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Understanding Human Motivation: What Makes People Tick

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What makes people tick? Why do people do what they do? I set out to write a book on human motivation and found that those questions could not be satisfactorily answered by themselves. Homo sapiens is the most advanced, the most complex, most adaptable, and most intelligent of all biological species, but is still a biological species. One must therefore expect people to display instinctive patterns of behavior like those which ensure the continuing survival of all subhuman species. But we do not feel as if our behavior is instinctive, mechanical, switched on by circumstances outside of us; we feel, instead, that we are choosing what to do. So I am immediately involved with the apparent irreconcilability of determinism and free will.

I have also to be concerned with the nature of consciousness. We sometimes feel angry or afraid or excited and those feelings color what we do, even to the point of sometimes doing things we did not intend. Do other people feel emotions in the same way as I do? and how are those internal feelings related to what I see them do? Boredom, for example, we know as a subjective malaise, but that feeling has much in common with the frustration of other, more obvious, motivations. So we have, on the one hand, what people say they feel and, on the other, what they are actually seen to do, such as injecting drugs. We need to trace a relationship between these two accounts.

There is also the notion of responsibility. Except for those who are certified insane, each of us is responsible at law for our actions and, more immediately, we have moral obligations to those around us, especially our close families. So why is it that we do not routinely cheat and defraud and rob each other? Indeed, there are a few people who do just that! That is a profound problem and the pronouncements of religious leaders and philosophers do not provide the answer. The standards of behavior which obtain in our society and the way in which those standards are enforced are of great importance to what people do, and do not do, and I cannot but be concerned with the psychological foundations of ethical behavior. An enquiry into human motivation must therefore involve itself with many derivative questions and becomes, like it or not, a study of the entire human condition.
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