Moral Motivation

Edited by Joshua May (University of Alabama, Birmingham)
About this topic
Summary Questions in moral motivation are broad, but often focus on the source and content of one's motivation to do what one judges to be right. For example, is the source of moral motivation more of a cognitive matter, involving reasoning or belief? Or is it primarily a matter of sentiment, desire, or emotion? Is the content of moral motivation, say, a desire to do whatever one believes is right. Or is it something more direct, such as empathy or a concern for features that make the action right? Related questions dealt with in other areas as well concern the apparently internal connection between moral judgments and moral motivation (internalism) and whether benevolent action is always ultimately self-interested (egoism).  The notion of "right" throughout may encompass more than morality, since often philosophers interested in moral motivation have a broader concern for what we might call "normative motivation." This involves, for example, motivation to do what one believes one has most reason to do, whether these reasons are moral or not. Familiar questions can then arise, such as whether it's possible for us to judge that following a strict diet is most prudent, yet lack any motivation to do it. 
Key works Many of the issues in moral motivation dealt with in contemporary literature spring from Hume 1739/2000 and Kant 1785/2002. More recently, Nagel 1970, Korsgaard 1986, and Smith 1994 address the source and structure of moral motivation and have spurred much of the subsequent literature. Herman 1981 provides a key starting point for contemporary discussion of the content of moral motivation---there in connection with the motive of duty (see also Smith 1994, ch. 3).
Introductions The entry by Rosati 2006 provides a detailed introduction; Wallace 1998 is more brief but equally useful. Some of the relevant empirical work is summarized in May 2017 and Schroeder et al 2010Jay 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. One Thought Too Few: Where De Dicto Moral Motivation is Necessary.Ron Aboodi - forthcoming - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice:1-15.
    De dicto moral motivation is typically characterized by the agent’s conceiving of her goal in thin normative terms such as to do what is right. I argue that lacking an effective de dicto moral motivation would put the agent in a bad position for responding in the morally-best manner in a certain type of situations. Two central features of the relevant type of situations are the appropriateness of the agent’s uncertainty concerning her underived moral values, and the practical, moral importance (...)
  2. The Wrong Time to Aim at What's Right: When is De Dicto Moral Motivation Less Virtuous?Ron Aboodi - 2015 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 115 (3_pt_3):307-314.
    I argue that there are two contingent factors that can render an instantiation of de dicto moral motivation—which is typically characterized by the agent's conceiving of her goal in moral terms such as doing what's right—less virtuous than some alternative motivation that would lead to the same action: the circumstances are such that it would be more virtuous to be moved directly by certain non-deliberative dispositions ; or the circumstances are such that de dicto moral motivation has practical disadvantages.
  3. De Dicto Moral Desires and the Moral Sentiments: Adam Smith on the Role of De Dicto Moral Desires in the Virtuous Agent.Archer Alfred - 2016 - History of Philosophy Quarterly 33 (4):327-346.
    What role should a motivation to do the right thing, read de dicto, play in the life of a virtuous agent? According to a prominent argument from Michael Smith, those who are only motivated by such a desire are moral fetishists. Since Smith’s argument, a number of philosophers have examined what role this desire would play in the life of the morally virtuous agent. My primary aim in this paper is an historical one. I will show that much of this (...)
  4. An Introduction to Plato's Republic.Julia Annas - 1981 - Oxford University Press.
    This interpretive introduction provides unique insight into Plato's Republic. Stressing Plato's desire to stimulate philosophical thinking in his readers, Julia Annas here demonstrates the coherence of his main moral argument on the nature of justice, and expounds related concepts of education, human motivation, knowledge and understanding. In a clear systematic fashion, this book shows that modern moral philosophy still has much to learn from Plato's attempt to move the focus from questions of what acts the just person ought to perform (...)
  5. Varieties of Reasons/Motives Internalism.Steven Arkonovich - 2013 - Philosophy Compass 8 (3):210-219.
    Under what conditions do you have a reason to perform some action? Do you only have reason to do what you want to do? Reasons-motives internalism is the appealingly simple view that unless an agent is, or could be, motivated to act in a certain way, he has no normative reason to act in that way. Thus, according to reasons-motives internalism, facts about an individual’s motivational psychology constrain what is rational for that agent to do. This article canvasses several ways (...)
