Motive that which moves, excites, or invites the mind to volition. It may be one thing singly, or many things conjointly. Some call it a faculty of the mind, by which we pursue good and avoid evil. Aristotle defiles motive thus: "The deliberate preference by which we are moved to act, and not the object for the sake of which we act, is the principle of action; and desire and reason, which is for the sake of something, is the origin of deliberate preference" (Ethic. lib. 6, cap. 2). Kant distinguishes between the subjective principle of appetition, which he calls the mobile or spring (die Triebfeder), and the objective principle of the will, which he calls motive or determining reason (beweggrund); hence the difference between subjective ends, to which we are pushed by natural disposition, and objective ends, which are common to us with all beings endowed with reason (Willm, Hist. de la Philosoph. Allemande, 1:357). This seems to be the difference expressed in French between mobile and motif. "A motive is an object so operating upon the mind as to produce either desire or aversion" (lord Kames, Essay on Liberty and Necessity). "By motive," says Edwards (Inquiry, part 1, § 2), "I mean the whole of that which moves, excites, or invites the mind to volition, whether that be one thing singly. or many things conjunctly. Many particular things may concur and unite their strength to induce the mind; and when it is so, all together are, as it were, one complex motive... Whatever is a motive, in this sense, must be something that is extant in the view or apprehension of the understanding, or perceiving faculty. Nothing can induce or invite the mind to will or act anything any further than it is perceived, or is in some way or other in the mind's view; for what is wholly unperceived, and perfectly out of the mind's view, cannot affect the mind at all." Hence it has been common to distinguish motives as external or objective, and as internal or subjective. Regarded objectively, motives are those external objects or circumstances which, when contemplated, give rise to views or feelings which prompt or influence the will. Regarded subjectively, motives are those internal views or feelings which arise on the contemplation of external objects or circumstances. In common language, the term motive is applied indifferently to the external object and to the state of mind to which the apprehension or contemplation of it may give rise. The explanation of Edwards includes both. Dr. Reid (Correspondence prefixed to his Works, page 87) said that he "understood a motive, when applied to a human being, to be that for the sake of which he acts, and therefore that what he never was conscious of can no more be a motive to determine his will than it can be an argument to determine his judgment." "This is Aristotle's definition (τὸ ἔνεκα ου) of end or final cause; and as a synonyme for end or final cause the term motive had been long exclusively employed" (Sir Wm. Hamilton). In Dr. Reid's Essays on the Active Powers he says, "Everything that can be called a motive is addressed either to the animal or the rational part of our nature." Here the word motive is applied objectively to those external things which, when contemplated, affect our intelligence or our sensitivity. But in the very next sentence he has said, "motives of the former kind are common to us with the brutes." Here the word motive is applied subjectively to those internal principles of our nature — such as appetite, desire, passion, etc. — which are excited by the contemplation of external objects, adapted and addressed to them. But, in order to a more precise use of the term motive, let it be noted that, in regard to it, there are three things clearly distinguishable, although it may not be common nor easy always to speak of them distinctively. These are, the external object, the internal principle, and the state or affection of mind resulting from the one being addressed to the other. For example, bread or food of any kind is the external object, which is adapted to an internal principle which is called appetite, and hunger or the desire for food is the internal feeling, which is excited or allayed, as the circumstances may be, by the presentment of the external object to the internal principle. In popular language, the term motive might be applied to any one of these three; and it might be said that the motive for such an action was bread, appetite, or hunger. But, strictly speaking, the feeling of hunger was the motive; it was that, in the preceding state of mind, which disposed or inclined the agent to act in one way rather than in any other. The same may be said of motives of every kind. In every case there may be observed the external object, the internal principle, and the resultant state or affection of mind; and the term motive may be applied, separately and successively, to any one of them; but, speaking strictly, it should be applied to the determining state or affection of mind which arises from a principle of human nature having been addressed by an object adapted to it; because it is this state or affection of mind which prompts to action. The motive of an agent, in some particular action, may be said to have been injury, or resentment, or anger meaning by the first of these words the wrong behavior of another; by the second, the principle in human nature affected by such behavior; and by the third, the resultant state of mind in the agent. When it is said that a man acted prudently, this may intimate that his conduct was in accordance with the rules of propriety and prudence; or that he adopted it after careful consideration and forethought, or from a sense of the benefit and advantage to be derived from it. In like manner, when it is said that a man acted conscientiously, it may mean that the particular action was regarded not as a matter of interest, but of duty, or that his moral faculty approved of it as right, or that he felt himself under a sense of obligation to do it. In all these cases the term motive is strictly applicable to the terminating state or affection of mind which immediately precedes the volition or determination to act. To the question, therefore, whether motive means something in the mind or out of it, it is replied that what moves the will is something in the "preceding state of mind. The state of mind may have reference to something out of the mind. But what is out of the mind must be apprehended or contemplated — must be brought within the view of the mind, before it can in any way affect it. It is only in a secondary or remote sense, therefore, that external objects or circumstances can be called motives, or be said to move the will. Motives are, strictly speaking, subjective — as they are internal states or affections of mind in the agent. Motives may be called subjective, not only in contradistinction to the external objects and circumstances which may be the occasion of them, but also in regard to the different effect which the same objects and circumstances may have, not only upon different individuals, but even upon the same individuals, at different times. A man of slow and narrow intellect is unable to perceive the value or importance of an object when presented to him, or the propriety and advantage of a course of conduct that may be pointed out to him, so clearly or so quickly as a man of large and vigorous intellect. The consequence will be that, with the same motives (objectively considered) presented to them, the one may remain indifferent and indolent in reference to the advantage held out, while the other will at once apprehend and pursue it. A man of cold and dull affections will contemplate a spectacle of pain or want without feeling any desire or making any exertion to relieve it; while he whose sensibilities are more acute and lively will instantly be moved to the most active and generous efforts. An injury done to one man will rouse him at once to a frenzy of indignation, which will prompt him to the most extravagant measures of retaliation or revenge; while in another man it will only give rise to a moderate feeling of resentment. An action which will be contemplated with horror by a man of tender conscience will be done without compunction by him whose moral sense has not been sufficiently exercised to discover between good and evil. In short, anything external to the mind will be modified in its effect according to the constitution and training of the different minds within the view of which it may be brought. Not only may the same objects differently affect different minds, but also the same minds, at different times or under different circumstances. He who is suffering the pain of hunger may be tempted to steal in order to satisfy his hunger, but he who has bread enough and to spare is under no such temptation. A sum of money which might be sufficient to bribe one man would be no trial to the honesty of another. Under the impulse of any violent passion, considerations of prudence and propriety have not the same weight as in calmer moments. The young are not so cautious, in circumstances of danger and difficulty, as those who have attained to greater age and experience. Objects appear to us in very different colors in health and in sickness, in prosperity and in adversity, in society and in solitude, in prospect and in possession. It would thus appear that motives are in their nature subjective, in their influence individual, and in their issue variable.
