The Structure of Motivation: A Comparison of Frankfurt's and Reid's Conative Theories of Personhood

Dissertation, University of Minnesota (1994)

Eric Felth
University of Minnesota (PhD)
In The Structure of Motivation: A Comparison of Frankfurt's and Reid's Conative Theories of Personhood I defend the theory of personhood advocated by Thomas Reid, who claimed that what is essential about being a person is the possession of "active powers." One may view Reid's theory of active powers as a species of agent causationism, but the account provides more than an appeal to the notion of an agent as a cause. His theory gives insight into the nature of deliberations that require such agency and the varied motivations that impinge on decisions and deliberation. Although I defend his theory directly, most of the defense is comparative in nature and centers around the three issues of freedom of the will, moral responsibility for actions, and weakness of the will. The Reidian theory is compared with that of Harry G. Frankfurt, and I argue that the Reidian theory is able to explain these three issues better than the more widely accepted Frankfurtian theory. Each of these three issues is discussed as a conflict in our intuitions, and each is discussed because it plays a fundamental role in our conception of what it means to be a person. Reid's theory has decided advantages in each area. In developing Reid's theory of agent causation I distinguish between event only determinism and agent determinism and argue that this distinction allows us to embrace what is intuitively plausible about both the classical compatibilist position and the libertarian position. His theory is able to resolve our intuitions regarding a wider range of attributions of moral responsibility than Frankfurt's. The analysis of weakness of the will I draw from Reid provides insight into why we may be inclined to think weakness of the will is impossible in a way Frankfurt's theory cannot. Finally, Reid's theory is able to provide a single notion of freedom of the will that figures centrally in each of the three areas. I conclude that we ought not blanch at increasing our ontology by admitting agent causation, if by doing so we dramatically increase our ability to understand such fundamental issues.
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