Motivational Archetypes

(This is a companion post to the new blog post.)

Which motivational archetype do you most identify with (if you were forced to pick just one, which you are in this poll – if it’s a dead tie then randomize):

  • Philosopher – better understand the universe, live the life of the mind
  • Hedonist – go on adventures, have wild romances
  • Caregiver – have meaningful relationships, raise children
  • Creator – make beautiful things, make enduring things
  • Politician – lead and influence people, improve the world

0 voters

Results from my Facebook poll plus Beeminder’s internal chat:

Philosophers **************** (16)
Hedonists *** (3)
Caregivers ******* (7)
Creators ********** (10)
Politicians *** (3)

OK, this is my ranking with weighting as a %:
Ph - 30
Ca - 25
Cr - 15
He - 10
Po - 10

Peace Y’all - Mangoman


I got curious when @dreev asked this, and asked Beeminder folks what they think mine is. The conclusion was that an argument could be made for anything but hedonist (though I did make an argument for some hedonist elements in myself)… With the ultimate conclusion basically being philosopher as the most obvious and appropriate. Which is what I would have said, so that was interesting!


Wow, so interesting.

It’s a little challenging to pull numbers out of this air, but mine might be something like this:

Ph 20%
He 5%
Ca 15%
Cr 35%
Po 25%

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Mine is roughly

Ca 35%
Ph 25%
Cr 20%
Po/He 10% each


Hmmm, weighting as a percentage! Okay…

  • philosopher 55%
  • creator 25%
  • caregiver 10%
  • politician 7%
  • hedonist 3%

I think caregiver would’ve been larger for me ten years ago, and creator too. I think it’s only in the last 5 years or so that learning has become my major motivation. Or at least, it’s become obvious since then. Maybe 7 years… Or really, it’s not that it has changed; I’ve always been happier and healthier when learning, and everything else can make me happier but does not directly impact my wellbeing in the same way – and anyway, I’ll have realised that after the end of my second degree and around when I began my third.

Which makes me wonder – is anyone else figuring this out based on what makes them healthier rather than strictly what makes them happier? For me I link my health directly to having a sense of fulfilment in life, for which learning is absolutely necessary for me…


I think that Hedonist and Politician respondents are artificially lowered because there’s a negative association with the labels chosen for them. If we were to re-cast it with more positive spin I think you’d get more responses admitting to He and Po.

How is this spin?

Truth seeker
Happiness seeker
People seeker
Beauty seeker
and Effective Altruist


If that was a label I’d rate it higher, but it doesn’t have the connotations of leadership (for me, anyway) that the Politician descriptor has! The leadership part is why I rate it so low for myself.


Great point, @shanaqui! Bee and I wanted to find the most light-side version of these because they’re meant to be the values we endorse. So I think we should at least flip the order for the canonical Politician examples:

Politician – improve the world, lead and influence people

Arguably something like earn-to-give is altruism without leadership but if your true motivation is improving the world you really should be putting in some work to influence people to follow your example.

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I’m more like… “does altruism, makes sure it is visible, talks to people about it*, and believes it is important to do so… but is uninterested in putting in the serious time to create a platform large enough to really move many people”. Not sure where that fits in!

*E.g. I think it is fairly common knowledge [in my friend group and twitter followers] that I “tithe” (non-religiously, it’s just a good word for it) 10% of my earnings minimum to effective charities each month. Actually, the percentage has probably gone up now I earn more and each penny is less critical, but 10% is still my minimum. Anyway, beside the point.


I think I could argue myself into or out of high percentages on several of these categories:

  • Philosopher — better understand the universe, live the life of the mind

I love learning, so I should rate this high, right? But this description sounds like someone who loves learning without regard to its application to the world, and I love learning because I sense that what I learn can be applied to the world, so perhaps I’m really low on this.

  • Hedonist — go on adventures, have wild romances

I’m prone to akratic & compulsive behavior, so maybe I should rate this highly. But I also prioritize squashing those akratic behaviors. And I’m prone to skipping on needed relaxation and healthy pleasure seeking. So I’m low in it?

