In discussions on 'moral motivation' positions like McDowell's are often characterized as proposing the idea of a new mental state: a besire. This is assumingly a state that has the belief-direction of fit (mind to world) and desire-direction of fit (world-to-mind).

I think this is a wrong characterization of those positions as someone as McDowell wouldn't buy the direction of fit distinction in the first place. In Virtue and Reason, he speaks of 'a metaphysical underpinning of this idea', namely the idea of an world that is motivationally inert. Thus, one could think that in order to address the problem of moral motivation one needs a metaphysical account of moral facts. Even though this is, I guess, true - it still does not say what kind of mental state a moral judgment is supposed to be.

Are the rule-following considerations important? Any opinions? Or people working on the same topic?

  • 1
    Welcome to Philosophy.SE! I'm not familiar with the material, and this seems like a good question, but it could probably be phrased more clearly. Commented Feb 11, 2015 at 22:05
  • Am I understanding your question correctly as a reference request for people working on McDowell and mental states possibly with a focus on besire? Or are you asking if you are correct? (which as a type is generally off-topic and needing to be closed)
    – virmaior
    Commented Jun 11, 2015 at 23:51
  • Given the two existing answers, I think what you are going to get as answers are precis of entire moral motivation theories about which you might not care at all. Because there is so much context involved in "What kind of mental stae is a moral judgement". Is there some more specific framing that might be open to shorter answers?
    – user9166
    Commented Jun 12, 2015 at 17:00

2 Answers 2


I've read the work you've referenced. I am also am Aristotelian, not by choice, but by what others have labeled me as. Given my knowledge of them, and they of me, I consider this an accurate description. That being said, I can only offer you my understanding based in turn on my studies of consciousness.

First and foremost, I agree with Robert Kirk that:

A) epiphenomenalism is impossible

B) Physical is tenable

I disagree with Searle that the mind is emergent, water is equivalent to wetness, they are non-dual and the same.

I also believe a distinct separation of mind and world is important, but also not quite exact...I see it in principle as a form of non-dual relationship, but "tridactic" in essence given the mind-other-world. I use essence in an existential manner, namely that our essence precedes our existence, and in turn also extends our existence.

The chief difference between the mind-world action and desire-direction of fit as you've framed your question is found in how the world is affected by our actions, but we are driven towards it by existence.

Our mind is a direct product of our brain, and thus biological in nature by extension in the non-dual manner similar to how I've asserted wetness is related to water, two but one and equivalent. You can even take this analogy further and say water-H2O-wetness. This completes the non-dual relationships that forge a triad, or tridactic structure of existence (again, self-other-world).

The utility in demarcating the acts of mind based on belief are based on epistemology, whereas the actions of a desire to an end is Utilitarian and/or primal. We cannot separate ourselves from primal nature (existence and biological motivation) but can transcend to a stronger skill in reasoning, which results in thoughtful action.

Given you've asked for opinions in the OP, I've offered mine based on work I've done in this field.


Isn't the whole idea McDowell not buying Hume's 'direction of fit'? I agree that splitting things to re-merge them is a bit goofy, when the author contends the splitting is artificial.

But to me this is just vocabulary, the point is that there is a single, undivided moral 'fit'. Since the language traditionally creates a false division, you can describe it as a merger of the two more ingrained concepts. So it is not a 'new' mental state, it is the original 'real' mental state that has been artificially misinterpreted by Humeans as a blend of two states that just seem easier to express.

On the topic in general I believe there is more detail rather than less, and I reject McDowell's move toward holism here. Beliefs and desires are separate things. They may be the endpoints of a gamut, but the distinction is not misleading.

I still agree that this reciprocal mind-to-world/world-to-mind fit is inappropriate. Hume's pair needs more structure, not less. It leaves out the way that the individual world interacts with the rest of human thought. I much prefer the simplification of Lacan that reflects a traditional Alchemical Cardinal/Fixed/Mutable division.

In all ways, but morally in particular, we live in three worlds, the physical, the imaginal, and the symbolic. There is no fit of mind directly to world, but only one mediated by that mind attempting to negotiate its place in the social structure, and there is no direct fit of world to mind except through that mind projecting concepts derived from the social structure upon that world. So Lacan's Symbolic Realm mediates all of our attempts at such fitting together.

As a direct answer to your question, then, no: to a large degree, our moral development is coping via cycling more than fitting via dynamic tension. Actions have effects that are perceived and extrapolated by the imagination and attributed to symbols which evoke emotions that motivate actions. (Rinse, by repeating?)

Belief is a symbol as a clear image. Desire is a symbol as an emotion (a physiological effect.) But there is a symbol there to back either of them up, the moral motivation is the need to have a working set of symbols to base your psychology. Psychological homeostasis is motivationally "ert". It is highly energized and has a definite motive.

(Perhaps off topic:

It is tempting to merge the imaginal and symbolic worlds, but if you do so, there is no mind. You have to distribute the processing we think of as done by a mind out into the culture in general, and that seems bizarre and messy. It seems more tractable, and truer to our actual feelings to think of a larger group-mind that works in a significantly different way than our individual mind, but which both contains and pervades our individual thinking.

That way instead of there being no mind, there are layers of mind, with a purely imaginal, purely individual mind at the core, and layers of group minds with different levels of symbolic investment around it, at some point becoming relatively static symbolic structures that do not think.

For example, the cultural value of empathy is a thing, not a bunch of coordinated separate things in different minds. It derives from a common cause well before any currently existing human mind, (as do its opponents like skepticism, economics, and defensiveness). And actual judgments of the appropriate level of empathy are negotiated with that thing, not fitted into our lives piecemeal according to our whims.

Now hopefully back on topic: )

The rule-following part of morality arises because the symbol functions and connects with the minds that use it by becoming embedded in real life as a 'game' in Wittgenstein's sense. Actions are actions, and whether or not they are moral is reflected by their interpretation. The 'rightness' of a move in a language game is an emotion, which has an image, which has an interpretation, which refines the move, or the game.

The game captures desires or concretizes beliefs in statements or actions and feeds back images of the effects of the symbol to itself. A common moral sentiment leads us to constantly try to capture our language-games in rulesets, even though they cannot be properly expressed in this way. And we end up following rules.

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