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Volume 1

Expanded Contents


1: Introduction [and Summary]
2: Physical Field Theories
3: Psychological Field Theories
4: Social Field Theories
5: The Field of Power
6: Field Theories in Summary
7: Perception and Reality
8: Actuality versus Potentiality
9: Manifests versus Latents
10: Latent Functions
11: Perception, Space, and Field
12: Cognitive Dissonance
13:Behavior, Personality, Situation, and Expectations
14: The Behavioral Equation: Behavior, Situation, and Expectations
15: Situation, Expectations, and Triggers
16: Person-Perception and Distance
17: The Behavioral Occasion
18: Social Behavior
20: Energy and Attitudes in the Psychological Field
21: Motivation and the Superordinate Goal
22: What About Other Motivations ?
23: The Dynamic Field and Social Behavior
24: The Sociocultural Spaces
25: The Biophysical Spaces
26: Intentions and The Intentional Field
27: A Point of View
28: The Self As a Power
29: The Will As a Power
30: Determinism and Free Will
31: Alternative Perspectives on Freedom of the Will
32: A Humanism Between Materialism and Idealism
33: Atomism-Mechanism versus Organicism
34: Between Absolutism and Relationism
35: Humanity and Nature

Other Volumes

Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix
Vol. 3: Conflict In Perspective
Vol. 4: War, Power, Peace
Vol. 5: The Just Peace

Other Related Work

The Conflict Helix: Principles and Practices...


Chapter 19

Motivational Explanation*

By R.J. Rummel

The impetus from minus to plus never ends. The urge from below to above never ceases: whatever premises all our philosophers and psychologists dream of--self-preservation, pleasure principle, equalization--all these are but vague representations, attempts to express the great upward drive.
----Göethe, letter to Lavater

What drives us, what motivates us to behave as we do and how does this motivation work, have been of utmost importance to humankind throughout our history. The ancient Greeks saw us as driven by our spirit (such as courage) and our base desires, with reason mediating between. The Hindus saw us as motivated by self-preservation, self-expression, sex, gregariousness, and an impulse to knowledge. Medieval scholastics thought we were driven by faith, reason, and our low appetites. With the dethronement of revelation in the West and emphasis on the data of experience, we became viewed as either a machine reacting to external stimuli or a being motivated at the most basic level by the desire to avoid pain and seek pleasure.

More relevant to my concern with conflict and war, various assumptions about our basic motivation underlie most attempts to grapple with these problems. For example, we are assumed to be driven by a lust for (Morgenthau) or will to (Nietzsche) power, by an aggressive need (Lorenz), by an integrative tendency (Koestler), by a striving upward (Adler), by a death instinct (Freud), by a need for security (Ardrey), by pugnacity (McDougall), by fear (Cooley), by desire for pleasure (Hobbes), and so on.

Rather than survey the literature on motivation1 my approach will be first to deal with the how of motivation, and then weave into this the what--our drives, urges, needs, and so on.

Assuming that we are motivated toward something, whether power, sex, or food, how can our motivations be explained within the tetradic structure (situation, personality, expectations, and behavioral dispositions) previously described. One possible explanation involves Freud's pleasure principle.

According to Freud, our basic urges result from the basic units--the neurons--of the nervous system divesting themselves of energy, which then builds up for the organism. A certain amount of energy can be stored, of course. But beyond a certain threshold, the build-up becomes intolerable and must be discharged. This excess energy constitutes pain or discomfort and drives us toward behavior that will discharge it, the discharge itself constituting pleasure. The mechanism is then: (build up of energy)(urge)(behavior aiming to discharge energy, which equals pleasure)(satisfaction of urge). Avoiding pain (psychic energy overload) and seeking pleasure (discharge) are then the chief motivations of organisms, including ourselves.

If we understand tension to be the accumulation of energy from an urge, drive, or need, such as hunger, sex, or fear, then Freud's pleasure principle incorporates what is today an influential explanation, covering such diverse approaches to motivation as those of Lewin, (Edward) Tolman, Lorenz, and Cattell, as well as those of behaviorists working on frustration-aggression ' Motivation constitutes the increase of psychic tension which then must be relieved through some kind of related or substitute behavior. This explanation has been called the hydraulic model of motivation, because pressure at the motivational end gets transmitted to pressure at the behavioral end of the psychological process, which may be relieved through appropriate behavior or unconscious mechanisms (dreams, displacement). The metaphor is a poor one, however, because the model does not allow for an integrated self, manipulating such tensions in accord with higher goals or interests. Without searching for other, more suitable physical metaphors in the electromagnetic domain, I will simply call this explanation of motivations as the build up of tension that must be relieved, the tension-release model.

