'Humean' Nature: Desire and Motivation

Neil Sinhababu visited UConn on Tuesday and gave a speech based on the theory of Humean nature and desire he discusses in his upcoming book, titled “Humean Nature.” (Junbo Huang/The Daily Campus)

Neil Sinhababu, a professor from National University of Singapore, visited UConn on Tuesday Sept. 27 and gave a speech on human nature. The speech was based on the theory of Humean nature and desire he discusses in his upcoming book, titled “Humean Nature.”

Sinhababu believes that the Human Theory of Motivation can be broken down into two different theories, the Desire-Belief Theory of Action and the Desire-Belief Theory of Reasoning.

These can be defined as desire leading to action and desire causing reasoning based off of what action would result in.  In other words, reasoning for a means to the end will cause desire.

“Every human action consists of a desirability to cause the action,” said Sinhababu.

He gave three things that need to be true or else it is “impossible to make moral judgements,” he said.  They are cognitivism, like emotions and beliefs.  

Then there is internalism, that “moral judgments can produce their own motivational force.”

The last thing that has to be true, is the Humean Theory of Motivation.

Neil Sinhababu gives four different categories for causing desire.  “Beliefs alone are not able to motivate,” he said.

They are the motivational aspect, the Hedonic aspect, the Attentional aspect, and the Amplification by vividness aspect. All of these aspects cause desire in their own ways.

There are a couple of other philosophers who do not believe in the Humean theory. Sinhababu gave an example of a man named Shueler who disagrees with him and why. Sinhababu then goes on to refute him and does this with a couple more philosophers.

Sinhababu created a model of moral judgement in order to explain why moral judgment and motivation are intertwined.  

“Sensations floods in and belief is formed.  Not every sensation becomes a belief, but lots of sensations become beliefs,” said Sinhababu.

He also claims that there is a way to form beliefs without motivation.

“If you already accept some premises for some reason of an argument, by which those beliefs in the premises just entail your belief in the conclusion,” you could end up with a belief without motivation.

This leads people to believe and agree with the premises without it leading to action.

Sinhababu is a very intelligent man and spoke in a dense way. However, he gave many examples, explaining what he means and clarifying for the audience.

There was time for questions at the end and he was able to answer every question well.

One question from the audience wondered if desire goes away if motivation is lost.  Sinhababu answered by saying that desire is strongest before satisfaction, but even after satisfied, desire never really goes away.

“I defend a Humean Theory of Motivation, concerning human psychology,” said Sinhababu.

Kayla Pallette is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kayla.pallette@uconn.edu.