Risk and motivation: When the will is required to determine what to do

Dylan Murray, Lara Buchak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Within philosophy of action, there are three broad views about what, in addition to beliefs, answer the question of “what to do?” and so determine an agent’s motivation: desires (Humeanism), judgments about values/reasons (rationalism), or states of the will, such as intentions (volitionalism). We argue that recent work in decision theory vindicates the volitionalist. “What to do?” isn’t settled by “what do I value” or “what reasons are there?” Rational motivation further requires determining how to trade off the possibility of a good outcome against the possibility of a bad one—i.e., determining how much of a risk to take. The risk attitudes that embody this tradeoff seem best understood as intentions: as self-governing policies to weight desires or reasons in certain ways. That we need to settle our risk attitudes before making most decisions corroborates Bratman’s claim that self-governing policies are required for resolving impasses of evaluative and normative underdetermination. Moreover, far from being rare or confined to tie-breakings, cases that are underdetermined but for one’s risk attitudes are typical of everyday decision-making. The will is required for most rational action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPhilosophers Imprint
Issue number16
StatePublished - May 2019
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy


Dive into the research topics of 'Risk and motivation: When the will is required to determine what to do'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this