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163 HUME'S THEORY OF MOTIVATION In this paper I shall defend a Humean theory of motivation. But first I should like to examine some of the standard criticisms of this theory and some alternative views that are currently in favour. Both in the Treatise and the Enguiry Hume maintains that reason alone never motivates action but always requires the cooperation of some separate, and separately identifiable desire-factor in order to bring about action. What are Hume's grounds for this view? In the Treatise. Hume writes: 'Tis obvious, that when we have the prospect of pain or pleasure from any object, we feel a consequent emotion of aversion or propensity, and are carry 'd to avoid or embrace what will give us this uneasiness or satisfaction .... 'Tis from the prospect of pleasure or pain that the aversion or propensity arises towards any object .... This passage suggests that the way we (and Hume) know about the presence of the separate desire factor which he claims is always needed to motivate our every purposive action is by being directly aware of some desire-feeling, by introspection, each and every time we act. There is however a familiar objection to this argument: no doubt we sometimes are aware of a feeling of desire when we act, e.g., in cases where we are motivated by strong emotions. But much of the time when we act calmly or casually, after having deliberated 'in a cool hour', or when performing routine and trivial acts, we are not directly aware of any desire-feeling at the time of action. 164 Hume is not unaware of this objection -- in reply to it he invokes his notorious doctrine of the calm passions. He writes: 'Tis natural for one, that does not examine objects with a strict philosophic eye, to imagine, that those actions of the mind are entirely the same, which produce not a different sensation, and are not immediately distinguishable to the feeling and perception. Reason, for instance, exerts itself without producing any sensible emotion; and except in the more sublime disquisitions of philosophy , or in the frivolous subtilities of the schools, scarce ever conveys any pleasure or uneasiness. Hence it proceeds, that every action of the mind, which operates with the same calmness and tranquillity, is confounded with reason by all those, who judge of things from the first view and appearance. Now 'tis certain, there are certain calm desires and tendencies, which, tho' they be real passions, produce little emotion in the mind, and are more known by their effects than by the immediate feeling or sensation. These desires are of two kinds; either certain instincts originally implanted in our natures, such as benevolence and resentment, the love of life, and kindness to children; or the general appetite to good, and aversion to evil, consider 'd merely as such. When any of these passions are calm, and cause no disorder in the soul , they are very readily taken for the determination of reason, and are suppos'd to proceed from the same faculty, with that, which judges of truth and falshood. Their nature and principles have been suppos'd the same, because their sensations are not evidently different . (T 417) The most obvious application of this argument would be to cases of cool, seemingly passionless 165 deliberation: e.g., in the course of planning the family budget I set aside funds for the children's education. A cursory inspection (or recollection) of the contents of my conscious mind at the time of acting would reveal to me some purely rational considerations that I had in mind at the time. I had some thoughts at the time whose contents are (roughly) expressible in such words as "If I don't put aside so much per month over so many years we will never be able to see them all through university." But cursory introspection or recollection would not detect any separately identifiable desire-factor present to my conscious mind at the time. Considered philosophical examination, Hume assures us, will reveal one, a 'calm' one -- in this case calm 'kindness to children' . Less obviously, the calm-passions argument, most naturally applicable to cases of deliberation...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 163-183
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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