  • Caregiver — have meaningful relationships, raise children

I care deeply about certain people, so I could make a case for being high in this. But I have difficulty prioritizing my social connections over work and productivity. So, low?

The other two, Creator and Politician, I’m pretty clearly high in.


This is great! I love this set of choices.

I think I’m 60% He, 40% Ph.

Seems like you could answer in a few different ways:

  • A. what triggers your impulses (short term motivation)
  • B. what you truly want and value (that is, what you would beemind - long term motivation)
  • C. what you actually do (if you beemind, hopefully this is more towards B than A!)

As worded, it’s pretty vague what this question is asking.

I would expect someone who takes care of bunnies to have a higher caregiver score - that’s a lot of work! Same goes for anyone who wants/has kids - that’s a huge part of your life you’re giving up. I suppose one could have kids for Creator or Politician motives.

This makes me think of eudaimonia, the highest human good. This would be going towards option B above.

I think limiting only to what makes you healthier or what makes you happier will give only a partial sense of your values.

Yeah, makes sense - though I am sad that there’s a negative association with Hedonist.

These labels sound like a different set of choices - what you look for rather than what motivates you to do the looking.

As described (adventures and romances) hedonist is more like excitement/thrill/stimulation/intensity seeker.

I don’t see “caregiver” and “people seeker” as the same - a people seeker values human relationships in general, whereas a caregiver is more about wanting to help others or take on a specific role in relationships.

I also see a difference between “creator” and “beauty seeker” - seeking beauty to appreciate is very different than wanting to express yourself through creation (and there can be many motives for wanting to create - wanting to change/improve the world vs the act and art of creation itself).

I definitely agree that “politician” should be “altruist” though. This value is more about improving the world than leadership, which is only one way to do it and not necessarily the most effective.

Why? Seems to me that for most people, their time is likely better spent earning money to donate to organizations that specialize in convincing people to earn-to-give, rather than doing it yourself.

Persuading people that earn-to-give is the most effective way to improve the world is its own very difficult and specialized task, and it goes against most people’s intuitions (and Caregiver values). I suspect that a lot of people who don’t follow earn-to-give but volunteer, work at nonprofits, etc., are Caregivers rather than Altruists.

Ok - so why do you want to apply it to the world? If you aren’t motivated by the desire to understand, I’d score you low on this value.

This goes to the A/B/C distinction above. If you were to beemind these things, what would you beemind?


It’s certainly more than 10% of the time I spend on things! Though the ‘burden’ is shared between me and my wife, who is about 90% caregiver in inclination. :wink: For me, if these specific bunnies died or were taken from me, I would be sad, but if I had never had a pet, I wouldn’t feel the lack. I don’t want children (though you could argue for a caregiving element in the fact that my wife does want children, and I will happily disarrange my life and priorities to help her have that), and my time as a carer was universally wearying, thankless and dispiriting.


This raises the interesting question of how to plan life with a partner who has different percentages than you do. With kids, for instance, it’s difficult to compromise if one person wants them and one person doesn’t - you either have them or you don’t.

I wonder if @dreev and @bee sat down and wrote down their percentages, averaged them out, and paid each other to adjust the percentages to come up with a Pareto-optimal Reeves-Soule family percentage plan (PORSFPP).

Edit: wait - it couldn’t actually be Pareto-optimal, I don’t think.


@zedmango, brilliant comments! To answer the main meta question, from a Beeminder-y perspective I’m thinking in terms of most endorsed values – what you truly want. I’ve actually just today started answering my TagTime pings with one or more of {Ph, He, Ca, Cr, Po} to log which motivations I’m fulfilling during my waking hours. I’m not sure if that will be sustainable and if I’ll end up with good data.

As for recasting the archetypes in terms of what they’re seeking, I would actually say that someone who seeks to experience / consume beauty is a Hedonist. Which, yeah, makes “beauty seeker” as a synonym for Creator confusing.

