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Reconsidering the Meta-ethical Implications of Motivational Internalism and Externalism

Journal article
Authors Ragnar Francén
Published in Theoria-a Swedish Journal of Philosophy
Volume 86
Issue 3
Pages 359-388
ISSN 0040-5825
Publication year 2020
Published at Department of Philosophy, Linguistics and Theory of Science
Pages 359-388
Language en
Keywords moral motivation, meta-ethics, internalism, externalism, expressivism, judgment, Philosophy
Subject categories Philosophy


Motivational internalism and externalism - that is, theories about moral motivation - have played central roles in meta-ethical debate mainly because they have been thought to have implications for the constitutive nature of moral judgements. Thus, internalism and externalism have been adduced in favour of and against various versions of cognitivism and non-cognitivism. This article aims to question a fundamental presupposition behind such arguments. It has standardly been assumed (i) that if motivational internalism is true then moral judgements must consist of attitudes that cannot be had without the relevant motivation, and (ii) that if motivational externalism is true, then moral judgements must consist of attitudes that one can have without being motivated. Against the background of a recent argument to the effect that the first of these assumptions is false, this article develops a parallel argument against the second. If this argument is correct, then motivational externalism is consistent with moral judgements being attitudes that one cannot have without being motivated. Together with the parallel argument concerning internalism, this means that the meta-ethical significance of internalism and externalism must be reconsidered.

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