  6. Social Explanation and Rational Motivation.Hilliard Aronovitch - 1978 - American Philosophical Quarterly 15 (3):197 - 204.
  7. Duty, Desire and the Good Person: Towards a Non‐Aristotelian Account of Virtue.Nomy Arpaly - 2014 - Philosophical Perspectives 28 (1):59-74.
    This paper presents an account of the virtuous person, which I take to be the same as the good person. I argue that goodness in a person is based on her desires. Contra Aristotelians, I argue that one does not need wisdom to be good. There can be a perfectly good person with mental retardation or autism. Contra Kantians, I argue that the sense of duty - which does exist! - is compatible with a desire-based moral psychology.
  8. Précis of In Praise of Desire.Nomy Arpaly & Timothy Schroeder - 2014 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 89 (2):490-495.
  9. 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.
  10. “Practical Necessity: The Subjective Experience”.Carla Bagnoli - 2009 - In W. Huemer & B. Centi (eds.), Value and Ontology. Ontos-Verlag.
  11. Moral Motivation : A Perspective.Tirthanath Bandyopadhyay - 2003 - In Krishna Roy & Kalyan Sen Gupta (eds.), Theory and Practice: A Collection of Essays. Centre of Advanced Study in Philosophy, Jadavpur University in Collaboration with Allied Publishers, New Delhi.
  12. Ethical Experience and the Motives for Practical Rationality.Michael D. Barber - 2007 - International Philosophical Quarterly 47 (4):425-441.
    John McDowell’s ethical writings interpret ethical experience as intentional, socially-conditioned, virtuous responsiveness to situations and develop a modest account of practical rationality. His work converges with investigations of ethical experience by recent Kant scholars (Sherman, Brewer, Herman) and Emmanuel Levinas. The Kantian interpreters and Levinas locate the categorical demands of ethical experience in rational agents’ demands for respect, while McDowell finds it in noble adherence to the demands of virtuous living. For McDowell, moral-practical rational efforts to justify ethics cannot transcend (...)
  13. The Alleged Moral Repugnance of Acting From Duty.Marcia Baron - 1984 - Journal of Philosophy 81 (4):197-220.
    Friends as well as foes of Kant have long been uneasy over his emphasis on duty, but lately the view that there is something morally repugnant about acting from duty seems to be gaining in popularity. More and more philosophers indicate their readiness to jettison duty and the moral 'ought' and to conceive of the perfectly moral person as someone who has all the right desires and acts accordingly without any notion that (s)he ought to act in this way. Elsewhere' (...)
  14. Moral Reasoning. Moral Motivation and the Rational Foundation of Morals.Luz Marina Barreto - manuscript
    In the following paper I will examine the possibility for a rational foundation of morals, rational in the sense that to ground a moral statement on reason amounts to being able to convince an unmotivated agent to conform to a moral rule - that is to say, to “rationally motivate” him (as Habermas would have said) to act in ways for which he or she had no previous reason to act. We will scrutinize the “internalist’s” objection (in Williams’ definition) to (...)
  15. Moral Masquerades: Experimental Exploration of the Nature of Moral Motivation.C. Daniel Batson - 2008 - Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 7 (1):51-66.
    Why do people act morally – when they do? Moral philosophers and psychologists often assume that acting morally in the absence of incentives or sanctions is a product of a desire to uphold one or another moral principle (e.g., fairness). This form of motivation might be called moral integrity because the goal is to actually be moral. In a series of experiments designed to explore the nature of moral motivation, colleagues and I have found little evidence of moral integrity. We (...)
  16. Evidence for Altruism: Toward a Pluralism of Prosocial Motives.C. Daniel Batson & Laura L. Shaw - 1991 - Psychological Inquiry 2 (2):107-122.
    Psychologists have long assumed that the motivation for all intentional action, including all action intended to benefit others, is egoistic. People benefit others because, ultimately, to do so benefits themselves. The empathy-altruism hypothesis challenges this assumption. It claims that empathic emotion evokes truly altruistic motivation, motivation with an ultimate goal ofbenefiting not the self but the person for whom empathy is felt. Logical and psychological distinctions between egoism and altruism are reviewed, providing a conceptualframeworkfor empirical tests for the existence of (...)
