normative judgment internalism & motivational functionalism (redux)

David and I seem to agree that, for at least certain sorts of normative beliefs or judgments, a kind of moderate internalism is true.  For example, Bri’s judgment that she ought to tie her shoe (her belief that this is what she has most reason to do presently or what she has compelling reason to do presently) tends, as a non-accidental matter, to produce in her the intention to tie her shoe.

(Arguably, she would also be irrational not to form this intention upon making this judgment.  Set that aside.  For reasons that I won’t go into, I don’t think this is essential to there being a necessary connection of some sort between normative belief and motivation.)

I proposed to explain this sort of connection by taking relevant belief-states to be partially constituted by their functioning to motivate.  However, partly due to David’s points in our earlier discussion, I’m now less convinced that the partial constitution claim is true.  For one thing, the idea that the belief necessarily but not constitutively has the motivational function (and this coming along with a tendency to produce the relevant motivating attitude) does the same explanatory work.  And this latter idea fits better with a Humean belief-desire motivational psychology than does my original proposal (the original proposal seems to fit better with the idea that some one attitude-state can function cognitively and motivationally – so-called “besire” views).

So here’s how this might go in our spotlighted type of case.  First element:  the speaker/agent has a belief of the form ‘I ought to PHI’.  We might interpret the ‘ought’ concept here as a special way of referencing some natural, descriptive property (or perhaps other sort of property) that would vary depending on your substantive theory of reasons, normativity, etc.  We are concerned, then, not simply with the speaker predicating a certain property of herself or her prospective actions, but of her doing so while using a particular “mode of presentation” (and that’s what the ‘ought’ concept is).  Second element:  this belief, along with (a) a normal-human-psychology-given antecedent desire to do whatever it is that one ought (has most reason, has compelling reason) to do and (b) relevant normal-human-psychology-given unconscious or conscious mechanisms of rationality or rational response tend, as a non-accidental matter of human psychology, to produce in the speaker the intention to PHI (or produce in the speaker the specific desire to form the intention to PHI).  In this way, the relevant necessary or non-accidental connection between belief and motivation (specific desires, intention) is explained.  In other words, a kind of “moderate” internalism (defeasible but necessary connection to motivation) regarding this sort of normative judgment is explained.  And in a way that jibes well with standard belief-desire psychology.

I’m not sure you need functions, as opposed to just non-accidental tendencies, to get the same explanatory work done.  It is just that, for independent reasons, the functional language strikes me as appropriate.  (This sort of picture, functions included, worked out in greater detail and applied to moral thought and language specifically, might explain why Hare’s famous Missionaries and Cannibals Argument provides strong reasons for accepting moderate internalism about specifically moral language.)

Expressivism, and hybrid expressivism, are better explanations for “strong” internalism or the view that normative judgments necessarily always motivate.  Since strong internalism strikes me as false, and because strong internalism has to be true if expressivism or hybrid expressivism is true, it seems to me that these views are false.  They are too strong or explain too much.  They are prima facie inferior to both my “belief-constitutive” and “non-belief-constitutive” motivational functionalism about normative belief.  In a way, though, these two sorts of pictures do not compete because they are not taking as true and trying to explain precisely the same thing.  The most fundamental division is that between accepting moderate (defeasible) and strong (indefeasible) internalism about normative (or specifically moral) judgment.  I don’t know why so many philosophers accept strong internalism – or expressivism (or hybrid expressivism) given that they imply strong internalism (and are super-complicated and counter-intuitive to boot).

19 thoughts on “normative judgment internalism & motivational functionalism (redux)

  1. This is just a trick to see how inefficiently I will use my time, isn’t it?


    1. You’re not claiming here that the concept ‘ought,’ or any other concept, has a motivational function; hence one of my most serious objections no longer holds. You do say something mysterious about the ‘ought’ concept being the mode of presentation; I’m not sure quite what you mean, but that may reintroduce the problem I saw with the earlier claim. To my mind the crucial and non-negotiable datum is that I use the same concept ‘ought’ when I apply it to other people, to people in the past, to hypothetical future people, and to myself; there is no distinct concept that I employ when I judge that I ought to φ as opposed to judging that you ought to, or that Caesar ought to have, or what not. If what you mean by calling the ought concept the ‘mode of presentation’ is meant to link the concept to the self-referentiality of the judgment in the cases you’re interested in, then I think your account runs afoul of this simple fact about the concept. But I’m not sure if that’s what you mean, or if the ‘mode of presentation’ you have in mind has to do with the focus on reasons and such.

    2. You’re taking ‘I ought to φ᾽ to mean ‘I have most reason to φ presently’ or ‘I have compelling reason to φ presently’ (or perhaps ‘I have most reason or compelling reason to φ presently’?). If I accept that as stipulation, then your weak internalism seems unobjectionable to me. It’s worth pointing out, though, that in the sense that many philosophers uses ‘ought,’ I can believe without contradiction that I ought to φ and that I do not have most reason or compelling reason to φ presently. It’s important to keep ourselves straight on what we’re being internalists about. Accepting internalism — even strong internalism — about judgments of the form ‘I ought to φ’ taken to mean ‘I have most or compelling reason to φ presently’ will not get us anywhere near the vicinity of any kind of internalism about ‘moral’ judgments in general or any specific moral judgments in particular. The sort of thing that internalists about morality and motivation typically want us to believe — that if I’m not motivated, even a little, to act in accordance with a moral judgment, then I’m not sincerely making the moral judgment — is oceans away from the internalism you lay out here. I’m not sure if you care about this, but it’s worth noting.

