Source: pp 282-283, Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy (1 ed, 1999) by Simon Blackburn

However, there is an issue here that divides thinkers into two camps. Consider this equation:

[1.] One of X's concerns is to aim for or promote or endorse Φ.
= [2.] X thinks Φ is:  good or a reason for action.    [I modified the syntax of 1 and 2.]

The division lies between thinkers who read this equation "left to right", and those who read it "right to left". That is, there are thinkers who suppose that the right direction of explanation is from concerns, taken as understood, to "seeing something as a reason", which is thereby explained. And there are those who think the right direction of explanation is from thinking that something is a reason, considered as a pure belief about the case, to concerns, which are thereby explained.
  The difference is sometimes called that between "non-cognitivism" and "cognitivism" in the theory of ethics. The idea is that if the equation is read left to right, then talk of something being good, or something being a reason for action, is a kind of reflection of a motivational state of mind: the fact of something weighing with you.

[3.] This motivational state of mind is not a simple belief.

It is not a representation of some aspect of the world. It is a REACTION to representations of the facts of the matter.

[4.] It does not itself pick out some fact of the matter.

Hence it is not strictly speaking a state of mind that is either true or false, any more than a desire for coffee is either true or false. The noncognitivist direction is beautifully expressed by St Augustine:

[T]here is the pull of the will and of love, wherein appears the worth of everything to be sought, or to be avoided, to be esteemed of greater or less value.

  1. How is this true? How can you be motivated by Φ, but not believe in Φ?

  2. How does NOT a motivational statement of mind 'pick out some fact of the matter'? Anything on Earth (eg: Φ) is imperfect and must have pros and cons. So you must have picked the pros, over the cons, of Φ before Φ succeeded in motivating you.

  • I think questions like "how is this true?" are impossible to answer. This question is very confusing - the section of the book you quote seems to be missing some context (it begins 'However, ...') and most of what you do include seems irrelevant to your question (although I'm not sure, because again the question is unclear to me). – M. le Fou Feb 7 '16 at 4:30
  • @M.leFou 1. You are correct that the quote begins with 'However', but this is really the beginning of this section, under the subheading 'Truth and Goodness'. 2. Please tell me what you find irrelevant, and I shall delete it. – Accounting Feb 7 '16 at 5:24
  • 2
    I think the question is, "What is the difference between a "motivational state of mind" and a "belief" (according to Blackburn)? The context is that Blackburn is introducing cognitivism vs. non-cognitivism, which turns on the question of whether moral statements express propositions with truth/falsity values. – Regina Feb 7 '16 at 6:24
  • As Robert Pirsig said, a way of looking at things is not in terms of Truth / Falshood, but in terms of Usefulness. Our unreflective awareness tends to see things as more or less useful (or even a hindrance) rather than true / false. In the world, nothing that you see can be false, it is right there in front of you, it IS. So the judgment to make is: "do I care about this thing?" I ignore a penny on the sidewalk, and pick up a bank note. The penny is not false, it is unimportant. – user16869 Feb 8 '16 at 21:15

[3] Blackburn is using these terms in a technical sense. The difference between a motivational state of mind and a simple belief can be demonstrated as follows:

  1. I believe that there is a piano on your foot. (belief)
  2. I care that there is a piano on your foot. (motivational state of mind)

In philosophy, "belief" is a technical term meaning a proposition I take to be true. Propositions are statements that are either true or false. "The sky is green" is a proposition (in this case, a false one). If I take it to be true, it is a belief (a false or incorrect belief). An example of a non-propositional statement would be, "Fancy meeting you here."

[4] Blackburn's wording is muddled here, but he is basically saying that a motivational state of mind does not express a proposition the way a belief does. Beliefs are about "facts," motivational states of mind are not "about" anything. They are experiences, psychological reactions to facts. (I see that there is a piano on your foot -- fact. I care that there is a piano on your foot -- reaction.)

I don't completely understand your last sentence. It seems like you're saying one has to notice a fact before one can be motivated by it. That seems obvious and not something Blackburn or any philosopher would argue. Feel free to clarify.

EDIT: On re-reading, I think I understand the question. Indeed, one cannot have a motivational state of mind without having a belief. As I said, a motivational state is a reaction to a belief. Blackburn is merely pointing out that these are two separate things because it is relevant to the distinction between cognitivism and non-cognitivism.

I won't go into cognitivism vs. non-cognitivism since you didn't specifically ask about it, but if you want that clarified as well, I recommend asking a separate question.

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  • I would distinguish belief as conscious and unconscious varieties. If I go outside and get wet, I "believe" it is raining, but might discover that it is a sprinkler instead: I have not yet analyzed the data which has hit me. If I look at my watch and know that the sprinkler comes on at a set time, which is now, I can say that I believe the sprinkler is running now, although I cannot see it. Two very different things. One has to do with perception, one with thought. They should not both be referred to with the same word "belief", any more than worry and pain are the same. – user16869 Feb 8 '16 at 21:19
  • Perception/thought do not correlate to conscious/unconscious. Both perception and thought are conscious. That said, your comment is irrelevant to the question and answer, and your definition of "belief" is not one recognized by any philosopher. – Regina Feb 10 '16 at 7:27
  • Thanks. Sorry for the bad writing, I have just rewrote (and ameliorated!) question 4. Better now? Please tell me whether you need change anything in your answer in response to my edit, before I accept your answer – Accounting Feb 12 '16 at 20:51

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