Volume 25, Issue 1, Spring 2020
Philosophical Turn Towards Religion
Andrei G. Zavaliy
Religious Convictions and Moral Motivation
Adherence to certain religious beliefs is often cited as both an efficient deterrent to immoral behavior and as an effective trigger of morally praiseworthy actions. I assume the truth of the externalist theory of motivation, emphasizing emotions as the most important non-cognitive elements that causally contribute to behavioral choices. While religious convictions may foster an array of complex emotions in a believer, three emotive states are singled out for a closer analysis: fear, guilt and gratitude. The results of recent empirical studies are examined to evaluate the relative motivational efficiency of all three emotions, as well as the likely negative psychological side-effects of these affective states, such as aggression and depression. While an action motivated by fear of punishment can be seen as a merely prudential strategy, the reparatory incentive of a guilty subject and a desire to reciprocate of the one blessed by undeserved favors are more plausible candidates for the class of genuine moral reactions. The available evidence, however, does not warrant a conclusion that a sense of guilt before God or as a sense of gratefulness to wards God, may produce a statistically significant increase in the frequency of prosocial actions aimed at other humans.