Philosophical Studies

, Volume 148, Issue 3, pp 343–367 | Cite as

Clearing conceptual space for cognitivist motivational internalism



Cognitivist motivational internalism is the thesis that, if one believes that 'It is right to ϕ', then one will be motivated to ϕ. This thesis—which captures the practical nature of morality—is in tension with a Humean constraint on belief: belief cannot motivate action without the assistance of a conceptually independent desire. When defending cognitivist motivational internalism it is tempting to either argue that the Humean constraint only applies to non-moral beliefs or that moral beliefs only motivate ceteris paribus. But succumbing to the first temptation places one under a burden to justify what is motivationally exceptional about moral beliefs and succumbing to the second temptation saddles one with a thesis that fails to do justice to the practicality intuition that cognitivist motivational internalism is suppose to capture. In this paper, I offer a way of defending cognitivist motivational internalism, which does not require accepting that there is anything motivationally unusual about moral beliefs. I argue that no belief satisfies the Humean constraint: all beliefs are capable of motivating without the assistance of a conceptually independent desire.


Cognitivist motivational internalism Humean theory of motivation Belief Desire Moral motivation 


  1. Aronson, E. (1968). Dissonance theory: Progress and problems. In R. Abelson, E. Aronson, W. J. McGuire, T. M. Newcomb, M. J. Rosenberg, & P. H. Tannenbaum (Eds.), Theories of cognitive consistency: A sourcebook (pp. 5–27). Chicago: Rand McNally.Google Scholar
  2. Aronson, E. (1992). The return of the repressed: Dissonance theory makes a comeback. Psychological Inquiry, 3(4), 303–311. doi:10.1207/s15327965pli0304_1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aronson, E. (1999). Dissonance, hyprocrisy and the self-concept. In E. Harmon-Jones & J. Mills (Eds.), Cognitive dissonance: Progress on a pivotal theory in social psychology (pp. 103–126). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Aronson, J., Cohen, G., & Nail, P. (1999). Self-affirmation theory: An update and appraisal. In E. Harmon-Jones & J. Mills (Eds.), Cognitive dissonance: Progress on a pivotal theory in social psychology (pp. 127–148). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Audi, R. (1994). Dispositional beliefs and dispositions to believe. Nous (Detroit Mich), 28, 419–434. doi:10.2307/2215473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Baker, L. R. (1995). Explaining attitudes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Beauvois, J., & Joule, R. (1996). A radical dissonance theory. London: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  8. Beauvois, J., & Joule, R. (1999). A radical point of view on dissonance theory: Progress on a pivotal theory in social psychology (pp. 43–70). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Beck, A. T. (1963). Thinking and depression: I. Idiosyncratic content and cognitive distortions. Archives of General Psychiatry, 9, 324–333.Google Scholar
  10. Beck, A. T. (1987). Cognitive models of depression. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly, 1, 5–37.Google Scholar
  11. Braithwaite, R. B. (1932–1933). The nature of believing. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 33, 129–146.Google Scholar
  12. Burris, C., Harmon-Jones, E., & Tarpley, R. (1997). “By Faith Alone”: Religious agitation and cognitive dissonance. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 19(1), 17–31.Google Scholar
  13. Cohen, J. (1992). An essay on belief and acceptance. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Cooper, J., & Fazio, R. (1984). A new look at dissonance theory. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 17, pp. 229–264). Orlando: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  15. Dennett, D. C. (1978). Brainstorms. Cambridge: MIT.Google Scholar
  16. Davidson, D. (1980). Essays on actions and events. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  17. Elkin, R., & Leippe, M. (1986). Physiological arousal, dissonance, and attitude change: Evidence for a dissonance-arousal link and a “don't remind me” effect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 5(1), 55–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Ellis, A. (1987). A sadly neglected cognitive element in depression. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 11, 121–145. doi:10.1007/BF01183137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Elliott, A., & Devine, P. (1994). On the motivational nature of cognitive dissonance: Dissonance and psychological discomfort. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 382–394. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.67.3.382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fazio, R., & Cooper, J. (1983). Arousal in the dissonance process. In J. T. Cacciopo & R. E. Petty (Eds.), Social psychophysiology. New York: Guildford.Google Scholar
  21. Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Festinger, L., & Carlsmith, J. (1959). Cognitive consequences of forced compliance. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 58, 203–210. doi:10.1037/h0041593.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gerrard, H. (1967). Choice difficulty, dissonance and the decision sequence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64, 44–59.Google Scholar
  24. Harmon-Jones, E. (1996). Cognitive dissonance and affect. Unpublished Manuscript. University of Texas.Google Scholar
