Edited by Joshua May (University of Alabama, Birmingham)
About this topic
Summary Philosophers often treat motivation in connection with desire, given that they often use the term "desire" to refer to mental states that are in essence motivational. This does not necessarily lead to the theory that we are all ultimately self-interested (psychological egoism), since our ultimate desires could concern the welfare of others. And some believe motivation can be generated by states other than desire, such as belief, imagination, or intentions. Still, many share the view often labelled psychologism: motivation, even acting on reasons, must involve psychological states of some sort or other. After all, how could the fact that there is salmon on the table motivate me to consume it unless I at least believe this and want some salmon? Not everyone buys into a tight connection between mental states and motivation, however. Some seek to make an exception at least for rational action, which not all animals can exhibit. Proponents of anti-psychologism maintain that we don't need mental states at all in the causation and explanation of rational action. When we act on good reasons, for example, perhaps we can be motivated by something like the contents of those states---the propositions believed or desired.  Settling this dispute doesn't exhaust the philosophical issues surrounding motivation, but they are largely taken up in other categories.
Key works Davidson 1963 and Smith 1987 are contemporary and already classic pieces connecting motivation and desire, though couched in terms of reasons. They build on ideas in Anscombe 1957 (see her shopping list example, section 32). Anti-psychologism has clearly and explicitly been defended by Dancy (19952000).
Introductions Ch. 1 of Mele 2003 provides a comprehensive introduction to motivation, along with a useful glossary of terms (or see Mele 1995). The entries by Schroeder 2009 and Pettit 1998 cover desire, but they are useful introductions to motivation. Lenman 2010 (esp. sects. 5-6) discusses psychologism and related views.
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  1. Selfish Goals Must Compete for the Common Currency of Reward.George Ainslie - 2014 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 37 (1):135-136.
  2. Kinds of Reasons: An Essay in the Philosophy of Action.Maria Alvarez - 2010 - Oxford University Press.
    Understanding human beings and their distinctive rational and volitional capacities requires a clear account of such things as reasons, desires, emotions, and motives, and how they combine to produce and explain human behaviour. Maria Alvarez presents a fresh and incisive study of these concepts, centred on reasons and their role in human agency.
  3. What Kind of Theory is the Humean Theory of Motivation?Caroline T. Arruda - 2017 - Ratio 30 (3):322-342.
    I consider an underappreciated problem for proponents of the Humean theory of motivation. Namely, it is unclear whether is it to be understood as a largely psychological or largely metaphysical theory. I show that the psychological interpretation of HTM will need to be modified in order to be a tenable view and, as it will turn out, the modifications required render it virtually philosophically empty. I then argue that the largely metaphysical interpretation is the only a plausible interpretation of HTM's (...)
  4. The Verdictive Organization of Desire.Derek Clayton Baker - 2017 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 47 (5):589-612.
    Deliberation often begins with the question ‘What do I want to do?’ rather than the question of what one ought to do. This paper takes that question at face value, as a question about which of one’s desires is strongest, which sometimes guides action. The paper aims to explain which properties of a desire make that desire strong, in the sense of ‘strength’ relevant to this deliberative question. Both motivational force and phenomenological intensity seem relevant to a desire’s strength; however, (...)
  5. Intention, Motive and Responsibility.Winston Barnes, W. D. Falk & A. E. Duncan-Jones - 1945 - Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 19:230-288.
  6. Motivation and Emotion: An Interactive Process Model.Mark H. Bickhard - 2000 - In Ralph D. Ellis & Natika Newton (eds.), The Caldron of Consciousness: Motivation, Affect and Self-Organization. John Benjamins. pp. 161.
    In this chapter, I outline dynamic models of motivation and emotion. These turn out not to be autonomous subsystems, but, instead, are deeply integrated in the basic interactive dynamic character of living systems. Motivation is a crucial aspect of particular kinds of interactive systems -- systems for which representation is a sister aspect. Emotion is a special kind of partially reflective interaction process, and yields its own emergent motivational aspects. In addition, the overall model accounts for some of the crucial (...)
