, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp 577–589

Svavarsdóttir’s Burden



It is sometimes observed that the debate between internalists and externalists about moral motivation seems to have reached a deadlock. There are those who do, and those who don’t, recognize the intuitive possibility of amoralists: i.e. people having moral opinions without being motivated to act accordingly. This makes Sigrun Svavarsdóttir’s methodological objection to internalism especially interesting, since it promises to break the deadlock through building a case against internalism (construed as a conceptual thesis), not on such intuitions, but on a methodological principle for empirical investigations. According to the objection, internalists incur the burden of argument, since they have to exclude certain explanations of the (verbal and non-verbal) behavior of apparent amoralists, while externalists don’t. In this paper I argue that the objection fails: the principle for empirical investigations is plausible, but Svavarsdóttir’s application of it to internalism is not. Once we clearly distinguish between the conceptual and the empirical aspects of the internalist and externalist explanations of apparent amoralists, we see that these views incur an equal burden of explanation. I end the paper with a positive suggestion to the effect that there is a third alternative, a view that involves accepting neither internalism nor externalism, which does not incur an explanatory burden of the relevant sort.


Metaethics Moral motivation Internalism Amoralists 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of philosophyStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden

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