Internalism not only represents a false belief.
Internalism is one of those pernicious false beliefs that gets people killed - or brings them to suffer other harms. In this, it is like the belief that vaccines cause autism, or the belief that we can dump unlimited amounts of CO2 and CH4 into the atmosphere and not change the climate.
Caroline West defines "the most popular version of internalism" as:
[I]t is a conceptual truth about morality that an agent who judges that she morally ought to φ will, insofar as she is rational, be prima facie motivated to φ. (in "Business as Usual? The Error Theory, Internalism, and the Function of Morality," in A World Without Values: Essays on John Mackie's Moral Error Theory, (Richard Joyce and Simon Kirchin, eds.)Why is this a pernicious false belief?
Because, if it is the case that "X is wrong" implies "I am motivated not to do X", then it follows that if "I am motivated to do X" then "X is not wrong."
It effectively create a morality in which whatever a person is motivated to do is morally right, and the only things that are wrong are things the agent actually does not want to do.
Granted, internalism actually talks about what a person would be motivated to do if they were rational. However, this will not eliminate the problem. It is rational for the rapist to kill his victim. It is rational for the person who can take money or merchanise without being caught to take it. It is rational for a person who can get away with a beneficial lie or successfully bully a rival to lie or successfully bully a rival. One can draw no necessary connection between what it is rational for a person to do and what is right.
West admits that internalism is in conflict with a set of three other beliefs (all of which, I would be willing to argue, are true).
(1) Cognitivism, the view that moral claims express beliefs that can be true or false.NOTE: I usually present the third proposition as, "There is no rationality of desires-as-ends. There is only a rationality of desires-as-means. This is because what we desire as a means is a combination of what we desire as an end plus beliefs, and beliefs can be evaluated rationally.
(2) The Humean theory of motivation, the thesis that beliefs and desires are distinct existences, and that the motivational states are desires.
(3) The Humean theory of normative reason, which holds that reason alone mandates no revision to a subject's existing desire set, except instrumentally.
On this account, if moral claims are beliefs, and only desires motivate, and there is no rationality of desires-as-ends, then there is a disconnect between moral beliefs and motivation.
However, what is more important is that there is a disconnect between moral truth and motivation.
Internalists try to get around this problem by arguing that there is a set of beliefs called "judgments" (which includes moral beliefs) that are motivating and can be evaluated for rationality.
In fact, no such entities exist. This is as much a fiction as postulating angels to explain what keeps the planets in motion.
Here is where that perniciousness comes in again. If the belief that something is morally obligatory provides motivation to do it, then the fact that one does not feel motivated suggests that it is not obligatory. We can determine our moral obligations by looking at what motivates us and, by good fortune, the only things that morality prohibits us from doing are those things we are not motivated to do anyway.
Contrast this with the view that that a person does not determine right from wrong by looking at what one is motivated to do or to refrain from doing. What determines right from wrong is, in some important way, what helps or harms others. Because it is the case that a person can want to do things harmful to others, and want not to do things that would help others, looking to one's own motivation is a very poor way to determine what is right and wrong.
And, yet, a lot of people do this. They look first at what they want to do or what they do not want to do. They then rationalize what they want to do or not doing what they do not want to do. That is, they look for some argument, however unsound it may be, that seems to support the conclusion that what they want to do is right and what they are not morally required to do that which they do not want to do.
This points to where the internalist's "moral judgment" defense fails. The internalist has to argue that there is something about "harm to others" that it is necessarily irrational for an agent to cause and rational for an agent to prevent. Now, let's look at the lion or any other predator or parasite and try to find a way to argue that predators and parasites are necessarily irrational. Just as evolution creates predators and parasites in nature, it has created predatory and parasitical attitudes in us.
Internalism is not only a false belief and a pernicious belief, it is also very, very common. The consequence is a lot of people end up getting hurt, and some of them get killed (or worse).
In her article, West will go on to argue that the various functions of morality (she will identify five) all presuppose some sort of internalism. All of these involve various ways in which moral claims are supposed to alter behavior in some way.
In a follow-up post, I will look at her argument and say, "No, these functions do not suggest any type of internalism. These functions suggest the use of rewards such as praise and punishments such as condemnation to mold malleable desires."
Morality is not concerned with what motivates the rational agent. Morality is concerned with what would motivate the rational agent with good desires and lacked bad desires. "Good desires" are those that people generally have reason to promote, while "bad desires" are those that people generally have reason to inhibit.
This will get us away from this pernicious, false doctrine that a person can determine their obligations and prohibitions by looking at their own motivations.