views updated May 23 2018


Whatever moves the human will, or the sufficient explanation for the act of willing in man. This article investigates the elements that move the rational appetite from a state of potential willing to that of actually willing. The investigation, which is propaedeutic to all moral science, can be treated in two ways: the philosopher pursues the broad principles that necessarily cover and are applicable to the quasi-infinite variety of human operations, whereas the psychologist considers the same human actions in their more particular existential framework of environment, heredity, biochemistry, etc. The former's conclusions are universal, certain, and "confused," in the sense that all particular differences are fused into a broad unity. The latter's approach gives a more detailed and comparatively clearer, though less certain, picture of human acts in their concrete setting. The two methodologies, though distinct, are, however, complementary; for it is only by their dual process that any integral and sure knowledge of human actions can be gleaned.

This article limits itself to the philosophical analysis of the will's motivation. To ensure completeness, it first considers the fact of the will's motion and its causes, then the mode of freedom in which the will is moved.

Motion of the Will. To discern the cause of the will's motion, it is necessary to distinguish between the two moments of any motion, that is, that which physically produces the motion and that which determines it by way of object, or term. This distinction concerns itself with efficient causality in the order of exercise, namely, to will or not, and with final causality in the order of specification, namely, to will this or that; in other words, with what moves the will as agent and with what moves it as providing its object.

The first conclusion to be seen is that in the actual execution of properly human activity, the will holds the place of first mover in man and so is itself unmoved in this order by any other human faculty. The reason is not hard to discover. Every action is by nature directed toward an object that is its end and good. Now, by comparison, one can see that the object of the will is a more universal end and good than the objects of man's other powers; for the will seeks the good of the whole individual, while all other potencies are inclined only to their particular perfection. Thus man is conscious that he ponders, eats, walks, etc., as he wills. The proper object of the will alone is the total good of the one willing, which is integrated by the partial goods of thinking, eating, walking, etc.

In the order of specification, however, the will cannot but be moved by other faculties. The observation that one cannot love what he does not know is here pertinent. The rational appetite is indeed thrust toward goods, but this drive must be elicited by knowledge of what is good and convenient. If a person is to be open to being and goodness, he must first be aware of reality. Certainly, man's emotional states depend on his consciousness, no matter how dim or clouded, of the pleasurable and the painful. So too, a truly human response to good (and conversely evil) must be governed to some degree at least by an intellectual insight into the goodness of things. In short, if one is to will any particular good, he must first have seen it in the light of what he has conceived as his perfection. Thus the will can operate only inasmuch as it is moved by the intellect presenting a possible good to be desired and attained.

Yet the acts of the intellect and will are exercised in the concrete existential order. Men are not subsistent spiritual faculties operating outside of the spatiotemporal dimension. It is always the will of this individual that seeks what he, as a person, wants here and now. The integral conception of a human act, then, demands recognition of man's emotional states as somewhat determinative of his will-acts. Experientially, one is aware of willing to do things precisely because of his emotional condition, of fear, desire, hate, etc. Words spoken in anger are often regretted when wrath has subsided; what was then viewed as good is now regarded with remorse. The sensitive appetites therefore have their dispositive role in shaping the will-act by molding the man willing to the present desirability of this or that particular good (see emotion [moral aspect]).

Cause of Will's Motion. Within man, then, the will is the prime mover in the executing of his actions, while the will in turn is moved by way of object by the intellect presenting and the passions disposing. A question remains, however, regarding the will's primacy in moving man. Here experience seems to furnish the answer. The will simply moves itself. Everyone is conscious that he wills to do and to have solely because it is his will. And, let it be added, man is not aware of any exterior force moving him physically; dispositively yes, but not as if it were compelling him to act. This appears true from the very nature of the will, because any particular good that one opts for here and now is always sought in relation to and pursuant of an all-embracive fulfillment. As the will-power is actualized in regard to all-good, it is not inconsistent that it move itself here and now to any particular good. Always the particular is contained in the universal; the commander who can order an army into battle has the power of moving a battalion into action.

While experience testifies to the self-motion of the will, reason is constrained to seek a further explanation. Granting that the will moves itself in terms of particular goods sought, because it is already actualized in regard to its universal function of being open to all-being and good, yet this primary inclination must be accounted for. The will at one time had to pass from the mere capability to the actual willing of this end. As the will is unmoved efficiently by anything within man, clearly the source of its motion must be sought in a mover exterior to himself.

