Journal of Indian Philosophy (2006) 34:397–413 DOI 10.1007/s10781-006-9000-6
CHRISTOPHER G. FRAMARIN
MOTIVATION IN THE MANUSMR : TI
The ‘desire-belief’ account of action has gained wide prominence in Western philosophy. According to that theory, my desire for a coﬀee and my belief that in order to get a coﬀee I must go to the cafe´ can, under the right conditions, motivate me to go to the cafe´. Put more generally, a desire for some end combines with a belief about the means to that end to produce the action of carrying out the means. This is often referred to as the ‘Humean’ account of action, and this is how I will refer to it here. In some cases scholars of Indian philosophy begin the work of analyzing Indian texts under the assumption that the Humean account of motivation is both true and unproblematic. This supports the further assumption that Indian motivation theory must be consistent with that account.1 I argue that this assumption leads to serious interpretive mistakes and ought to be abandoned. I then argue that the motivation theory of the Manusmr: ti diverges from Hume’s account in an important way. The account allows that there are cases in which beliefs alone produce a desire to carry out the means without the help of an additional desire for the end. Not only does the text allow for such cases, it enjoins them. Finally I argue that even if an evaluative belief can only motivate by means of a desire that it produces, there is still an important sense in which the agent’s reason for doing what she does is the importance of the state of aﬀairs, rather than the fact that she desired that state of aﬀairs. In this sense she does act entirely without desire. A HUMEAN INTERPRETATION OF THE MANUSMR : TI
Hume (1992) argues that reason alone cannot motivate action. By means of our faculty of reason, we make judgments, form beliefs and 1
Indeed, if we are to interpret the text according to the principle of charity, we ought to assume that it is consistent with these kinds of obvious facts. This principle is fundamental to Indian exegesis.
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hypotheses, and so on. But none of these can give us reason to do something. ‘‘It can never in the least concern us to know, that such objects are causes, and such others eﬀects, if both the causes and eﬀects be indiﬀerent to us’’ (414). I might know that to walk to the cafe´, order a coﬀee and pay for it, is a means to get a coﬀee. If I do not desire a coﬀee, however, that belief will not motivate me to walk to the cafe´. A desire, in contrast, is ‘‘an emotion of aversion or propensity’’ by which we are ‘‘carry’d to avoid or embrace’’ that state of aﬀairs at which our desire aims. If I have a desire for a coﬀee, my reason can direct that ‘‘impulse’’ so that it is satisﬁed, by determining the proper means to the desired end. On Hume’s account of motivation, one must have a desire for some end and a means-end belief about how to attain that end in order to act. Most scholars take the Humean motivation theory to be self-evidently true. Pettit and Smith (1990:565), for example, begin their article ‘‘Backgrounding Desire’’ by saying ‘‘Granted that desire is always present in the genesis of human action, is it something on the presence of which the agent always reﬂects?’’ (emphasis added). We can ignore their question here. What is important is that they begin from the assumption that something like the Humean account of motivation is correct. Later they say that the view that ‘‘every action is causally explained by the beliefs and the desires of the agent’’ is ‘‘endorsed by philosophers on most sides, if not quite on all, and we start from the assumption that it is sound’’ (565–566). Since Western philosophers often begin philosophy papers on action by stating this assumption, it is understandable that some interpreters of Indian philosophy work from this assumption as well. Doniger and Smith (1991:17), for example, translate verses 2.2 to 2.5 of the Manusmr: ti in the following way: Acting out of desire is not approved of, but here on earth there is no such thing as no desire; for even studying the Veda and engaging in the rituals enjoined in the Veda are based upon desire. //2.2// Desire is the very root of the conception of a deﬁnite intention, and sacriﬁces are the result of that intention; all the vows and the duties of restriction are traditionally said to come from the conception of a deﬁnite intention. //2.3// Not a single rite is ever performed here on earth by a man without desire; for each and every thing that he does is motivated by the desire for precisely that thing. //2.4// The man who is properly occupied in these (desires) goes to the world of the immortals, and here on earth he achieves all the desires for which he has conceived an intention. //2.5//
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The details of the account are articulated in 2.3, where the relationships between action, intention, and desire are explained. This translation suggests that the view of the Manusmr: ti is that since an intentional action is based on a deﬁnite intention, and since a deﬁnite intention is based on a desire, it follows that every intentional action is based on a desire. My study of the Vedas is the result of my intention to study the Vedas, and the explanation of this intention necessarily refers to some desire – like the desire to please my teacher, or my desire for moks: a. While the distinction between a desire and an intention is in some ways obvious, it is helpful to keep in mind two important distinctions between them. Bratman (1987:15–16) gives the following example, which demonstrates both distinctions nicely: Suppose I desire a milk shake for lunch, recognize that the occasion is here, and am guilty of no irrationality. Still, I might not drink a milk shake; for my desire for a milk shake still needs to be weighed against conﬂicting desires – say, my desire to lose weight. My desire for a milk shake potentially inﬂuences what I do at lunchtime […] In contrast, suppose that this morning I formed the intention to have a milk shake at lunch, lunchtime arrives, my intention remains, and nothing unexpected happens. In such a case I do not normally need yet again to tote up the pros and cons concerning milk-shake drinking. Rather, in the normal course of events I will simply proceed to execute (or, anyway, try to execute) my intention and order a milk shake. My intention will not merely inﬂuence my conduct, it will control it (emphasis added).