    3. Also worth noting is that you seem to have rejected expressivism. Hooray!

    One of these days (maybe in the year 2019) I hope to blog about Alasdair MacIntyre’s new book, which has some interesting things to say about various forms of expressivism as the primary rival to Aristotelian conceptions of practical reason. I’m curious what you think. But it’ll be a while. If something requires actual work, I can’t use it to procrastinate from actual work, so…


    • Ha! Yes, my nefarious plot has succeeded!

      1a. Again (from last discussion): ‘ought’ has a deliberation-related motivational function as part of the speaker’s thought that she ought to do this or that (where this or that is a prospective action). Certainly, ‘ought’ has this functional role only in virtue of ‘I ought to PHI’ having its functional role. Since my revised proposal does not have it that this functionality is part of the identity of the concept, the claim that the same concept is used in the past tense with regard to oneself, regarding the actions of others etc. can be affirmed straight-forwardly. (The mode of presentation stuff is just the ‘morning star’ versus ‘evening star’ point – the same property may correspond to more than one concept and the inferential and causal role of the two concepts may be different. But this is really just a side point of properly precise formulation – this way the proposal does not have it that filling in the correct account of what it is for it to be that case that one ought or has most reason to do this or that, whatever that may be, has the same motivating tendency and function, as seems implausible.)

      2a. Yes, the case I’m using (and have been using) speaks to a first-person deliberative motivational function that need not involve morality or the interpersonal elements of our motivating each other in moral practice (holding each other to account, guilt-motivation, outrage-motivation, etc.). However, I suspect that thoughts like ‘What Claire did was wrong’ have (different) motivating functions with respect to the thinker/speaker, the target of the judgment via the expression of the thought to the target, the moral community, etc. That would be another story, but a similar one. We typically experience moral outrage upon judging that we have been wronged, for example, and it is plausible that this is not accidental.

      3a. Pretty much rejected expressivism, including hybrid expressivism, all along!


      • 1a. (Again) I still don’t see how any claims about the function of the concept follow from claims about the function of judgments employing the concept. The judgment ‘my pants are on fire’ typically leads me to be motivated to prevent myself from burning to death, and would typically lead any psychologically ordinary person to be motivated to prevent herself from burning to death, barring some unusual circumstances. Nobody would suppose that the concept ‘on fire’ therefore has a motivating function, even subject to qualifications. The concept ‘ought,’ even in your narrow sense, doesn’t seem to either; the judgment ‘I ought to put that fire out’ does.

        2a. I think the case for ‘wrong’ will depend on stipulating an analogously narrow use for it as you have for ‘ought.’ It occurs to me that there might be a good deal of room between ‘necessarily’ and ‘not accidentally’; if we take ‘not accidentally’ to exclude only cases that are very unusual, then we’ll end up with so many cases in which there is a non-accidental connection between the deployment of a concept in first-personal judgments and motivation that triviality will loom. Indeed, one of the things I’m unsure of with your whole view is why exactly, when it has been qualified in the ways that make it seem highly plausible if not straightforwardly right, it has not become trivial. Old-school internalism about moral concepts and motivation is not trivial; weak internalism and motivation and ‘I have most or decisive reason φ presently’ seems pretty trivial. But lots of things seem trivial that aren’t, so I could be a victim of false appearances here.

        3. Fooled me!


        • I’m quite grateful for your particular procrastination strategies, David!

          1a.1 – Perhaps ‘my pants are on fire’ motivates me because I know this is a super-bad circumstance for me to be in and because I have a standing, compelling desire to avoid being in circumstances that are super-bad for me (conclusion or output of relevant rational process, ‘I ought to do something about this right now’)?

          1a.2 – I don’t think ‘ought’ has only one function (this is suggested by your formulation).

          1a.3 – (Again) the idea is that one of the functions that ‘ought’ has (in some non-accidental or necessary way) is to motivate the thinker/speaker when part of an ‘I ought to PHI’ type of thought. So one of the functions of ‘ought’ (the action-guiding, balance-of-reasons-expressing ‘ought’) is to motivate the speaker to do what she judges herself to have most reason to do (given her options). Do you disagree with this? (Again) of course ‘ought’ has its context-dependent motivating function in virtue of I-ought-to-PHI type thoughts having their motivating function. That ‘ought’ does not have a proposition- or full-thought- independent motivating functional role (I agree on that) does not imply that it does not have a motivating functional role. The reason for citing the concept ‘ought’ is that other, similar propositions stating a relation between the speaker/thinker and one of her actions do not have the same motivating role (e.g., ‘Raven thinks her PHI-ing would not be something that Jorj likes’). ‘Ought’ is the difference-maker.