The history of man testifies to the validity of this quest. Cassius might protest that "the fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars," but the human race has ever looked upon the celestial luminaries as forces of its destiny. Such has been a constant belief from man's primitive religious persuasions to the more sophisticated theories associated with an ever-expanding universe. Despite its popularity, however, careful study has as constantly rejected this opinion as impossible. That the heavens, atmospheric conditions, etc., have an influence on human affairs is an undeniable fact. But to dispose a man objectively in his willing is in the order of specification, and reason rightly rejects the thesis that the grossly material can efficiently actuate the spiritual, or that the inferior can activate the superior. To hold the contrary is in effect to deny the spiritual nature of man's vital principle; it is to reduce the human to the merely animal.

Indeed, the search for the necessary mover of man's will can be successfully terminated neither in the material order of nature nor even in a world of limited and finite being. The principle of sufficient reason is here invoked. A cause, limited in itself, cannot suffice to explain an infinite effect. But man's will is unlimited in its yearning for consummation; there is no finite determination in its inclination to embrace all-being and all-good. The cause, then, of this infinite thirst, this openness to being as such, can be only what is itself unlimited, the infinite and uncaused source of all being, "to which everyone gives the name of God."

Freedom of Motion. This conclusion, of course, poses a problem in regard to the freedom with which the will is traditionally endowed. It seems that if man is not his own first mover, then the ultimate responsibility for his actions must lie in another. It is necessary, therefore, to inspect more closely the manner, or mode, in which the will is moved, i.e., to discover whether it is activated necessarily or freely.

Specification. In the order of specification, the will-act, like all motion, is constituted formally and finally by its proper object. Moreover, the primary limitation of its action must come from its natural determination, that is, from the object that specifies it. This object is the good, or that which is convenient to the one willing. But this good, as has been seen, is presented to the will under the universal competency of the intellect. This means that the proper and adequate object of the will, naturally determining it, will be what is universally good containing within its ambit whatever possesses in any way the aspect of being and goodness. As the eye is for seeing and the hand for manipulating, so too is the will for the real possession of unlimited being and goodness. To this object the will is necessitated by the force of its nature. Whatever a man wills as his good may not be truly good, but it must be sought as constituting or contributing to his perfection. "All men seek happiness," and though at times it may be sought in the ultimate flight from the absurdity of existence, yet in the main man necessarily wills his life and his thought as necessary conditions to his fulfillment.

But beyond this basic determination to happiness, the will remains free to choose or reject any particular good. It is true that a psychological determinism as old as Socrates posits that the will must always choose the better good. More than a trace of this theory underlies educational systems that expect the more educated person to be necessarily the better person.

Yet such a position inevitably defeats its own idealistic aim, for it limits the horizons of man by curtailing his freedom. The human mind with its universal power of penetration is apprehensive not only of being and goodness in things, but also of the imperfection and limitation native to this finite world of reality. Always the particular good presented to the will can be shown as possessing goodness, and so being desirable, or as lacking in being, and so being undesirable. The will, determined only to the universal good, is not then irresistibly drawn to anything that lacks this universal appeal. Even an abstract consideration of a being necessarily possessive of all being would not perforce move the will, since the very concept of such a being is itself contingent and so unable to move necessarily. Therefore, although the will is determined to goodness, under which aspect alone it may operate, yet, confronted by any particular object lacking a totality of goodness, it remains free.

Again, the question of man's freedom in the light of his emotional reactions has always been a matter of dispute. There are those who, conceiving man as a highly organized type of animal life, contend that, given a certain degree of emotional intensity, he must react in a determined way. There are many who delimit the extent of human liberty in the face of social and physiological factors, all of which influence man by way of emotional stimulation.

But a philosophical consideration of the principles of human action, gained not in an a priori hypothesis but through observation of human nature, ineluctably refutes any such determination of the sensitive order, while at the same time admitting its dispositive influence. For if man's powers of apprehension and appetition are really distinguished into the rational and the animal, the intellectual and the sensitive, his activity will be likewise characterized. Since it is the person who operates by his various faculties, it is possible that his action may be threefold. His activity may be solely on the intellectual plane, as is evidenced when he is so fully integrated as to arrive at the state of maturity in which his rational nature completely controls his sensitive activity. Again, his action may be purely emotional, in which case all rational vitality is lacking, as in the child or mentally retarded adult. Still a third state is possible, that is, when his voluntary movement runs counter to his animal inclinations. In this more common state, reason and will, though experiencing the impact of passion, are yet free to repel its influence and to hold themselves aloof from its tensions. Thusas is implicitly affirmed in traditional social and legal thoughtwhenever there is properly human activity, man is free and capable of restraining the demands of sensitive nature.

Exercise. The problem of the will's freedom in the order of exercise must finally be faced. The will, as any other potential agent, must derive its actualization from a being that is itself unmoved since it is pure act (see motion, first cause of). Since subsistent activity would by nature be an irresistible mover, it seems clear that a will so moved could hardly retain the capacity of not moving. The will then would be necessarily moved to execution and its so-called liberty would become impossible.

