Motives and Reasons

The individual’s will, intentions, desires, motives, reasons… may be interpreted as causes for action, considered to be effects or consequences of such an “inner” causation. Conversely, actions are evaluated and interpreted according to their motives and reasons are seen as their causes. The consistency requirement imposes this causal structure on human motivation, S. Consistency.

1. Argumentation from the existence of reasons for action

Two basic Aristotelian topics transpose the law of causality in human conduct, with reasons and motives substituted for causes. When the cause exists, then the effect follows. That is to say that when one party has a motive or a reason to do something, as soon as he or she has the opportunity, he or she will do it. In the wording of the topic n° 20 of the Rhetoric:

To consider inducements and deterrents, and the motives people have for doing or avoiding the action in question. (Rhet., II, 23, 20; RR, p. 373)

The basic topos is:

You wished it, so you strived for it!
Who wants the end wants the means.

This topos is also implemented by the pathetic argument. Here, it supports a charge:

You had a motive, you talked about it, the opportunity came up, and you did it!

Or a defense:

L1:     — You did it!
L2:      — I had no reason to do it, I even had reasons not to do it.

Likewise, in topic n°24, cause means “reason to do”:

Another topic is derived from the cause. If the cause exists, the effect exists; if the cause does not exist, the effect does not exist. […] For example, Leodamas […] (id., II, 23, 24; F. p. 319).

2. Arguments on the “real reasons”

The following argument schemes substitute a covert motivation for a public good reason, as a true cause can be substituted for a false one, S. Interpretation:

— Topic n° 15 substitutes a covert, underhanded, interested motive for a noble, publicly claimed reason. It is used to charge or to refute the opponent.

— Topic n° 23 rejects the malevolent interpretation given for an act by giving an acceptable, respectable reason for the alleged guilty motive. It is used to clear somebody from a charge.

— Topic n° 19 changes the benevolent interpretation given to an act for a malevolent one.

2.1 Publicly displayed good reasons and real private ugly intentions

According to topic n° 15 of Aristotle’s Rhetoric:

The things people approve of openly are not those which they approve of secretly: openly, their chief praise is given to justice and nobleness, but in their heart they prefer their own advantage. {…] This is the most effective of the forms of argument that contradict common opinion. (Rhet. II, 23, 15; RR, p. 369)

The argument highlights a (possible) private, hidden, poor motive for refuting the public, honorable, good reason given as justification for an action:

S1:   — Supporting this Charity, I fight for a noble cause!
S2:    — You fight especially for your own advertising.

S1:    — We wage war to restore democracy and human rights in Syldavia
S2:    — You wage war to seize their oil.

In the second dialogue, S1 justifies war, S2 does not oppose war, he or she can simply introduce a realpolitik argument, which could be openly put forward in another situation.

2.2 A commendable motive substituted for a guilty one

This argument corresponds to topic n° 23, “useful for men who have been really or seemingly slandered”:

To show why the facts are not as supposed; pointing out that there is a reason for the false impression given. (Rhet., II, 23, 23; RR p. 375)

embodied in the enthymeme:

She hugs him because he’s her son, not because he is her lover.

Topic n° 23 is quite the reverse of topic n° 19; it helps to exculpate by substituting an honorable motive for the offending one:

I struck him to save him from drowning, not to hurt him.

The action is reinterpreted according to a re-evaluating strategy: “you must congratulate me and not blame me.” S. sStasis (e); Interpretation; Orientation.

2.3 The poisoned chalice

The wording of topic n° 19, is rather puzzling, “some possible motive for an event or state of things is the real one”; it matches the enthymemes:

A gift was given in order to cause pain by its withdrawal.

Gods give to many great prosperity, / Not out of good will towards them, but to make / Their ruin more conspicuous. (Rhet., II, 23, 19; XX p. 371)

The topic operates a dramatic negative reinterpretation of an act which was assessed positively.

She seduced not by love but by hatred / greed / to make him suffer by leaving him later

This is the principle of the “Dinner Game”, “they invited me not as a friend, but to make fun of me”. This technique for narrowing the cognitive and affective discrepancy, particularly effective for destroying a sense of gratitude, S. Emotion.