, Volume 164, Issue 2, pp 419-442
Date: 31 Jan 2012

Aristotelian motivational externalism

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Abstract

Recent virtue theorists in psychology implicitly assume the truth of motivational internalism, and this assumption restricts the force and scope of the message that they venture to offer as scientists. I aim to contrive a way out of their impasse by arguing for a version of Aristotelian motivational externalism and suggesting why these psychologists should adopt it. There is a more general problem, however. Although motivational externalism has strong intuitive appeal, at least for moral realists and ‘Humeans’ about motivation, it continues to be threatened by Smith’s fetishisation argument and burdened by the inability of its familiar counter-examples to internalism (of the immoral, wicked, listless and amoral persons) to bear full scrutiny. I argue that Aristotle’s example of the continent person (as distinct from the fully virtuous) offers a more persuasive counter-example to internalism. The moral judgements of continent persons do not motivate them intrinsically, yet the continent cannot be counted as practically irrational with regard to morality. If Aristotelian motivational externalism holds true, psychologists can offer full-fledged theories of virtue without the danger of turning the science of psychology into a prescriptive moralism.