          2a.1 – Yes, there is room between ‘necessarily’ and ‘non-accidentally’. Worth thinking more about that. Maybe the relevant more specific thing is nomological tendency (based on the powers and circumstances of human psychology)? I like natural-functions talk here and think that natural functions are (partially) constituted by context-dependent nomological tendencies. Or maybe the relevant thing here is it being conceptually necessary that ‘ought’, as part of the speaker/thinker’s ‘I ought to PHI’ type of thoughts tends to produce motivation to PHI (or motivation to form the intention to PHI). Yeah, I guess I’d go with this second thing because this explains the a prior flavor of this dispute.

          2a.1 – So the non-trivial claim would be that the tendency to motivate (in the relevant propositional context) is internal to the ought-concept (and in this sense “necessary”). Even as a non-conceptual point about how language works, it seems non-trivial to notice that this normative predicate (and I think others as well) works differently from straight-forwardly descriptive predicates in functioning to and tending to motivate (one might not notice this and various naive hypotheses about how language in general works might overlook it).


          • You end up concluding what I thought you’d given up, viz. that there is a necessary connection between motivation and the concept ‘ought.’ You’ve given no reason, though, to think that there is any such connection that is not also a reason to think that there is such a connection between motivation and the concept ‘on fire.’ The problem isn’t that the concept can have at most one function, it’s that what you say about judgments of the form ‘I ought to φ’ does not show that the concept ‘ought’ has any function at all. It’s not a mystery why the judgment ‘my pants are on fire’ motivates most people most of the time; it’s just that this fact reveals nothing non-trivial about the concept ‘on fire.’ I don’t know how to state any more clearly the objection that no connection between motivation and a concept follows from any sort of connection between motivation and judgments employing the concept. You seem to want to say that the concept motivates in the relevant propositional context, but what motivates is not the concept in a propositional context, but the judgment expressed by the proposition that employs the concept.

            I’ve no objection to the idea that normative predicates differ in important respects from non-normative descriptive predicates, but I don’t see that a connection to motivation, even of the weaker sort you’re now positing, is one of them. In any case, even if I waive the objection about the conflation of concepts and judgments, it seems significant that what makes the difference between cases in which the concept/judgment motivates and ones in which it doesn’t is not some feature of the concept/judgment, but some feature of the antecedent motivations of the person using/making the concept/judgment.

            I thought we’d moved toward agreement, but you fooled me again!


      • Michael,

        I’m completely baffled by this claim:

        However, I suspect that thoughts like ‘What Claire did was wrong’ have (different) motivating functions with respect to the thinker/speaker, the target of the judgment via the expression of the thought to the target, the moral community, etc. That would be another story, but a similar one. We typically experience moral outrage upon judging that we have been wronged, for example, and it is plausible that this is not accidental.

        Why think that “What Claire did was wrong” has any motivating function at all? I guess you regard that as intuitively obvious, but I regard its denial as intuitively obvious.

        Suppose that I’m in a foreign city, see someone litter (call her “Claire”), inwardly judge the act wrong, and walk on by. That’s an everyday occurrence, but where is the motivating function in the judgment? What does it motivate the judger to do?

        Your formulation seems to imply (without saying so) that the judgment has to be spoken aloud, and has to be conveyed to the target. It also seems to imply that judger and target have to be members of the same moral community. But surely a moral judgment remains one whether it’s asserted or not, and remains one whether conveyed to the target or not. The issue is the content/function of judgment, not spoken assertion. And (by placing it in a foreign city) I’ve set the example up so that there’s no a priori reason to think that judger and target belong to any “moral community” more specific than the community to which all moral agents belong qua moral agents. We could imagine, for instance, that the judger has a long layover in that city, had no prior interest in visiting it, knows no one in it, and never intends to visit it again (for reasons unrelated to Claire’s littering). But none of that is really essential. All you need is a case in which the judger is fundamentally uninterested in a situation beyond making a moral judgment of wrongness and moving on.

        As far as I can see, the judgment “What Claire did is wrong” (by itself) has literally zero motivational content or function: no motivation to assert the judgment to anyone (including Claire); no motivation to accost/admonish Claire, hold her to account, or report her to the authorities; no motivation to badmouth Claire on Facebook or anywhere else; no motivation even to give Claire a second thought; and certainly no motivation to do anything about the litter Claire has created. Judging Claire to be wrong could in principle be a passing thought that gives rise to literally nothing, motivationally speaking.

        The only motivation I can think of is a stretch and irrelevant to your point: perhaps the act of making a specific moral judgment motivates us, epistemically, to make that particular judgment coherent with the other relevant beliefs and judgments we have. In other words, we may be wired to avoid cognitive dissonance, and avoid it by seeking a limited form of coherence. But even that’s a stretch, and it’s irrelevant to what you’re saying. If it’s true, it’s true of all judgments, regardless of content. It has nothing to do with motivational internalism.

        As for always “experiencing moral outrage when we’re wronged,” that’s not obviously true, but it’s also beside the point. The issue isn’t whether we experience moral outrage when we’re wronged, but whether we’re motivated to do anything when we judge someone to have done something wrong. The judgment in question is “What Claire did was wrong,” not “Claire has wronged me.” You can judge someone’s action wrong without regarding yourself as wronged.