  17. Ruling Passions by Simon Blackburn Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1998, X + 334pp. [REVIEW]Piers Benn - 2000 - Philosophy 75 (3):452-462.
  18. Attributions and Avowals of Motive in the Study of Deviance: Resource or Topic?Timothy Berard - 1998 - Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 28 (2):193–213.
    In explaining human actions, scholars and laypeople alike employ explanatory devices such as ‘motives’. This paper critically reevaluates the relationship between ‘professional’ and ‘lay’ invocations of motive, proposing a general reorientation of theory and research. This reorientation emphasizes the mundane ‘practical grammar’ of motives, and argues that motive deployment is inextricably tied to deviance, and therefore irremediably moral. It is argued, therefore, that motives should serve as a topic for scholarship, not a resourcefor scholarly use. Several landmark theories of motives, (...)
  19. The Motivational State of the Virtuous Agent.Lorraine Besser-Jones - 2011 - Philosophical Psychology 25 (1):93 - 108.
    Julia Annas argues that Aristotle's understanding of the phenomenological experience of the virtuous agent corresponds to psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's concept of the ?flow,? which is a form of intrinsic motivation. In this paper, I explore whether or not Annas? understanding of virtuous agency is a plausible one. After a thorough analysis of psychological accounts of intrinsic and extrinsic states of motivation, I argue that despite the attractiveness of Annas? understanding of virtuous agency, it is subject to a serious problem: all (...)
  20. Personal Integrity, Moraity, and Psychological Well-Being.Lorraine Besser-Jones - 2008 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 5 (3):361-383.
    Most moral theories purport to make claims upon agents, yet often it is not clear why those claims are ones that can be justifiably demanded of agents. In this paper, I develop a justification of moral requirements that explains why it is that morality makes legitimate claims on agents. This justification is grounded in the idea that there is an essential connection between morality and psychological well-being. I go on to suggest how, using this justification as a springboard, we might (...)
  21. Social Psychology, Moral Character, and Moral Fallibility.Lorraine Besser-jones - 2008 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 76 (2):310–332.
    In recent years, there has been considerable debate in the literature concerning the existence of moral character. One lesson we should take away from these debates is that the concept of character, and the role it plays in guiding our actions, is far more complex than most of us initially took it to be. Just as Gilbert Harman, for example, makes a serious mistake in insisting, plainly and simply, that ther is no such thing as character, defenders of character also (...)
  22. Precautionary Duty as a Link to Moral Action.D. Beyleveld & S. Pattinson - 2000 - In James Torr (ed.), Medical Ethics. Greenhaven Press.
  23. Motivational Internalism: Contemporary Debates.Gunnar Björnsson, Caj Strandberg, Ragnar Francén Olinder, John Eriksson & Fredrik Björklund - 2015 - In Gunnar Björnsson, Caj Strandberg, Ragnar Francén Olinder, John Eriksson & Fredrik Björklund (eds.), Motivational Internalism. Oxford University Press. pp. 1–20.
    Motivational internalism—the idea that moral judgments are intrinsically or necessarily connected to motivation—has played a central role in metaethical debates. In conjunction with a Humean picture of motivation, internalism has provided a challenge for theories that take moral judgments to concern objective aspects of reality, and versions of internalism have been seen as having implications for moral absolutism, realism, and rationalism. But internalism is a controversial thesis, and the apparent possibility of amoralists and the rejection of strong forms of internalism (...)
  24. Humanity's Natural Face.Simon Blackburn - 2000 - Philosophical Explorations 3 (3):282 – 296.
    In my article I summarize a 'Humean' view of deliberation, and in particular deliberation with an ethical aspect. I regard Hume as having paved the way for a 'naturalistic' account of these things, avoiding Kantian fantasies of agency that dominate much current work. Contrary to what is often supposed, the Humean story gives a satisfactory account of dutiful or principled motivations, and a rich account of the ways in which different aspects of character are selected as 'useful or agreeable to (...)