  7. 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 (...)
  8. 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 (...)
  9. 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 (...)
  10. Human Action, Deliberation and Causation.J. A. M. Bransen & S. E. Cuypers (eds.) - 1998 - Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
    The essays collected together in this volume, many of them written by leading scholars in the field, explore the commonsensical fact that our presence as..
  11. Thought, Action, and Acting Against One's Best Judgment.Michael Edward Bratman - 1974 - Dissertation, The Rockefeller University
  12. Korsgaard on Motivational Skepticism.John Brunero - 2004 - Journal of Value Inquiry 38 (2):253–264.
  13. Was uns wirklich bewegt - Gedanken zur Philosophie der Motivation.Godehard Brüntrup - manuscript
    Précis of the overall research conveyed by the Chair for Philosophy and Motivation at Munich School of Philosophy.
  14. Motivation und Verwirklichung des autonomen Selbst.Godehard Brüntrup - 2012 - In Godehard Brüntrup & Maria Schwartz (eds.), Warum wir handeln - Philosophie der Motivation. Kohlhammer. pp. 2012.
    Dieser Text will versuchen, Philosophie und psychologische Motivationsforschung wieder miteinander ins Gespräch zu bringen. Innerhalb der Philosophie herrscht bis heute oft eine sehr vereinfachte Auffassung der Motivation vor. Vor allem die Humesche Konzeption dominiert (vgl. Smith 2010), nach der Motivation als Zusammenhang von intrinsischen Wünschen und Zweck-Mittel-Überzeugungen verstanden wird. Ein motivierter Mensch hat also das Bedürfnis, das die Welt auf eine bestimmte Art verändert werde und sein Handeln genau in dieser Veränderung resultieren kann. Das ist eine sehr verkürzte Auffassung, wenn (...)
  15. Rational and Irrational Agency.Peter G. Campbell - 1994 - Dissertation, The University of British Columbia (Canada)
    Only with a comprehensive detailed theory of the practical processes which agents engage in prior to successful action can one get a picture of all those junctures at which the mechanism of rationality may be applied, and at which irrationality may therefore occur. Rationality, I argue, is the exercise of normatives, such as believable and desirable, whose function is to control the formation of the stages in practical processes by determining what content and which functions of practical states are allowed (...)
  16. Book Review:Irrationality: An Essay on Akrasia, Self-Deception and Self-Control. Alfred R. Mele. [REVIEW]Marcia Cavell - 1989 - Ethics 99 (2):429-.
  17. Are There Extrinsic Desires?David K. Chan - 2004 - Noûs 38 (2):326-50.
    An extrinsic desire is defined as a desire for something, not for its own sake, but for its supposed propensity to secure something else that one desires. I argue that the notion of ‘extrinsic desire’ is theoretically redundant. I begin by defining desire as a propositional attitude with a desirability characterization. The roles of desire and intention in practical reasoning are distinguished. I show that extrinsic desire does not have its own motivational role. I also show that extrinsic desire is (...)
  18. Locke on the Suspension of Desire. Chappell - 1998 - Locke Studies 29:23-38.
    In the first edition of the Essay concerning Human Understanding, Locke claims that human beings have freedom of action - that is, that some of their actions are free - but that they do not have freedom of will - that is, that none of their volitions are free. Volitions themselves are actions for Locke; they are operations of the will and hence acts of willing. And volitions give rise to other actions: an action that follows and is caused by (...)
  19. Temptations, Social Deprivation and Punishment.Peter Chau - 2010 - Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 30 (4):775-785.
    Andrew von Hirsch and Andrew Ashworth recently argued that there is generally a reason to punish a socially deprived offender less than his non-deprived counterpart (ie someone who is not socially deprived but is otherwise similar to the deprived offender in that he committed the same crime, caused the same harm, with the same degree of foresight, etc), because deprived offenders generally face stronger temptations to offend than their non-deprived counterparts. In reply, I will argue that we should draw a (...)