        Again: I can judge Claire’s littering wrong without regarding myself as wronged by it. She’s not wronging me, after all, by littering somewhere I don’t (ex hypothesi) care about. Or if she somehow is, the connection between her littering (in her city) and my moral right to a litter-less environment (in a foreign city to which I’m indifferent) would need to be established by premises independent of the conclusion. That seems another stretch, but even if you could pull it off, the next step would be to squeeze “outrage” out of that, and then squeeze motivation out of the supposed outrage. Hence my bafflement. Why would anyone regard any of that as plausible?

        In cases where the target of a moral judgment violates a duty to self, the issue becomes yet more obvious, I’d think. I might well think it wrong for Claire to violate some duty to herself, like getting drunk and making a fool of herself. But suppose Claire is a total stranger, and I’m just passing by her in public space (which I was doing anyway). In that case, I can’t see how the judgment “What Claire did [or is doing] is wrong” would motivate me at all.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks for your response, Irfan. Some replies…

          (a) I’m not that wedded to the idea that thoughts (or public expressions of thoughts) of the form ‘What person X did was wrong’ have some non-accidental motivating function. I suspect that they do, though I also do not think this is the most obvious example in the realm of moral language (maybe the motivating role of expressing to someone that they did something wrong is a better case). This was also sort of a toss-off point. My focus was really on deliberative normative language, in particular the ‘ought’ of what one has most reason to do.

          (b) In the observing littering case, perhaps one is typically motivated to chastise or punish the person who is breaking the no-littering norm. This does not rule out the motivation not being present in some cases or the motivation being non-occurrent. Perhaps, on a Humean model of motivation, such motivation would operate via a standing desire that people obey reasonable community norms? (More sketching how this would go than defending or articulating a view that I actually endorse here.)

          (c) I agree that any theory of how moral thought and language motivate would have to distinguish speaker-motivation (that would occur in conjunction with private thoughts) and motivation of third parties (whether accused or others, perhaps others in the same public-norm moral community) upon the speaker expressing moral judgment or evaluation.

          (d) Might not the desire to chastise or punish (those who break the rules of one’s own moral community) be hard-wired just like our desire to avoid cognitive dissonance? This seems pretty plausible to me. Perhaps such background desire would often be non-occurrent, often not lead to relevant formally instrumental desires (or at any rate occurrent such desires) and often be swamped or defeated by conflicting desires (maybe getting where you are trying to go is more important right now, maybe you disagree that the anti-littering norm is a good one or is very important, etc.).

          Does that help?

          (Answering this round of objections from you guys has helped me see how my sort of proposal, combined with a Humean theory of motivation, would go. I think the flavor of necessity would live in desires of some sort that are hard-wired into human nature. They would then yield motivation in specific cases, when they did, via instrumental information that is often pretty trivial [say of the form ‘this is an instance of that sort of action’].)


          • I guess I’m really not convinced.

            Re (a):

            I’m not that wedded to the idea that thoughts (or public expressions of thoughts) of the form ‘What person X did was wrong’ have some non-accidental motivating function.

            You may not be wedded to the thesis, but you haven’t broken up with it, either. Yes, non-accidental motivating functions are (superficially) attractive, but I really don’t think casually dating a thesis like that is going to work. I think you two need a clean break. I don’t think you’re right together.

            Re (b):

            In the observing littering case, perhaps one is typically motivated to chastise or punish the person who is breaking the no-littering norm. This does not rule out the motivation not being present in some cases or the motivation being non-occurrent. Perhaps, on a Humean model of motivation, such motivation would operate via a standing desire that people obey reasonable community norms?

            The “perhaps typically” claim is exactly what I’m denying, or at least questioning. My claim is: “perhaps p” is so far unmotivated (so to speak), but “typically p” begs the question.

            Re (c): This just seems a statement of the problem that needs solving, but the statement itself suggests that there is no a priori reason to endorse a non-accidental motivating function for a (or for every) third-party predication of wrongness.

            Re (d):

            Might not the desire to chastise or punish (those who break the rules of one’s own moral community) be hard-wired just like our desire to avoid cognitive dissonance? This seems pretty plausible to me.

            It doesn’t seem plausible to me at all, because it doesn’t answer to the facts of the case I described. In the case I described, a stranger in a foreign land fleetingly sees a native doing something wrong and judges the act wrong. Nothing about those facts pushes us to think that the stranger is motivated to do anything in particular. And in the example, he doesn’t.

            As for a propensity to chastise or punish, maybe it is there but maybe it isn’t. It would beg the question on my part to stipulate that there cannot be a propensity to chastise or punish there. But it begs the question for you to insist that the propensity has to be there. We simply have to deal with the facts as they present themselves. If we look at the world from the first-person perspective of the agent, there is no reason to think that he, the judger, has to feel a motivation to chastise or punish. He might simply not care. If we look at the world from the third-person perspective of the spectator, we see no overt sign of chastising or punitive behavior.

            So the theorist who insists that the propensity or behavior to chastise or punish has his work cut out for him, and the work can’t be done either by citing cases where a motivation happens to be there, or by insisting that it is possible (“perhaps”) or intuitive that it is there. Cases where a motivation is present are compatible with cases where it isn’t. Insisting that it’s possible that the motivation is there is compatible with the possibility that it isn’t. Saying that it’s intuitive that it’s there runs into the problem that some people think it’s intuitive that it’s not there.

