About this topic
Summary Often the term "desire" in philosophy has a fairly technical use to simply mean motivational mental state. After all, desires are often defined as mental states with a "world-to-mind" direction of fit: states that function to be efficacious (for the world to fit the mind). Beliefs, in contrast, are states whose function is "mind-to-world"---functioning to accurately represent how things are in the world outside the mind. This naturally leads to what some call "the Humean theory of motivation," which states roughly that motivation always requires desire. One incarnation of this states: whenever one intentionally performs some action, A, one must have a preceding desire to A. Two main camps have disputed such claims. First, besire theorists maintain that sometimes beliefs or other characteristically cognitive states (especially moral beliefs) can themselves be motivational states; they can have both directions of fit. Second, anti-reductionists hold that some characteristically conative or motivational states, like intentions, are not reducible to desires (or combinations of beliefs and desires). Accepting the above brand of "Humeanism" does not commit one to other versions as well. For example, various rationalists maintain that beliefs can directly produce motivation while admitting that one must always have a desire to perform the action prior to executing it intentionally. On such a view, certain beliefs (e.g. the belief that donating $200 to Oxfam is a moral obligation) can directly produce a desire to act in accordance with them (i.e. a desire to donate $200 to Oxfam) without this serving or furthering some antecedent desire (e.g. a desire to do whatever is morally required of me). In this way, we may not be "slaves of our passions" even though desires are required somewhere in the motivational chain.
Key works The seeds of the idea of two key directions of fit are in Hume 1739/2000 (2.3.3), but it is more explicitly drawn out in Anscombe 1957 (with her shopping list example, section 32) and is more recently developed in detail by Davidson 1963 and Smith 1987. For defenses of the besire theory, see Platts 1980. Some also interpret Nagel 1970 and McDowell 1978 as besire theorists. Bratman 1987 and Mele 1987 (see also Mele Alfred 1992) defend the idea that intentions are motivational states distinct from desires. Smith 1994 and  Wallace 2006 explicitly defend versions of the rationalist position described above.
Introductions The entry by Schroeder 2009 provides an excellent overview of desire; Pettit 1998 is more brief but also useful. See Schueler 2013 for an introduction to direction of fit. Mele 1995 argues that desires play a key role in motivation, but it also serves as an overview of many relevant issues; see also Mele Alfred 2003 (esp. ch. 1). Jay Wallace 1990 provides a fairly lengthy but excellent introduction to key arguments for the role of desire in moral motivation.
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  1. Do Desires Provide Reasons? An Argument Against the Cognitivist Strategy.Avery Archer - forthcoming - Philosophical Studies:1-17.
    According to the cognitivist strategy, the desire to bring about P provides reasons for intending to bring about P in a way analogous to how perceiving that P provides reasons for believing that P. However, while perceiving P provides reasons for believing P by representing P as true, desiring to bring about P provides reasons for intending to bring about P by representing P as good. This paper offers an argument against this view. My argument proceeds via an appeal to (...)
  2. Reconceiving Direction of Fit.Avery Archer - 2015 - Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 4 (3):171-180.
    I argue that the concept of direction of fit is best seen as picking out a certain inferential property of a psychological attitude. The property in question is one that believing shares with assuming and fantasizing and fails to share with desire. Unfortunately, the standard analysis of DOF obscures this fact because it conflates two very different properties of an attitude: that in virtue of which it displays a certain DOF, and that in virtue of which it displays certain revision (...)
  3. Précis of In Praise of Desire.Nomy Arpaly & Timothy Schroeder - 2014 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 89 (2):490-495.
  4. In Praise of Desire.Nomy Arpaly & Timothy Schroeder - 2013 - Oxford University Press.
    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.
  5. The World's Desires.E. A. Ashcroft - 1906 - The Monist 16:473.
  6. Intending, Intentional Action, and Desire.Robert Audi - 1986 - In J. Marks (ed.), The Ways of Desire. Precedent. pp. 17--38.
  7. The Ambiguous Limits of Desire.Annette Baier - 1986 - In J. Marks (ed.), The Ways of Desire. Precedent. pp. 39--61.
  8. Symposium: The Distinction Between Will and Desire.Alexander Bain, W. R. Sorley, J. S. Mann, E. P. Scrymgour & Shadworth H. Hodgson - 1887 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 1 (1):54 - 69.
