Tuesday 24 October 2023

Everybody judges people by inferred motivations (and in light of their own)

I try to judge people by their motivations. But - of course! - we must infer motivations; and this inference is influenced by our own motivation. 

So if we are motivated to find fault: fault will be found; and vice versa if we are attracted to someone for any reason, we this may distort our inferences concerning her or his motivations. 

Thus inference is not what people call "an exact science" - but then again, what is? (Certainly Not science...). 

Nonetheless, everything depends upon our inferences, and inferences cannot be avoided - so, we ought to take them seriously; and part of that is to acknowledge fully and explicitly, that our most basic and necessary assumptions concerning life, people, ourselves - are dependent on inferences.  

And of these inferences some of the most important concern motivation. We cannot really evaluate validity or goodness without making inferences about motivation. 

This is because motivation is the key to understanding - the motivations we attribute, will shape our understanding - to such a degree that the meaning of any given act may be opposite if one motivation is assumed, than if another is assumed.

The insight is relevant to life, obviously; for example we need to make inferences concerning our family and friends, the people we love, the people with whom we work... 

And inferences the people we 'encounter' through the mass media and via official channels. To understand the views of someone (or some institution) cited in the mass media; we make inferences about the motivations of that person cited; and we ought also to make inferences about the medium itself - the journalist who 'researched' and wrote the story, the editors who passed it, the PR and advertisers who decided to give it prominence...

In reading this post and this blog, you need to make - and have already made - inferences concerning my motivations in writing it. 

Inferring is vital and unavoidable and we necessarily make our most important life-decisions on the basis of inferences;  yet inference is inexact and errors are possible; and there is no conceivable way in which errors can always be avoided. 

So far as I can tell; there is only one way of improving our inferences; which is to be aware of as many of them as possible; and alert to significant counter-evidence that we maybe got them wrong.

Then, if we are convinced by the counter-evidence (and the inferred motivations of those who provided it!), we need to be prepared to revise our previous inferences of motivation. 

Note: Examples might clarify. 

I am willing to put up with a lot of contrary ideas from someone who I regard as well motivated: Philip K Dick is an example. I suppose I disagree with him pretty fundamentally on many of the most important matters on which he expresses an opinion - such as the fundamental nature of Christianity. Nonetheless; I am sure he was well motivated, so I enjoy reading and re-reading his work. 

Opposite examples are when someone who I believe to be wrongly-motivated is ignored by me; despite expressing views with which I strongly agree. Example would be: anyone strongly-featured approvingly or given high-level exposure of any kind in the mass media; or anyone in a leadership position of any large/ prestigious/ wealthy/ influential Western institution. 


cecil1 said...

If you cannot understand why someone did something, look at the consequeces and infer motivation.

Jordan Peterson

Bruce Charlton said...

@c - We do not, *in fact*, infer motivations from consequences - because, if you think about it - it does not work, and could not work (remember, we are talking about babies and young children - the developing Man - as well as adults).

Indeed, it is very important to be able to recognize that the one who loves us (our father, for instance) is making us miserable here and now; while the one offering sweets and toys (or sex and drugs) has evil motivation.

In other words; it is clearer to think of inferred motivation as primary - from which an understanding of the world follows.

As conscious adults, we should become conscious of our our inferred motivations; and consider their validity - but this cannot be determined from empirical information (of which there is an 'infinite amount', yet always incomplete, and no clear time frame).

In other words, inferring motivation is a *metaphysical* act - prior-to, deeper-than observations, or 'evidence' - and should be taken with absolute seriousness as a primary manifestation of our relationship with the world.