When we reason about what our course of action ought to be, we consider our desires. When deciding what I will do at lunchtime, I might consider the fact that I desire a milk shake, consider this desire against others, and come to a conclusion about whether I will have a milk shake or not. If I decide that I indeed will have a milk shake, then I have formed the intention to do so. So the diﬀerence between a desire and an intention is at least twofold. First, practical reasoning often begins with considerations of desires, and ends with intentions. Desires are ‘inputs’ to deliberation, intentions are ‘outputs’. There are exceptions to this general rule, but they will not be important here. Second, an intention suggests that the issue of what to do is settled – I have resolved to do that which I intend to do.2 A desire does not have the same implication. As
2 This of course does not mean that nothing can change my mind once I form an intention.
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Bratman says, my desire for a milkshake still must be weighed against other goals.3 All of this seems perfectly consistent with the view that the Manu verses seem to advance. If I have a milk shake, then it must be that I intended to have a milk shake, and if I intended to have a milk shake, then I must have desired the milk shake. So if we accept Doniger and Smith’s translation of these verses, it looks as if the motivation theory in the Manusmr: ti is essentially Humean. Doniger and Smith’s translation of these verses is incorrect in two essential ways, however. In Sanskrit, the verse reads: _ _ sankalpam ulah: k amo vai yaj~ nah: sankalpasambhav ah: / _ vrat ani yamadharm asca sarve sankalpaj ah: smr: t ah: //
Doniger and Smith’s ﬁrst mistake is that they get the relationship amah: ’ and between desire and intention backwards.4 They take ‘k _ ‘sankalpam ulah: ’ as subject and predicate of a subject–predicate _ statement, but read ‘sankalpam ulah: ’ as a tatpurus: a compound: ‘‘Desire is the very root of the conception of a deﬁnite intention.’’ If that is the case, the compound should have the gender of its ﬁnal element ‘m ulam’, which is neuter. Since, instead, the ending is masculine in gender – ‘m ulah: ’ – it must be a bahuvr: ihi compound.5 Hence the text is importantly diﬀerent from Doniger and Smith’s translation. Verse 2.3 instead ought to read: Desire has a particular intention as its basis. Sacriﬁces arise from particular intentions. The smr: tis state: ‘All restraints and vows are born of a particular intention’ (emphasis added).
The claim in 2.3 is that an intention produces a desire, and not vice versa. The thought seems to be that my intention to have a milk shake produces the desire to have a milk shake, and that the desire in 3 It is reasonable to assume that Doniger and Smith have this common sense conception of intention in mind, rather than some technical sense that diverges from this one, given their wide audience. Indeed, even the technical sense in which the word is used in Mmam : sa is consistent with this analysis. Matilal (2002), referring to _ Manu 2.2–2.5 in particular, translates ‘sankalpa’ as ‘determination’ (132), and this supports reading Doniger and Smith’s ‘intention’ as consistent with Bratman’s _ analysis. Olivelle (2005) also translates ‘sankalpa’ as ‘intention’ (94). 4 Olivelle also notes this (243). 5 Another alternative is that Manu uses ‘m ula’ as a masculine noun. As Olivelle points out, however, it ‘‘is used throughout by Manu as a neuter noun’’ (243). My thanks to an anonymous reviewer for pointing this out and referring me to Olivelle’s extensive analysis.