  25. Patriotic Elaborations: Essays in Practical Philosophy.Charles Blattberg - 2009 - McGill-Queen's University Press.
    How might we mend the world? Charles Blattberg suggests a "new patriotism," one that reconciles conflict through a form of dialogue that prioritizes conversation over negotiation and the common good over victory. This patriotism can be global as well as local, left as well as right. Blattberg's is a genuinely original philosophical voice. The essays collected here discuss how to re-conceive the political spectrum, where "deliberative deomocrats" go wrong, why human rights language is tragically counterproductive, how nationalism is not really (...)
  26. Acting Without Choosing.Hilary Bok - 1996 - Noûs 30 (2):174-196.
    I will argue that this intuitive description is in fact accurate: that we can and do perform actions we know to be wrong simply because we fail to decide what to do. I will then try to show that once we recognize this fact, we can identify a character trait which any plausible moral theory which is not strictly self-defeating must require that we develop. Finally, I will sketch some implications of this argument for the role of virtue in moral (...)
  27. Goodness and Desire.Matthew Boyle & Douglas Lavin - 2010 - In Sergio Tenenbaum (ed.), Desire, Practical Reason, and the Good. Oxford University Press. pp. 161--201.
  28. Hedonism as the Explanation of Value.David Brax - 2009 - Dissertation, Lund University
    This thesis defends a hedonistic theory of value consisting of two main components. Part 1 offers a theory of pleasure. Pleasures are experiences distinguished by a distinct phenomenological quality. This quality is attitudinal in nature: it is the feeling of liking. The pleasure experience is also an object of this attitude: when feeling pleasure, we like what we feel, and part of how it feels is how this liking feels: Pleasures are Internally Liked Experiences. Pleasure plays a central role in (...)
  29. Appearances of the Good: An Essay on the Nature of Practical Reason.T. Brewer - 2008 - Philosophical Review 117 (4):618-620.
  30. The Character of Temptation: Towards a More Plausible Kantian Moral Psychology.Talbot Brewer - 2002 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 83 (2):103–130.
    Kant maintained that dutiful action can have the fullest measure of moral worth even if chosen in the face of powerful inclinations to act immorally, and indeed that opposing inclinations only highlight the worth of the action. I argue that this conclusion rests on an implausibly mechanistic account of desires, and that many desires are constituted by tendencies to see certain features of one’s circumstances as reasons to perform one or another action. I try to show that inclinations to violate (...)
  31. Moral Motivation.David O. Brink - 1997 - Ethics 108 (1):4-32.
  32. 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 (...)
  33. Motivational Internalism and the Challenge of Amoralism.Danielle Bromwich - 2016 - European Journal of Philosophy 24 (2):452-471.
    Motivational internalism is the thesis that captures the commonplace thought that moral judgements are necessarily motivationally efficacious. But this thesis appears to be in tension with another aspect of our ordinary moral experience. Proponents of the contrast thesis, motivational externalism, cite everyday examples of amoralism to demonstrate that it is conceptually possible to be completely unmoved by what seem to be sincere first-person moral judgements. This paper argues that the challenge of amoralism gives us no reason to reject or modify (...)
  34. Clearing Conceptual Space for Cognitivist Motivational Internalism.Danielle Bromwich - 2010 - Philosophical Studies 148 (3):343 - 367.
    Cognitivist motivational internalism is the thesis that, if one believes that 'It is right to ϕ', then one will be motivated to ϕ. This thesis—which captures the practical nature of morality—is in tension with a Humean constraint on belief: belief cannot motivate action without the assistance of a conceptually independent desire. When defending cognitivist motivational internalism it is tempting to either argue that the Humean constraint only applies to non-moral beliefs or that moral beliefs only motivate ceteris paribus . But (...)
  35. Facing Death From a Safe Distance: Saṃvega and Moral Psychology.Lajos L. Brons - 2016 - Journal of Buddhist Ethics 23:83-128.
    Saṃvega is a morally motivating state of shock that -- according to Buddhaghosa -- should be evoked by meditating on death. What kind of mental state it is exactly, and how it is morally motivating is unclear, however. This article presents a theory of saṃvega -- what it is and how it works -- based on recent insights in psychology. According to dual process theories there are two kinds of mental processes organized in two" systems" : the experiential, automatic system (...)
