“William James’s Account of Motivation”
The proposed project is a comprehensive, psychology-first examination of James’s theory of motivation and its relation to his philosophy. While this project is still in its early stages, my preliminary research has yielded a working hypothesis for how I will frame James’s take on the three required aspects of a theory of motivation.
First, we are motivated to act one way over another due to the integrated operation of our cognitive, affective, and conative processes. The different processes are typically understood independently, with little attention paid to their overlap (e.g. Prinz, 2006). When this integration is taken into account, James presents an account of human behaviour that is dynamic, adaptive, and that fits well with the prevailing computational theories of mind found in analytic metaphysics, cognitive science, and evolutionary psychology.
Second, we are motivated to move from inaction to action by the feelings of discomfort that result from a disequilibrium between the state of affairs that we desire and the state of affairs in which we find ourselves. This is grounded in James’s belief that taking Darwinism seriously required acknowledging the extent to which our evolutionary history affects our behaviour. James advanced a fallible and probabilistic model of behaviour that put him at odds with the established physiological psychology of his day, but has found favour with contemporary heuristic-based, probabilistic accounts of the mind.
Third, both of the two points above are underwritten by James’s neurology and physiology. James’s specific accounts are terribly outdated. Thankfully, in light of recent advances, the tenets relevant to my proposed project are salvageable if taken metaphorically or functionally. For example, James’s account of the function of the will maps on to recent work in the area of ego depletion, and his account of effortful action maps on to two-stage models of rationality.
My long-term goal is to combine the work of my dissertation with my current research project into a comprehensive, definitive treatment of James’s account of action. This account will be contextually accurate, historically-informed, and updated into modern terminology and frameworks.
The proposed project involves taking a Jamesean approach to the problem of disagreement. Although we have good reason to believe that James is a steadfast theorist, I think his account is better conceived as conciliationist because his steadfastness is done in the name of later conciliation. It is careful because the threshold required for conciliation is inverse to the extent and duration of the dispute with your peer; that is, quick, one-off disagreements with strangers require little conciliation, while protracted disagreements with friends require much conciliation.
Such an account has four features:
- Epistemic Involuntarism. We do not have control over what we believe, but rather what we choose to act upon.
- Credal Non-Summativism. Our credence in belief p does not reduce to an average or aggregate in our evidence for that belief.
- Epistemic permissivism. Reject the Uniqueness Thesis.
- A contextualist account of truth.