The MMER project

Moral Motivation: Evidence and Relevance


Moral Motivation: Evidence and Relevance

Gothenburg, Sweden, May 18-20 2012


Gunnar Björnsson Umeå University

  1. Practicality versus Absolutist Cognitivism

  2. The interest in motivational internalism has largely been driven by its place in Humean arguments against absolutist moral cognitivism: if moral judgments are necessarily and intrinsically motivating, they cannot be mere representations of some non-subjective or judge-relative part of reality. However, in response to criticism, defenders of internalism have weakened the thesis in ways that seem to undermine the Humean argument, often taking the connection between judgment and motivation to depend on the rationality or psychological well-functioning of the judge, and sometimes as not even requiring motivational dispositions on part of the judge, but only on part of some members of the speech community to which the judge belongs.

  3.     This paper defends the continued relevance of issues of motivation for absolutist cognitivism, starting from a weak premise about practical role of moral judgments, accepted by traditional internalists and externalists alike, and an equally weak premise about their possible cognitive contents. Given independently motivated assumptions about what governs intuitions about agreement and disagreement outside morality, we should expect moral disagreement to be governed by practicality concerns rather than by concerns about a common determinate, non-relative cognitive content.

James Dreier, Brown University

  1. Can Reasons Fundamentalism Answer the Normative Question?

  2. Reasons Fundamentalism, advocated by (among others) Derek Parfit and Thomas Scanlon, has two components. It says that other normative and evaluative properties and relations are built from the fundamental relation of being a reason, and it says that this fundamental relation is not built from anything else and has no further explanation. This paper is concerned with the second component.
        In The Sources of Normativity Christine Korsgaard argues that views like Reasons Fundamentalism cannot answer what she calls “the normative question”. Two Fundamentalists have replies to Korsgaard’s objection. This paper explains why the replies answer only the letter and not the spirit of the objection, and explores the objection in further depth. The problem, I argue, turns out to be a problem of explaining how reasons are rationally connected to motivations.

Daniel Eggers, University of Cologne

  1. Strong motivational internalism and Hume’s lesson

  2. The debate over motivational internalism is dominated by the discussion of modest forms of motivational internalism that are usually referred to as “conditional” or “weak” motivational internalism. The reason for the predominance of these more complex forms of internalism is that the most straightforward version of internalism, ”unconditional” or “strong” motivational internalism (SMI), is widely held to be false because it is said to pose too strong a connection between moral judgment and motivation.

  3.     In my paper, I want to argue that the widespread rejection of SMI is a bit premature because SMI makes a much weaker claim than most of its opponents suggest. In order to specify the true commitments of SMI, I will draw upon a Humean thought experiment which is originally meant to illustrate the true (and in Hume’s view quite modest) commitments of psychological altruism. Armed with a more precise understanding of SMI, I will then go on to ask whether empirical evidence will be of any help in trying to decide whether SMI is true or not.

Antti Kauppinen, Trinity College, Dublin

  1. Internalism About Intuitions, Externalism About Judgments

  2. Independently of the debate about moral motivation, we have good reason to distinguish between moral appearances or intuitions, on the one hand, and moral judgements, on the other. The most parsimonious account of moral intuitions that captures their phenomenology, functional role, and the relevant empirical evidence is that they consist in emotions felt from what Hume called “the common point of view”. Internalism is true about such intuitions: when something seems wrong to us, we are intrinsically motivated to refrain from doing it. Since intuitions also incline us to form the corresponding belief, there is a non-accidental (though still contingent) connection between intuition-based moral belief and being motivated to act accordingly. But moral judgments are themselves beliefs that don’t motivate, which means externalism is true about moral judgment. This explains why amoralists are possible, and why psychopaths may be able to make moral judgments while lacking any motivation, as some empirical evidence suggests – they simply form moral beliefs without having either moral intuitions or the desire to be moral. I argue that dualism about moral motivation also nicely explains other cases, such as inverse akrasia and the fact that changes in motivation reliably follow changes in judgment in good agents.

Jeanette Kennett, Macquarie University

  1. Moral motivation and its impairments: empirical and philosophical approaches.

  2. Empirical approaches to moral psychology have held out the promise of settling long standing philosophical debates, for example, between rationalist and sentimentalists about the nature of moral judgment and moral motivation.  I don’t think these debates will be easily resolved, in part because there are important normative and conceptual questions which are not settled by evidence about the emotional bases of moral judgements, or about the extent to which our judgments and actions are the product of automatic processing, and so forth. Nevertheless, we should hope that the distinctions we rely on in our accounts of moral motivation have empirical support, since these have real practical implications for our approach to impairments of agency and motivation such as we see in addiction and other disorders. How do philosophical and psychological accounts of weakness of will, compulsion, and self-control shape and inform each other and what picture of moral agency emerges from an empirically informed understanding of its impairments?