In principle, the problem is solved by considering the efficacy of the First cause whose power extends not only to the production of all things (including the will-act) but also to the mode or manner in which such things are effected. If one is not to fall back into a discredited occasionalism, one must grant true causality to things. Experience, moreover, is the best proof that the will is an agent that acts freely. As secondary cause, it is indeed moved to its proper operation according to the nature of its being as a participation of Being itself. Since its nature is to operate freely, it is moved freely by the sole cause of its nature. To hold otherwise, for a deistic determinism, would be to place an impossible limitation on providence. But here the human mind reaches the mystery of infinity. Conscious of its own limitation, the human intellect strives in vain to understand how subsistent motion can be composed with liberty of choice. Reason can demonstrate the truth of each principle, but their correspondence remains shrouded in the transcendence of the First Cause.

See Also: causality, divine; free will; human act; premotion, physical.

Bibliography: thomas aquinas, Summa theologiae 1a2ae. 8, 9, 10. r. e. brennan, General Psychology (rev. ed. New York 1952); Thomistic Psychology (New York 1956). h. b. veatch, Rational Man: A Modern Interpretation of Aristotelian Ethics (Bloomington, Ind. 1962).

[t. k. connolly]


views updated May 11 2018


An idea, belief, or emotion that impels a person to act in accordance with that state of mind.

Motive is usually used in connection with criminal law to explain why a person acted or refused to act in a certain way—for example, to support the prosecution's assertion that the accused committed the crime. If a person accused of murder was the beneficiary of a life insurance policy on the deceased, the prosecution might argue that greed was the motive for the killing.

Proof of motive is not required in a criminal prosecution. In determining the guilt of a criminal defendant, courts are generally not concerned with why the defendant committed the alleged crime, but whether the defendant committed the crime. However, a defendant's motive is important in other stages of a criminal case, such as police investigation and sentencing. Law enforcement personnel often consider potential motives in detecting perpetrators. Judges may consider the motives of a convicted defendant at sentencing and either increase a sentence based on avaricious motives or decrease the sentence if the defendant's motives were honorable—for example, if the accused acted in defense of a family member.

In criminal law, motive is distinct from intent. Criminal intent refers to the mental state of mind possessed by a defendant in committing a crime. With few exceptions the prosecution in a criminal case must prove that the defendant intended to commit the illegal act. The prosecution need not prove the defendant's motive. Nevertheless, prosecutors and defense attorneys alike may make an issue of motive in connection with the case.

For example, if a defendant denies commission of the crime, he may produce evidence showing that he had no motive to commit the crime and argue that the lack of motive supports the proposition that he did not commit the crime. By the same token, the prosecution may produce evidence that the defendant did have the motive to commit the crime and argue that the motive supports the proposition that the defendant committed the crime. Proof of motive, without more evidence tying a defendant to the alleged crime, is insufficient to support a conviction.

A hate crime is one crime that requires proof of a certain motive. Generally, a hate crime is motivated by the defendant's belief regarding a protected status of the victim, such as the victim's religion, sex, disability, customs, or national origin. In states that prosecute hate crimes, the prosecution must prove that the defendant was motivated by animosity toward a protected status of the victim. Hate-crime laws are exceptions to the general rule that proof of motive is not required in a criminal prosecution.

In civil law a plaintiff generally need not prove the respondent's motive in acting or failing to act. One notable exception to this general rule is the tort of malicious prosecution. In a suit for malicious prosecution, the plaintiff must prove, in part, that the respondent was motivated by malice in subjecting the plaintiff to a civil suit. The same applies for a malicious criminal prosecution.

further readings

Binder, Guyora. 2002. "The Rhetoric of Motive and Intent." Buffalo Criminal Law Review 6 (fall).

Candeub, Adam. 1994. "Motive Crimes and Other Minds." University of Pennsylvania Law Review 142 (June).

Pillsbury, Samuel H. 1990. "Evil and the Law of Murder." University of California at Davis Law Review 24.


views updated Jun 27 2018

mo·tive / ˈmōtiv/ • n. 1. a reason for doing something, esp. one that is hidden or not obvious: a motive for his murder.2. (in art, literature, or music) a motif: the entire work grows organically from the opening horn motive.• adj. 1. producing physical or mechanical motion: the charge of gas is the motive force for every piston stroke.2. causing or being the reason for something: the motive principle of a writer's work.DERIVATIVES: mo·tive·less·tive·less·ly·tive·less·ness n.


views updated Jun 08 2018

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