Introspection and experience with others seem consistent with the tension-release model. We can often feel the build up of an urge commanding gratification and co-opting our attention, such as the need for sleep, food, sex, or escape (as from a snake, spider, or whatever the object of your favorite phobia might be). Whether the underlying physical process constitutes an energy overload or not, we do feel an increasing tension, often distracting and sometimes dictatorial.

As applicable as the tension-release model appears to be, it does not constitute a general explanation of motivation. People fully absorbed in their work, as soldiers in combat, research scientists, or students preparing for a final examination often are, may go for extended periods without food or sleep, without even thinking about either one. True, they may be relieving their tensions through their work, but then we must account for religious recluses, nuns, and monks, who somehow manage to live peaceful, contemplative lives without apparently relieving many of the tensions they presumably have. And then there are political leaders like Gandhi who fasted quietly to near death, who was sexually ascetic, and yet who was a most gentle and peaceful person in his behavior and attitudes, with no signs of massive dammed up tensions. Of course, the tension-release model can be saved as a general explanation by assuming all kinds of psychic mechanisms that redirect or absorb the tension, but at the cost of the model's attractive simplicity and credibility.

Behaviorism offers another type of model for explaining motivation. Clark Hull, for example, believed that our behavior is adaptive and ultimately aimed at preserving the species, and that the means by which we satisfy any particular drive state is learned through response-contingent reinforcement. In general, we develops an internal need, say hunger, which drives a variety of behaviors. If a particular behavior reduces the drive, then it is reinforced and is more likely to occur the next time the drive develops. In this way, through trial and error and contingent reinforcement, drive and specific behaviors eventually become locked together. Moreover, whereas the tension-release model assumes the drive comes wholly from within, this behavioral approach assumes that external stimuli are a major source of drives, that is, that our motivations are often learned responses to environmental stimuli.

This behavioral model has all the faults of the behavioral paradigm in psychology. It succeeds in explaining neither how we can directly move to drive reduction behavior without a history of trial and error, how we can ignore many insistent drives in the light of some ideal (God, communism), nor how we can persist in behavior which, if anything, increases drive strength (refusing to divulge information under torture, fasting, or going to the stake in the service of a belief). Nonetheless, both the tension-release and behavioral models are attractive in easily fitting our introspective and personal experience with basic drives like hunger and sex. However, it requires considerable ingenuity to generalize these models to cover such apparent needs as gregariousness, security, self-assertion, and so on.

Developed in part over dissatisfaction with the behavioral and especially the Freudian pleasure principle, a third model is the existential view of motivation. Existentialists, especially Martin Heidegger, Martin Buber and Jean-Paul Sartre, and Ludwig Binswanger, who pioneered existential psychoanalysis, question the whole philosophical framework of models like the above.2 These are based on physical analogies in which we are a material object moved about by objective causal relationships. The style of analysis is no different from that applied to a lump of clay or a rat. Existentialists object to this view, believing that rather than an objective causal chain or the objective relation between physical variables (like drive state and frequency of reinforcement), the key notion is that of meaning.

What is important in motivation is the way a person as an individual sees and confronts the world, the meaning the world has for him. The explanation of motivation then lies not in past reinforcement or in past energy overload, but in our present involvement in the world and our view of that involvement.

The basic connection between drives, urges, needs, and behavior is a person's intentionality. We are in-the-world; we are not separate from it. The world, or for that matter, mind cannot be understood independent of its intentions, of its consciousness which comprises its intentionality. Because in part we are intentional, we are not reducible to our drives or desires. To us, the present and future are always the realm of possibilities for action, and within this realm we make our own world, our own essence. Thus, human existence precedes essence. The explanation of motivation, therefore, lies not in physical processes but in the part that drives and so forth play in our particular consciousness, the meaning within our intentions. Let me call this philosophy of motivation the existential view.3

There is one more perspective on motivation, one which stands between those of the Freudians and existentialists. As a practicing physician in 1902, Alfred Adler was invited to join Freud's psychoanalytic circle. He soon became a prominent member of the group, and, as seems almost inevitable among creative thinkers, he and Freud developed irreconcilable theoretical differences. In 1911, Adler resigned from the group to eventually found his own Society for Free Psychology, the core meaning of Adler's distinctive ideas.4

Adler disagreed with Freudian theory in two ways, and both placed him some distance from Freud and in the existential direction. First, Adler could not accept Freud's physical, objective approach to psychical processes. Rather, he believed we must be interpreted in terms of our own subjective view of the world and as a unity, that is, as a more or less integrated personality.5 His second major disagreement was over the nature of our drives. Freud saw Eros, or the love instinct, as the basic life force bound up in the libido. The aim of Eros is ultimately to establish greater unities in the world and to preserve them, and includes such instincts as the preservation of the species and self-preservation.6 Adler saw instead that we are motivated by a superordinate dynamic force, a basic goal which directed our behavior and brought together and disciplined our drives, such as those Freud subsumed under Eros. At first, this primary goal for Adler was a superordinate aggressive drive, which he later reinterpreted as masculine protest. Subsequently, after his break with Freud, this became the striving for perfection.

