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By Rowland Stout

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So in a fairly minimal way a belief–desire model of practical justification applies to non-instrumental as well as to instrumental action. The first thing to do is to clarify the use of the words “belief ” and “desire” in this model. There is a possible ambiguity in saying that someone’s beliefs justify how they behave. We might mean that it is their being in a certain state of mind – that of believing something – that justifies what they do. Or we might mean that it is what they believe – that is, the content of their state of mind – that justifies what they do.

The basic rule implicit in any system of practical justification would be something like: do whatever you believe achieves what you most want to achieve. And it is this interpretation of the belief–desire model that I want to consider and challenge in this section. The word “desire” (or the word “want”) is also used in a very particular – indeed peculiar – way in this model. If you want to step aside in order to avoid walking into a tree you are described as having a desire to step aside. This is not supposed to capture any powerful emotional content in your state of mind.

Williams’s first premise is quite trivial. It is that when you are motivated to act there must be some motivational state you are in. e. ) must be part of what motivates you to act. In other words, it amounts to the idea that being motivated to act depends on having the relevant emotion. The emotion would commonly not be very powerful or noticeable; it might be something like a mild preference. But it must be an independent input to your motivational system from which the behaviour flows. There are two main arguments that Hume brings to bear (Treatise, Book 2, part 3, section 3) to defend this claim.

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