            Someone holding your position has to find a motivation-via-judgment-of-wrongness in facts that prima facie yield no motivation. He might insist, “Well, the motivation is latent, or subconscious, or implicit, or non-occurrent” or whatever. And maybe it is. Some things are. But to say so is just to assert a purely hypothetical possibility. The hypothesis stands on all fours with the contrary hypothesis that what we see is what we get: i.e., that there is no motivation there, just a motivationally inert moral judgment.

            In other words, you need a positive reason, independent of your conclusion, and persuasive to people who don’t accept your conclusion, for thinking that judgments of wrongness are motivating even in cases where neither the introspective evidence nor the extrospective evidence prima facie leads anyone to that conclusion.

            An additional puzzle about your view is that you describe it as a form of Humeanism, but that stretches “Humeanism” far beyond anything I find recognizable. The characteristic Humean view is that judgments are motivationally inert, but desires (or “passions”) are motivating–where desires and passions and non-cognitive mental items. I think it’s confusing to describe a basically cognitivist conception of motivation and describe it as “Humean.” But this point is secondary to the ones I made above.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Thanks for the replies, Irfan (Jul 24).

            On (a) (the Claire littering case) and your last point (about the Humean theory of motivation): on my proposal regarding why it might be that ‘Claire’s littering was wrong’ tends to produce the desire to admonish Claire, it would be the antecedent desire to admonish people who do wrong that would do the work. There would be exceptions for those who don’t have this antecedent desire and for our mechanisms of instrumental rationality failing to engage this desire or misfiring once they do. Having this desire would be part of having a normal moral psychology and being a normal human (hence, the internalist claim would be conditional on the agent being rational and normal). So, if this picture is right, the relevant skeptical anti-internalist claim would be: one has no desire to admonish Claire because one is missing the antecedent desire to admonish those who do wrong but it is not necessary to have this desire to have a normal moral psychology or count as a normal human (or perhaps because being instrumentally rational does not require that one’s system always latch onto relevant antecedent desire to produce motivation in specific cases).

            (This same sort of rationalization-based internalist connection would be present in many sorts of judgments – not all of which would be normative judgments. Presumably, all of us of normal psychology have an antecedent desire to avoid extreme pain (for example) and in conjunction with this desire judgments like ‘I need to PHI in order not to be in extreme pain’ will reliably motivate normal, rational individuals.)

            I’m now less hopeful about my attempts to integrate the Humean theory of how belief rationalizes (and hence causes) motivation to the case of the normative I-ought-to-PHI thought and enkrasia-type rationalization of motivation. However, this case still seems like a case of rationalizing-relationship internalism that does not depend on the agent having any particular sort of antecedent end. So the connection between this normative judgment and motivation would be stronger in this case than it would be in the ‘X is wrong in PHI-ing’ or other cases of moral judgment.

            No time for replies on the other points…


            • Last comment from me.

              Your last comment suggests that you’re not defending internalism at all. You’re defending a thesis about the motivational structure of a normal human agent, but doing it in a way that bears no essential connection to any recognizable form of internalism.

              In the littering case, if the antecedent desire to admonish is what induces Claire to admonish the litter-bug, then what explains the tendency to admonish is having or lacking the desire to admonish those who do wrong–not the judgment of wrongness per se, or the sheer fact of predicating wrongness of littering. But not everyone has this desire to admonish those who do wrong. Some people see wrongness in their environment, recognize it as wrongness, and really, really, really feel NO motivation do ANYTHING about it (much less admonish). That’s what my example was depicting. Or at least, not everyone has the desire in a form that produces a motivation to admonish in any and every case of predicating wrongness of an agent thought to be doing wrong. The example was intended to illustrate one of the cases where there is no obvious evidence of a motivation to admonish. Nor (most importantly) is it true that when people lack the desire or fail to admonish, it’s because there is some antecedent desire that is “latent” or merely dispositional that now happens not to be expressed (or is suppressed). There need not be any relevant antecedent desire whatsoever.

              It just seems to me that you’re overlooking something obvious. Maybe in some cases, people have an antecedent desire to admonish wrongdoers, so that when they see wrongdoing, they either admonish the wrongdoer or “fail to express” their antecedent desire for some reason that requires a special explanation. But in other cases (whether of agents or of contexts of wrongdoing), there is no such antecedent desire. There is either something else, or nothing else in particular. But there’s neither a desire to admonish nor a desire to do anything else related to the content of the predication.

              Where there is an antecedent desire, I’d say that your thesis is trivial, and not clearly a case of internalism. But where there is ex hypothesi no antecedent desire (or none that covers this kind of case), your thesis begs the question. It insists on a motivation that “has to be there” simply because your version of internalism demands that it’s got to be there.

              Appealing to normal psychology is not going to help. For one thing, your examples of normal psychological reactions have nothing to do with predications of moral wrongness. So they’re in the wrong ballpark. For another, I think appeals to “normality” by themselves beg the question. It is not obviously normal to go around admonishing (or even wanting to admonish) random people for throwing litter around. In fact, that strikes me as psychologically peculiar or idiosyncratic, not normal.