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turn motivates me to have it. Since a desire is required for action (2.2 and 2.4), my intention to have a milk shake must produce a desire – the desire that moves me to have the milk shake. So the argument is not that since an action is based on an intention, and since an intention is based on a desire, it follows that every action is based on a desire. Instead it is that since action is based on a desire, and since desire is based on an intention, it follows that every action is based on an intention, and therefore a desire as well. My intention to study the Vedas will produce the desire to do so, and this desire will move me to study the Vedas. It seems reasonable to speculate that Doniger and Smith translate the Humean view into the Manusmr: ti because they assume that the Humean view is obviously true. If the Sanskrit were more ambiguous than it is, and there were some defense of Doniger and Smith’s translation, we might laud their application of the principle of charity. (Their interpretation is, after all, straightforwardly consistent with the obviously true Humean view.) As it stands, however, their mistake fundamentally obscures the text’s account. Doniger and Smith’s second mistake is to translate the word _ ‘sankalpa’ as ‘conception of a deﬁnite intention’. As Bratman points out, the notion of an intention implies some kind of resolution. When it is true of me that I intend to have a milkshake, I have resolved to do so. My mind is – for the moment – made up. If, however, we have a look at some of the commentaries on these verses, the analysis of _ ‘sankalpa’ is quite diﬀerent. Medh atithi (Dave 1972–85) openly asks ‘‘Then what is this thing _ called ‘sankalpa’ which is the basis of action?’’ He replies at some _ length, again stating that a sankalpa produces a desire, and not vice versa:6 _ It is asked: So what is this thing called ‘sankalpa’ that is the basis of all action? That beholding of the mind from which desire and eﬀort immediately follow. For these mental activities serve as the basis of the carrying out of all actions. For no physical _ actions are possible without that [sankalpa]. So ﬁrst of all, the ascertaining the nature _ of a thing, for example, this thing brings about this eﬀect – a sankalpa is considered such a cognition (emphasis added).7 6 This question and response are from an opponent, but Medh atithi does not reject the analysis. 7 _ Atha koayam sankalpo n ama yah: sarvakriy am ulam? ucyate / yat cetah: sandar sanam n ama yadanantara pr arthan adhyavas ayau kramen: a bhavatih: / ete hi m anas a vy ap ar ah: sarvakriy apravr: ttis: u m ulat am pratipadyante / na hi bhautik a vy ap ar astamantaren: a sambhavanti / tath ahi – prathamam pad arthasvar upanir upan: m artha : ayam : pad _ im amarthakriy am adhayatiti yaj j~ nanam sa iha sankalpoabhipretah : s : / (157, ll. 17–21).
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_ A sankalpa, then, is not an intention, but a belief or cognition.8 In this case it is a means-end belief, since its content is a causal relation between two states of aﬀairs – ‘‘this thing brings about this eﬀect.’’ In _ the coﬀee case, the sankalpa is not the intention to go to the cafe´, but the belief that if I go to the cafe´ and so on, then I will get a coﬀee. Kull ukabhat:t:a (Dave 1972–85) another commentator, describes _ _ sankalpa in the same way. ‘‘A sankalpa is a cognition which has the content: ‘by means of this action I will achieve this desirable end’.’’9 If we incorporate this change into the translation as well, we get: Desire has a belief as its basis. Sacriﬁces arise from beliefs. The smr: tis state: ‘All restraint and vows are born of a belief’.
Needless to say, the theory of motivation described in this verse varies importantly from the theory described in the translations of Doniger and Smith. HUMEAN OBJECTIONS
The Humean will advance an objection to this account, and we ought to already see what that objection will be. The text leaves open the question of whether another desire is required in addition to the means-end belief that produces the desire that motivates the action. In order to keep this talk of desires as clear as possible, it will be helpful to adopt a distinction that Nagel (1970:29) draws between motivated and unmotivated desires. He says, It has been pointed out before [by Aristotle in Nichomachean Ethics, Book III, Chapter 3] that many desires, like many beliefs, are arrived at by decision and after deliberation. They need not simply assail us, though there are certain desires that do, like the appetitites and in certain cases the emotions.
Unmotivated desires are desires that are not the result of deliberation – we simply ﬁnd ourselves desiring certain things without having thought about it. My desire for a coﬀee might be of this sort, if I do 8
Mohanty (2000) claims that it is more accurate to translate the word ‘j~ nana’ as cognition, rather than knowledge, because only true (pram a) cognitions are knowledge (pram ajn˜ ana) (11). If this is right, then the Manusmr: ti aligns with the standard model of motivation in the Indian tradition, according to which j~ nana produces desire. See, for example, Mohanty (1997:292). Ideally, of course, the j~ nana is pram aj~ nana, and not just beliefs but knowledge produces one’s desires. 9 _ Anena karmam adhyata ityevamvis: ay a buddhih: sankalpah : edam is: t:am phalam : s : ... (158, ll. 9–10).
