Motivation Psychology Ruthless Criticism

Motivation Psychology
The quest for laws which determine the human will

By now the nonsense about “motivation” has a grip on more or less everybody, right up to basketball players in the NBA: If a player is interviewed after a bad game, he comes up with the cop-out: “I just wasn’t motivated today!” as an excuse. In this manner, the well-paid sports idiot offers an interpretation of his playing failure which shows a psychological education: it is located neither in his will nor in his skill (nor in the fact that his opponent might have simply played better or that the ball was quite round), but in the fact that, alas, he wasn’t able to will. “Not motivated” - no self-criticism of the will is meant here, for example something like: he was not completely into it, had little desire and did not get himself together, he exerted himself only halfheartedly. Rather, our basketball player wants to apologize: He doubles his will into one which he would have wanted and into a second - real - will, which as an internal mechanism decides only on whether the generally willing will No. 1 activates itself or not. In other words, the man regards his own will as something which he prides himself on, while at the same time he regards it as a dependent variable, as passive: It depends on whether he allows himself to be motivated (= budged).

The mistakes of the doctrine of motivation


With the category of “motivation,” psychology certainly wants to have invented not only a linguistic monument for the legitimation of lackluster performances in sports and other areas, but to have presented a theory; namely, one which explains a person’s every action, precisely the theory of “human behavior.” The intellectual father of motivation psychology, Heckhausen, summarizes the relevant results of his discipline in this way:

“It must be something inside the persons, which impels them, pushes or drives them, which allows them to act in such a way and not in a different way under the given circumstances.” (1980)

Question: what moves the psychologist to the apt information that something must be inside the person which impels him to his different actions? Answer: his stupid leading question. It reads namely: Why does a person act in this manner and not differently? The very moment a motivation psychologist is confronted with a specific action, he is already surprised at its assertiveness and indulges himself in the untenable theoretical maneuver of thinking that the person could just as well have refrained from what he does, or could also have done something completely different: Certainly, he could – only: what does this nonsensical thought have to do with clarifying what a person does and why he does it? If an educational psychologist blabbers on, it is nevertheless hardly enlightening to point out that he holds glib lectures on motivation and does not go bowling, which would also be an option. Or: If a decent father beats his wife and kids, should one then really think that the behavior of “caressing” would have been just as possible and be surprised that it is not “emitted” under the “given circumstances”? What is the motivation psychologist driving at if he asks this question? Obviously, for him it is not about clarifying purposes and intentions, i.e. the reasons for the activities of his contemporaries, but rather to discover a general explanatory principle of actions.

“What are the real motives of human action and (!) animal behavior?”

asks motivation psychology, distrustful towards the intentions that actuate actions, and announces its program: It wants to detect behavioral determinants which function separately from each specific act, but produce each specific act. Of all things, the statement that every action is like this and not different (which, by the way, is only noteworthy if one has imagined beforehand that people's actions are completely arbitrary), and therefore are determined, provides its argument to disregard the contents of an action and to stick only to the fact of its alleged determination. From the absence of its constructed, allegedly equally conceivable alternative actions, motivation psychology concludes that in the “given” case a mechanism must have been at work. Which is certainly a false conclusion, but nevertheless one which shows how this science wants to regard “human action.”


Motivation psychology therefore holds internal forces responsible for different actions. Or, put the other way around: specific activities count for it exclusively as demonstrations of those forces which impel, push or pull people. One must have already defined a specific action as an expression of an internal force to be able to maintain that it is the result of the same. Conversely, force is determined to thereby produce exactly the expressions for which it is purported to be the cause.

It is a completely empty thought process which explains nothing: Either: the action which is supposed to be explained is simply expressed twice: as an action and as a force (drive, motive, inclination, desire, interest, etc. - which for the psychologist are all the same) which leads to the action. Why does a person beat his wife and kids? Because he has a drive to beat them! A blatant tautology. Or: a general readiness for action, an aimless energy as it were, is given as a reason for a specific action. But then it is not clear why this unspecific driving force of actions leads to playing basketball at one moment, to praying at another, and then to educational psychology.

The catchphrase of an empty energy which is said to explain every action, explains precisely, therefore, nothing. It cancels itself out.


Motivation psychology notices that its idea of a universal internal driving force, thus the fiction of a will which does not will and is ready for anything, never adduces its purported necessity of “human behavior.” They do not hold this however for a disproof of their endeavors to demonstrate human action as a necessary product of driving forces. On the contrary: “Now more than ever” reads its motto, and it proceeds with the search for conditions, internal and external, which are supposed to give motivation, thus the empty readiness for action, purpose and direction. Then confusing charts with innumerable double-arrows are drawn and they read, for example, like this:

“The conditional clause of motivation psychology: Motivation is a functional variable, it is concerned with conditions in persons and situations for a specific behavior.”

It is noticeable that “motivation,” into which the psychologist has translated the will of a “person,” is absolutely nothing at all. The “force” which is said to allegedly “move” everything is here the “functional variable” of “factors” which themselves create this force. Further noticeable is the fact that the same subject occurs twice: on the one hand it acts, while it, for example, “evaluates,” “interprets” or “structures” “the situation”; on the other hand the subject is the work of itself insofar as it comes across “conditions,” i.e. internal triggers of its own action, a precondition which it examines, changes where necessary or establishes in the first place: Under the viewpoint of the enabling of actions, it is the same as a subdivision of the “person,” provoking conditions, thus for example how the “drive” is only there to elicit “behavior.”

In substance, motivation psychology with such a model has extended its intellectual circle only by an additional “factor”: When do the “internal factors” yield a “specific behavior”? When the “situation” is able to “trigger” those “factors.” When is the situation considered as a “triggering factor” for a “specific behavior”? When it encounters “internal factors” which in the first place convert the situation into a “trigger”!

For motivation psychology, the spoils are certainly substantial: It doesn’t need to commit itself to a single one of the rules which it has created. Neither the “person” as “cognition” or “organism” nor the “situation” with its possible “stimulations” should be singularly taken to deliver a valid behavioral mechanism. But taken together and put in a picture with boxes, circles and arrows, the model delivers the possibility to represent human action as a result of a system of rules. And the thus presented system only has the content of being systematic: As one sees in the forward and backward arrows, nothing more at all is supposed to be distinguished. “Situation,” “person” and “action” (even that suddenly counts as a factor which is to be taken into consideration as a factor in the “actualization” of “action”!) in every case have an effect on each other and are at the same time caused by each other in every case - this is the whole assertion which motivation psychology has to offer in its “sophisticated” department. It is pointless to ask how different specific actions can be explained. This is not what this science is about. It wants to prove nothing other than the possibility of its own point of view: that the “behavior” of the person can be thought of as dependent variables of internal and external conditions.


All efforts of this science are dedicated to the goal of this methodical proof. And accordingly tedious are the books and lectures on motivation psychology: Countless models are constructed and presented more or less proudly; supposed mathematical connections are constructed and maintained, while they are - partially - rejected, audacious conclusions by analogy are drawn and playfully developed - and lo and behold: it works, one can demonstrate human action as a result of mutual functional dependence. Proof: motivation psychology proceeds this way!