Whatever this primary goal, as a self-ideal it gives direction and purpose to human striving. It integrates our activities and channels our basic drives as part of a relational system. It is future oriented, directing the individual toward some future goal, and not based on past occurrences, tensions, or childhood experiences. Although self-created and perhaps not fully conscious, the superordinate goal is a final cause, a key to comprehending individual behavior and problems.7 All psychological processes are self-consistent regarding the goal, and objective conditions are only relevant to these processes as they help to establish the probabilities (but not certainties) of individual behavior.

Now this superordinate goal, which Adler called the goal of forward movement, is based on a subjective future which nonetheless exists in our present mind. It is this present frame of mind based on this future goal that explains motivation. In this sense, the explanation is teleological, and I will call Adler's motivational theory a teleological model.

Thecontent of a superordinate goal cannot be considered apart from the social structure (another difference from Freud, who considered society as sort of a residual of our inner dynamics) and our social interest. The latter is innate and underlies our socialization and our ability to respond to social situations. Adler then believed that maladjustment stems from imperfect socialization and the inferiority feelings thereby engendered, which on the goal level would be characterized by an exaggerated striving for personal superiority and dominance. The solution to this problem would be to increase a person's social interest and change his focus of striving from wholly personal superiority to a perfection which would include a concern for the welfare of others. Even in the normal person, however, the striving for perfection has at its basis a feeling of inferiority. This, according to Adler, is the spring to action, the source of our movement toward our future goal.

What is this perfection we are striving for? It is the enhancement of self-esteem, the success of overcoming, the actualization of self. This striving is universal for humankind (although each individual gives it his unique stamp) and carries within it the goal of an ideal community. The Utopians, the ideologists, the spiritual leaders, the movers of the world--all manifest this drive to perfection for themselves and humanity.

The striving for self-esteem bears some similarity to Nietzsche's will to power, but for Adler the search for personal superiority or power is only one way to seek perfection. The major goal is overcoming and not power: there is no innate drive for power.

There are innate physiological drives, such as hunger and sex, however. But these have no direction themselves and can only be transformed into behavior through our integrated totality. They will remain subordinate to striving unless, of course, there is great deprivation such as of food. Even then the drive might be subordinated to the superordinate goal, as in cramming for an examination, military combat, or communist interrogation.

For Adler, each of us is unique and has our own schema of apperception, a way of looking at the world and ourselves and of interpreting experience. Through this we live in a subjective world, and our style of life is the behavioral manifestation of this world. This comprises our goal and our unique way of moving toward it, an individual law of movement involving a ruling passion and a standard operating procedure for achieving it. It is the knowledge of this law of movement which enables the correct prediction of individual behavior.8

Finally, for Adler the self is the individual's creative power. It is our integration of our drives and the forces acting upon him. It is that which gives direction to mental life, which uses as tools physiological processes and environmental forces to build up its own style of life.

In summary, Adler explains motivation as an integrated, consistent organization of psychological processes in the service of achieving the future enhancement of self-esteem or personal perfection. Individual drives find their expression only through this consistent, goal-directed system. We will see later that there is much empirical evidence for Adler's position, and it is very close to the perspective I will adopt.

Besides the teleological model just described, there are at least three other motivational models or views explaining how drives, urges, and so forth lead to behavior. One is the tension-release model, in which drives lead to tension overload, which we then relieve through some appropriate behavior. The behavioral model, however, sees innate drives as leading to random behavior which, if successful in satisfying the drive, becomes connected to it. Moreover, external stimuli themselves are seen as the source--as the motivations--of behavior. Third, the existential view believes we are the intentional creator of our own world, a total consciousness which controls and directs our drives.

Clearly, the tension-release and behavioral models are encased in a nineteenth-century materialistic world view and in a Newtonian natural science epistemology. We are no different from other organisms, all of which are fundamentally no different from the material objects of natural science. On the other hand, the existential and teleological perspectives see us as unique, creative, and purposive, to be understood on our own grounds in terms of our own goals. Epistemologically, the natural sciences offer little of value for this understanding; we must be understood through our own inner knowledge, disciplined by human-centered observation and experience.

