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Morals, motives and actions

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The main issues addressed in this article bear on the questions of whether and how moral judgments are related to actions in the process of development. The issue of motivation has traditionally been linked to moral development and, especially, to moral behaviours. The reasons for concerns with moral motivation are readily comprehensible. How people act is particularly important in the moral realm. Regardless of how worthy the values people hold or the judgments they make may be, they are not of much value if people fail to act on them. In spite of this concern with how motives influence moral actions, there has been little research and more theoretical discussion on the topic in recent years. In my view, there has been little progress even within the context of theoretical discussions in formulating an adequate conception of motivation in moral development and in the connections between moral thought and action. Often it is theorized that motivational features distinguish between those who do and do not consistently act on their moral judgments. I present an alternative view: that moral judgments are intrinsic motives and that actions must be understood through specification of contexts that often entail the application of different domains of social judgments. I maintain that invoking motivational constructs to explain connections between moral judgments and actions is premature in light of our inadequate understanding of the issue. I propose that distinctions need to be made between realms in which people's judgments are intrinsically motivating and those in which mediating motivational constructs are applicable. Furthermore, morality is a realm in which judgments are intrinsically motivating in ways that lead people even to oppose certain cultural practices and systems of social organization.
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Language: English

Publication date: 01 January 2003

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