  9. The Abductive Case for Humeanism Over Quasi-Perceptual Theories of Desire.Derek Baker - 2014 - Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 8 (2):1-29.
    A number of philosophers have offered quasi-perceptual theories of desire, according to which to desire something is roughly to “see” it as having value or providing reasons. These are offered as alternatives to the more traditional Humean Theory of Motivation, which denies that desires have a representational aspect. This paper examines the various considerations offered by advocates to motivate quasi-perceptualism. It argues that Humeanism is in fact able to explain the same data that the quasi-perceptualist can explain, and in one (...)
  10. Ambivalent Desires and the Problem with Reduction.Derek Baker - 2010 - Philosophical Studies 150 (1):37-47.
    Ambivalence is most naturally characterized as a case of conflicting desires. In most cases, an agent’s intrinsic desires conflict contingently: there is some possible world in which both desires would be satisfied. This paper argues, though, that there are cases in which intrinsic desires necessarily conflict—i.e., the desires are not jointly satisfiable in any possible world. Desiring a challenge for its own sake is a paradigm case of such a desire. Ambivalence of this sort in an agent’s desires creates special (...)
  11. Ruling Passions: A Theory of Practical Reason, Simon Blackburn. Clarendon Press, 1998, 344 Pages. [REVIEW]Eric Barnes - 2000 - Economics and Philosophy 16 (2):372-378.
  12. Realism, Rational Action, and the Humean Theory of Motivation.Melissa Barry - 2007 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 10 (3):231-242.
    Realists about practical reasons agree that judgments regarding reasons are beliefs. They disagree, however, over the question of how such beliefs motivate rational action. Some adopt a Humean conception of motivation, according to which beliefs about reasons must combine with independently existing desires in order to motivate rational action; others adopt an anti-Humean view, according to which beliefs can motivate rational action in their own right, either directly or by giving rise to a new desire that in turn motivates the (...)
  13. Two Dogmas of Moral Psychology.Peter Brian Barry - manuscript
    I contend that there are two dogmas that are still popular among philosophers of action: that agents can only desire what they think is good and that they can only intentionally pursue what they think is good. I also argue that both dogmas are false. Broadly, I argue that our best theories of action can explain the possibility of intentionally pursuing what one thinks is not at all good, that we need to allow for the possibility of intentionally pursuing what (...)
  14. Sergio Tenenbaum, Appearances of the Good: An Essay on the Nature of Practical Reason:Appearances of the Good: An Essay on the Nature of Practical Reason.Peter Brian Barry - 2007 - Ethics 118 (1):181-184.
  15. Ruling Passions by Simon Blackburn Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1998, X + 334pp. [REVIEW]Piers Benn - 2000 - Philosophy 75 (3):452-462.
  16. Have We Vindicated the Motivational Unconscious Yet? A Conceptual Review.Alexandre Billon - 2011 - Frontiers in Psychoanalysis and Neuropsychoanalysis 2.
    Motivationally unconscious (M-unconscious) states are unconscious states that can directly motivate a subject’s behavior and whose unconscious character typically results from a form of repression. The basic argument for M-unconscious states claims that they provide the best explanation to some seemingly non rational behaviors, like akrasia, impulsivity or apparent self-deception. This basic argument has been challenged on theoretical, empirical and conceptual grounds. Drawing on recent works on apparent self-deception and on the ‘cognitive unconscious’ I assess those objections. I argue that (...)
  17. The Motivational Strength of Intentions.Renée Bilodeau - 2006 - The Proceedings of the Twenty-First World Congress of Philosophy 9:129-135.
    According to the early versions of the causal theory of action, intentional actions were both produced and explained by a belief desire pair. Since the end of the seventies, however, most philosophers consider intentions as an irreducible and indispensable component of any adequate account of intentional action. The aim of this paper is to examine and evaluate some of the arguments that gave rise to the introduction of the concept of intention in action theory. My contention is that none of (...)
  18. The Motivational Strength of Intentions.Renée Bilodeau - 2006 - The Proceedings of the Twenty-First World Congress of Philosophy 9:129-135.
    According to the early versions of the causal theory of action, intentional actions were both produced and explained by a beliefdesire pair. Since the end of the seventies, however, most philosophers consider intentions as an irreducible and indispensable component of any adequate account of intentional action. The aim of this paper is to examine and evaluate some of the arguments that gave rise to the introduction of the concept of intention in action theory. My contention is that none of them (...)
