Motivation-encompassing attitudes

Philosophical Explorations 11 (2):121 – 130 (2008)


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 kinds of desires - namely action-desires - are 'paradigmatic motivational attitudes', similar in an essential way to intentions, and that beliefs are not. Hence it is a necessary truth that action-desires encompass motivation to act; if beliefs encompass motivation to act, it is not a necessary truth that they do. In this way Mele preserves some of what is intuitively right about the Humean account, while admitting that the arguments normally offered in support of the standard Humean claims are open to objections. I argue that Mele's account is implausible. His argument against the claim that state-desires are essentially motivation-encompassing attitudes is convincing, but the same argument proves that action-desires are not essentially motivation-encompassing either. If this difference between desires and beliefs cannot be maintained, however, then Mele fails to defend any motivationally relevant difference between beliefs and desires.

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Christopher G. Framarin
University of Calgary

References found in this work

Intention, Plans, and Practical Reason.Michael Bratman - 1987 - Cambridge: Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Actions, Reasons, and Causes.Donald Davidson - 1963 - Journal of Philosophy 60 (23):685.
A Treatise of Human Nature.David Hume & A. D. Lindsay - 1958 - Philosophical Quarterly 8 (33):379-380.
Motivation and Agency.Alfred R. Mele - 2003 - Oxford University Press.

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