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The distinction between internalism and externalism about moral motivation. Does Smith’s argument against externalism work?

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  1. Introduction: Moral motivation and the way it functions.
  2. Internalism and the view that moral beliefs function as a motivating factor.
  3. Internalist view vs the externalists view on moral motivation.
    1. Externalist acceptance of the Human theory of motivation.
    2. The core oppositions of internalism and externalism.
  4. The Moral Problem by Michael Smith.
    1. Change in ethical judgement leading to a change in moral motivation.
    2. Smith's consideration of externalist desire concerning the good de dicto as 'fetishism'.
    3. Externalist Hallvard Lillehammer's defense against Smith's accusation.
  5. Nick Zangwill's comments on Smith's argument of fetishism.
  6. Conclusion.

Moral motivation and the way it functions have raised many theories, still debated today. There are two main theories under discussion; internalism and externalism about ethical motivation, both of them being central in the explanation of the mechanism that lies between moral judgements of an agent and his or her motivation to act upon and according to these judgements. These two theories define the nature of the link between judgement and motivation differently. According to the internalists, the connection between moral judgement and motivation for the ?good and strong-willed person? is internal, it ?follows directly from the content of moral judgement itself?, whereas for the externalists, the link is external and ?follows from the content of the motivational dispositions possessed [by the person]? (Michael Smith The Moral Problem (1994) III, 3.5). The core opposition between these theories has led to severe criticism between the supporters of both streams. What distinctions can be made between internalism and externalism about moral motivation? Michael Smith in The Moral Problem presents the internalist view of moral motivation as the only plausible theory and challenges the externalist theory. Does his argument against externalism work?

[...] On their opinion, belief alone does motivate an agent to act appropriately to that desire. Internalists like McDowell refute the Human belief/desire theory and put forward the motivated desire theory. In this theory, the desire is not considered as independently intelligible, it does not make any sense alone without the belief. In the motivated desire theory, the belief alone originates both the desire and the motivation. The core oppositions of internalism and externalism have generated much literature, supporters of each theories responding to each other by examples and counter-examples. [...]


[...] Hence, externalism cannot account for the connection between moral judgement and moral motivation in the ?good and strong-willed person? without attributing to him thought too whereas the internalist will aim at doing the right thing de re, directly and non-derivatively. Therefore internalism explains much better why a change in motivation follows necessarily a change in moral judgement. Smith's thesis has been much criticised, by externalists and others. It leads us to think that his argument may not be that relevant, hence we have to ask us if Smith's argument against externalism works. [...]

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