              Finally, even in the non-moral cases, claims like “psychologically normal people have an antecedent desire to avoid extreme pain,” are too coarse grained to be true in any helpful sense. Masochists have an antecedent desire to seek extreme pain. It’s what they do. So your thesis about normality either needs a worked-out, non-question-begging account of it that makes masochism abnormal, or it needs exception clauses for things like masochism.

              Now come back to the case of moral predication. The preceding three points imply that you either need a worked-out account of what’s psychologically normal for people who make predications or wrongness, or you need a thesis that allows for all kinds of exception clauses that allow for the possibility that people can predicate wrongness in a state of motivational inertness or indifference. The first option suggests that your thesis is not really internalism at all, but about psychological normality; the second is compatible with everything I’ve been saying.

              I’ve bowed out of the more general discussion you and David have been having about oughts. I’ve just focused on what strikes me as more obvious–the relation (or not) between moral predications and motivation. To repeat: I don’t see a strong conceptual connection between predication and motivation of any kind, much less that we want to admonish whenever we see wrongness. At most, I would “concede” that admonishment is one of several free associations that tends to go through one’s head when we predicate wrongness of something. But a free association is not a motivation, and admonishment sits on all fours with motivationally inert, non-admonishing reactions, like: “WTF,” bemused internal laughter, face palming, and with all sorts of other things, including indifference. (I was never saying that people have no reactions to predications of wrongness; I was saying that the reactions aren’t necessarily motivating of any particular action related to the content of the predication.) People are just more complicated than your thesis entails.

              PS. Instead of another round of blog commenting, my hope is that you’ll be motivated by the claim that the due date for submissions to the Felician Ethics Conference is less than a month away (August 25), and you’ll submit something on internalism–with a nice footnote at the bottom about your brilliant interlocutors, Khawaja and Riesbeck, and how, though they’re not responsible for any errors you make, they helped you formulate your thoughts on this subject. You might also want to mention the salutary role of that obscure but quite extraordinary philosophical forum, Policy of Truth, where (unbeknownst to most of our profession) the truly cutting-edge theorizing in philosophy is now taking place.


  2. Replies to David:

    1. It seems to me that the best explanation of why ‘my pants are on fire’ motivates speakers (when it does) is precisely the ‘on fire’ bit. This is all that I am claiming about the thought/concept relation for ‘I ought to PHI’. If we translate this into relational language, we get ‘on fire’ often plays a role in motivating speaker action as part of the thought that one’s pants are on fire. I suspect we are using ‘X motivates’ or ‘X plays a motivating role’ in different senses and that this account for our missing each other on this.

    2. The proposal that ‘I ought to PHI’ and hence in this respect ‘ought’ non-accidentally/necessarily functions, in part, to motivate the speaker to PHI is (as I think I stated) consistent with the motivation being accomplished via the antecedent desires. (I suggested the desire to do what one ought or has most reason to do. But depending on the descriptive meaning of ‘ought’ ordinary or less-fancy desires could do the trick. There are better, more plausible candidates. For example, if ‘ought’ is an end-relational concept with the specific ends left unspecified, it makes sense that desires for whatever ends are relevant to the context of action would do the motivating work. This picture also hints at why there is a rational relationship here as well – viz., given this sort of content, it makes sense that one would be irrational, at least in an important respect, if one judges that one ought to PHI yet one fails to PHI or intend to PHI.)

    3. I do think that the key question, for this sort of proposal, is what, if anything, makes ‘ought’ and ‘I ought to PHI’ different (with respect to motivation or motivating function) from ‘on fire’ and ‘my pants are on fire’ (or any other number of thoughts expressing that something very bad is happening to one, requiring immediate action to mitigate or remove). It seems relevant that, in the pants-on-fire case, at least typically we also have the thought that something very bad is happening to us requiring immediate action.

    4. What would it look like for my proposal to be wrong in the direction of something like a pure externalism regarding motivation for ‘I ought to PHI’ being true? Maybe it would look like this. ‘Ought’ and ‘I ought to PHI’ having a descriptive/cognitive function (perhaps of the end-relational related sort specified above) but only motivating in virtue of our contingently having some desire (perhaps the sorta fancy desire to do what one ought or has most reason to do is contingent and would be a good candidate for this role).

    Does that help?

    (Irfan, I’ll answer your points later. I’m on the road right now, so it might take me a day or two.)


    • Expanding just a bit on the above reply to David (and conceding some more points!)…

      Suppose, as suggested, that ‘ought’ is an end-relational concept with the relevant ends being context-dependent, so that ‘I ought to PHI’ (opaquely or as a non-obviously analytic matter) means ‘PHI-ing is what most efficiently promotes whatever ordered set of ends is (implicitly) at stake in the choice/decision context’ (this is an adapted/bastardized version of Stephen Finlay’s view in his CONFUSION OF TONGUES). What might explain the speaker/thinker being motivated in thinking that she ought to PHI, then, might be: (a) her thought that she ought to PHI representing that her PHI-ing would most efficiently promote the relevant ends, (b) these ends, or enough of them, being desired or valued by her, and (c) her relevant rational mechanisms of instrumental reason being in place and not blocked by distraction, brain-damage, etc. So what is going on is simply a special case of the generation of desire via instrumental rationality and antecedent desire. The production of the relevant motivation here would be no more accidental than my motivation to hit the brakes while driving to avoid hitting the person crossing the street (whatever other differences there are between the two sorts of cases).