Kate Manne, Harvard Society of Fellows

  1. Tempered Internalism and Practical Identification

  2. There are powerful arguments both for and against motivational internalism, i.e., the idea that moral judgments are intrinsically motivating. In this paper, I will suggest that this is because the thesis is sometimes true, sometimes false. The basic idea here is that there is (only) a select range of moral judgments which are intrinsically motivating. This strategy differs from many other attempts to steer a middle course in the literature, insofar as the recent focus has tended to be on special conditions under which internalism is true – viz., for the right agents (e.g., conditional internalism), at the right time (e.g., deferred historical internalism), or at the right level of generality (e.g., deferred communal internalism). Instead, I seek to circumscribe the judgments which fall under the purview of the thesis, thereby defending a tempered rather than a qualified version thereof. The special type of moral judgments which I identify as falling under the purview of motivational internalism are embedded within a social practice which the agent identifies with, i.e., sees herself as engaged in. I will then suggest that moral judgments that do not fall into this class are not intrinsically motivating, by drawing on various linguistic data.

John Thomas Mumm, Fordham University

  1. Two Functions of Moral Language: Rethinking the Amoralist

  2. The figure of the amoralist has played a central role in the debate between moral judgment internalists and externalists. Unfortunately, the debate has led to an impasse based on conflicting intuitions. In this paper, I argue that we can move forward by drawing a distinction between two functions of moral language. My contention is that moral language primarily functions to allow human beings to deliberate together. However, it also functions to keep track of the assumptions and standards of evaluation of the community in which it operates. Externalists are correct to countenance the possibility of a character who sincerely and competently makes moral judgments without corresponding motivation. But internalists are correct to doubt that these moral judgments are in an important sense genuine. This is because the amoralist only engages in moral discourse in its secondary and derivative (though still important) function of tracking the current state of moral thought

John Park, Duke University

  1. The Motivational Judgment Internalism/Externalism Debate & Methodological Naturalism

  2. Generally understood, motivational judgment internalism claims that there is a necessary connection between making a sincere moral judgment and having some degree of motivation to act upon the judgment, while externalism denies this necessary connection and posits that any such connection is merely contingent.  For the most part, philosophers have been debating this internalism/externalism issue on a priori grounds by relying on such things as thought experiments and intuitions drawn from them.  However, several naturalistic contemporary philosophers have approached this issue from an a posteriori perspective, relying on findings from modern psychology and neuroscience.  In this paper, I discuss and assess two prominent naturalistic attempts to resolve the debate at hand by Jesse Prinz and Adina Roskies.  Upon criticizing these views, I offer a positive account of how moral psychologists can empirically go about solving the internalism/externalism debate.  While I eventually espouse an agnostic view in relation to the debate at hand, I claim that given the way we may conceive of this issue, the internalism/externalism debate is an easy problem of the mind that cognitive science may resolve in the future.

Jesse Prinz, CUNY

  1. An Empirical Case for Emotionally Based Internalism

  2. A growing body of empirical evidence suggests that moral judgments are partially constituted by emotions.  Emotions are also known to have motivational effects, and this suggests that motivational internalism is true—moral judgements are intrinsically motivating.  Moreover, it can also be shown empirically that different emotions underly different kinds of moral judgments (e.g., anger, disgust, and happiness), and these emotions have been implicated in motivating morally relevant behaviors (e.g., punishment, ostracism, and charity). Thus the emotional theory of moral judgments makes specific predictions about the precise nature of moral motivation, which finds empirical support.  After presenting the evidence (including some new research findings), several alleged counter-examples to strong forms of internalism are addressed (e.g., listlessness, embedded moral judgments, sadistic amoralist, hyper-rational agents).

Michael Ridge, University of Edinburgh

  1. Internalism: Cui Bono?

  2. I begin with some distinction-mongering, and try to establish what form of judgment internalism provides the best combination of philosophical interest and plausibility.  This leads to the main thesis of my presentation, which is which meta-normative theories benefit from the truth of internalism, so construed.  In particular, I discuss how, prima facie anyway, the plausibility of so-called hybrid or “ecumenical” theories undermines the conventional wisdom about who benefits.  I then turn to a more detailed discussion of just what sort of hybrid cognitivism is needed to accommodate the form of internalism I lay out in the first part of my presentation.  This turns out to pose some non-trivial constraints on what a plausible form of “Ecumenical Cognitivism” will have to be like in order to accommodate internalism in the right way, or so I shall argue.

Michael Smith, Princeton University

  1. Moral Judgements, Judgements about Reasons, and Motivations

  2. There is much disagreement about what the conditions are under which moral judgements are accompanied by corresponding motivations.  Though there is still some, there is much less disagreement about what the conditions are under which judgements about reasons are accompanied by corresponding motivations.  My aim in this paper is to explain why this should not trouble those who identify moral judgements with judgements about reasons.  I also assess various proposals that have been made about what these conditions are.

