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Hume's Theory ofMotivation — Part 2 Daniel Shaw Introduction and Summary of Part 1 In an earlier paper of the same title1 1 defended a Humean theory of motivation against rationalist views ofB. Stroud and T. Nagel.2 In this paper I shouldlike to relate my theory tomore recent writings, explain its implications for the topic ofmoral motivation and provide further support for the main argument ofmy original paper. To begin with, a summary of my previous discussion: while two critics of Hume's theory, B. Stroud and T. Nagel, disagree about the role ofreason inaction(Stroudaccepts, Nagelrejectsthe Humeanclaim thatreason alone can never produce action) theyboth agree inrejecting Hume's view thatmotivating desire essentially involves feelings which are identifiable by the agent, in his conscious experience, by introspection, as something extra, something over and above any purely rational considerations he may have for taking action. As an alternative to this Humean, experiential view ofmotivating desire, Stroud argues that the concept of motivating desire should be analysednotinterms ofanyintrinsic propertyknowablein experience, butratherin terms ofits function in leading, along withbelief, to action. In Stroud's words: "It might well be that to have a desire for or a propensity towards E is simply to be in a state such that when you come to believe that a certain action will lead to E you are moved to perform that action."3 In a similar spirit4 Nagel claims, contrary to Hume, that there do exist at least some cases (for example, actions motivated by a person's prudential consideration of his own future interests) in which reason alone—that is, the agent's grasp of certain purely rational considerations—is all that motivates action. In the context of these purely rationally motivated actions, Nagel argues, our talk of desire does not refef to anyadditional inclination towards, or preferences for, or sentiment about some goal that we have, but is either just another way of saying that the act is motivated, that is, that we are in some state which disposes us to do whatever we think will lead to a certain result, or else indicates some structural feature ofthe reasoningbehind our behaviour; for example, indicates the fact that in view of purely rational considerations which confront us, it would be irrational of us not to perform the act in question. Volume XVII Number 2 19 DANIEL SHAW Against any such account ofmotivating desire which denies the necessity of the experiential component (that is, of Hume's introspectible sentiment), I argued that all such accounts have a false implication. They all falsely imply that some purely rational consideration, a bare behef, could, all on its own (unaccompanied by any actual or potential pro- or con-attitude), motivate a purposive action. With the help ofa counter-example I argued5 that although it is logically possible for bare beliefs of that kind to produce overt behaviour, such pure rationalist 'action' never in fact happens; and, more importantly, ifwe carefully consider what such 'action' would be like ifit didhappen, we findit would not count as voluntary, purposive action, in the fullest sense. So Hume, I concluded, was right to maintain that motivating desire essentially involves introspectible feehngs. However, the standard interpretation of Hume's view about the relation between desires and feelings yields an indefensible theory of motivated action. On the standard reading, desires simply are feehngs, and the Humean is left with no adequate reply to the obvious objection that, often enough, for example, when acting after calm deliberation, or when performing routine habit-actions, we are not aware of the occurrence of any such feehng immediately prior to or at the time of action. Hume tells us that in all such cases there is—in addition to the operation of reason—a calm passion present—a passion so calm as to be readily confused with and mistaken for the determinations of reason. But on the standard reading of 'calm passions' as very faint or imperceptible feelings, this is a lame argument. As Stroud points out,6 not only is there no independent justification for the claim that in all such cases there always are such faint or imperceptible feehngs,7 but also that claim is inconsistent...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 19-39
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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