From these differences, it is clear that a choice of motivational model or view presupposes an epistemology and ontology. We should not lightly adopt a way of explaining motivated behavior, as apparently do the overwhelming majority of American social scientists, for to do so is to build into one's study conclusions about humankind with wide-ranging implications. The tension-release and behavioral models assume our behavior is largely determined by cause and effect. Then it follows that we have little control over our present and future, that we are the product of our biology and environment, and that we can assume little responsibility for our actions. Thus, in the United States where both the tension-release and behavioral models flourish among social scientists and lay devotees, there is the pervasive belief that delinquency, crime, and drugs are the product of an environment of poverty, urban stresses, and governmental negligence; that individuals themselves are not morally responsible for their acts; that criminal prosecution of the poor is wrong.

Enough. The point is to clarify these differences so that the reader, not to speak of myself, will know where we are heading. For the manner in which I develop and explain our motivation within the tetradic structure of personality, situation, expectations, and behavioral dispositions is to point us toward particular ethical conclusions about conflict and war, and especially war's inevitability. To adopt either the tension-release or behavioral models is to presuppose from within their perspectives that, as long as humans exist,9 war as a form of violence between independent political groups (whether international war, civil war, or guerilla war) is inevitable. To adopt the existential view or teleological model, however, is to leave open the possibility that we may consciously alter our future, that we may, in the pursuit of our goals, determine a style of life, a creative pattern of existence that does not include warfare.

Obviously, an extended philosophical discussion of these two choices is required, and will be undertaken in the next part as I discuss determinism versus free will. For the moment, I am simply alerting the reader to the implication of the models, for henceforth the heart of my explanation will be a mixture of the teleological model and the existential view, with the tension-release model playing a subordinate role. 


* Scanned from Chapter 19 in R.J. Rummel, The Dynamic Psychological Field, 1975. For full reference to the book and the list of its contents in hypertext, click book. Typographical errors have been corrected, clarifications added, and style updated.

1. Among the best general treatments are: J. W. Atkinson, An Introduction to Motivation (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1964); K. B. Madsen, Theories of Motivation (Cleveland: Howard Allen, 1961); W. McDougall, An Introduction to Social Psychology (rev. ed.; Boston: J. W. Luce, 1926); A. H. Maslow, Motivation and Personality (New York: Harper and Bros., 1954).

2. Ludwig Binswanger, "Existential Analysis and Psychotherapy," in Freida Fromm-Reichmann and J. L. Moreno (eds.), Progress in Psychotherapy (New York: Grime, 1956); J. Weigert "Existentialism in Its Relation to Psychotherapy," Psychiatry 12 (1949).

3. Behaviorists and many of those holding to the tension-release model would be comfortable categorizing their views as "models," in accord with good natural science tradition (where a model can be understood as a convenient, instrumental way of structuring phenomena, without any necessary commitment to the truth of the model's structure). However, existentialists do not consider their beliefs to constitute a model, but rather a recognition of the human-centered nature of our reality and the central role of human consciousness and meaning.

4. An excellent collection and systematic comparison of Adler's ideas is given in Heinz and Rowena R. Ansbacher (eds.), The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler (New York: Harper Torchbook, 1964). Adler's later works in English are Social Interest: A Challenge to Mankind (London: Faber & Faber, 1938); What Life Should Mean to You (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1931); The Pattern of Life (New York: Rinehart, 1930); The Education of Children (New York: Greenberg, 1930).

5. In his approach to psychic process, Adler could be labeled a field theorist, as the Ansbachers (op. cit., pp. 12-13, 22) have called him.

6. Thanatos, the death instinct (or aggressive nature) was not clearly formulated by Freud until long after his break with Adler. Freud may have been influenced in part by Adler's early argument for a dominant aggressive drive.

7. This is not the place to go deeply into Adler's epistemology. It might be said, however, that Adler considered himself an idealistic positivist in his later years and was much influenced in this by the "as-if" philosophy of Hans Vaihinger (The Philosophy of As-If. A System of the Theoretical, Practical and Religious Fictions of Mankind, New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1925) who believed our views of reality to be only expedient errors that we pragmatically adjust through life. Adler viewed his superordinate goal at first as this kind of fiction, as a "working hypothesis." However in his later years he began to feet that this goal did describe psychological reality.

8. I am struck by the similarity of Adler's analysis to strategic foreign policy analysis. To know another nation, to predict its immediate behavior, is to know its primary goal and its "operational code."

9. This qualification is necessary, for one might treat such models as simply phenomenological, representing a Kantian reality beneath which free will still operates. See Chapter 30. However, this constitutes a perspective different from that within which these models are imbedded, a perspective assuming a reality of natural laws and uniformity governing things-in-themselves.

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