  20. 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 (...)
  21. Inescapability and the Analysis of Agency.Philip Clark - 2014 - Abstracta 8 (S7):3-15.
  22. Review: Motivation and Agency. [REVIEW]Randolph Clarke - 2004 - Mind 113 (451):565-569.
  23. Review of Motivation and Agency. [REVIEW]Randolph Clarke - 2004 - Mind 113 (451):565-568.
  24. 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, (...)
  25. A Dialectical Approach to Action Theory.John M. Connolly - 1976 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 19 (1-4):427 – 442.
    Recent work in the theory of action by analytical philosophers has focused on explaining actions by citing the agent's motivating reason(s). But this ignores a pattern of explanation typical in the social sciences, i.e. situating the agent in a reference group whose members typically manifest that behavior. In some cases the behavior of such groups can itself be shown to be the product of social forces. Two extended examples of this explanatory pattern are studied. In each case the motivating reasons (...)
  26. 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 (...)
  27. Reconciling Realism with Humeanism.Terence Cuneo - 2002 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 80 (4):465 – 486.
    The central purpose of this essay is to consider some of the more prominent reasons why realists have rejected the Humean theory of motivation. I shall argue that these reasons are not persuasive, and that there is nothing about being a moral realist that should make us suspicious of Humeanism.
  28. Imagination as Motivation.Gregory Currie - 2002 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 102 (3):201-16.
    What kinds of psychological states motivate us? Beliefs and desires are the obvious candidates. But some aspects of our behaviour suggest another idea. I have in mind the view that imagination can sometimes constitute motivation.
  29. Why There Is Really No Such Thing as the Theory of Motivation.Jonathan Dancy - 1995 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 95:1-18.
    To the extent, then, that we set our face against admitting the truth of Humeanism in the theory of motivation, to that extent we are probably going to feel that there is no such thing as the theory of motivation, so conceived, at all. And that will be the position that this paper is trying to defend, though not only for this reason. It might seem miraculous that so much can be extracted from the little distinction with which we started, (...)
  30. Psychologism and Humeanism: Review of Dancy's Practical Reality. [REVIEW]Wayne A. Davis - 2003 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 67 (2):452 - 459.
  31. Ramsey's Principle Re-Situated.Jérôme Dokic & Pascal Engel - 2004 - In Hallvard Lillehammer & D. H. Mellor (eds.), Ramsey's Legacy. Oxford University Press.
    This paper is about Ramsey's Principle, according to which a belief's truth-conditions are those that guarantee the success of an action based on that belief whatever the underlying motivating desires. Some philosophers have argued that the Principle should be rejected because it leads to the apparently implausible consequence that any failure of action is the result of some false belief on the agent's part. There is a gap between action and success that cannot be bridged by the agent's cognitive state. (...)
  32. Learning, Acquired Dispositions and the Humean Theory of Motivation.Christos Douskos - 2018 - Philosophical Papers 47 (2):199-233.
    A central point of contention in the ongoing debate between Humean and anti-Humean accounts of moral motivation concerns the theoretical credentials of the idea of mental states that are cognitive and motivational at the same time. Humeans claim that this idea is incoherent and thereby unintelligible (M. Smith, The Moral Problem, Blackwell 1994). I start by developing a linguistic argument against this claim. The semantics of certain ‘learning to’ and ‘knowing to’ ascriptions points to a dispositional state that has both (...)
  33. Motivation-Encompassing Attitudes.Christopher G. Framarin - 2008 - Philosophical Explorations 11 (2):121 – 130.
    Alfred R. Mele defends a broadly 'Humean' theory of motivation. One common dispute between Humeans and anti-Humeans has to do with whether or not a desire is required to motivate action. For the most part Mele avoids this dispute. He claims that there are reasons to think that beliefs cannot motivate action, but finally allows that it might be that it is a contingent fact that beliefs can motivate action in human beings. Instead Mele argues for the claim that certain (...)
