Self-control is deemed crucial for reasons-responsive agency and a key contributor to long-term wellbeing. But recent studies suggest that effortfully resisting one’s temptations does not contribute to long-term goal attainment, and can even be harmful. So how does self-control improve our lives? Finding an answer requires revising the role that overcoming temptation plays in self-control. This paper distinguishes two forms of self-control problems: temptation (the presence of a strong wayward motivation) and apathy (the lack of commitment-advancing motivation). This distinction makes (...) it possible to separate negative self-control (aimed at overcoming temptation) from positive self-control (aimed at overcoming lack of motivation). The paper argues that temptation should not play a central role in our conception of self-control, since overcoming temptation is neither necessary nor sufficient for successful self-control. (shrink)
In this paper I provide a preliminary account of weakness of political will (political akrasia). My aim is to use theories from the weakness of will literature as a guide to develop a model of the same phenomenon as it occurs in collective agents. Though the account will parallel the traditional view of weakness of will in individuals, weakness of political will is a distinctly political concept that will apply to group agents such as governments, institutional actors, and other political (...) collectives. I further argue that blaming inaction by collective political agents on a “lack of political will” should be understood as blaming a kind of akratic break within the deliberative process, leading to an inability of the collective agent to capitalize on existing group attitudes in order to translate them into policy or legislation. My primary example throughout will be U.S. political inaction with respect to the climate crisis. (shrink)
In the Protagoras, Socrates argues that what appears to be akrasia is, in fact, the result of a hedonic illusion: proximate pleasures appear greater than distant ones. On the face of it, his account is puzzling: why should proximate pleasures appear greater than distant ones? Certain interpreters argue that Socrates must be assuming the existence of non-rational desires that cause proximate pleasures to appear inflated. In this paper, I argue that positing non-rational desires fails to explain the hedonic error. However, (...) careful consideration of Socrates’ treatment of appearances reveals that he is not without resources to explain the illusion. I argue that in the Protagoras, appearances are imagistic mental representations that appear true but tend to be false. I suggest that proximate pleasures produce inflated hedonic predictions because we represent them more vividly than distant ones, yielding greater anticipatory pleasure which causes us to overestimate their magnitude. (shrink)
This chapter is divided into three sections. In the first, I identify the mentions of Schopenhauer in À la recherche du temps perdu. I use an implicit reference to Schopenhauer by Swann to open a discussion of Schopenhauer’s theory of music. I attempt to downplay its identification, suggested by some commentators, with both the views about music expressed in the novel and the form of the novel itself. In the second section, I discuss Proust’s references to Schopenhauer in his essay (...) on reading. I confirm that Proust well understood Schopenhauer’s relationship with his own erudition and suggest that Schopenhauer’s influence on Proust may take the form of an incitement to think for oneself. In the third and final section, I consider several potential points of convergence between Proust and Schopenhauer concerning states of the will. However, in all cases I find, as I do throughout the chapter, that below the surface Proust and Schopenhauer often part ways. (shrink)
Does self-control require willpower? The question cuts to the heart of a debate about whether self-control is identical with some psychological process internal to the agents or not. Noticeably absent from these debates is systematic evidence about the folk-psychological category of self-control. Here, we present the results of two behavioral studies (N = 296) that indicate the structure of everyday use of the concept. In Study 1, participants rated the degree to which different strategies to respond to motivational conflict exemplify (...) self-control. Participants distinguished between intra-psychic and externally-scaffolded strategies and judged that the former exemplified self-control more than the latter. In Study 2, participants provided various solutions to manage motivational conflict and rated their proposals on effectiveness. Participants produced substantially more intra-psychic strategies, rated them as more effective, and advised them at a higher rate than externally-scaffolded strategies. Taken together, these results suggest that while people recognize a plurality of strategies as genuine instances of self-control, purely internal exercises of self-control are considered more prototypical than their externally-scaffolded counterparts. This implies a hierarchical structure for the folk psychological category of self-control. The concept encompasses a variety of regulatory strategies and organizes these strategies along a hierarchical continuum, with purely intra-psychic strategies at the center and scaffolded strategies in the periphery. (shrink)
A restrictive view of self-control identifies exercises of self-control with synchronic intrapsychic processes, and pictures diachronic and externally-scaffolded strategies not as proper instances of self-control, but as clever ways of avoiding the need to exercise that ability. In turn, defenders of an inclusive view of self-control typically argue that we should construe self-control as more than effortful inhibition, and that, on grounds of functional equivalence, all these diverse strategies might be properly described as instances of self-control. In this paper, I (...) take a fresh look at this debate by focusing on cases of addiction. I argue that addicted agents face a paradigmatic sort of self-control challenge, which makes addiction an important test case for theories of self-control. And I discuss evidence that highlights both the unreliability of synchronic intrapsychic strategies and the crucial role that is played by diachronic and externally-scaffolded strategies in successful attempts at achieving abstinence by addicted individuals. Abstaining addicts are a paradigmatic case of agents who successfully exercise self-control, and they mostly do so by relying on diachronic and externally-scaffolded strategies. This, I argue, lends further support to an inclusive view of self-control. (shrink)
