From Academic Kids

For other meanings of motive see motive (algebraic geometry) and (alternate spelling of) motif (music).

Motive is a term that turns up both in the popular psychology of literature and cinema, and as term of art in law.

Motive (or motif) in literature refers to the recurrent presence of certain situations, elements or settings that are in some way important to the story. For example, if an axe is mentioned for many times from the beginning (as in Juhani Aho's Juha), it can be assumed that the axe will be used in one point. Motives are not restricted to literature. Hans von Wolzogen coined the term leitmotiv (guiding motive) to describe Richard Wagner's use of a recurring musical phrase to reinforce the emotional impact in his operas

In law, especially criminal law, a motive is the cause that moves people and induce a certain action. Motive in itself is seldom an element of any given crime; however, the legal system typically allows motive to be proven in order to make plausible the accused's reasons for committing a crime, at least when those motives may be obscure or hard to identify with.

The law technically distinguishes between motive and intent. "Intent" in criminal law is synonymous with mens rea, which means no more than the specific mental purpose to perform a deed that is forbidden by a criminal statute, or the reckless disregard of whether the law will be violated. "Motive" describes instead the reasons in the accused's background and station in life that are supposed to have induced the crime.

Motive is particularly important in prosecutions for homicide. First, murder is so drastic a crime that most people recoil from the thought of being able to do it; proof of motive explains why the accused did so desperate an act.

Moreover, most common law jurisdictions have statutes that provide for degrees of homicide, based in part on the accused's mental state. The lesser offence of voluntary manslaughter, for example, traditionally required that the accused knowingly and voluntarily kill the victim (as in murder); in addition, it must be shown that the killing took place in the "sudden heat of passion," an excess of rage or anger coming from a contemporary provocation, which clouded the accused mind. Homicides motivated by such factors are a lesser offense than murder "in cold blood."

he:מוטיב nl:Motief (literatuur)


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