  19. Ruling Passions: A Theory of Practical Reason.Simon Blackburn - 1998 - Philosophical Quarterly 51 (202):110-114.
  20. Desire, Action, and the Good.E. J. Bond - 1979 - American Philosophical Quarterly 16 (1):53 - 59.
  21. Motivation and the Desire to Learn.K. Bonner - 1990 - Dianoia 1 (1):18-35.
  22. Fictional Emotion, Quasi Desire and Background Belief.Bijoy Boruah - 1989 - Indian Philosophical Quarterly 16 (4):409.
  23. The Superintelligent Will: Motivation and Instrumental Rationality in Advanced Artificial Agents. [REVIEW]Nick Bostrom - 2012 - 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 (...)
  24. Making Sense of Unpleasantness: Evaluationism and Shooting the Messenger.Paul Boswell - 2016 - Philosophical Studies 173 (11):2969-2992.
    Unpleasant sensations possess a unique ability to make certain aversive actions seem reasonable to us. But what is it about these experiences that give them that ability? According to some recent evaluationist accounts, it is their representational content: unpleasant sensations represent a certain event as bad for one. Unfortunately evaluationism seems unable to make sense of our aversive behavior to the sensations themselves, for it appears to entail that taking a painkiller is akin to shooting the messenger, and is every (...)
  25. Hume, Reason and Morality: A Legacy of Contradiction.Sophie Botros - 2006 - Routledge.
    Covering an important theme in Humean studies, this book focuses on Hume's hugely influential attempt in book three of his _Treatise of Human Nature _to derive the conclusion that morality is a matter of feeling, not reason, from its link with action. Claiming that Hume's argument contains a fundamental contradiction that has gone unnoticed in modern debate, this fascinating volume contains a refreshing combination of historical-scholarly work and contemporary analysis that seeks to expose this contradiction and therefore provide a significant (...)
  26. The Kinematics of Belief and Desire.Richard Bradley - 2007 - Synthese 156 (3):513-535.
    Richard Jeffrey regarded the version of Bayesian decision theory he floated in ‘The Logic of Decision’ and the idea of a probability kinematics—a generalisation of Bayesian conditioning to contexts in which the evidence is ‘uncertain’—as his two most important contributions to philosophy. This paper aims to connect them by developing kinematical models for the study of preference change and practical deliberation. Preference change is treated in a manner analogous to Jeffrey’s handling of belief change: not as mechanical outputs of combinations (...)
  27. Wants as Explanations of Actions.Richard Brandt, Jaegwon Kim & Sidney Morgenbesser - 1963 - Journal of Philosophy 60 (15):425-435.
    Some features of the concept of a want, and of the explaining relation in which a want may stand to an action, have not received sufficient attention. In what follows we shall offer some suggestions and descriptions which may be one step toward remedy of this situationi. We shall be at pains to point out the extent to which the features we describe fit in with a conception of the explanations of actions conforming to the inferential (deductive or inductive) and (...)
  28. Appearances of the Good: An Essay on the Nature of Practical Reason.T. Brewer - 2008 - Philosophical Review 117 (4):618-620.
  29. Hume, Motivation and Morality.John Bricke - 1988 - Hume Studies 14 (1):1-24.
  30. Iris Murdoch, Philosopher.Justin Broackes (ed.) - 2011 - Oxford University Press UK.
    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, but she had the greatest impact with her work in moral philosophy—and especially her book The Sovereignty of Good. She turned expectantly from British linguistic philosophy to continental existentialism, but was dissatisfied there too; she devised a philosophy and a style (...)
  31. Motivation.John Broome - 2009 - Theoria 75 (2):79-99.
    I develop a scheme for the explanation of rational action. I start from a scheme that may be attributed to Thomas Nagel in The Possibility of Altruism , and develop it step by step to arrive at a sharper and more accurate scheme. The development includes a progressive refinement of the notion of motivation. I end by explaining the role of reasoning within the scheme.