  25. Harmon-Jones, E. (2000a). A cognitive dissonance theory perspective on the role of emotion in the maintenance and change of beliefs and attitudes. In N. H. Fryda, A. R. S. Manstead, & S. Bem (Eds.), Emotions and beliefs (pp. 185–211). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Harmon-Jones, E. (2000b). The role of affect in cognitive dissonance process. In J. Forgas (Ed.), Handbook of affect and social cognition (pp. 237–255). Hillsdale: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  27. Harmon-Jones, E. (2000c). An update of dissonance theory with a focus on the self. In A. Tesser, R. Felson, & J. Suls (Eds.), Psychological perspectives on self and identity (pp. 119–144). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Harmon-Jones, E., Brehm, J., Greenberg, J., Simon, L., & Nelson, D. (1996). Evidence that the production of aversive consequences is not necessary to create cognitive dissonance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 5–16. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.70.1.5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Harmon-Jones, E., & Harmon-Jones, C. (2007). Cognitive dissonance theory after fifty years of development. Zeitschrift fur Sozial Psychologie, 38(1), 7–16. doi:10.1024/0044-3514.38.1.7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Joule, R., & Beauvois, J. (1998). Cognitive dissonance theory: A radical view. European Review of Social Psychology, 8, 1–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kiesler, C., & Pallak, M. (1976). Arousal properties of dissonance manipulation. Psychological Bulletin, 83, 1014–1025. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.83.6.1014.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Losch, M., & Cacioppo, J. (1990). Cognitive dissonance may enhance sympathetic tonus, but attitudes are chanced to reduce negative affect rather than arousal. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 6, 245–254.Google Scholar
  33. Marcus, R. B. (1990). Some revisionary proposals about belief and believing. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 50, 132–153. doi:10.2307/2108036.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. McDermut, J. F., Haada, D. A. F., & Bilek, L. A. (1997). Cognitive bias and irrational beliefs in major depression and dysphoria. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 21, 459–476. doi:10.1023/A:1021936427625.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Mele, A., & Moser, P. (1994). Intentional action. Nous (Detroit, Mich), 28(1), 39–68. doi:10.2307/2215919.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Miranda, J., & Person, J. B. (1988). Dysfunctional attitudes are mood-state dependent. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 97(1), 76–79. doi:10.1037/0021-843X.97.1.76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Miranda, J., Person, J. B., & Byers, C. N. (1990). Endorsement of dysfunctional beliefs depends on current mood state. Abnormal Psychology, 99(3), 237–241. doi:10.1037/0021-843X.99.3.237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Nagel, T. (1970). The possibility of altruism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Price, H. H. (1969). Belief. London: Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  40. Quine, W. V. O. (1960). Word and object. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  41. Ramsey, F. P. (1931). The foundations of mathematics, and other logical essays. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  42. Rhodewalt, F., & Comer, R. (1979). Induced-compliance attitude change: Once more with feeling. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 15, 35–47. doi:10.1016/0022-1031(79)90016-7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Roberts, J. E., & Kassel, J. D. (1996). Mood-state dependence in cognitive vulnerability to depression: The roles of positive & negative affect. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 20(1), 1–12.Google Scholar
  44. Russell, D., & Jones, W. (1980). When superstition fails: Reactions to disconfirmation of paranormal beliefs. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 6, 83–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Ryle, G. (1949). The concept of mind. New York: Barnes & Noble.Google Scholar
  46. Shaffer, D. (1975). Some effects of consonant and dissonant attitudinal advocacy on initial attitude salience and attitude change. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32, 160–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Schwitzgebel, E. (2001). In-between believing. The Philosophical Quarterly, 51, 76–82. doi:10.1111/1467-9213.00215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Schwitzgebel, E. (2002). A phenomenal, dispositional account of belief. Nous (Detroit, Mich), 36, 249–275. doi:10.1111/1468-0068.00370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Simon, L., Greenberg, J., & Brehm, J. (1995). Trivialization: The forgotten mode of dissonance reduction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 247–260. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.68.2.247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Smith, M. (1987). The Humean theory of motivation. Mind, 96(381), 36–61. doi:10.1093/mind/XCVI.381.36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Smith, M. (1994). The moral problem. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  52. Solomon, A., Haaga, D. A., Brody, C., Kirk, L., & Friedman, D. G. (1998). Priming irrational beliefs in recovered-depressed people. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 107(3), 440–449. doi:10.1037/0021-843X.107.3.440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Stalnaker, R. (1984). Inquiry. Cambridge: MIT.Google Scholar
  54. Steele, C. (1988). The psychology of self affirmation: Sustaining the integrity of the self. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 21, pp. 261–302). San Diego: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  55. Stocker, M. (1979). Desiring the bad: An essay in moral psychology. The Journal of Philosophy, 76, 738–753. doi:10.2307/2025856.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Stone, J., Wiegand, A., Cooper, J., & Aronson, E. (1997). When exemplification fails: Hypocrisy and the motive for self-integrity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72(1), 54–65. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.72.1.54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Travis, C. (2003). Unshadowed thought. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Roojen, Van. (1995). Humean motivation and humean rationality. Philosophical Studies, 79, 37–57. doi:10.1007/BF00989783.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Worchel, S., & Arnold, S. (1974). The effect of combined arousal states of attitudes changes. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 10, 549–560. doi:10.1016/0022-1031(74)90078-X.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Zanna, M., & Cooper, J. (1974). Dissonance and the pill: An attribution approach to studying the arousal properties of dissonance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 29, 703–709. doi:10.1037/h0036651.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for EthicsUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

Personalised recommendations