We might think of normativity as something like our functional capacity to solve the problem of maintaining sufficient moment-to-moment motivation in order to effectively pursue goals and comply with norms (using ‘norm’ here in a descriptive sense that might be associated with either standards/rules of functional operation or social expectation/accountability).
Think first about instrumental rationality. Often – when the known means to achieving a chosen end are not unpleasant, undesired or otherwise hard to pull off – the mechanisms/tendencies of instrumental rationality tend to operate in a motivationally smooth way. There is no big problem of adequate motivation to pursue known effective means. But, in other cases, something additional to the “transfer of motivation” from ends to means is needed. The most typical means of failure is provided by motivational competition from other non-instrumental desires that come to consciousness in present, active form (often prompted by present stimulus). To the extent that this is present, one tends to stray from one’s purpose.
We have the capacity to resist or put off the satisfaction of presently-active desire. This comes to a motivational mechanism, the functional profile of which is resistance to other desires. In the technical sense of ‘desire’, this comes to having a different sort of desire – or, in more common parlance, a value, commitment or quality of will (as contrasted with the desires that this capacity and type of motivation functions to act against, desires that we might term “hot” or motivationally powerful when relevant stimulus is present). This indicates a fundamental division in type of motivational state. Such a division would be bolstered by the plausible idea that desire, and hence types of desire, are defined by their functional profile. I think Kant’s distinction between the motivation of duty and motivations of desire or incentive gets at something very much like this distinction in desire or motivation.
The basic, natural capacity here varies between individuals and is manifested in a kind of persistence or constancy in behavior. To some extent, we can see this sort of thing, and the variance of it across individuals, even in animals such as our domestic cats and dogs.
I want to suggest that the potential in the agent for utilizing such a capacity to resist presently-motivationally-active desire in the service of adhering to instrumental standards (given by some aspect of human function) for effectively achieving the agent’s goals goes most or all of the way toward making it the case that the agent has normative reason (of a sort, of the adhering-to-rational-standards sort) to pursue (what she takes to be) effective means to her chosen ends. (Importantly, not just any arbitrarily chosen goals or standards will do, here. They must be related to the agent in the appropriate way, perhaps by how the relevant states and capacities – here, action and the pursuit of goals or adherence to norms – function.)
What important details are missing from this sketch? What is unclear? What are the most important objections? What are the best competing hypotheses?
(I’m thinking this sort of account – meant to generalize to explaining all sorts of normativity or normative reasons – should be called psychological or subjective, but not Humean. For, as opposed to generic (including colloquial/hot) desire doing the work, what does the work are desires or motivations for adhering to the goals or standards inherent in the capacities being exercised – and this in the face of overcoming colloquial desire. Also the relevant functions and relations between the different desires or motivations is more shades of Kant than shades of Hume. Are there any better or more accurate descriptors?)