  34. Cares, Identification, and Agency Reductionism.Christopher Evan Franklin - 2017 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 98 (S1):577-598.
    Reductionists about agency maintain that an agent’s causing something is reducible to states and events involving the agent causing something. Some worry that reductionism cannot accommodate robust forms of agency, such as self-determination. One reductionist answer to this worry, which I call ‘identification reductionism,’ contends that self-governing agents are identified with certain attitudes, and so these attitudes’ causing a decision count as the agent’s self-determining the decision. I argue that a prominent species of identification reductionism developed by Harry Frankfurt, Agnieszka (...)
  35. Unmotivated Intentional Action.Danny Frederick - 2010 - Philosophical Frontiers 5 (1):21-30.
    In opposition to the tenet of contemporary action theory that an intentional action must be done for a reason, I argue that some intentional actions are unmotivated. I provide examples of arbitrary and habitual actions that are done for no reason at all. I consider and rebut an objection to the examples of unmotivated habitual action. I explain how my contention differs from recent challenges to the tenet by Hursthouse, Stocker and Pollard.
  36. Acting on a Ground : Reasons, Rational Motivation, and Explanation.Magnus Frei - 2016 - Dissertation, Fribourg
    When someone does something for a reason, what are the reasons for which she does what she does? What is her ‘motivating reason’, as it is sometimes put? The simple answer is: it depends on what is meant by ‘motivating reason’. Non-Psychologists hold that motivating reasons are what the agent believes. I have shown that given that we understand ‘motivating reasons’ as what I term 'grounds', this is quite correct, as what we believe is what plays the role of a (...)
  37. Lenman on Externalism and Amoralism: An Interplanetary Exploration.Joshua Gert & Alfred Mele - 2005 - Philosophia 32 (1-4):275-283.
  38. Comments on Alfred Mele, Motivation and Agency – Discussion.Carl Ginet - 2005 - Philosophical Studies 123 (3):261-272.
  39. Book Reveiw: Motivation and Agency by Alfred Mele. [REVIEW]Stuart Goetz - 2004 - The Journal of Ethics 8 (2):197-200.
  40. Feeling, Desire and Interest in Kant's Theory of Action.Jeanine M. Grenberg - 2001 - Kant-Studien 92 (2):153-179.
    Henry Allison's “Incorporation Thesis” has played an important role in recent discussions of Kantian ethics. By focussing on Kant's claim that “a drive [Triebfeder] can determine the will to an action only so far as the individual has incorporated it into his maxim,” Allison has successfully argued against Kant's critics that desire-based non-moral action can be free action. His work has thus opened the door for a wide range of discussions which integrate feeling into moral action more deeply than had (...)
  41. Wish, Motivation and the Human Good in Aristotle.Gösta Grönroos - 2015 - Phronesis 60 (1):60-87.
    _ Source: _Volume 60, Issue 1, pp 60 - 87 Aristotle invokes a specifically human desire, namely wish, to provide a teleological explanation of the pursuit of the specifically human good in terms of virtuous activity. Wish is a basic, unreasoned desire which, independently of other desires, or evaluative attitudes, motivates the pursuit of the human good. Even a person who pursues what she mistakenly believes to be good is motivated by wish for what in fact is good, although she (...)
  42. An Empirical Solution to the Puzzle of Weakness of Will.Julia Haas - 2018 - Synthese:1-21.
    This paper presents an empirical solution to the puzzle of weakness of will. Specifically, it presents a theory of action, grounded in contemporary cognitive neuroscientific accounts of decision making, that explains the phenomenon of weakness of will without resulting in a puzzle.
