
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