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Moral motivation in early 18th century moral rationalism

Abstract In the modern debate in metaethics and moral psychology, moral rationalism is often presented as a view that cannot account for the intimate relation between moral behaviour on one hand and feelings, emotions, or desires on the other. Although there is no lack of references to the classic rationalists of the 18th century in the relevant discussions, the works of these writers are rarely ever examined detail. Yet, as the debate in Kant scholarship between “intellectualists” and “affectivists” impressively shows, a more thorough analysis of what the classic rationalists actually have to say about moral motivation is suited to cast serious doubts on the idea that moral rationalism must crucially neglect the affective–conative side of human psychology. The aim of this paper is to analyse the conceptions of moral motivation that were embraced by Kant's rationalist predecessors—Clarke, Wolff, Burnet, Balguy, and Price—which have not attracted a similar amount of attention by specialists so far. The claim I will defend is that none of those early rationalists actually embraces the motivational thesis that is often taken to be characteristic of moral rationalism, a thesis I shall refer to as strong rationalism about (moral) motivation.

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