Do Motives Matter?

Canadian Journal of Philosophy 19 (3):405-419 (1989)
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Abstract

Among moralists and social critics of several stripes, it is not enough that the right thing be done: they also insist that it be done, and be seen to be done, for the right reasons. They are anxious to know whether we are sending food to starving Africans out of genuinely altruistic concern, or merely to clear domestic commodity markets, for one particularly topical example. Or, for another example, critics of the Brandt Commission’s plea for increased foreign aid more generally say, in stinging rebuke: ‘Many of those who support the proposal... do so out of genuine humanitarian concern about... poverty. But it is doubtful whether this is the main concern of its authors, and it certainly is not their only concern.... They are, instead, primarily concerned with the preservation of the existing world economic order.’What is common to all such cases is an attempt at motive differentiation. Any particular piece of behavior might have sprung from any of a number of different underlying motives; commentators want to know which was the real motive. Here I shall show that this characteristic quest for motive differentiation is misguided. In most of the standard social situations, it makes no material difference to agents’ actions whether they act from one sort of motive or another. And in such circumstances, pressing the motivational issue will usually lead only to mischief, of both a pragmatic and a moral sort.

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Citations of this work

The paradox of persisting opposition.Robert E. Goodin - 2002 - Politics, Philosophy and Economics 1 (1):109-146.
Equal protection remedies: The errors of liberal ways and means.Rogers M. Smith - 1993 - Journal of Political Philosophy 1 (3):185–212.

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References found in this work

The Concept of Mind.Gilbert Ryle - 1949 - Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger 141:125-126.
Philosophical Explanations. [REVIEW]Robert Nozick - 1981 - Philosophy 58 (223):118-121.
Punishment and Responsibility.H. L. A. Hart - 1968 - Philosophy 45 (172):162-162.

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