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not want a coﬀee for any reason (like remaining alert). Motivated desires are desires that are the result of deliberation.10 If we suppose that my desire for a coﬀee ‘‘simply assails me,’’ and that my desire to go to the cafe´ is a result of reasoning about how to satisfy the desire for a coﬀee, then we have an example of each sort. The desire for a coﬀee is unmotivated, and the desire to go to the cafe´ is motivated. The desire that Medh atithi claims is a necessary condition of any action, then, is a motivated desire for the means to one’s end, since it is the result of a means-end belief. Verse 2.4 states ‘‘Whatever one does, that is the deed of one who desires that (emphasis added).’’11 So if I go to the cafe´, I am motivated by a desire to go to the cafe´, but not necessarily by a desire for coﬀee. Medhatithi speciﬁes that the desire that is a necessary condition of action is the desire to do that which one does, and says nothing about whether one must have an additional desire for that end toward which one’s action is a means. In Medh atithi’s commentary to 2.4, he explains that ‘‘Here in this world any action in the waking state is, for someone who does not desire that it be carried out, never possible.’’12 That is, when one acts, the required desire is the desire to do that which one is doing. A desire for that to which one’s action will lead is not stated as an additional requirement. This means that one must desire the means, but not necessarily desire the end. This leaves open the question of whether in addition to a meansend belief, one must also have some additional desire in order to come to have the motivated desire. Medhatithi only says that my desire to walk to the cafe´ is a result of my means-end belief that if I walk to the cafe´, then I can have a coﬀee, and that this desire to walk to the cafe´ is a necessary condition of walking to the cafe´. He is silent on the question of whether a desire for a coﬀee is also required. Hume, in contrast, states clearly that some additional desire is a necessary condition of any motivated desire. Just as the belief that I must go to the cafe´ if I am to get a coﬀee cannot motivate me to act without the desire for a coﬀee, the belief that to have a coﬀee will make me more alert cannot motivate a desire for a coﬀee without the desire to be more alert. The explanation of this latter desire (to be 10 This way of drawing the distinction makes the two types of desires mutually exclusive. It is a sharper distinction than Nagel himself makes. I take this minor revision from Schueler (1995:21). 11 _ yadyaddhi kurute kincittattatk amasya ces: t:itam : // (159, l. 6). 12 neha loke karhici tkad acid api j agradavasth ay am a k acid–anus: t:heyat: kriy ven anicchatah: sambhavati / (159, ll. 8–9).
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more alert), if it is motivated, will also refer to some additional desire, and so on. This does not lead one to an inﬁnite regress of reasons, however, since some desires are not the result of rational deliberation – they are unmotivated. Hume’s clearest statement of this position is in the Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1951:293): Ask a man why he uses exercise; he will answer, because he desires to keep his health. If you then enquire, why he desires health, he will readily reply, because sickness is painful. If you push your enquiries farther, and desire a reason why he hates pain, it is impossible he can ever give any. This is an ultimate end, and is never referred to any other object...It is impossible there can be a progress in inﬁnitum; and that one thing can always be a reason why another is desired. Something must be desirable on its own account, and because of its immediate accord or agreement with human sentiment and aﬀection.
For Hume, the regress always ends with some unmotivated desire. Bricke (1996:19) calls these ‘ultimate desires’ – ‘‘desires for which the agent has no reason, desires for which she can provide no argument.’’ These are the desires that Nagel claims ‘‘simply assail me.’’ So Hume’s basic position consists of these two claims: (1) A desire is a necessary condition of any action. (2) Some additional desire is a necessary condition of any motivated desire.
