Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Motivational Externalism and Reasons Internalism


In a debate in the comments of a previous post, Richard Wein thinks my position is inconsistent over internalism and externalism. This post is an answer to Richard Wein to explain why it is consistent.

One might ask how it is possible to be a motivational externalist and a reasons internalist? Can one consistently take both positions?

This looks puzzling unless one realises this is possibly why philosophers went to the bother of making the distinction between these two types of internalism and externalism in the first place. That is the conclusion of inconsistency is based is based on thinking that the reasons internalism/ externalism distinction is same distinction as motivational internalism/externalism. They are not, at least as I understand them, as I intend to show here.

I will state these philosophical positions in the terms that I use which will make it obvious why I have these philosophical positions and why they are consistent.

Motivational Internalism and Externalism

Motivational internalism says that if an agent has knowledge of reasons to act that exist then this entails that they have the accompanying reasons to act - that, is they already have reason to act in accordance with such reasons to act. This is clearly false,  the fact that there are reasons to act that exist does not imply that the agent to whom this knowledge is being given has those reasons to act.

The contrary and correct view is that of motivational externalism. This allows that an agent can be aware of reasons to act that exists but these may not be their reasons to act and so they are not motivated to act on them.

Reasons internalism and externalism

Reasons internalism says that only reasons to act that are internal to the agent can motivate the agent. A reasons externalist says reasons to act that exist that are not reasons of the agent can motivate the agent.

Since any agent seeks to fulfil the more and stronger of the desires they have, if they do not have such desires – reasons to act- then those reasons are not internal to them and they will not be motivated to fulfil them.

So I am a reasons internalist.


Motivational externalism says that there are prescriptions that agents can be aware of that do not motivate. True when considering the descriptive (cognitive) meaning of a prescription.

Reasons internalism says that unless reasons to act are, in one way or another, internalised, that is made part of the agent’s internal reasons to act, then they will not have any reason to act. True when considering the motivating (non-cognitive) meaning of a prescription.  The process of internalisation being the social forces of praise and blame, reward and punishment.

So both positions are correct and consistent, that is that motivational externalism is true and reasons internalism is true.


Anonymous said...

Your explanation doesn't fit what philosophers mean by the two distinctions.

In short, reasons internalism is:

R: A has Reason to act Y


M: if A deliberated rationally upon Y, A would be motivated to do Y.

And the pattern of inference is taken to be "R is true because M", so that metaphysically, the matter of fact that M is what makes it true that A has reason Y. Then you might go further and claim that to have a reason simply means that M is true in some instance of it, but this view is false. You make the view trivial, since "reasons" are always examined as "reasons for the agent" and not "some agent", so that the internalist claims that the agent can't have a reason external to her motivational profile, while the externalist claims that she can have reasons no matter what her motivational profile looks like (we can judge her motives as wrong on this picture).

Motivational internalism is the view that normative judgements neccesarily motivate (which is a major premise in many arguments for noncognitivism). You are right that the views combine in all possible ways consistently. But motivational internalism makes no reference to knowledge, only belief, and you may be motivated by a false belief (thus on a reasons externalist picture you have no reason, yet you are motivated, and on a judgement externalist view you may have knowledge that you have a reason, yet fail to be motivated).

Apart from that you are right. Your views are consistent.

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