Kant's Theory of Motivation and Rational Agency

Dissertation, The University of Manchester (2009)
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Abstract

It is clear that Kant's theory of motivation plays a central role in his ethical theory as a whole. Nevertheless, it has been subjected to many interpretations: (i) the 'orthodox' interpretation, (ii) the 'Aristotelian' or 'Humean' interpretation and (iii) the 'rationalist' interpretation. The first part of the thesis aims to provide an interpretation of Kant's theory of rational agency and motivation. I argue that the 'orthodox' and 'Aristotelian' interpretations should be rejected because they are incompatible with Kant's conception of freedom, defending an account of Kant's position that goes along the lines of the rationalist interpretation. I show that Kant's theory of motivation is committed to a form of cognitivism, that is, the cognitive aspects of a motive are always the active factors in motivation. In Kant's terminology, the motives are provided by the agent's maxims, which express the reasons from which the agent acts. This part of the thesis examines Kant's theory of imperatives and his theory of motivation for cases of permissible, moral and immoral action. I conclude that in Kant's system, three levels of moral assessment can be distinguished: (i) rightness, (ii) moral worth, and (iii) virtue. However, my interest in Kant's theory is not merely exegetical; thus, the second aim of the thesis is to place Kant's position within the context of the following contemporary debates in metaethics: (i) debates about the relation between moral judgement and motivation, and (ii) debates about the nature of reasons for action, arguing that the Kantian position still represents an attractive philosophical view today. In relation to (i), I argue that Kant is committed to a form of motivational internalism, reconstruct Kant's argument for this view and reply to some possible externalist objections. In relation to (ii), I claim that since Kant's conception of reasons, based on the concept of maxims, differs from an internal conception of reasons (i.e., a conception that identifies reasons with the agent's desires), and from an external conception of reasons (i.e., a conception of reasons that identifies reasons with facts of the agent's situation), the term volitionism should be reserved to describe Kant's position.

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Paula Satne
University of Leeds

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