The Humean objection is that Medh atithi’s account of how a motivated desire arises is incomplete. A means-end belief cannot produce a motivated desire for the means without the presence of a desire for the end. To be more precise, the Humean will point out that Medh atithi should specify that a means-end belief with the help of an additional desire produces the motivated desire. It cannot produce it alone. An interpreter of the Manusmr: ti might take Hume’s argument as reason to make the changes that the Humean suggests. Certainly, one might think, it is a simple oversight on the part of Medhatithi that he does not mention that some other desire must combine with the _ sankalpa to produce the motivated desire. The problem with this interpretive strategy, however, is that it contradicts both Medhatithi’s and Kull ukabhat:t:a’s speciﬁcation of the desires that are prohibited by verse 2.2. Medh atithi explains that ...it is not the case that a desire which has anything for its object is prohibited. What, in that case (is prohibited)? In the case of nityakarma (ritual actions enjoined by the
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Veda, but for which no fruit is mentioned), that characterized by the desire for fruit (is prohibited). Yet the fulﬁllment of the means is to be desired.13
The ﬁrst line here states that it is not the case that there is a prohibition on all desires, regardless of their objects. Some desires are permissible. With regard to the performance of nityakarmas, the desire that is prohibited is the desire for the fruit. One should not, for example, carry out the nityakarma with the hope of attaining heaven thereby. Again, consider the coﬀee case. I believe that if I go to the cafe´, then I can get a coﬀee. This belief produces my desire to go to the cafe´. Here the act of going to the cafe´ is motivated by a desire to go to the cafe´. It cannot, however, be motivated by a desire for the fruit of that action – namely the coﬀee itself. The latter desire, according to Medh atithi, is the desire that is disdained in verse 2.2. This means that if there is some additional state that must combine with the _ sankalpa in order to produce the motivated desire that will ﬁnally motivate one to act, that additional state cannot – at least in the case of nityakarmas – be an additional desire! The fruit that one is prohibited from desiring is just the end to which the action is a means. Hence one cannot desire the end. If one cannot desire the end, then it cannot be a desire for the end that combines with the means-end belief to produce a desire for that means. All of this proves that the seemingly straightforward Humean qualiﬁcation of the theory is a mistake. The account of motivation in the Manusmr: ti quite clearly contradicts Hume’s second claim. THE PLAUSIBILITY OF MEDHATITHI’S POSITION
At this point one might conclude that the position in the Manusmr: ti is simply implausible, since a means-end belief can only produce a motivated desire with the help of some additional desire (as Hume seems to prove). Before we jump to this conclusion, however, we should analyze the way that Hume argues for his second thesis. The following is an elaboration of Hume’s argument that I adopt from Bricke (1996:18). For any motivated desire, it is possible to imagine two individuals who share all of and only the same beliefs, but only one of whom has the motivated desire. We can, for example, imagine two individuals 13 na sarvavis: ayah: k amo nis: idhyate, kim tarhi, nityes: u phal abhil a:salaks: an: ah: s adhanasampattistu k amyaiva / (160, ll. 19–20, emphasis added.).
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who share all of the same beliefs but only one of whom has a motivated desire for a coﬀee. This, it seems, is evidence that it cannot be any belief or combination of beliefs that produces the desire in the ﬁrst individual, since if this were the case, the second individual would have a desire for a coﬀee as well. So beliefs, on their own, cannot produce a motivated desire. The most obvious candidate for explaining the divergence between the motivated desires of these two individuals is some additional desire that the one has but the other lacks, like a desire for alertness. Consequently a desire is a necessary condition of any motivated desire, and beliefs cannot produce a motivated desire on their own. Before we take the cogency of this argument as reason to dismiss the plausibility of the motivation theory in the Manusmr: ti though, we ought to consider an important objection from a contemporary Humean. Smith (1994) argues that there can be cases in which some additional desire is not a necessary condition of a motivated desire. The argument occurs within his consideration of the analysis of evaluations and his refutation of Hume’s theory of normative reasons (Chapter Five of The Moral Problem). First Smith argues for an analysis of evaluations as beliefs about what one would advise oneself to do if one were fully informed and rational. What it is desirable for us to do in certain circumstances [. . .] is what we, not as we actually are, but as we would be in a possible world in which we are fully rational [. . .] would want ourselves to do in those circumstances (151).
So facts about what it is desirable for us to do are just facts about what we would want to do under idealized epistemic conditions. That some action is desirable means that we have a reason to do it (150), and if we have a reason to do something, it is rational for us to desire to do it (148). Our evaluations, then, are beliefs about what is desirable – that is, what we would want ourselves to do under ideal circumstances. Hence our evaluative beliefs about what is desirable should produce a desire to bring about the valued state of aﬀairs. [W]hen we deliberate, we try to decide what we have reason to do, and to the extent that we are rational we will either already have corresponding desires or our beliefs about what we have reason to do will cause us to have corresponding desires (180, emphasis added).