      We might explain the high frequency of speakers being motivated to PHI when they believe that they ought to PHI (in the genuinely normative, action-guiding sense of ‘ought’) by reference to an analysis of genuinely-normative or action-guiding reason-relations and ought-relations being relations to set of desired or valued ends (or the set of what is desired or valued, as on the simple Humean view of normative reasons). To the extent that this sort of story about the specifically normative or action-guiding ‘ought’ is defensible, we have an explanation of the frequency fact.

      This picture is internalist in the following rationality-realizing sense: the tendency to produce the output motivation is a belief-content-sensitive rational mechanism (constitutive of a tendency to obey a good or relevantly reliable rational rule) and the motivation itself, when produced, is rational relevant to the input belief (and at least usually rational, or practically rational, full-stop or all-in). In this sense, the motivation is “rationally necessary” relative to the belief input. (This entails a merely-stipulated-feeling sort of conditional metaphysical necessity: if one is to count as (fully or ideally) rational, it has to be the case that one be motivated to PHI upon believing that one ought to PHI (in the action-guiding sense of ‘ought’). But this necessity is secondary and, as I say, appears to generate the constitution-relation and necessity via stipulation.)

      It is certainly not internalist in the metaphysical sense of the motivation to PHI along with the (narrowly-construed, merely-descriptive) belief-like element that one ought to PHI constituting a (broadly-construed, special, complex, hybrid) full-blown belief that one ought to PHI (identical to our familiar belief that one ought to PHI). Nor is it internalist in the somewhat-weaker metaphysical sense of asserting some kind of necessary (but not constitutive) connection between the belief and the motivation. So the sort of view being suggested here would not be consistent with my earlier suggestion that there is some necessary, metaphysical connection between the I-ought-to-PHI belief and this having the *functional role* of producing in the speaker the motivation to PHI. There is no claim that the rational tendency to produce the motivation to PHI upon one believing that one ought to PHI, considered as a special sort of motivating, functional role, is either constitutive of or in some sense metaphysically necessarily connected to the I-ought-to-PHI belief.


    • Irfan’s latest response says a lot of what I’d want to say, only better, but on the more fundamental issue, there’s this:

      It seems to me that the best explanation of why ‘my pants are on fire’ motivates speakers (when it does) is precisely the ‘on fire’ bit. This is all that I am claiming about the thought/concept relation for ‘I ought to PHI’.

      You’re not giving any reasons for thinking this. You say it seems to you that the ‘on fire’ bit is what explains the motivation in the relevant case, but you’re not giving any reason to think so. I’ve given reasons to think not, several times: the very same concept is regularly deployed in judgments with no such connection to the motivation. So the thought is: what makes the difference between the cases where a judgment employing a concept motivates and cases in which a judgment involving the same concept doesn’t motivate can’t be anything about the concept; it must be something else. The concept ‘on fire’ (‘burning,’ whatever you like) is probably applied far more often in judgments that don’t involve motivation; when it shows up in judgments that do, it’s at least prima facie absurd to propose that it’s somehow the concept ‘on fire’ that’s doing the motivational work, because in the majority of cases the concept, unchanged, features in judgments that do no motivational work.

      One candidate that naturally suggests itself for what does explain the difference is: antecedent motivations on the part of the person doing the judging. That’d be the Humean approach; nothing cognitive yields motivation except in conjunction with some other, non-cognitive motivation. We need not be Humeans (I’m generally not), i.e., we need not think that nothing cognitive can motivate except in conjunction with some non-cognitive motivation (I share Irfan’s confusion over why you think your view is Humean; it seems to reject Hume’s most central distinguishing thesis in ethics/moral psychology). But even if we’re super-anti-Humeans who think that pure judgments can motivate, it’s got to be facts about people’s motivation, and not features of concepts, that explain the motivation, unless it can be shown that some concept can be deployed without motivation only in variously defective, parasitic, or insincere ways. ‘On fire’ is certainly not that kind of concept, and if you don’t see that it isn’t, I don’t know how to show you. It’s more understandable why people’s intuitions about ‘good,’ ‘right,’ and ‘ought’ vary on this score; but if you think a quasi-internalist account is acceptable for ‘on fire,’ then either one of us is not speaking English or we’ve got a long, long way to go.

      Be that as it may, you’re not giving me anything that I can identify as a reason in support of your view here. I don’t mean that I don’t find your reasons convincing; I mean I don’t see anything that even purports to be a reason to take this view of concepts and motivation, particularly in the ‘on fire’ case.

      More generally, even granting your claims on these points, I’m not sure I see how your view denies anything that staunch externalists about concepts and motivation maintain. Externalists have never held that there aren’t deep-seated psychological tendencies that make it the case that people are regularly and reliably motivated by this or that consideration or concept; the point is just to deny that certain concepts or judgments necessarily motivate. Your view seems to be: they motivate sometimes, and it’s not just a sheer accident. But externalists don’t think that it’s a sheer accident. So I’m not sure your view is even weakly internalist.