There are two points which render this interesting topic of metaphysical philosophy or psychology also an important one in theology. See WILL.
1. The Extent to which Motives control Volition. — On this question there are essentially two theories.
(a) That the will itself determines the force or prevalence of the motives. This is not done by any previous volition, but in the act of choosing among the various motives, i.e., in selecting between the different courses to which these motives prompt. This is the only theory that leaves the will absolutely free, and fully vindicates moral character. For Cicero has long since observed that "if the things which move the will are not in our own power, then neither our actions nor our volitions are free, and there is no room for praise or blame." SEE LIBERTY.
(b) That the motives control the will, so as to produce volitions according to their relative force. This is argued, either (1) on the materialistic (i.e., physical or mechanical) ground alleged by Hobbes, Collins, and others, that there is a natural law regulating unerringly and necessarily these processes, external and oftentimes independent of the subject himself; or (2) on the basis of a moral necessity, assumed by Edwards and his followers, whereby the actual mental condition of the subject (i.e., his desires, etc.) dictates the direction of the volitions. On the other hand, consciousness, no less than Scripture (e.g. especially Ro 7:15-23), most unequivocally declares that we are capable of selecting a course contrary to our most urgent inclinations, and conscience pronounces us guilty because we suffer our evil passions to overcome our will. Did not our judgment (otherwise called conscience or the moral sense) thus step in to cast a weight into the scale, and, moreover, were not the prevenient grace of God ever ready to aid us "both to will and to do" what is right, it might indeed remain doubtful whether the will of fallen creatures at least could freely determine in the presence of violent emotion or habitual predilection. SEE INABILITY.
The phrase "the strongest motive" contains an ambiguity which has led to great confusion in this controversy. If those who use it merely mean those inducements which are usually most efficacious in moving men, then it is irrelevant to the present issue, because some persons at all times, and all persons at some times, are proof against those influences which are most sure to incite other individuals or under other circumstances. So proverbially is this the case that human conduct is of all things the most uncertain to predict in particular cases. If, On the other hand, as is more exact, the phrase is employed to designate those considerations which are so peculiarly adapted to the mental state of the person at the time as to effect an inclination of the will accordingly, then there still remains this fallacy in the expression, namely, that the strength of the motives really depends upon the moral condition of the subject himself, of which condition the will itself forms a large (indeed a preponderating) element. Hence we term persons "obstinate," "stubborn," "headstrong," "self- willed," etc., or the reverse. SEE VOLITION.
2. The doctrine that "the character of the motives determines the moral quality of an act" would be more correctly stated thus: "The purpose of the actor determines his moral character in any given case." There is hardly any specific act (unless perhaps we except idolatry) which may not be praiseworthily performed under certain circumstances and for right ends. Thus homicide may be murder or execution in altered cases; sexual connection is the legitimate privilege of matrimony or the illicit indulgence of licentiousness; the use of the name of God may be either a lawful oath, or devout prayer, or profanity, according to the intent of the invocation. Nor is this axiom tantamount to the maxim condemned in Scripture (Ro 3:8), and justly scouted under the popular name of "Jesuitism," that "the end justifies the means." Not only the end in view, but all the means employed to accomplish that end, must be tested with the same scrupulous care by a comparison with the identical standard of rectitude, the revealed will of God, by which alone the moral quality of the motive of him who seeks to effect the one or make use of the other is to be ultimately and surely determined. Thus while the intention of the party acting vindicates or condemns him in the act, the propriety of the act itself is to be tried by a more unerring external tribunal. Hence also a crime or good act meant, but (through unavoidable hinderance) not executed, is, in the eve 'of divine justice, accounted as guilt or virtue (Mt 5:22,28; 2Co 3:12; 1Jo 3:15). SEE MORALS.
See Edwards, On the Will, pages 7, 8, 124, 259, 384; Toplady, Works, 2:41, 42; Buck, Theol. Dict. s.v.; Hamilton, Metaphysics, page 692 sq., 129, 556 sq.; Watson, Theological Institutes, 2:439 sq,; Krauth's Fleming's Vocabulary of Philos. s.v.