Beyond Altruism: Identity-Construction as Moral Motive in Political Explanation



This article explores conceptual issues pertaining to the role of moral motivation in political explanation. Employing data drawn from long interview with political activists from across the spectrum of American politics, I criticize both rational actor models and so-called “dual” motivational theories, that focus on altruism as the primary moral motive in politics, in contrast to the narrow focus on a certain conception of self-interest. Against both of these approaches, I offer an identity-construction approach to moral motives in politics. This model focuses on the complex interweaving of self and moral motives, and in particular focuses on the concerns political activists have for what kind of person they are and what kind of life they are living. These types of concerns are both moral and self-regarding, and therefore defy the dichotomy between self- and other-regarding at the heart of both rational actor and “dual” motivation accounts of moral motives.