      Alright, enough procrastination for me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • There are different senses of ‘doing the motivational work’. All I would claim is that one of the things that explains why ‘my pants are on fire’ is motivating (when it is) is the ‘on fire’ part. If you replace that bit with ‘green’ you dont’ rationalize the same motivations. (I suspect that one infers from one’s pants being on fire to there being an event that is in danger of causing one extreme pain. On a Humean story, this kind of thought, plus the antecedent desire not to be in states of extreme pain, would rationalize wanting to do something to put out the fire.)

        David, you still seem to think that I need to say that the genuinely normative ought-concept needs to play a motivating role in all propositional contexts in order to claim that this ought-concept has its motivating role. I remain perplexed. The relevant sort of claim is just that it is the genuinely normative or action-guiding ought-concept, not some other concept, that appears in the I-ought-to-PHI thoughts that necessarily motivate one to PHI *as long as one is rational* (and putting other concepts in its place will not do the same rationalizing, motivating work; my-PHI-ing-would-occur-on-planet-Earth thoughts do not do the same work).

        Honestly, I’m not sure what to make of this conditional necessity claim, here (I have encountered it elsewhere and I’m following others). It seems a bit manufactured. I think it reflects the original internalist claim being a constitutive thesis to the effect that normative judgments have desires as essential parts (thus they would motivate universally and necessarily). The fundamental thing for me is just that the relevant sorts of judgments (including some normative judgments) conclusively rationalize motivation. My impression is that many take externalism to deny that there are special motivation-rationalizing roles for normative (or more specifically moral) judgments. I would take issue with this…


  3. For what it’s worth, my 10th graders seem virtually unanimous in finding nothing remotely odd in statements of the following sort: “yeah, it’s wrong, but it’s still the right decision in these circumstances.” “It” and “these circumstances” were “executing prisoners of war” and “trying to fight the French at Agincourt while extremely outnumbered,” and then “dropping atomic bombs on Japan in WWII” and “trying to win WWII.” They weren’t quite unanimous in their judgments, but none of the minority who disagreed about whether executing prisoners of war or dropping atomic bombs on Japan was the right thing to do thought that their fellow students were just talking nonsense. I even asked them more or less in those terms: “does it even make sense to say that something is wrong or morally wrong and yet that it was the right decision?” There were no lexical or conceptual objections. My students cannot be accused of being unduly influenced by philosophical theories. But they seem to be intuitive externalists.

    Then again, I have no idea what they think they mean by “wrong” or “morally wrong.” I’ve been trying to get them to talk about that, but so far it’s been like asking non-philosophers what they mean by “is.” I’ve still got 8 months with them, though, so we’ll see whether I can’t induce enough aporia to compel them to explain themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting, though I find that this speaks more to a tension between moral obligation as against what one has all-in sufficient (or conclusive) reason to do than it does to motivational internalism (but maybe I’m missing something). My interpretation of this data is that the majority of your students think, correctly, that being morally obligated to PHI does not entail having sufficient reason to PHI (even if, in most circumstances, if one is obligated to PHI then one has sufficient, indeed conclusive, reason to PHI). Does this interpretation make sense to you, David? (By the way, I quite enjoy your Facebook posts on your teaching experiences, when I happen to catch them in my feed.)


    • Yes, their intuitions — which are, of course, shifting, inconsistent, and not unanimous — are not at all at odds with your narrow sort of internalism about reasonable-all-things-considered judgments. They are, however, straightforwardly inconsistent with standard internalism about moral judgments (whether motivational or normative), according to which my students’ moral judgments would have to be insincere.

      I’m not sure what exactly is supposed to be involved in sincerity, but they don’t seem insincere. What I can’t figure out yet is whether when they say that such-and-such is morally wrong but smart or the most sensible thing to do or what not, they mean anything more by ‘morally wrong’ than ‘contrary to prevailing moral conventions.’ (cf. the ‘where do morals come from?’ transcript on FB). They are quick to grasp for a kind of unstable relativism that hovers between a commendable insistence on taking into account different beliefs, practices, and circumstances when we’re reading texts written in the 16th century and a crass sort of subjectivism on which all that really determines whether something is right is what someone’s ‘values’ are. And of course they are not remotely unanimous in their opinions or sentiments on these issues. Strikingly, though, none of them thought it was objectionable to regard something as morally wrong and yet to hold that it is the right thing to do. I didn’t frame my questions to them in terms of decisive vs. pro tanto reasons or anything of the sort; I suspect that most of them would say that if something is morally wrong, that gives a person some reason not to do it, so perhaps their intuitions could be squared with very weak internalism. But the most vocal ones don’t seem to think, for instance, that Henry V should feel any kind of regret or remorse about executing prisoners for strategic advantages — those who regard it as the smart move don’t see it as a tragic choice, just as a smart one.

      The impressive and welcome thing is that they aren’t really any less sophisticated, intelligent, or insightful than the college students I’ve taught; they are, however, generally less inhibited in expressing opinions that they know aren’t fully worked out yet. For that reason, the more philosophical discussions we’ve had so far are actually more engaging than many discussions I’ve had on similar topics with college classes.

      Liked by 1 person

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