  32. The Mutual Determination of Wants and Benefits.John Broome - 1994 - Theory and Decision 37 (3):333-338.
  33. Weakness of Will.Sarah Buss - 1997 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 78 (1):13–44.
    My chief aim is to explain how someone can act freely against her own best judgment. But I also have a second aim: to defend a conception of practical rationality according to which someone cannot do something freely if she believes it would be better to do something else. These aims may appear incompatible. But I argue that practical reason has the capacity to undermine itself in such a way that it produces reasons for behaving irrationally. Weakness of will is (...)
  34. Why Hunger is Not a Desire.Patrick Butlin - forthcoming - Review of Philosophy and Psychology:1-19.
    This paper presents an account of the nature of desire, informed by psychology and neuroscience, which entails that hunger is not a desire. The account is contrasted with Schroeder’s well-known empirically-informed theory of desire. It is argued that one significant virtue of the present account, in comparison with Schroeder’s theory, is that it draws a sharp distinction between desires and basic drives, such as the drive for food. One reason to draw this distinction is that experiments on incentive learning show (...)
  35. Desire, Practical Reason, and the Good * Edited by Sergio Tenenbaum.K. Bykvist - 2012 - Analysis 72 (1):200-202.
  36. Belief and Desire: Direction and Fit.John Camacho - unknown
  37. Desire in Action : Aristotle's Move.David Charles - 2011 - In Michael Pakaluk & Giles Pearson (eds.), Moral Psychology and Human Action in Aristotle. Oxford University Press.
  38. Aristotle on Desire and Action.David Charles - 2009 - In Dorothea Frede & Burkhard Reis (eds.), Body and Soul in Ancient Philosophy. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 291--308.
  39. Practical Reason, Aristotle and Weakness of the Will.David Charles - 1985 - Philosophical Books 26 (4):209-212.
  40. The Concept of Desire.James Elwood Cheney - 1974 - Dissertation, The University of Wisconsin - Madison
  41. Desire And Capacity.Y. N. Chopra - 1973 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 3 (September):115-119.
  42. Aspects, Guises, Species and Knowing Something to Be Good.Philip Clark - 2010 - In Sergio Tenenbaum (ed.), Desire, Practical Reason, and the Good. Oxford University Press. pp. 234.
  43. What Goes Without Saying in Metaethics.Philip Clark - 2000 - 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 (...)
  44. Doing What One Wants Less: A Reappraisal of the Law of Desire.Randolph Clarke - 1994 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 75 (1):1-11.
  45. Desire.Robert Greer Cohn - 1989 - Philosophy Today 33 (4):318-329.
  46. Directions of Fit and the Humean Theory of Motivation.Mary Clayton Coleman - 2008 - 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, (...)
  47. Self-Control, Willpower and the Problem of Diminished Motivation.Thomas D. Connor - 2014 - Philosophical Studies 168 (3):783-796.
    Self-control has been described as the ability to master motivation that is contrary to one’s better judgement; that is, an ability that prevents such motivation from resulting in behaviour that is contrary to one’s overall better judgement (Mele, Irrationality: An essay on Akrasia, self-deception and self-control, p. 54, 1987). Recent discussions in philosophy have centred on the question of whether synchronic self-control, in which one exercises self-control whilst one is currently experiencing opposing motivation, is actional or non-actional. The actional theorist (...)
  48. Plato's Theory of Human Motivation.John M. Cooper - 1984 - History of Philosophy Quarterly 1 (1):3 - 21.
    I discuss the division of the soul in plato's "republic". i concentrate on the arguments and illustrative examples given in book iv, but i treat the descriptions of different types of person in viii-ix and elsewhere as further constituents of a single, coherent theory. on my interpretation plato distinguishes three basic kinds of motivation which he claims all human beings regularly experience in some degree. reason is itself the immediate source of certain desires. in addition, there are appetitive and also--quite (...)
  49. Jackson on Weakness of Will.Christopher Cordner - 1985 - Mind 94 (374):273-280.
    I begin with a resume ofJ ackson's position. I shall follow this with some counter- examples; and end with a diagnosis of why the problems with Jackson's account arise. In objecting to Jackson's account I am not presupposing the truth of one or other particular account of akrasia. What I am supposing is that unless we recognize some kind of conflict of mind as engaged at the time of action, we are not speaking of akrasia. I hive argued that Jackson, (...)
  50. Eight Drive-Reward Combinations: A Test of Incentive-Motivational Theory.W. Miles Cox - 1976 - Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society 7 (2):121-124.
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