Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Reason and Motive - what is the difference?

Reason and motive are often used interchangeably, but they are two distinct things.

A murderer driven by jealousy and rage has a motive: To cause harm to what he conceives as the source of his pain: his cheating wife. He is driven by his emotions to take an irrational action which he does not validate with logic (though he could exercise self-control and do that). His motive is jealousy, his reason? none.

If I take an umbrella on a sunny day my reason may be that the weather forecast said it would rain later in the day. In this case my decision is conscious and based on facts I have considered. My motive? the automatic distant emotion arising from the thought of being wet and having to run around if I get stuck in the rain without an umbrella. Both the reason and the motive are: not to get wet, but the reason is the conscious thought and the motive is the accompanying emotion.

If I rob a bank and force everyone to stay on the floor my reason is that if they are not on the floor they would be in a better position to resists me or to activate the alarm. The action of robbing a bank may be irrational, but the immediate decision to force people to stay on the floor is grounded in a conscious decision guided by facts. The reason to force people to stay on the floor, therefore, is to prevent resistance.

If I heard a speech I like a lot and feel an urge to stand up and applaud - I have a motive: A desire to express appreciation of something and to repay the wonderful individual who gave the speech. I may not be aware of why I feel an urge to stand up and applaud - but doing so has a motive. If, additionally, I am aware of why I want to applaud and the benefit it may bring me - then I stand up and act on it - it also becomes my reason for the action.

In other words: motive is referring to the emotional propelling force for an action while reason is referring to the conscious thinking process and conscious goal behind an action.

Every action has a motive, even if one is not aware of that motive; we cannot act without an emotion motivating an action; but not all actions have a reason. When someone is taking an action based on conscious thinking, the reason and the motive for it become two sides of the same coin (which is incidentally why "reason" and "motive" are often used interchangeably).
The question: "why did you do it?" is one, but its answer can be one of three: A reason (with a motive), a motive without a reason, or something which is entirely beyond a man's control (like an act of sheer insanity, or involuntary physical movement; neither of which have a reason nor a motive).

Let me break it down a bit more to make it clear: A reason necessarily comes with a motive and they are two sides of the same coin. How so? a conscious value judgement (deciding something is good for me or bad for me) is always coupled with an emotion. The emotion then serves as a motivation. For example: Why do I pursue a productive activity such as writing? The reason is a conscious decision to make money while satisfying a psychological need of self-esteem. I know that doing a productive activity is good for my life and I consciously decide to do it for this reason. The motivation is the emotion resulting from the subconscious recognition that productive activity has a positive effect on my life.
If my subconscious judgment, however, is not in line with my conscious thoughts then I would not be motivated to take the action. It is only to the extent that the subconscious is "persuaded" of the validity of the conscious value judgement that one can be motivated to take the action, and then the reason and the motive become one (or rather, two sides of the same thing).

Some may rationalize an action to try to provide a false reason for an action which actually had a different motive, in which case, the reason is false and the motive is real. For example: Say a guy is too shy to make a pass at a girl he likes. One day he decides to go to her house to talk. He tells the girl, and tries to convince himself that he went there to tell her that some class has been canceled, to save her time, but in fact that was not the reason he went there at all: He goes there to try to establish a relationship. In this case the so called "reason" is a rationalization. The motive is the real one and the action, in fact, has no reason, since the guy never made a conscious decision to make a pass at the girl.
If he did, in fact, tell himself in the privacy of his own mind that he is going there to try to start a relationship then it becomes his reason for going there, even if he hides it from others.

The reason for an action is not something that is always kept conscious. As I am writing this post, for example, I do not consciously think, at every moment, of the goal of writing it. The recognition of the goal stays in the background, as a thought and emotion. This does not mean that the action only has a motive but not a reason, just as one can know that 2+2=4 ALL the time, even though one rarely thinks about it. Knowing something consciously does not mean one constantly has to think about it. But for an action to have a reason the goal must be identified prior to the action. In many cases the reason is so well automatized one rarely stops to think about it. Why do you take your wallet when you go out? The reason is clear: to be able to buy whatever is necessary to function and enjoy the day (like a bus ticket, food coffee etc'). The reason is so clear one rarely stops to think of this consciously. Instead one just makes sure to take one's wallet before going out. This action does have a reason (and not just a motive) even though one does not stop to conscious reconsider the goal every single time.
It is enough that one is aware of the goal (of the value judgement) to make it a reason.

A motive can be good or bad, based on right ideas or wrong ideas. One can be motivated by an unrecognized desire for justice or by a desire to destroy out of envy. In either case, it is always better for one to be aware of the motive for an action and make a conscious decision about it, to the best of one's ability.

My goals in writing this blog

Writing this blog is not an easy task, but it is very satisfying.

My philosophy of writing about anything is to make it ASAP: As simple as possible. True understanding is the ability to break a complex subject into its simple elements. To connect an abstract idea to concrete cases in reality, and to bring the light-full feeling of clarity to every subject I write about.

To achieve this I demand of myself the strictest use of logic. I look at all my experiences, what they have in common and draw my conclusions based on them. Then I take those conclusions and check against all cases again, trying to see if there are some cases which suggest that the conclusions are incorrect or missing something. This process is called "integration" of knowledge (as some of your know).

Then, it is not enough to reach conclusions. I am passionate about presenting them in a way that makes it easy to understand them. I put myself in the shoes of someone with complete ignorance of the subject (usually, myself before I ever thought of those ideas) and aim my writing to explain it to that individual in the right order, while keeping in mind that the value the article holds needs to be communicated implicitly as well. I never expect a reader to take me on faith regarding the value of what I am about to write about: I am always aware that such value needs to be communicated right from the start of a piece.
It is not a gimmick to attract audience - as some writers see it, but an essential part of writing properly.

I love writing this blog; I love the times of brain wrecking effort that goes into understanding new subjects, I love thinking of good ways to break down and present a subject.
I love writing things that can help people change their life for the better, and indeed many of the posts are aimed at challenging misconceptions and psychological problems that undercut happiness.
I get tremendous satisfaction knowing something I write has helped someone become more motivated to improve their lives or has given them something meaningful to think about.

I write my blog for all these reasons; for the selfish satisfaction I get from gaining knowledge and doing a good job providing it to others.

However, these are not ends in themselves: The satisfaction I get from writing is not enough to motivate me to write this blog, nor to spend the hours of mental effort to produce high quality articles. I write to eventually make money. This is why I have a donation option. I would therefore appreciate if you donate even a small amount, just to show your support and appreciation. Consider it as if you were hiring me to write more: it is exactly what it is.

This blog is not about sharing fun experiences from my daily life. It is not political activism. It is about improving people's emotional quality of life.
This requires abstract knowledge - discovering principles of psychology central to life.
Because of that, writing the blog is not a piece of cake. It is not something I can write effortlessly as sharing some daily experience with a friend. Writing a single piece takes days and hours, hours of sitting at the computer, thinking of every sentence and days (or even months) of thinking out the problem in my head. It is like writing a scientific journal.

I have plenty of topics I would like to write about, but, on a personal note, making not a single dime out of writing everything I have so far, despite the countless hours I have put into writing, I have lost the motivation to do the final editing, which is why you are seeing less content.

I therefore ask my readers to donate to keep the blog running and to get new content, if you find that the blog has the potential to add value to your life.

Thank you for being my reader and for any future contribution you might give.