  43. Uncertainty and Control.Sven Ove Hansson - 2017 - Diametros 53:50-59.
    In a decision making context, an agent’s uncertainty can be either epistemic, i.e. due to her lack of knowledge, or agentive, i.e. due to her not having made use of her decision-making power. In cases when it is unclear whether or not a decision maker presently has control over her own future actions, it is difficult to determine whether her uncertainty is epistemic or agentive. Such situations are often difficult for the agent to deal with, but from an outsider’s perspective, (...)
  44. How Do We Ever Get Up? On the Proximate Causation of Actions and Events.Grazer Philosophise he Studien - 2001 - Grazer Philosophische Studien 61 (1):43.
    Many candidates have been tried out as proximate causes of actions: belief-desire pairs, volitions, motives, intentions, and other kinds of pro-attitudes. None of these mental states or events, however, seems to be able to do the trick, that is, to get things going. Each of them may occur without an appropriate action ensuing. After reviewing several attempts at closing the alleged “causal gap”, it is argued that on a correct analysis, there is no missing link waiting to be discovered. On (...)
  45. Emotions and Practical Reason: Rethinking Evaluation and Motivation.Bennett W. Helm - 2001 - Noûs 35 (2):190–213.
    The motivational problem is the problem of understanding how we can have rational control over what we do. In the face of phenomena like weakness of the will, it is commonly thought that evaluation and reason can always remain intact even as we sever their connection with motivation; consequently, solving the motivational problem is thought to be a matter of figuring out how to bridge this inevitable gap between evaluation and motivation. I argue that this is fundamentally mistaken and results (...)
  46. Performance of Procrastinators: On the Value of Deadlines. [REVIEW]Fabian Herweg & Daniel Müller - 2011 - Theory and Decision 70 (3):329-366.
    Earlier study has shown that procrastination can be explained by quasi-hyperbolic discounting. We present a model of effort choice over time that shifts the focus from completion of to performance on a single task. We find that being aware of the own self-control problems may reduce a person’s performance as well as his or her overall well-being, which is in contrast to the existing literature on procrastination. Extending this framework to a multi-task model, we show that interim deadlines help a (...)
  47. Receptivity and the Will.Edward Hinchman - 2009 - Noûs 43 (3):395-427.
    This paper defends an internalist view of agency. The challenge for an internalist view of agency is to explain how an agent’s all-things-considered judgment has necessary implications for action, a challenge that lies specifically in the possibility of two species of akratic break: between judgment and intention, and between intention and action. I argue that the two breaks are not importantly different: in each case akrasia manifests a single species of irrational self-mistrust. I aim to vindicate internalism by showing how (...)
  48. How is Strength of Will Possible?Richard Holton - 2003 - In Christine Tappolet & Sarah Stroud (eds.), Weakness of Will and Practical Irrationality. Oxford University Press. pp. 39-67.
    Most recent accounts of will-power have tried to explain it as reducible to the operation of beliefs and desires. In opposition to such accounts, this paper argues for a distinct faculty of will-power. Considerations from philosophy and from social psychology are used in support.
  49. Arational Actions.Rosalind Hursthouse - 1991 - Journal of Philosophy 88 (2):57-68.
    According to the standard account of actions and their explanations, intentional actions are actions done because the agent has a certain desire/belief pair that explains the action by rationalizing it. Any explanation of intentional action in terms of an appetite or occurrent emotion is hence assumed to be elliptical, implicitly appealing to some appropriate belief. In this paper, I challenge this assumption with respect to the " arational " actions of my title---a significant subset of the set of intentional actions (...)
  50. Halfhearted Action and Control.Shepherd Joshua - 2017 - Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 4.
    Some of the things we do intentionally we do halfheartedly. I develop and defend an account of halfheartedness with respect to action on which one is halfhearted with respect to an action A if one’s overall motivation to A is weak. This requires getting clear on what it is to have some level of overall motivation with respect to an action, and on what it means to say one’s overall motivation is weak or strong. After developing this account, I defend (...)
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