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Moral motivation: evidence and relevance

Research project The project investigates the relation between moral thinking and motivation to act, and the relevance of this relation for other questions, in particular questions about moral objectivity.

Moral thinking is intimately connected to dispositions to act. If someone judges that an act is morally wrong, we normally expect her to be unwilling to perform that act, and to have a negative attitude towards such acts. According to some philosophers, this indicates that morality is in some sense subjective: a matter of being for and against rather than of what is true or false. The project aims at better understanding the relation between moral thinking and moral motivation, and at understanding the extent to which this relation might indicate that morality is subjective in some interesting sense.

Head of project

Gunnar Björnsson
Other position

Project overview

Project period:

2010-01-01 2013-12-31


Finansår , 2010, 2011, 2012

huvudman: Gunnar Björnsson, finansiar: VR, y2010: 3100, y2011: 3100, y2012: 3100,

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Historical, Philosophical and Religious studies

Research area

Philosophy and philosophy of science

Project description

The relation between moral judgments and moral motivation is a central issue in ethical theory, having implications for the nature of moral emotions and moral judgments, the meaning of normative terms and the possibility of objective truth and knowledge in morality.

According to one account of this relation, known as “motivational moral judgment internalism”, or just “internalism”, making a moral judgment implies being at least somewhat motivated to act accordingly under normal circumstances. Internalism seems to capture our sense that morality is, above all, a matter of practical concern: When we come to think that some act is wrong, we are against it; when we think that it is our moral duty, we want to do it or feel forced to do it; when we think that a child needs to better grasp the difference between right and wrong, we think that such a grasp will tend to direct the child towards the right. On the other hand, internalism seems to undermine the view that moral matters are objective. Objective facts seem to be facts that can in principle be grasped independently of one's particular interests and point view, but internalism seems to suggest that what we take to be morally right or wrong depends exactly on what our interests are, interests that vary from one person to another.

MMER aims at (i) charting possible philosophical implications of various forms of internalism, (ii) detailing possible evidence for and against these forms, and (iii) conduct studies assessing such implications and evidence. The methods used combine traditional philosophical inquiry with quantified empirical studies.

MMER involves four philosophers and one experimental psychologist and is based at Gothenburg University. It’s website can be found here: