Consequentialism, Moral Motivation and the Deontic Relevance of Motives

In Iakovos Vasiliou (ed.), Moral Motivation: A History. Oxford University press (forthcoming)
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This paper surveys the history of consequentialist thinking about the deontic relevance of motives in the period of its development, 1789-1912. If a motive is relevant deontically it is a factor that determines whether the action it leads to is right or wrong. Bentham, Austin, Mill, Sidgwick and Moore all either stated or implied that motives are never relevant deontically. Their related views on moral motivation—or which motives are morally praiseworthy—are also examined. Despite the arguments given by Mill and Moore, it is shown that consequentialism can admit that motives occasionally do make a difference to the rightness of an action. The mistakes made by Mill and Moore are described. An example is given that shows when a motive does make a difference to an act’s rightness. The example draws on work of Bernard Williams.
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