Front Page Titles (by Subject) The History of Motivation - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1982, vol. 5, No. 1
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The History of Motivation - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1982, vol. 5, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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The History of Motivation
“The History of the Concept of Motivation.” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 17 (January 1981): 48–53.
Thirty years ago, a prime article of faith for psychological science was that all behavior is motivated. Today, discussions concerning the exact meaning of that statement have led some psychologists to wonder whether behavior may be partly or even entirely unmotivated. To Prof. Cofer, this pendulum movement characterizes the general history of the concept of motivation. His article traces the development of this concept from Hobbes to current cognitive formulations.
In his system, Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) proposed that we choose what will give us pleasure and avoid what will give us pain. This mechanism for explaining approach and avoidance was rooted in incipient movements that he called “endeavors,” what we would call associations. Motivation, in the form of the hedonic or pleasure principle, thus, entered early into a deterministic account of conduct, and it together with association has remained, in some form, a critical feature of theories of motivation and learning.
The hedonic principle was used to deal with mental habits. Drive concepts, on the other hand, had their origins in biology, rather than in philosophy. They were rooted in the notion of the reflex and the related idea of instincts. Originating in Descartes' Traité de l'Homme (1662), the notion of the reflex response placed the organism under external stimulus control. The idea that all behavior is elicited by external stimulation is a concept central to the tropism, as described by Jacques Loeb. Reflex and tropistic notions underlie John B. Watson's significant statement of the goals of psychology: given a response to know its stimulus; given a stimulus to know its response.
Accounts of behavior in terms of reflexes and tropisms (Descartes, Jacques Loeb, John B. Watson) ran into difficulties of two kinds. First of all, neither animals nor people respond invariably to repetitions of the same stimulus in the same way. In addition to variability, the problem of spontaneity also arose. People and animals move about even when there seem to be no reflexive coordinations involved.
These difficulties gave rise to two separate theories to account for them: Robert Woodworth's concepts of consummatory vs. preparatory drive behavior and Sigmund Freud's theories concerning the accumulation and discharge of psychic energy. Since they form part of the associationistic and hedonic tradition, both schemas reflect an essentially passive view of the human being.
Nonetheless, in the last two decades, much of psychology seems to be turning toward a greater emphasis on cognitive processes and a more active view of human motivation. Cognitive theory has reintroduced consciousness into psychological discussion, as well as the notion of an active agent who directs his activities, devises strategies to carry them out, and who, in general, thinks. In introducing the idea of plans, Miller, Galanter, and Pribram have pointed to value and evaluation as essential to deciding which plan to execute or the choice to continue or to discontinue executing a plan.
Cognitive theory tends to imply rationality and its motivational terms have a rather “cool” connotation. Prof. Cofer wonders where, in cognitive theory, are the strong urges and the “hot” emotions that have been central to thinking about motivation for so long. Cofer does not know the answer to his question but believes it must be answered if the pendulum cycle between rationality and irrationality in motivation theory is to be stopped. Freud's great achievement lies in his uncovering of the irrational side of the human organism. Cofer suggests that the cognitive theorist may once again be faced with the question, “why does the rational human ever behave irrationally?”