Motivational Facts, Legitimacy, and the Justification of Political Ideals

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Should facts about motivation play a role in the justification of political ideals? Many theorists argue that political ideals should be tailored to the limitations of human nature—‘taking people as they are’—while others maintain that facts about motivation should be excluded. This article offers a critical intervention in this debate: the important question is not so much whether people can motivate themselves, or whether they are capable of being motivated, but what social mechanisms would be required to motivate them, and whether these mechanisms are legitimate. Reframing the question of motivation as a political question of legitimacy, I argue that if people could only be motivated to act through illegitimate use of power, the ideal in question cannot be fully justified.

Original languageEnglish
JournalRes Publica
StateAccepted/In press - 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I would like to thank my PhD supervisors, Richard Bellamy and Cécile Laborde, as well as my examiners, David Miller and Avia Pasternak, for their comments and guidance on the doctoral research from which this article originates. A previous iteration of this paper was presented at the ‘Facts and Norms’ conference, University of Copenhagen, August 2013, where I benefited from the comments of David Estlund, Pablo Gilabert, and Anabelle Lever, as well as at the ECPR General Conference in Prague, September 2016. A special thanks also to Gabriele Badano, Brian Carey, Shai Gertler, Roni Hirsch, Robert Jubb, Steven Klein, Attila Mraz, Andrei Poama, Enzo Rossi, and Kai Spiekerman for their written comments at different stages. Funding for some of the research period in which the article was written was provided by the UCL Overseas Trust and the Anglo-Israel Association Kenneth Lindsay Scholarship.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).


  • Feasibility
  • Legitimacy
  • Methodology of political theory
  • Motivation
  • Normative constraints
  • Political realism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Law


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