Self-control, Attention, and How to live without Special Motivational Powers

In M. Brent & Lisa Miracchi (eds.), Mental Action and the Conscious Mind. Routledge. pp. 272-300 (2022)
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It has been argued that the explanation of self-control requires positing special motivational powers. Some think that we need will-power as an irreducible mental faculty; others that we need to think of the active self as a dedicated and depletable pool of psychic energy or – in today more respectable terminology – mental resources; finally, there is the idea that self-control requires postulating a deep division between reason and passion – a deliberative and an emotional motivational system. This essay argues that no such special motivational powers are necessary. Yet, at the same time, self-control does powerfully illustrate the importance of a feature of the mind. What it illustrates, I argue, is the importance of the mental activity of attention in the control of all action. It is by appeal to this mental activity that we can dispense with special motivational powers. If we think of Humeanism as the view that there is fundamentally only one kind of motivational system and that all action is based in that system, then this essay contributes to a defense of Humeanism. On the other hand, the essay also shows that any model of agency in terms of only beliefs and desires, motivational and representational states, or preferences and credences is incomplete. A different conception of Humeanism as the view that every mental state is either motivational, representational, or a combination of them, is false.

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Sebastian Watzl
University of Oslo


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