It is this claim that our evaluative beliefs will produce the desire to bring about the valued state of aﬀairs that contradicts Hume’s claim that an additional desire is a necessary condition of any motivated desire. The desire that is a result of the evaluative belief is the result of
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deliberation, and hence is a motivated desire. It does not depend, however, on any additional desire. Let me be more speciﬁc about how this argument seems to refute Hume. One premise of Hume’s argument states that the most obvious way to explain the divergence in motivated desires between two agents who share all of the same beliefs is to cite some other desire that the ﬁrst agent has but that the second agent does not have – a desire that will be furthered by the motivated desire. The point of Smith’s argument is that, while in most cases it is likely that some additional desire does explain the divergence, it might also be that a divergence of this sort can be explained by irrationality on the part of one of the agents. Take Smith’s example. There are two parents who share all of the same beliefs, one of which is I have most reason to save my child from drowning right now. The ﬁrst agent, but not the second, desires to save her child. In order to explain this divergence in desires, we need not cite some additional desire – like the desire to see her child reach adulthood. That the second does not want to save her child is just irrational, given that she acknowledges that to save her child is the most valuable state of aﬀairs that she could bring about. If this is right, it does not follow that some additional desire is a necessary condition of any motivated desire. Since we need not explain the divergence by citing a desire, it does not follow – at least not from the premises of Hume’s argument – that a desire is required. At the very least, Smith makes a strong case for the claim that an additional desire is not the only explanation for a divergence between the motivated desires of the two agents. If this is right, then Hume’s argument does not prove his second thesis, since that argument depends on some additional desire being the only explanation for the divergence in motivated desires. This leaves open the possibility that one can come to have a motivated desire that does not depend on some additional desire for some end. And since both Medh atithi and Kull ukabhat:t:a argue that it is precisely this additional desire that is prohibited in the case of nitya actions, we must assume either that no additional state is required, or that some state other than a desire can perform the necessary function when one performs a nitya action. In the coﬀee case, there is nothing problematic about my desire for coﬀee playing a role in producing the motivated desire to walk to the cafe´, since I am not enjoined by the Vedas to walk to the cafe´ without desiring the result of the walk. In the case of a nityakarma, however, it cannot be a
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_ desire that combines with the sankalpa to produce the desire. Some state other than a desire must establish the agent’s end. And this is very anti-Humean indeed. There are really only two possible interpretive strategies to consider here. The ﬁrst is to assume that in addition to the means-end belief, some additional state that is not a desire is required. The second is to try to make sense of the explicit account without any additions, and assume that somehow the means-end belief produces the motivated desire on its own. There are a couple of ways to go about the ﬁrst strategy. It might be that some evaluative belief is the additional state that establishes one’s end. In Smith’s example, the parent’s belief that to save her child is the most important thing produces a desire to save her child, and this, we might think, can combine with the means-end belief that if I am to save my child, I must dive into the water. The product of this combination is a desire to dive into the water. So it looks like we can get the motivation moving with an evaluative belief rather than a desire. The problem with this is that we still have a desire for the end of one’s action, namely the desire to save the child. This desire, however, is prohibited. The second way to go about the ﬁrst strategy is to assume that the evaluative belief is the additional state but that it need not ﬁrst produce a desire for the valued state of aﬀairs in order to combine with the means-end belief because it can do so directly. This would allow us to eliminate the desire for the end – which is what the Manusmr: ti demands – without precluding the desire for the means. I do not see any reason for rejecting this kind of interpretation or for rejecting that this kind of interaction between beliefs is possible. On the second strategy, which is to avoid adding any additional states at all, we might understand the means-end belief as itself evaluative in nature. We might understand the parent’s belief that to save her child is the most important thing she could do as the meansend belief that if I dive into the water right now, then I will do the most important thing. This belief then produces the desire to dive into the water, which is not a desire for some end, but a desire to perform the means to some end that is not established by one’s desires. Smith argues quite persuasively that we can adopt the end of doing the most important thing in virtue of our rationality, regardless of our desires, and hence avoid desiring our ends without abandoning ends altogether. This is just what the Manusmr: ti demands.
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According to either of these interpretations, an evaluative belief is the source of the motivation that Hume claims can only begin with _ desires. Since ‘sankalpa’ means cognition or belief in the Manusmr: ti, _ the evaluative belief can be understood as part of the sankalpa that produces the desire for the means to the valued state of aﬀairs. So one reason to think that something like an evaluative belief might perform the role normally reserved for desires is that Medh atithi and Kull ukabhat:t:a make claims that are inconsistent with the alternative (Humean) model. It cannot be that the agent has an additional desire that produces the motivated desire to perform the nityakarma, because these additional desires are always desires for the results of action – that is, they are desires for the fruits. These desires are explicitly prohibited under these circumstances, however. Even if we are not entirely comfortable with Smith’s account, it is hard to see what other type of state might ﬁll the apparent motivational gap in the case of nitya actions. Another reason to think that something like an evaluative belief might perform this role is that Medh atithi claims that ‘‘in the case of nityakarmas, the reason (prayojana) is the fulﬁllment of the meaning of the vidhi.’’14 Since it cannot be that the reason (prayojana) here is a k ama, because a desire for fruit is prohibited, it is reasonable to think that it is some other state. Belief seems like the most plausible candidate. One performs a required action because she believes it is required, or believes that it is important, or believes that scripture commands it, rather than because she desires its outcome. EVALUATIONS AS REASONS
Michael Smith claims to advance a Humean view of motivation even though his account is inconsistent with Hume’s second claim. Smith claims that his account is in accord with ‘‘the claim that is, as I understand it, crucial to the Humean theory,’’ namely the claim that
14 tatra nity an am ay anutpattirvidhyarthasampattirv a prayojanam : pratyav : / (160, ll.15–16) The entire quotation reads ‘‘in the case of nityakarmas, the reason (prayojana) is the fulﬁllment of the meaning of the vidhi or the avoidance of pain.’’ One might insist that the avoidance of pain must be one’s motive when acting without desire for some positive state of aﬀairs (as the Naiy ayikas do). It is important, however, to see that the claim ends with a disjunction, which suggests that the carrying out of a vidhi might by itself be one’s motive, just as the avoidance of pain might by itself be one’s motive.