  36. Duty and the Production of Good.Stuart M. Brown Jr - 1952 - Philosophical Review 61 (3):299-311.
  37. In the Thick of Moral Motivation.Wesley Buckwalter & John Turri - forthcoming - Review of Philosophy and Psychology:1-21.
    We accomplish three things in this paper. First, we provide evidence that the motivational internalism/externalism debate in moral psychology could be a false dichotomy born of ambiguity. Second, we provide further evidence for a crucial distinction between two different categories of belief in folk psychology: thick belief and thin belief. Third, we demonstrate how careful attention to deep features of folk psychology can help diagnose and defuse seemingly intractable philosophical disagreement in metaethics.
  38. Desire, Practical Reason, and the Good * Edited by Sergio Tenenbaum.K. Bykvist - 2012 - Analysis 72 (1):200-202.
  39. Moral Judgments, Emotions, and Some Expectations From Moral Motivation.Mar Cabezas - 2011 - Public Reason 3 (1).
  40. Mill, Sentimentalism and the Problem of Moral Authority.Daniel Callcut - 2009 - Utilitas 21 (1):22-35.
    Mill’s aim in chapter 3 of Utilitarianism is to show that his revisionary moral theory can preserve the kind of authority typically and traditionally associated with moral demands. One of his main targets is the idea that if people come to believe that morality is rooted in human sentiment then they will feel less bound by moral obligation. Chapter 3 emphasizes two claims: (1) The main motivation to ethical action comes from feelings and not from beliefs and (2) Ethical feelings (...)
  41. Genealogical Inquiry and Universal Moral Values.G. Cavallo - forthcoming - Dialegesthai. Rivista Telematica di Filosofia 2017.
    Inspired by american pragmatism and Hans Joas' proposal of an affirmative genealogy, I argue in this paper that a genealogical inquiry (both on the biografical and on the historical level) can explain what motivates individuals to moral agency better than Kantian moral philosophy, without renouncing an historically-informed conception of universal moral values.
  42. A Solution for Buridan’s Ass.Eugene Chislenko - 2016 - Ethics 126 (2):283-310.
    Buridan’s Ass faced a choice between two identical bales of hay; governed only by reason, the donkey starved, unable to choose. It seems clear that we face many such cases, and resolve them successfully. Our success seems to tell against any view on which action and intention require evaluative preference. I argue that these views can account for intention and intentional action in cases like that of Buridan’s Ass. A decision to act nonintentionally allows us to resolve these cases without (...)
  43. Depression, Listlessness, and Moral Motivation.Michael Cholbi - 2011 - Ratio 24 (1):28-45.
    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 (...)
  44. Mackie's Motivational Argument Philip Clark.Philip Clark - unknown
    Mackie doubted anything objective could have the motivational properties of a value. In thinking we are morally required to act in a certain way, he said, we attribute objective value to the action. Since nothing has objective value, these moral judgments are all false. As to whether Mackie proved his error theory, opinions vary. But there is broad agreement on one issue. A litany of examples, ranging from amoralism to depression to downright evil, has everyone convinced that Mackie vastly overstated (...)
  45. 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 (...)
  46. The Evolution of Utility Functions and Psychological Altruism.Christine Clavien & Michel Chapuisat - forthcoming - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences.
    Numerous studies show that humans tend to be more cooperative than expected given the assumption that they are rational maximizers of personal gain. As a result, theoreticians have proposed elaborated formal representations of human decision-making, in which utility functions including “altruistic” or “moral” preferences replace the purely self-oriented "Homo economicus" function. Here we review mathematical approaches that provide insights into the mathematical stability of alternative utility functions. Candidate utility functions may be evaluated with help of game theory, classical modeling of (...)
  47. Moral Obligation and Moral Motivation.David Copp - 1995 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Supplement 21 (sup1):187–219.
  48. Moral Obligation and Moral Motivation.David Copp - 1995 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 25 (sup1):187-219.
  49. Desires, Motives, and Reasons: Scanlon's Rationalistic Moral Psychology.David Copp & David Sobel - 2002 - Social Theory and Practice 28 (2):243-76.
  50. Evaluative Judgement, Motivation and the Moral Standard.Richard Corrigan - 2008 - Philosophy Pathways 133.
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