I’m ready to concede this point too. I do want to keep the Politician archetype focused on altruism – seeking greater overall human welfare (and animal welfare, to whatever extent you choose to prioritize that compared to human welfare). So maybe the “lead and influence” part is purely instrumental and not an endorsed value.

Another example arguing against all this, or highlighting the dangers of categorization (see link at the bottom of the blog post): Doing math is pretty protypically Philosopher, but also maybe Creator in that you’re creating things of beauty. But then if I’m just doing math puzzles for fun maybe I’m just consuming beauty and my real motivation is Hedonist.


What about the following verb-based choices:

what truly motivates me most, not for any other reason but as an end in itself, is the chance…

  • to understand [Un]
  • to create [Cr]
  • to experience [Ex]
  • to enjoy [En]
  • to connect with others [Co]
  • to take care of others [Ta]
  • to lead, control, or exercise power [Le]
  • to improve the world [Im]

I’m not sure whether to combine Ex and En…

I love this and would be very interested in seeing how it turns out!


Nice refinement of the taxonomy! I don’t see the need to split Hedonist into those motivated to Experience and those motivated to Enjoy. Not quibbling with the distinction – I’d just call them subtypes of Hedonist.

Distinguishing connecting with others from taking care of others feels more fundamental but I think I’m ok lumping them and calling them subtypes of Caregiver, even though that term is a little off for someone motivated to connect rather than caregive.

And I was already typing before seeing your refined taxonomy that I’m now thinking that being admired and respected is actually a distinct type of motivation. But ethically I feel like it’s only ok to pursue that and achieve that due to improving the world in some way. So maybe I’m ok with keeping “lead and influence people” and “improve the world” lumped together under Politician. Taxonomies are hard!

PS: Funny comment from the Facebook thread where someone proposed a sixth archetype:

The taxonomer – I find joy in designating broad, ambiguous, arbitrary categories into which I can sort people with the same implicit promise of social insight afforded by Myers Briggs and Astrology.

My defense of all this is the hope that it’s a helpful framework for setting goals and striving towards one’s ideal self.


Totally agree although “consume” has a negative connotation I’d want to avoid.

Yeah, math nicely combines enjoyment, understanding, and creating to such a degree that it’s difficult to disentangle them.

Yeah, agreed. Any of these could be instrumental values or terminal values. Power can certainly be an end in itself for some, which is why I separated it out above.

Then wouldn’t you want them separate so you could distinguish the ethical from the unethical?

I’m not sure I’d say the drive for power is itself unethical, any more than any of the other drives are - unchecked, any of the drives could become Unfriendly like the paperclipper. It’s more how you go about gaining power and how you use it.

Maybe it’s my own bias, but I have a hard time seeing creating or caregiving as terminal values - they seem pretty instrumental to me. People create because they enjoy the act of creating or the things created, because they want to improve the world, or perhaps to gain understanding.

But there seem to be a lot of Creators on here, so I’d love to hear from them.

Same with caregiving - seems like it’s often done for power or to improve the world, or out of a sense of duty or doing the right thing (Hufflepuff). Is it really its own intrisic motivation?

The taxonomer example makes me wonder if anything could in theory be a fundamental motivation. The comment seems to indicate Hedonist and Philosopher leanings for taxonomizing, but what about someone who saw taxonomizing as an end in itself? Not to understand, create, or enjoy, but just to taxonomize?

But which category is that? Or would that fall under purely instrumental in that it could be used no matter what your fundamental motivation is?


Creator. Nothing else feels right. Sometimes a hedonist. :blush:


As a creator, I feel like I’m motivated to create as an end to itself. Though lots of other motivations come into it, too:

  • I create to learn.
  • I create to invest in my community.
  • I create to increase my own agency in the world.
  • I create to express my own sense of craftsmanship.
  • I create to improve the world (sometimes “the world” is defined a lot more narrowly than at others)
  • I create to give myself improved tools for pleasure seeking
  • I create to give myself better tools to take care of my household

Now I think I’m just trying to mess up the taxonomy. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: