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MOTIVATED MENTAL STATES*

by

Jon Elster
Columbia University je70@columbia.edu

1. Introduction Mental states - motivations and beliefs - cause behavior. We can go on to ask about the causes of the causes: what explains the beliefs and motivations of the agent? In this paper, I consider motivations as causal determinants of mental states. This will partly involve recharting the familiar territory of motivated belief formation. I also argue, however, for the existence and importance of motivated motivations. I shall proceed as follows. In Section 2 I discuss the relation between mental states qua reasons for action and mental states qua causes of action. In Section 3 I survey some of the main motivations that shape motivated beliefs and motivated motivations. In Section 4 I offer an overview and brief discussion of the main varieties of motivated belief formation. In Section 5 I single out two of those varieties - wishful thinking and selfdeception - for more intensive discussion. In Section 6 I turn to motivated motivations. 2. Reasons and causes The topic of this paper is how beliefs and motivations interact to produce mental states. This is obviously a causal question. Some relations among mental states are also logical, in the sense that one mental state provides a reason for another. Exactly what that means remains to be clarified. The reasons may or may not be causally efficacious in bringing about the states for which they are reasons. I postpone this issue to later sections. Here I focus on causal antecedents that are also reasons for the states they
* I am grateful to Jens Andvig, Erling Eide, Aanund Hylland, Raino Malnes, Karl O.Moene and Ole-Jrgen Skog for comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

produce. 1 There are four cases: beliefs and motivations may serve as reasons (and causes) for either beliefs or motivations. Of these, I shall have least to say about beliefs that serve as reasons for other beliefs that they logically imply or evidentially support. Consider first beliefs as causes or part-causes of motivations. In a common and simple case, a belief and a desire serve both as causes and reasons for another desire. If I want A, and believe X is the best means to realize A, then (assuming that X has no intrinsic disutility and no undesirable by-products) I also want X. A fundamental preference and an instrumental belief interact to produce a derived or induced preference. This also illustrates how a desire can serve as a reason and part-cause for another desire. Is the relation between a belief and the emotion it triggers logical (and causal), or merely causal? I observe that someone else has something I dont have, and the observation triggers a pang of envy. Clearly, we are dealing with a causal relation. Is it also a logical relation? In other words, does the belief that the other has more than I do provide a reason for being envious? The belief certainly makes the emotion intelligible, but that is not the same thing as providing a reason. In wishful thinking, too, the desire makes the belief intelligible, but it does not provide a reason for it. Intelligibility is in the eye of the beholder, but reasons must exist for the agent himself. It is hard to see how an agent could think of himself as having reasons for what we may call raw envy. The mere facts that (i) He has it, (ii) I dont have it and (iii) Id like to have it, do not provide a reason for (iv) He should not have it. In fact, as I argue in Section 6 below, the lack of any reasons for raw envy, together with our desire to have reasons for what we do and feel, provide a powerful stimulant for transmuting raw envy into a more reasonable emotion. Envy might seem like a bad example. If instead we consider anger, many writers argue that there is an intimate connection between the beliefs that trigger anger and the emotion itself. 2 If someone else treats me badly without a reason, that provides me with a reason to be angry. To assess this claim, note that appeals to reason can serve two different functions: backward-looking and
1 I shall ignore Davidsonian quibbles that arise from the fact that a state may cause another state for which it is a reason, but cause it in the wrong way, i.e. not qua reason. 2 E.g. J. Smedslund, How shall the concept of anger be defined?, Theory and Psychology 3 (1993), 5-33.

forward-looking. In their backward-looking function, reasons can justify a behavior or a mental state, e.g. an emotion. If I am angry, I can justify my anger by pointing to the others behavior as the reason for my anger. Irrational anger is anger that has no such justification. (Raw envy is always irrational in this sense.) In their forward-looking function, reasons may rationally require a certain behavior or mental state. If I want A, and believe X is the best means to realize A, then I am required to want X. To say I want to help him, and I could help him by doing X at no cost to myself or to anyone else, but I do not want to do X is incoherent. In my opinion, there is no similar forward-looking link between reason and anger. Some individuals may, when offended, feel pity, disappointment or fear rather than anger or not feel very much at all. To say, He offended me gratuitously, but I felt pity rather than anger is not incoherent. Lack of anger is never irrational. I do not want to generalize this claim to all emotions.3 My point is only that we cannot generalize the contrary claim, viz. that backwardlooking reasons for emotions always provide forward-looking reasons. Consider next desires as causes or part-causes of beliefs. It might seem obvious that a desire could never be a reason for holding a belief. To be sure, desires often cause beliefs: the wish may be the father of the thought. But this is a paradigm of irrational belief formation. Consider, however, a standard model of rational choice:

The arrows in Fig.1 have both a causal and a logical interpretation. Here I focus on the latter. An action, to be rational, has to be the optimal (or an optimal) way of realizing the agents desires, given his beliefs. Moreover, the beliefs have to be rational, in the sense of being justified by the available evidence. Finally, the amount of resources (time, money etc.) that the agent invests in collecting evidence has to be optimal, given his desires and his beliefs about the expected costs and benefits of gathering the evidence. The blocked arrow indicates that a direct causal relation from desires to beliefs (the wish is the father of the thought) is an irrational
3 Guilt, for instance, provides a more complex challenge. Irrational guilt can be treated on the same lines as irrational anger: it is guilt that has no basis in the agents voluntary and informed choices, e.g. survivor guilt. But should we also deny that lack of guilt can be irrational? Isnt it incoherent to say I acted badly, but I do not feel guilty about it?

mechanism of belief-formation. By contrast, the indirect causal link that is mediated by information-gathering need not be irrational. 4 It makes sense to gather more information before forming a belief that will serve as a premise for an important decision than when making a trivial decision. Or consider two otherwise identical individuals with different rates of time discounting who face the purchase of a durable consumer good.. The more impatient customer will rationally seek less information about the expected lifetime of the various brand marks. Mental states can, therefore, sere as forward-looking reasons of other mental states in two ways. First, one mental state may provide a direct reason for another. Second, one mental state may be part of a rational complex in the causation of another state. A desire can provide a reason for investing a specific amount of resources in information-acquisition. The information thus obtained may serve as a reason for holding a certain belief. Although the desire does not provide a reason for holding the belief, it enters into a rational complex of belief-formation.5 What drives in the

4 It can be irrational, viz. if the agent stops collecting evidence when, if and because the evidence collected up to that point favors the belief he would like to be true. 5 This phrase can also be used to characterize the strategic ignorance identified by Juan Carillo and Thomas Mariotti (Strategic ignorance as a self-disciplining device, Review of Economic Studies 67 (2000), 529-44). They show that an agent with hyperbolic time discounting may rationally choose not to acquire more information even when the acquisition has no direct or opportunity costs. Suppose the agent has a prior probability distribution for the percentage of smokers who get cancer because they smoke, and has to decide whether to learn what the exact percentage is. There are three cases. First, if the percentage is above a certain level (high) he would rationally prefer never to smoke. Second, if it is below a certain level (low) he would rationally prefer to smoke now and forever. Third, at intermediate levels of risk he would rationally prefer to smoke today but abstain at all later dates. In the absence of a precommitment technology, an agent who knows that he discounts hyperbolically will also know that the last preference cannot be implemented. He knows that if he finds that the risk is at an intermediate level, he will smoke today and at all later dates. Carillo and Mariotti show that if (i) the expected value of the full initial probability distribution is above high and (ii) the expected value of the truncated initial probability distribution that lies below the high percentage is closer to high than to low, it make sense not to acquire the information. If, for instance, the latter expectation is very close to high, the expected cost of ignorance (foregoing the pleasure

wedge between the initial desire and the final belief is the fact that the outcome of the search for information is, by definition, not known at the time the decision to search is made. 3. Varieties of motivation Let me begin by distinguishing wants from wishes. 6 A want is a desire that is causally efficacious or that would be causally efficacious if it took precedence over the other desires of the agent. It may be efficacious in generating behavior or (and this is my concern here) another mental state. In wishful thinking, for instance, my desire (want) for a certain state of affairs to obtain causes me to believe that it does obtain. A wish is a desire that does not have causal efficacy and would not have any even if it took precedence over the other desires of the agent. The paradigm case is the wish that I had acted differently in the past. Another important set of cases are wishes for states that are essentially byproducts to obtain. I may wish to be (or wish that I were) spontaneous, but (barring fancy counterexamples) there is nothing I can do to become spontaneous. 7 In these cases, what prevents the wish from becoming a want is a conceptual obstacle. In other cases, the obstacle is empirical and contingent. My desire for my sick child to get well may be a want if there is something I can do about it, and a mere wish if there isnt. I may wish that I believed drugs were more dangerous than I actually believe they are, viz. if (i) I want to stay away from drugs but find (ii) that my beliefs about their dangerous effects are insufficiently dissuasive and (iii) that I cannot deceive myself into adopting a belief that would dissuade me. 8 I have a reason for believing them to be very dangerous, but unless I manage to deceive myself that reason is

of smoking today) is essentially zero, whereas the expected cost of knowledge (smoking later) is non-negligible. 6 My terminology is a bit awkward, as I characterize wishful thinking as based on a want rather than on a wish. Yet the distinction I draw between wishes and wants has some basis in ordinary language. 7 See my Sour Grapes, Cambridge University Press 1983, Ch.II. 8 G. Winston, Addiction and backsliding: a theory of compulsive consumption, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 1 (1980), 295-324. In his account, however, the motivation is a causally efficacious want rather than mere wish.

not going to be causally efficacious. In fact, I may also wish that my self-deceptive capacities were greater than they are. Clearly, the reason I have for believing drugs to be highly dangerous is not the same kind of reason that I have for my actual belief, which is that they are dangerous but not highly so. The latter belief is supported by the upstream evidence I have for it; the former by the downstream consequences that (I believe) would flow from the fact of holding it.9 There is a partial analogy in the case of emotions. Even when we do not have an upstream reason for our emotions we might have downstream or instrumental reasons for being in a certain emotional state. If others believe I am angry, I might get my way; and the best way of making them believe I am angry is usually to be angry. Once again, this might amount to a mere wish. According to the theory that emotions are rationally and instrumentally chosen, it would amount to a want. 10 Motivations can be intrinsic or instrumental. A mental state might be desirable for its own sake, or (as in some of the examples just cited) as a means to a further end. In typical cases of wishful thinking, the belief has the intrinsic value of providing pleasure or at least peace of mind (e.g. reduction of cognitive dissonance). It is good to believe that the world is like one would want it to be. In some but not all cases of wishful thinking, the agent is ready use the belief as a premise for action. In other cases he is not: the belief has only what I shall call a consumption value. We need to distinguish two cases. In one case, the belief could have served as a premise for action, although it does not. A gambler may believe that he will win, and yet not spend the gains before he has earned them. Or a man may believe that there is an afterlife (and that he will be part of it) yet do all he can to prolong his life. These beliefs are perhaps more appropriately called quasi-beliefs. They may satisfy one condition for beliefhood, viz. sincere mental assent, but not another, viz. causal efficacy in generating behavior.
9 Yet note that both reasons are forward-looking in the sense given above. 10 For this view, see R, Solomon, The Passions , Indianapolis: Hackett 1993. For some arguments against it, see my Alchemies of the Mind, Cambridge University Press 1999, Ch.IV.3. 11 This behavioral criterion of belief may seem to conflict with the appeal to belief in the explanation of behavior. To explain an action in terms of my beliefs (and desires) seems circular, if the evidence for the belief comes from the action itself. It is not the only possible evidence, however. The hypothesis that someone holds a certain belief can be

The latter condition is only appropriate, however, when the belief is the kind of belief that could serve as a premise for action. Not all beliefs are of this kind. Under the influence of amour-propre 12, for instance, people may claim a spurious causal responsibility for an outcome of which they approve. 13 Yet a belief about the past, such as the self-serving belief that ones action was decisive, cannot by itself serve as the cognitive premise for action. We can make a somewhat analogous distinction with regard to the emotions. Although many emotions go together with action tendencies, not all do. Hume asserts, plausibly, that pride and humility are pure emotions in the soul, unattended with any desire, and not immediately exciting us to action. 14 Also, relief, regret, disappointment, sadness, grief and most of the aesthetic emotions do not seem to suggest any specific actions. I do not assert, however, that these emotions exist only because of their consumption value. To clarify the issues, let me cite some emotions that do arise merely because of their consumption value. Some people enjoy very much the feeling of righteous indignation, with regard to the plight of the poor or some other deplorable state. These emotions offer them an occasion for self-congratulation, but not a spur to reach for their wallet. Their emotion is sentimental, defined by the feature that the existence or continuation of the
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tested by other behavioral implications than the behavior the belief is supposed to explain. 12 See Alchemies of the Mind, Ch.II.3. 13 When Fanny Price [in Pride and Prejudice] goes to her first ball, her aunt Lady Bertram sends her maid Mrs. Chapman to help her dress, quite unnecessarily, as it turns out, because Fanny was already dressed by the time Mrs. Chapman reached her room. Later, when Fanny receives an offer of marriage from Henry Crawford, Lady Bertram sees it as all her doing: I am sure he fell in love with you at the ball. I am sure the mischief was done that evening, You did look remarkably well. Every body said so. Sir Thomas said so. And you know you had Chapman to help you dress. I am very glad I sent Chapman to you (Vol.III, Ch.II). This is an instance of backward or irrational pride. Rather than being a case of a genuine accomplishment inducing justified pride, Lady Bertrams pride is based on a spurious accomplish-ment, the belief in which is the effect rather than the cause of the emotion it supports. (Ibid., p.122-23) 14 D. Hume A Treatise of Human Nature, ed.Selby-Bigge, Oxford University Press 1960, p.367.

emotion is motivated by the satisfaction experienced in feeling the emotion. 15 The feeling of grief that many reported having or observing after the death of Princess Diana was also, I suspect, largely sentimental. In this case, we cannot claim that the absence of an action tendency is a sufficient condition for an emotion being held merely for its consumption value, since ordinary grief also lacks this feature. It is, however, a necessary condition. When an emotion arises because of its consumption value (a motivation), it does not provide a motivation to act. As we shall see in Section 6, however, other motivated emotions may also be motivating. Motivations and their operation can be conscious or unconscious. Wishes are conscious. As they have no causal effects, the question whether their operation is conscious does not arise.16 Concerning wants, we should distinguish between unconscious wants and wants of which we are conscious but of whose causal effects we are unaware. According to psychoanalytic theory, we have unconscious wants of various kinds. Although I am not sure the wants identified by that theory are well-documented, there is no doubt that there are such things as unconscious wants, such as those induced by our amour-propre. The want to have emotions which we can congratulate ourselves for having is not one of which we are aware. Much more straightforward are conscious wants that have causal efficacy in ways that we are not conscious of. This is the typical case in wishful thinking. A desire for promotion that causes me to believe that I will be promoted is hardly likely to be an unconscious one, although its operation remains (and has to remain) unconscious. 4. Varieties of motivated belief formation In motivated belief formation, a motivational state serves as the cause or part-cause of a cognitive state. This can come about in one of two ways, corresponding to two basic features of

15 M. Budd, Music and the Emotions, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1985, p.96. See also M. Tanner, Sentimentality, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society n.s. 77 (1976-77), 127-47. 16 I simplify. Even though the desire to bring about a state that is essentially a by-product cannot bring about the wished-for state, it may have other effects. Many people do try to overcome insomnia, stuttering and impotence, and these attempts have observable effects, e.g. that of exacerbating the problem.

motivations: arousal and content. 17 Just as we say that the stone broke the ice by virtue of its weight, not by its color, we may say that a motivation affects belief not by virtue of its content, but by virtue of the accompanying arousal level. Moderate physiological arousal can improve the quality of belief formation, by focusing attention and stimulating the imagination. Beyond a certain level of arousal, however, cognition deteriorates. In states of extreme hunger, stress, fear or addictive craving, it is very hard to think straight, because the arousal makes it hard to keep previous reasoning steps in mind. In scholastic aptitude tests a very strong motivation to get it right may actually cause one to get it wrong, just as a riflemans strong desire to hit the target may cause his hands to shake so that he misses. In the following I limit myself to content-related motivations. In an important group of cases, a belief is caused by the desire for a specific state of affairs to obtain. In the most frequently discussed of these cases, the desire causes the belief that this state does indeed obtain. I consider this case in the next Section. It can also happen, however, that the desire for p to obtain causes the belief that p does not obtain. 18 Othellos belief - against the evidence and against his desires - that Desdemona was unfaithful to him is a frequently cited example. On one account, the agent might have a reason for acquiring these perverse beliefs, viz. if holding them would have valuable consequences. The belief that his wife is unfaithful might, for instance, lead him to increase his vigilance and thus reduce the risk that she will actually be unfaithful. 19 Or as in an example given earlier, although I do not want drugs to be more dangerous than they actually are (since if I do not manage to abstain I do not want the effects to be too serious), I want to believe them to be more dangerous than they are (to increase the chances that I will abstain). I find these
17 A striking Swedish proverb illustrates both possibilities: Love is blind but believes itself to be invisible. Love makes blind because one is motivated to believe that the object of ones affection has no faults; it makes one believe one is invisible (i.e. that others dont notice one is in love) because the exclusive focus on the other person dims ones awareness of third parties. 18 For a survey of various accounts of this phenomenon, see A. Mele, Twisted self-deception, Philosophical Psychology 12 (1999), 117-37. 19 David Pears, Motivated Irrationality, Oxford University Press 1984, pp.42-44.

accounts unconvincing. One cannot consciously adopt a belief on the basis merely because of its downstream consequences. 20 The mechanism of belief formation would, therefore, have to be unconscious. The evidence known to me suggests, however, that the unconscious is motivated by short-term pleasure-seeking rather than by long-term planning which might induce it to adopt a painful belief now to be spared more pain later. This being said, I have no robust alternative account of counter-motivated beliefs. I shall not pursue the matter further. In another set of cases, the motivation is not for any specific belief to be true, but for some belief or other to be true. This motivation is related to what some psychologists call the desire for non-specific closure. In their terms, the need for a specific closure implies the desirability of a particular answer to a question [...], whereas the need for a nonspecific closure implies the desirability of any answer as long as it is definite. Thus a mother may desire to know that her child did well on the scholastic aptitude test (SAT) so that the may send her or him to a selective college, whereas the college admissions officer may desire simply to know how well or poorly the child did so that he or she may make the appropriate admission decision. 21 In this formulation, the admissions officer is simply motivated to acquire an accurate belief or at least a belief that is optimal given the goals of the admissions process and the expected costs and benefits of testing. There is nothing here that goes beyond the model of Fig.1. This model is also adequate when the need for closure is experimentally induced by some feature of the environment, such as loud noise that will be terminated only when the subject expresses an opinion.

20 B. Williams, Deciding to believe, in Problems of the Self, Cambridge University Press 1973. Pascals wager might seem to be a counterexample to the alleged impossibility of conscious formation of beliefs justified by their downstream consequences (see http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pascal-wager/). The wager argument works only because it includes a self-erasing component, so that at the end of the process the agent no longer believes that he originally adopted the belief for instrumental purposes. Along similar lines an agent might ask a hypnotist to inculcate a belief in him (together with a set of reasons for holding it) and to induce forgetfulness about the request itself. 21 A.W. Kruglanski and D. M. Webster, Motivated closing of the mind: seizing and freezing, Psychological Review 103 (1996), 263-83.

The same writers, however, also argue that the desire for nonspecific closure may have a non-rational component due to a psychological (rather than situation-induced) need for closure. The alternative to holding some belief or other is to abstain from having any belief at all, i.e. to profess ignorance or admit uncertainty. There is considerable evidence from a variety of sources that we find it very hard to abstain from having a belief on an issue that is before us. Human nature abhors a belief vacuum. 22 Two aspects of this abhorrence are especially notable. First, people may overi nvest in the acquisition of information. When what matters is to make some decision rather than the optimal one, it may not be rational to invest enough in information to be able to form a belief that would justify a preference for one action rather than another. Second, and more important, there is a very wide tendency to underinvest in information by jumping to conclusions. Scenarios showing that event C could be the cause of event E harden into demonstrations that C was the cause of E. The perception that one explanation is more plausible than any one of the alternatives hardens into a belief that it is more plausible than their disjunction. Such motivated cognitive failures can have important consequences. Many of this worlds abuses are engendered - or to put it more rashly, all of this worlds abuses are engendered - by our being schooled to be afraid to admit our ignorance and because we are required to accept anything which we cannot refute. 23 The desire to be like others or unlike others, i.e. to have the same opinions as others or different opinions, can also enter into the causal history of beliefs. Note first that conformism as a mechanism of belief formation must be distinguished both from conformism with regard to expressed beliefs and from relying on

22 A penetrating conceptual discussion is found in O. Neurath, Die Verirrten des Cartesius und das Auxiliarmotiv, in Gesammelte philosohische und methodologische Schriften, vol.1, Wien: Wiener Verlag 1981. There is compelling historical evidence in K. Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books 1973. For a discussion of cultural variability in the need to have strong opinions on virtually everything from the outset (Hirschman), see D. Gambetta, Claro! An easy on discursive machismo, in J. Elster (ed.), Deliberative Democracy, Cambridge University Press 1998, pp.19-43. 23 Montaigne, Essays, tr. M.A. Screech, Allen Lane: The Penguin Press 1992, p.1165.

the beliefs of others as a rational mechanism of belief formation. 24 The conformist (as I define him) is motivated to believe what others believe, not merely to say what they say. Also, his motivation is social rather than cognitive. The ways in which conformist pressure is brought to bear can be subtle and diffuse. Commenting on the fact that in the 1960s Oxford philosophers took it as a matter of course that the analytic/synthetic distinction was valid whereas Harvard philosophers took it equally for granted that it wasnt, G.A. Cohen writes that I cant believe that Harvard just happened to be a place where both its leading thinkers rejected that distinction and its graduate students, for independent reasons - merely, for example, in the independent light of reason itself - also came to reject it. And vice versa, of course, for Oxford. I believe, rather, that in each case students were especially impressed by the reasons respectively for and against believing in the distinction, because in each case the reasons came with all the added persuasiveness of personal presentation, personal relationship, and so forth. 25 Anti-conformism is closely related to conformism. Both are modes of heteronomous belief formation. Rather than considering the evidence, the agent looks over his shoulder to notice what others are believing. Also, when young people adopt extreme political opinions or experiment with forbidden drugs, it may be hard to tell whether it is to differ from their parents or to conform to their peers. 5. Pro-motivated belief formation: wishful thinking and selfdeception In ordinary language, there may not be a very clear distinction between the two varieties of pro-motivated belief formation, wishful thinking and self-deception. 26 I believe a useful distinction can be
24 On these two phenomena, see T. Kuran, Private Truths, Public Lies, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press 1995. For reasons that I do not understand, he denies the existence of garden-variety conformism of belief (see my review of his book in Acta Sociologica 39 (1996), 113-15). 25 If Youre an Egalitarian, How Come Youre so Rich?, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press 2000, p.18. 26 The OED defines wishful thinking as a belief or expectation that is influenced by ones wishes to the extent that relevant (consciously)

drawn, although it is not as hard-and-fast as I used to think. On my earlier view, wishful thinking and self-deception have in common that a desire for p be the case causes the belief that p is the case. In wishful thinking this is a simple one-step process: the wish is the father of the thought. The evidence is not so much denied as ignored. Self-deception involves four steps: first the evidence is considered; second, the appropriate belief is formed; third, this belief is rejected or suppressed because it is inconsistent with our desire; and lastly the desire causes another and more acceptable belief to be formed in its place. Hence self-deceptive beliefs are by definition irrational, given the evidence. By contrast, an agent who is subject to wishful thinking may, by accident, form the very belief that would have been justified by the evidence had he considered it. On the analysis that I shall propose here, this sharp distinction between wishful thinking and self-deception cannot be sustained. Rather, there is a continuum of varieties of pro-motivated belief formation, with pure forms of wishful thinking at one end of the spectrum and pure self-deception at the other end. I shall argue that pro-motivated belief formation is subject to costs and constraints: the prior-belief constraint and the plausible-story constraint. Under conditions of low costs and weak constraints, wishful thinking may flourish. With stronger constraints, the beliefs may still be motivated, but not fully explicable in terms of motivation. For specific cost-constraint structures, self-deception may be observed. Consider first the costs, and note that beliefs can provide several kinds of benefits. (i) To navigate in life, its by and large useful to have accurate beliefs. (ii) At the same time, beliefs may be intrinsically pleasant or unpleasant, that is, cause positive or negative emotions. If told that I have cancer, I can seek treatment, but the belief will also make me feel horrible. In Freuds language, those governed by the Reality Principle seek accurate beliefs, whereas those subject to the Pleasure Principle seek pleasant beliefs. (iii) I might unconsciously adopt a belief because it justifies an action I want to take. Suppose I am avid stamp-collector and come across a rare, expensive stamp that would be the jewel of my collection. To purchase it, I take up a loan at exorbitant rates
known facts are (subconsciously) ignored or distorted. This is very close to what philosophers would call self-deception. By contrast, the OED definition of self-deception is simply The action or fact of deceiving oneself.

in the firm belief that I shall win enough at the race track the day after tomorrow to pay it back. The same behavior might also fit into case (ii), viz. if the belief is adopted for its consumption value and then used as a premise for action. If the collector adopts the belief for its consumption value but refrains from buying the stamp, we are dealing with a quasi-belief. Wishful thinking that results in the formation of full-blown beliefs rather than mere quasi-beliefs can have costs. 27 These costs depend both on the outcome that will occur if the pro-motivated belief is false, compared to what would happen if it is true, and on the probability that it is false. It seems reasonable to assume (but see below for an objection) that the likelihood that an agent will form a pro-motivated belief depends on the costs. This assumption might seem to imply that the agent first (unconsciously) scrutinizes the evidence to see if he can afford to adopt the pro-motivated belief. That implication would, however, be vulnerable to the objection I made earlier against the ability of the unconscious to trade long-term and shortterm benefits off against each other.28 Hence if that objection is accepted and if the implication does in fact follow, the assumption would have to be rejected. I do not think the implication follows, however. Wishful thinking can be triggered merely on the basis of the known outcome-component of the costs. When there is little at stake, the agent may form a belief without considering the probability component of the costs, that is, without considering the evidence. What little means will, of course, vary across individuals. All one can say is that for a given individual and other things being equal, wishful thinking is more likely when the stakes are low. Yet the evidence is not the only thing that matters. An agent who begins smoking may form, without considering the evidence, the
27 As mentioned above, however, full-blown wishful beliefs need not create any costs or risks for the agent. Self-serving claims of causal responsibility for past outcomes do not by themselves serve as premises for action. Yet if such beliefs feed back on the inflated selfimage in which they originated, they may contribute to unrealistic beliefs about the agents ability to shape future events. Moreover, the expression of a self-serving belief is an action that may have negative consequences. A spurious claim of responsibility for a past outcome can make the agent look ridiculous and hence detract from his ability to shape future outcomes. 28 The implication would also undermine the distinction between wishful thinking and self-deception.

wishful belief that smoking is not dangerous or not dangerous for him. In doing so, however, he may be constrained by his prior beliefs about the dangers of smoking. Ziva Kunda argues that this constraint applies very generally Apparently, people are not at liberty to espouse any attitude they want to: they can do so only within the limits imposed by their prior beliefs. 29 In one study, subjects expected to participate in a history trivia game, in which the target person was to be their partner or their opponent.. After exposure to a sample of the target persons performance, in which he got a perfect score, subjects who expected the target to be their partner (and therefore probably wanted him to have a high ability) judged him as better at history than did subjects who expected him to be their opponent (and who therefore probably wanted him to have low ability). At the same time, subjects were clearly constrained by the nature of the information they received, inasmuch as even subjects expecting the target to be their opponent judged him as better than average. 30 The same experiment can be used to illustrate the plausible-story constraint. 31 The people who expected the target person to be their opponent had to tell themselves a story justifying their relatively low evaluation. If luck plays a big role in producing behavior, a strong performance is less likely to reflect ability. Accordingly, opponent-target subjects considered luck to play a larger role in producing behavior than did partner-target subjects. 32 Kunda also cites studies showing that peoples tendency to view themselves as above average is constrained by peoples ability to co nstrue traits in a self-serving manner. Thus people may all view themselves as above average in sensitivity only if they can each define sensitivity as consisting primarily of attributes on which they have high levels. In line with this reasoning [these studies] showed
29 Z. Kunda, The case for motivated reasoning, Psychological Bulletin 108 (1990), 480-98, at p.484. 30 Ibid., p.487. 31 The idea of a story is closely related to the idea of a mechanism, defined as a frequently occurring and easily recognizable causal pattern that is triggered under generally unknown conditions or with indeterminate consequences (Alchemies of the Mind, p.1). The plethora of often incompatible mechanisms makes it easier to find some story or other that will justify any belief one might want to be true. 32 Kunda, The case for motivated reasoning, p.487.

that people are more likely to see themselves as above average on ambiguous traits that are open to multiple construals than they are on unambiguous traits. 33 Kundas work is innovative and fundamental. My only objection is that she treats beliefs only as dependent variables, without asking about their impact on behavior. Many of the beliefs she discusses might be held merely for their consumption value and shielded from any impact on behavior. Except for the following provocative remark, she considers only the constraints on belief formation, not the costs: it seems possible that accuracy goals [i.e. the desire to form true beliefs], when paired with directional goals [i.e. the desire for a specific belief to be true], will often enhance rather than reduce bias. This is because the more extensive processing caused by accuracy goals may facilitate the construction of justifications for desired conclusions [i.e. a plausible story]. Thus people expecting to incur heavier costs if their desired beliefs turn out to be wrong may expend greater efforts to justify these desired beliefs. This intuition runs counter to the common assumption that strong accuracy goals will minimize the impact of directional goals. 34 Thus even the Reality Principle might turn out to be the handmaiden of the Pleasure Principle! My intuition conforms to what she calls the common assumption but, as she notes, there are no empirical studies of the question. Consider now self-deception. In everyday life people appear to deceive themselves about such things as their weight, their health, their drinking habits, their tendency to procrastinate, or the faithfulness of their spouses. In one typical scenario, they receive information suggesting that something is wrong, and then fail to take further steps to reach a more definite conclusion. Looking in the mirror, I see that Im overweight but its hard to tell by how much. By abstaining from going on the scales, I can tell myself that its probably only a few pounds that I can lose any time I want to. A woman feels a lump in her breast, but fails to make an appointment with her doctor to determine whether it is benign or malign. In such cases, self-deception is facilitated by lack of precise knowledge. The woman does not first conclude that she probably has cancer and then repress the belief. Rather, she suspects she might have cancer.
33 Ibid., p.485-6. 34 Ibid., p.487.

This case, which I shall treat as paradigmatic, is characterized by the following features. (i) The initial suspicion of cancer takes the form of a low-probability belief. (ii) It is accompanied by a firm belief that if she does in fact have cancer and does nothing about it, the outcome is almost certainly fatal. (iii) It is also accompanied by the firm belief that if she has cancer and does something about it, the outcome may nevertheless be fatal and, that even if it is not, the treatment will be very unpleasant. For specificity (although nothing turns upon this piece of pseudo-precision), let us assume that her subjective probability of dying without treatment (if she has cancer) is p and of dying with treatment is q. Hence we can define the expected value to her of being treated if she has cancer in terms of what she would be willing to pay to exchange dying with probability p for dying with probability q combined with a painful treatment. We assume that this amount is positive. (iv) We can also define the unconditional value of treatment in terms of that expected value and the probability that she has cancer (given her symptoms). (v) We assume that medical care has no financial costs. (vi) The woman does not, however, see her doctor to find out whether she has cancer. In this story, the crucial features are (i) and (iii). Because the initial belief is a low-probability one, the costs of rearranging it are small. The woman can easily focus on many stories she will have heard about harmless lumps and needless scares. Yet in the absence of feature (iii), she has no motivation to reshape her beliefs. If she knew that there was a costless and painless treatment that would be certain to cure her, she would have no motivation not to see her doctor. I submit that there is no known form of irrationality that would favor the tendency to block costless avoidance of lowprobability disasters, e.g. by turning a low subjective probability into a zero probability. Self-deception thus conceived does not involve the simul-taneous entertainment of two contradictory beliefs, one held consciously and the other unconsciously. When the initial probability assessment is replaced by another, the former disappears for good rather than being relegated to the unconscious. Many writers, however, consider this contradiction to be the central feature of self-deception. 35 The best-known experimental studies

35 For a survey, see the symposium on A.Mele, Real self-deception, Behavioral and Brain Sciences 20 (1997).

also embody this idea. 36 I am not saying there are no cases like this. If there are, my treatment does not help us understand them. I do claim, however, that there are beliefs that intuitively qualify as self-deceptive and that do not require this duality. Consider for instance the following statement: At issue in understanding the mechanics of [...] self-deception is how one knows when and how to stop thinking, without the recognition of where ones thoughts are leading. How can information be experienced as threatening if there is no contradictory belief? 37 But this is misleading. The selfdeceptive person is not (or not necessarily) like the person who hates to see cats, yet finds that to look away from them he first has to notice them. He is more like a person who sees a shadow in the dark that might be a cat, but that could easily be something else. His aversion for cats can be satisfied by (i) reinterpreting the shadow and (ii) not moving closer up to see whether it is in fact a cat. 6. Motivated motivations The issue of motivated motivations is in many respects similar to that of motivated beliefs. It subdivides in pro-motivated and counter-motivated motivations, and the former further subdivides in two varieties that bear some resemblance to, respectively, wishful thinking and self-deception. I shall not consider counter-motivated motivations (The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence) except to note that like its cognitive analogue, countermotivated beliefs, they tend to increase rather than reduce cognitive dissonance. Concerning the subdivision within promotivated motivations, the main idea, which justifies the comparison with motivated beliefs, is that in some cases a motivated motivation replaces a previous motivation whereas in other cases it does not. I shall refer to the replacement case as self-deceptive and the non-replacement case as wishful motivational change. Once again, however, the motivation which is
36 R.C. Gur and H. A. Sackeim, Self-deception: a concept in search of a phenomenon, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 37 (1979), 147-69; G. Quattrone and A. Tversky, Self-deception and the voter's illusion, in J.Elster, ed., The Multiple Self, Cambridge University Press 1986, pp.35-58. 37 H. A. Sackeim and R.C. Gur, Flavors of self-deception: ontology and epidemiology, in the symposium on Mele, Real self-deception, p.125.

replaced in self-deceptive processes does not necessarily remain at the unconscious level. 38 Earlier, I suggested an analysis of motivated beliefs in terms of costs and constraints. Motivated motivations are also subject to constraints. In addition to the plausible-story constraint and a consistency constraint (analogous to the prior-belief constraint), motivated motivations are subject to what I shall an imperfection constraint. 39 The question whether motivated motivations are costsensitive is more complex. Motivated beliefs may be cost-sensitive if they induce actions that could have undesirable outcomes in terms of the given motivations. Similarly, it would seem that motivated motivational change would be cost-sensitive if the new motivation induces actions that could have undesirable outcomes in terms of the earlier motivation. I believe this argument is valid if the motivated motivational change is conscious and intentional. Ole-Jrgen Skog and I have both argued, for instance, against the idea that an agent with a high rate of time discounting might rationally choose to pay for a pill that would reduce the rate. 40 It is not clear to me, however, whether the same argument applies to the unconscious processes that I am considering here. As I shall argue in a moment, unconscious motivated motivational change often occurs so as to allow the agent to perform the same action as he would have done prior to the change but under a description that is more consistent with his self-ideal. When the imperfection constraint is strong, however, costs might matter. To understand the mechanism of motivated motivations, let us first note that people may have second-order motivations (not to be confused with meta-preferences), which make them rank some first-order motivations higher than others. In ancient Greece, for
38 In some cases, however, it does. We have probably all met individuals who believed themselves to be motivated by righteous indignation whereas it was obvious to any observer that the real motivation was one of envy. If the behavior reflects envy, that motivation must still remain active in a repressed or unconscious form. 39 It is natural to ask whether motivated belief formation might be subject to a similar constraint. Are motivated beliefs constrained by the need not to be too obviously and too perfectly self-serving? I do not know. 40 O. J. Skog, Theorizing about patience formation: the necessity of conceptual distinctions, Economics and Philosophy, in press; J. Elster, Ulysses Unbound. Cambridge University Press 2000, pp.26-29.

instance, the most valued motive was the desire to promote the good of the polis; the second-ranked that of taking revenge on an enemy; the third-ranked that of pursuing ones self-interest; and the least valued that of envy. In many modern Western societies, the revenge motive is lower down the list. Tocqueville claimed that in the America he observed, self-interest was ranked above the public interest as a motive for behavior. 41 Given a hierarchy of motivations, those who act on a low-ranked motivation often tend to present it to themselves as a higher-ranking one. At the same time, they want, as far as possible, to perform the action which their earlier motivation suggested to them. A person may be motivated by self-interest and by a desire not to appear to himself as motivated by self-interest. For other examples, substitute envy or vanity for self-interest in the previous sentence. Consider first an example that can involve either motivated beliefs or motivated motivation: the case of envy. In the face of anothers greater achievements or possessions, I may feel an envious pang of inferiority. To alleviate it, I may come up with a story according to which the others success is due his deployment of illegal or immoral means. This story takes the sting out of envy, since I can tell myself that I, too, could have been as successful had I been willing to bend the rules. Alternatively, the story might imply that I would have been as successful had he not bent the rules. In either case, I now feel indignation rather than envy. Anti-Semitism, for instance, owes a great deal to these mechanisms. Individuals in occupations that Jews were not allowed to enter would tell themselves a story of the first kind, and feel an impersonal indignation at the sight of the greater success of Jews. Those competing with Jews in the same occupation would tell themselves a story of the second kind, and feel a more personal and virulent indignation.
41 The Americans [...] enjoy explaining almost every act of their lives on the principle of self-interest properly understood. It gives them pleasure to point out how an enlightened self-love continually leads them to help one another and disposes them freely to give part of their time and wealth for the good of the state. I think that in this way they often do themselves less than justice, for sometimes in the United States, as elsewhere, one sees people carried away by the disinterested, spontaneous impulses natural to man. But the Americans are hardly prepared to admit that they give way to emotions of this sort. They prefer to give the credit to their philosophy rather than to themselves. (Democracy in America, New York: Anchor Books 1969, p.526: my italics).

As shown in Fig.2, the revised emotional reaction is a mere byproduct of the rewriting, whose main (unconscious) purpose is to alleviate painful feelings of inferiority. Its a simple case of motivated belief formation; the agent is not motivated to get rid of his envy. In fact, we can imagine that instead of alleviating his envy by a cognitive strategy he could have used the behavioral strategy of destroying the possessions of the other, and that only practical obstacles (rather than any moral qualms) prevented him from taking the latter course. In all societies I know of, envy is viewed as a base motivation. Most people suffering from envy will feel not only what we might call the first-order pain of viewing themselves as inferior, but also the second-order pain of viewing themselves as envious. The wish not to be motivated by envy can then induce one to rewrite the story, in one of the two ways just described.

Fig.3 shows the dynamics of this case. The original motivation is replaced by another that is more acceptable. Anger, too, is subject to this mechanism. Seneca wrote about prideful individuals that those whom they have injured they also hate (quos laeserunt et oderunt). 42 Suppose I harm someone by my reckless behavior. Because my pridefulness or amour-propre prevents me from acknowledging my guilt, I come up with a reason why the other deserved to be harmed. This process is represented by the following scheme: Here, the agent is motivated to get rid of his guilt, in contrast to the process shown in Fig.3 in which the guilt or the shame motivates him to get rid of the feeling of envy. All these cases turn on cognitive rewriting. In other words, motivated motivational change occurs as the result of promotivated belief change. Moreover, the belief change occurs in order to facilitate the motivational change rather than, as in the cases discussed in the previous Section, to satisfy a given
42 On Anger, II.xxiii.

motivation. These motivated belief changes can take any of the forms discussed in the previous section, depending on the costs and constraints. Motivated motivational changes are, therefore, doubly constrained and cost-sensitive. They are constrained and cost-sensitive in themselves (see below), and they rest on beliefs which are also constrained and cost-sensitive. As noted, motivation may be wishful as well as self-deceptive. First, let us distinguish wishful beliefs about ones motivations from wishful motivations proper. Sometimes, people have to infer their motivations from their behavior. They may have (genuinely) forgotten why they did something, and later come up with an explanation that satisfies their need for self-esteem. It has also been suggested that the brain is a system of modules that have only limited access to each other, so that one module may come up with a self-serving interpretation of behavior generated by another module. 43 Because people know that society encourages altruistic behavior, their language modules may contrive altruistic explanations for behaviors that were in fact prompted by selfinterest. 44 These are after-the-fact motivated beliefs about what motivated behavior, not before-the-fact motivated motivational changes. Wishful motivations proper are illustrated by self-serving conceptions of fairness, as studied in experiments where subjects were assigned the role either of plaintiff or of defendant in a tort case and asked to negotiate a settlement. They were also asked to predict the award of the judge and to assess what they consider a fair out-of-court settlement for the plaintiff. They found that plaintiffs assessed higher fair-settlement amounts than defendants, and that pairs of subjects who reached more similar predictions and assessments were more likely to settle than those who reached very different assessments. The first finding is clear evidence of a self-serving bias in conceptions of fairness. The
43 R. Frank, Passion within Reason, New York: Norton 1988, p.209. 44 Also, motivations may be wishful if they take the form of (mere) wishes rather than wants. Suppose an issue comes up, such as the preservation of rare species of insects, which (i) does not affect me personally, about which (ii) I have no prior preferences, and on which (iii) I am unable to exercise any influence. I may then form a wish that they be preserved, because I want to appear to myself as motivated by environmental concerns. I might even form the wish when condition (i) is not satisfied. As long as I am unable to act on the motivation, I can satisfy my self-esteem at no cost to my self-interest.

