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Journal of Philosophical Research

Volume 44, 2019

Caroline T. Arruda
Pages 157-178

What the Humean Theory of Motivation Gets Wrong

I show that defenses of the Humean theory of motivation (HTM) often rely on a mistaken assumption. They assume that desires are necessary conditions for being motivated to act because desires (and other non-cognitive states) themselves have a special, essential, necessary feature, such as their world-to-mind direction of fit, that enables them to motivate. Call this the Desire-Necessity Claim. Beliefs (and other cognitive states) cannot have this feature, so they cannot motivate. Or so the story goes. I show that: (a) when pressed, a proponent of HTM encounters a series of prima facie counterexamples to this Claim; and (b) the set of claims that seem to naturally complement the Desire-Necessity Claim as well as provide successful responses to these counterexamples turn out to deny the truth of this same claim. As a result, the Humean implicitly grants that it is at least equally plausible, if not more plausible, to claim that desires are not able to motivate in virtue of what they necessarily possess. Instead, desires contingently possess features that enable them to motivate.

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