Conscience, moral motivation, and self-deception
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It is a serious problem for some well-known accounts of moral motivation, that is, accounts of what ought to motivate us, that what is supposed to provide motivation to act well instead provides motivation to self-deceive. I term this the Self-Deception Problem. Any theorist who offers an account of moral motivation that has the Self-Deception Problem has reason for concern with our tendency to self-deceive. In this dissertation, I create a taxonomy of accounts of moral motivation, which provides a structural explanation for which accounts of moral motivation are liable to the Self-Deception Problem. Using this taxonomy, I am able explain why Thomas Reid, Adam Smith, and Joseph Butler are concerned with self-deception as a moral problem in a way that Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Francis Hutcheson are not. But the application of my taxonomy is not limited to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. I also show how it fits the work of the contemporary psychologist Augusto Blasi and the contemporary philosopher Christine Korsgaard. Neither Blasi nor Korsgaard discusses self-deception in any thoroughgoing way but, as I argue, since both their accounts have the Self-Deception Problem, both of them have reason to do so. The most interesting theorist of moral motivation and self-deception, though, is Joseph Butler. Through a close reading of his arguments for the authority of conscience, I show how his account gives rise to the Self-Deception Problem, and how his sermons on self-deception serve as explanations of and responses to that problem. But the link is even tighter than that: on my novel interpretation of Butler's arguments in favor of the authority of conscience, what he is in fact arguing for is an appropriate degree of self-trust. His discussion of self-deception can accordingly be understood as seeking a proper degree of self-suspicion. On Butler's view, moral agency is not just a matter of recognizing our divinely set proper ends. Nor is it just a matter of acting as a self-legislating agent. It is primarily a matter of correctly modulating self-trust and self-suspicion.
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