second finding shows that we are dealing not with a mere wish for fairness, since the conceptions of fairness actually shaped behavior. Their desire to view themselves as motivated by fairness rather than self-interest also made them less willing to compromise. 45 The making of close decisions can illustrate self-deceptive as well as wishful motivations. Because of the lack of tolerance for ambiguity, people often find it painful to make close decisions. They worry before the fact whether they might make the wrong decision, and after the fact whether they did make the wrong decision. One response to this predicament is to invest an irrationally large amount of resources in information to be able to see one alternative as clearly superior. Here, the value criteria are given; what is modified by the investment is only the belief about which option best satisfies the criteria. But one can also get rid of the tension by shaping the criteria themselves. Thus suppose Im buying a car and hesitates between two models that differ in a number of respects - speed, comfort, gasoline consumption, design, etc. Because each model is superior to the other in some respect that I value, I find it hard to make a decision. When I finally choose one model, the post-choice tension may be reduced by attaching greater value to the criteria on which the model I bought performs better. If its the faster model, I attach more importance to speed than I did before the purchase, etc. As this requires one value or motivation to be replaced by another, it is a form of selfdeceptive motivation. But I can also let the criteria be shaped by the pre-choice need for a clear-cut decision. If I do not have firm prior tradeoffs among the various criteria, their relative importance can be determined so that one option emerges as decisively superior. 46 This is wishful rather than self-deceptive motivation.
45 The second finding also raises the question whether the overall effect of self-serving biases may work against the interest of the parties. Although the lower rate of settlement suggests that fairness motives might be detrimental to self-interest, this effect has to be weighed against the tendency for subjects with strong fairness motivations to get better settlements when they settle. 46 Whereas people usually have robust ideas about what they prefer other things being equal, their ideas about what they prefer all things considered are often very fragile and vulnerable to manipulation. For a given degree of efficiency, a fair arrangement is preferred over an unfair one, and for given degree of fairness an efficient one is preferred to an inefficient one, but the tradeoff between fairness and efficiency is not robust. Its not that it is difficult to ascertain the tradeoff: there may

Motivated motivations, like motivated beliefs, are subject to constraints. A variant of the fairness experiments discussed earlier show that consistency serves as a constraint on self-serving biases. Here the subjects had to make their assessments of fairness before they knew whether they were going to take the role of the plaintiff or the defendant in the negotiation process. There were four times as many disagreements when bargainers knew their roles initially than when they did not know their roles. The idea of a consis-tency constraint (analogous to the prior-belief constraint) makes sense of this result: once the bargainers have decided behind the veil of ignorance what would be a fair settle-ment, they are stuck with that assessment because it is difficult to make opportunistic adjustments later when they find our where their interest lies. The same need for self-esteem that causes us to justify self-interested behavior by impartial considerations in the first place may also prevent us from changing our conception of impartiality when it no longer works in our favor. More conjecturally, motivated motivations and beliefs may be subject to an imperfection constraint. A perfect coincidence between self-interest and an impartial argument would often be too transparently opportunistic. To be credible to oneself or to others, the impartial argument has to deviate somewhat from the policy that, if adopted, would promote ones interest maximally. It should not deviate too much, of course, because then it might not promote ones interest at all. The optimal policy, therefore, has to strike a balance between interest and the appearance of disinterestedness. Although there is plenty of evidence that this constraint operates when one has to justify ones behavior to others 47, there is no evidence - only speculation - that it also constrains what one can justify to oneself. As noted earlier, the imperfection constraint might block motivated motivational change if the required deviation from optimality involves unacceptably high costs. This observation is doubly speculative, however, and should be taken only as a point of departure for further reflection. Finally, there are plausible-story constraints. To bring his beliefs or motivations in line with his interest, the agent must have at his disposal a plausible causal story or a plausible conception of
be nothing to be ascertained (no fact of the matter). Similarly, within a large range of combinations people may not have any clear ideas about the trade-off between speed and gasoline consumption. 47 See Alchemies of the Mind, Ch.V.3.

impartiality. 48 Its often easy to find a causal story. The amorphous nature of the idea of fairness makes it easy to find a conception of fairness that matches my self-interest. Both unskilled workers arguing for equal wages and skilled workers arguing for wage differentials can and do support their claims by arguments from fairness. Or consider donations to charity. If others give much, I may adopt a utilitarian theory of charity that would justify small donations on my part. If others give little, I may adopt a reciprocity theory of charity, which would also justify small donations. This being said, some stories are too implausible. When, in a Norwegian wage bargaining case from 1990, ambulance drivers cited bank functionaries as a natural reference group for wage compa-risons, they clearly didnt believe what they were saying. The story constraint can make a difference. In a given situation, a given motivation may be satisfied either by belief change or by motivational change. There is evidence, for instance, both that likely events are seen as more desirable and that desirable events are perceived as more likely. In a state of dissonance in which the least likely event is seen as the most desirable, consonance may be achieved, therefore, by adjusting either the belief or the desire. The costs and constraints associated with the adjustments will explain why one or the other occurs. In some cases, the disastrous potential of belief change will exclude that outcome. In other cases, it will be excluded by the strength of prior beliefs. In still other cases, the consistency constraint may block opportunistic motivational adjustments. In some cases, finally, the costs and constraints of either form of adjustment may prevent dissonance-reduction. Again, there are large individual variations. Tocqueville claimed, for instance, that unluckily I have never been able to illuminate my mind with such peculiar and contrived lights, or to persuade myself so easily that my advantage and the general weal conformed. 49

48 I limit myself to impartial motivations, but the same is true of other cases. The man who wants to believe that he really loves the richest woman in town to whom he has just proposed marriage, must be able to find some traits in her that would make his love appear credible to himself. 49 A de Tocqueville, Recollections: The French Revolution of 1848, New Brunswick: Transaction Books 1990, p.84.