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‘‘motivation has its source in the presence of a relevant desire and means-end belief’’ (92, emphasis added). Smith formalizes this crucial claim by paraphrasing Davidson (1963): ‘‘R at t constitutes a motivating reason of agent A to N iﬀ there is some / such that R at t consists of an appropriately related desire of A to / and a belief that were she to w she would /’’ (92). So far, it looks like Davidson’s position is that a motivating reason is a desire for some end and a means-end belief about how to achieve that end. Smith’s view is consistent with this, since both a belief and a desire of this sort are necessary conditions of action on his account. That the desire might be a product of an evaluative belief does not change this. Earlier in Davidson’s essay, however, he claims that a reason explains an agent’s action ‘‘only if it leads us to see something the agent saw, or thought he saw, in his action – some feature, consequence, or aspect of the action the agent wanted, desired, prized, held dear, thought dutiful, beneﬁcial, obligatory, or agreeable’’ (685, emphasis added). In other words, a reason explains an agent’s action only if it leads us to see the feature toward which he had a desire. It is worth noting that in this second passage, which Smith does not cite, Davidson mentions an additional requirement: the elements of an agent’s reason actually occurred to the agent at some level.15 The juxtaposition of these two quotations brings out an important point. Suppose that Smith is correct to claim that an evaluation cannot motivate an action directly. Suppose that an evaluation can motivate an agent to bring about the valued state of aﬀairs only by producing a corresponding desire that motivates the action.16 If that is right, then an agent might dive into the water where her child is drowning motivated by the desire to save her child, which is in turn produced by the evaluative belief that to save her child is the most important thing to do. Now if we look at the quotation from Davidson that Smith mentions, the motivating reason will be the desire to save her child and the belief that to save her child she must dive into the water. But on the second quotation from Davidson, this will not be a reason that explains what the agent saw. What the agent ‘‘saw’’ was the value of saving her child and the means to achieving that end, not any desire. The desire that arises 15
It seems reasonable to think that even if an agent’s desire was unconscious, it could motivate him. 16 Smith advances a ‘direction of ﬁt’ argument for this claim. The argument is not cogent, but I will not get into that here.
