Motivation and Motivating Reason

In Christer Svennerlind, Almäng Jan & Rögnvaldur Ingthorsson (eds.), Johanssonian Investigations: Essays in Honour of Ingvar Johansson on His Seventieth Birthday. Ontos Verlag. pp. 464-485 (2013)
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For quite some time now philosophers have stressed the need to distinguish between explanatory (motivating) reasons and justifying (good) reasons. The distinction is often illustrated with an example of someone doing something that is intended to strike the reader or listener, at least at the outset, as incomprehensible. The story of Abraham on Mount Moriah, who decided to sacrifice his son, Isaac, illustrates this pattern. Killing one’s own child is a horrific thing to do, and it is hard to understand what would drive a parent to do such a thing. But once we are informed that Abraham actually believed God had told him to do so, we can see (allegedly) that there is at least an explanation of why he decided to kill his son. In the eyes of most people the planned act remains awful. But once we assume that Abraham was mistaken (say, because the best explanation in this case need not postulate the existence of God), we can see that his decision to kill his son is not a response to a normative good reason.1 So in a few lines we have outlined two reason notions: explanatory and normative (good) reasons. Cases like this afford an intuitive grasp of the distinction between explanatory and normative reasons — the difference between what explains Abraham’s motivation and behaviour and the good or bad reasons that apply to him. However, more recently (see e.g. Dancy 2000) the picture such cases present has been supplemented, or perhaps even corrected. There is a further feature of the Abrahamic story that needs to be teased out — one that gives a finer-grained understanding of what is going on than that provided by talk of the agent’s explanatory reasons. I share this view, and so what I will be doing in this paper is mainly to underline the need to dig a bit deeper. Motivation, as I shall argue, comes in different forms



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