Sigrún Svavarsdóttir, Ohio State University

  1. Detecting Value with Motivational Responses

  2. This paper develops an externalist explanation of the connection between value judgment and motivation, which rests on the assumption that, within the context of an inquiry into what makes life worth living, the canonical method for ascertaining that something has intrinsic, pro tanto, agent-neutral value is to get as clear as possible about what the object is like and see whether one can either value it, for its own sake, or at least empathize with someone who values it, for its own sake, when valuing is a conative attitude distinct from the attitude manifested in judging valuable. The paper defends this assumption inter alia against challenges mounted by Mark Johnston to David Lewis’s similar account of the connection between value judgment and motivation. Moreover, the paper examines whether the canonical method of value inquiry is best construed as a method of discovery and, if space allows, whether this externalist explanation of the connection between value judgment and motivation is partial to a response-dependent account of the concept of value.

Teemu Toppinen, University of Helsinki

  1. Pure Expressivism and Practical Reason

  2. According to pure expressivism, some normative sentences (concerning, for example, what there is reason to do, or one course of action being better than another) express only desire-like states. It is often suggested that pure expressivism gains strong support from its ability to account for the action-guiding nature of normative thought. In this paper I argue that this is not the case. In the first two sections I argue that pure expressivism fails to capture the truth of a thesis which I call '(PRACTICALITY)', and which says: necessarily, if one is rational, then, if one judges that x-ing would be desirable, one also desires to x. In sections three and four, I proceed to argue that pure expressivism also fails to account for the truth of another thesis which I call '(ON THE BASIS OF DESIRABILITY)', and which says: it is possible for an agent to rationally form a desire to x, and to perform x, on the basis of her thinking that x-ing would be desirable. I conclude that far from providing strong support for pure expressivism, arguments from practical reason suggest that pure expressivism is probably false.

Jon Tresan, UNC Chapel Hill

  1. Objective Moral Realism & The Role-Individuation of Moral Judgments

  2. I explore a new way of combining moral realism with the role-individuation of moral judgments: to be a moral judgment is to bear a relation to pro/con-attitudes or practices.  Moral judgments are distinctive in the differences between those making them (moralists) and those monitoring them (meta-moralists).  Roughly, moralists care about how people behave; meta-moralists about moral judgments as practically relevant features of the social environment (i.e., about their role).  Moralists shape moral semantics, so moral judgments are about real behavioral properties.  Meta-moralists shape how we classify moral judgments, and role-individuation reflects this.  Appreciating this allows realists to avoid common objections.

Ariela Tubert, University of Puget Sound

  1. Reasons Internalism and Sound Advice

  2. This paper is concerned with the prospects for an account of internal reasons where internal reasons are those that satisfy two conditions: (1) an explanation condition and (2) a subjectivity condition. The explanation condition sets as a requirement that reasons be capable of motivating and so of explaining action, while the subjectivity condition requires that reasons be properly related to the agent's motivational set (desires, wants, projects, commitments, etc.).  I start the paper by proposing an account of internal reasons based on the advisor model of internalism.  Then, I consider an attempt to provide an account of external reasons on the basis of the advisor model and I argue that the advisor model is too caught up in the psychology of the actual agent to be able to account for external reasons.  Finally, I respond to objections that the advisor model does not allow for the proper connection between reasons and motivation and thus fails to be an appropriate model for internalism.  In responding to the objections and clarifying what the explanation condition requires, I show that the model I am proposing can provide an account of both the subjectivity and explanation conditions.

Nick Zangwill, Durham University

  1. Essence, Agent-Causation and Motivational Externalism

  2. I do two things: first I consider how best to formulate the debate. And second, on that reconceived basis, I refine the pro-externalist argument from indifference. In the first part, then, I argue that it is a mistake to characterize the main issue over moral motivation in terms of whether moral judgements necessarily motivate. The modal characterization of the issue is flawed. I argue for an essentialist characterization, and a characterization in part in terms of the causal source of motivation. I reflect on the apparently empirical status of the debate but wonder about the assumption of universality made by all sides in the debate. I then re-recast the debate in agent-causation terms and then re-reflect on the status on the issue. Then in the second half I reaffirm a broadly externalist viewpoint. I consider the usual argument from indifference in the light of the more methodological concerns of the first half. The powerful cases are of rational cynicism, not of depression and the like. The prevalence of such cases yields a best explanation argument for externalism. I then compare this kind of argument with the situation with other normative judgements, of sport, of the law, of aesthetics, of religion, and of rationality. This last turns out to be a special case, and some Kantian thoughts here are correct. Bu there remains a fundamental contrast between the way we are moved by judgements of morality and by judgements of rationality, one that vindicates externalism.

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