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from the evaluative belief – the desire to save her child – need not be part of what the agent saw at all. The agent’s reason for saving her child is that her child’s safety is the most valuable thing at stake, not that she desired to save her child. G. E. M. Anscombe’s explanation of intention is helpful here. She says that intentional actions are ‘‘the actions to which a certain sense of the question ‘Why?’ is given application; the sense is of course that in which the answer, if positive, gives a reason for acting’’ (1976:9). But a desire that arises from an evaluation is not a reason for acting in this sense. Davidson’s second quotation indicates that there is a sense of the term ‘reason’ in which we refer to what the agent saw in doing what she did. This point is not meant as an objection to Smith. It is only meant to point out that once one makes the concession that Smith makes, and allows that an evaluation can motivate by means of a desire, one concedes that an agent’s reason for acting might be the evaluative belief, and not the desire, so long as we stick to the sense of ‘reason’ that Davidson invokes when he says that an agent’s reason explains an action ‘‘only if it leads us to see something the agent saw.’’ With this in mind, even if the evaluative belief does produce a desire for the valued state of aﬀairs – that is, a desire for the end – it will still be false – at least in the sense that Davidson’s second quotation suggests – to say that the agent acted in order to satisfy a desire. The agent’s reason for acting under these circumstances will not be that she desires to save her child, even if she does indeed desire to save her child. Hence she can avoid acting for the sake of bringing about the desired state of aﬀairs by acting to bring about the most valued state of aﬀairs. And she can do this by taking the fact that it is the most valued state of aﬀairs as her reason – her answer to the question ‘Why?’ – rather than her desire to save her child. The fact that the most valued state of aﬀairs is identical to the most desired state of aﬀairs, then, is inconsequential. CONCLUSION
I have argued that a Humean bias on the part of interpreters of Indian philosophy has disposed them to misinterpret, and at times even mistranslate, Indian texts so that they are in accord with the Humean account. This is a great mistake. For one thing, it obscures what the Indian texts have to say on the topic of motivation and action. For another, it obscures the more general advice of Indian philosophy, which aims at nothing less than instructing us about how to act
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morally and guiding us to the lessening and possible elimination of our own suﬀering. These are not unimportant matters! The question of motivation in Indian philosophy is not a marginal issue, and mistakes like this must be prevented if we are to get any work done at all. I have argued that the role of desire in the account of the Manusmr: ti is importantly diﬀerent from its role in Hume’s theory. Manu allows for – and encourages – the agent to establish her ends by means of true evaluative or normative beliefs. One’s reason for acting can be the fact that scripture says one should, or the fact that one’s action will bring about the most valued state of aﬀairs. Even if my belief in this fact motivates me only by producing some desire along the way, the desire is not my reason for acting in an important sense. My desire is not what I have taken as the reason to carry out my action. It is merely a causal link in the chain that connects my reason to my action, and hence plays no important role in my own determination of what I am most justiﬁed in doing. So when Manu or Medh atithi advise that an agent act without a desire for the end of her action, they advise the agent against taking her own desires as reasons, and in favor of acting on true beliefs about what she should do. In this way the agent can act without a desire for outcomes and, in an important sense, act entirely desirelessly. This, it seems to me, is pretty good advice, so long as one is concerned with doing what one should. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
My thanks to an anonymous referee at Journal of Indian Philosophy for valuable criticism on an earlier draft of this paper. I want to thank John Taber, with whom I worked extensively on the Manusmr: ti translations and analysis, and Fred Schueler, who, along with John, commented on previous drafts. This paper was presented to the University of New Mexico Philosophy department and the University of Calgary Philosophy and Religious Studies departments, and improved by their objections and suggestions. REFERENCES
Anscombe, G.E.M. (1976). Intention. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Bratman, Michael E. (1987). Intention, Plans, and Practical Reason. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
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Bricke, John (1996). Mind and Morality: An Examination of Hume’s Moral Psychology Oxford: Oxford University Press. Dave, Jayantakrsna Harikrsna (ed) (1972–1985). Manusmr: tih: : Medh atithi – Sarvaj~ nan ar ayan: a – Kull uka – R aghv ananda – Nandana – R amacandra – Manir ama – _ : ta. Mumbai: Bharatiya Govindar aja – Bh aruci iti vy akhy anavakena samalankr Vidya Bhavanam. Davidson, Donald (1963). ‘Actions, Reasons, and Causes’. Journal of Philosophy 60(23), 685–700. Doniger, Wendy, & Smith, Brian K. (1991). The Laws of Manu. London: Penguin. Hume, David (1951). Enquiries Concerning the Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals. 2nd ed., edited by J. Y. T. Greig. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Hume David (1992).Treatise of Human Nature, edited by L. A. Selby Bigge. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Kull ukabhat:t:a. Manusmr: ti in Dave. Matilal B.K. (2002). ‘Karma and Renunciation’. In Jonardon Ganeri (ed.), Ethics and Epics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Medhatithi. Manusmr: ti in Dave. Mohanty, J.N. (2000). Classical Indian Philosophy. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littleﬁeld. Mohanty, J.N. (1997). ‘The Idea of the Good in Indian Thought’. In Eliot Deutsch and Ron Bontekoe (eds.), A Companion to World Philosophies. Oxford: Blackwell. Nagel, Thomas (1970). The Possibility of Altruism. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Olivelle, Patrick (2005). Manu’s Code of Law: A Critical Edition and Translation of the M anava-Dharmasastra, with the Editorial Assistance of Suman Olivelle. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Pettit, Philip, & Smith, Michael (1990). ‘Backgrounding Desire’. Philosophical Review 99(4), 565–592. Schueler, G.F. (1995). Desire: Its Role in Practical Reasoning. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Schueler, G.F. (2003). Reasons and Purposes: Human Rationality and the Teleological Explanation of Action. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Smith, Michael (1994). The Moral Problem. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
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