Drawing on recent work in psychology, I argue that there are not one but several distinct virtues pertaining to willpower or strength of will: (1) the disposition to exercise willpower; (2) a distinctively volitional kind of modesty, or moderation in exposing oneself to volitional strain; and (3) a distinctively volitional kind of confidence, or proper inattention to the possibility of volitional failure. A multiple-virtue conception of willpower, I argue, provides a useful framework for cultivating a good relationship to one’s own (...) volitional limitations; resists an unhealthy emphasis on ‘powering through’ volitional obstacles; and avoids controversial empirical assumptions without giving up on making progress in ethical thought about willpower. I answer objections that the latter two virtues are incompatible, and that they add little of value to hope or belief in success. I then argue that combining these virtues requires a kind of flexible attention which, while difficult, is both psychologically possible and desirable. (shrink)
Orthodoxy holds that the difference between weakness of will and compulsion is a matter of the resistibility of an agent's effective motivation, which makes control-based views of agency especially well equipped to distinguish blameworthy weak-willed acts from non-blameworthy compulsive acts. I defend an alternative view that the difference between weakness and compulsion instead lies in the fact that agents would upon reflection give some conative weight to acting on their weak-willed desires for some aim other than to extinguish them, but (...) not to their compulsive desires. This view allows identificationist theorists of moral responsibility to explain why weak-willed actions, but not compulsive actions, are attributable to agents such that they can, in theory, be praised or blamed for them. After motivating and presenting the view in detail, I show how it has unique resources for explaining the ethics of managing one's compulsions. (shrink)
Breaking one's dieting rule or resolution to quit smoking, procrastination, convenient lies, even the failure of entire nations to follow through with plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions or keep a pandemic in check - these phenomena have been discussed by philosophers and behavioural scientists as examples of weakness of will and delay discounting. Despite the common subject matter both fields have to date rarely worked together for mutual benefit. For the empirical literature is hardly accessible to a reader not (...) familiar with econometric theory; and researchers in the behavioural sciences may find philosophical accounts invoking discounting models difficult to understand without inside knowledge of the debates and historical background. -/- Nora Heinzelmann targets this lacuna by making the ideas and findings from both disciplines intelligible to outsiders. This reveals that discounting - as philosophers have conceived of it - is neither necessary nor sufficient for weakness of will, even though there is substantial overlap. Heinzelmann develops a richer descriptive account of weakness of will that is based on the empirically founded assumption that weak-willed behaviour is determined by uncertainty about whether or when a good materialises. She also explains why weakness of the will understood in this way is irrational: the agent yields to a cognitive bias that leads them to underestimate the greater good they think they ought to and can obtain. Finally, she explores practical implications for individuals and policymakers. (shrink)
Philosophers, psychologists, and economists have reached the consensus that one can use two different kinds of regulation to achieve self-control. Synchronic regulation uses willpower to resist current temptation. Diachronic regulation implements a plan to avoid future temptation. Yet this consensus may rest on contaminated intuitions. Specifically, agents typically use willpower (synchronic regulation) to achieve their plans to avoid temptation (diachronic regulation). So even if cases of diachronic regulation seem to involve self-control, this may be because they are contaminated by synchronic (...) regulation. We therefore developed a novel multifactorial method to disentangle synchronic and diachronic regulation. Using this method, we find that ordinary usage assumes that only synchronic––not diachronic––regulation counts as self-control. We find this pattern across four experiments involving different kinds of temptation, as well as a paradigmatic case of diachronic regulation based on the classic story of Odysseus and the Sirens. Our final experiment finds that self-control in a diachronic case depends on whether the agent uses synchronic regulation at two moments: when she (1) initiates and (2) follows-through on a plan to resist temptation. Taken together, our results strongly suggest that synchronic regulation is the sole difference maker in the folk concept of self-control. (shrink)
We call attention to certain cases of epistemic akrasia, arguing that they support belief-credence dualism. Belief-credence dualism is the view that belief and credence are irreducible, equally fundamental attitudes. Consider the case of an agent who believes p, has low credence in p, and thus believes that they shouldn’t believe p. We argue that dualists, as opposed to belief-firsters (who say credence reduces to belief) and credence-firsters (who say belief reduces to credence) can best explain features of akratic cases, including (...) the observation that akratic beliefs seem to be held despite possessing a defeater for those beliefs, and that, in akratic cases, one can simultaneously believe and have low confidence in the very same proposition. (shrink)
Ignorance is commonly assumed to be a lack of knowledge in Plato’s Socratic dialogues. I challenge that assumption. In the Protagoras, ignorance is conceived to be a substantive, structural psychic flaw—the soul’s domination by inferior elements that are by nature fit to be ruled. Ignorant people are characterized by both false beliefs about evaluative matters in specific situations and an enduring deception about their own psychic conditions. On my interpretation, akrasia, moral vices, and epistemic vices are products or forms of (...) ignorance, and a person who lacks knowledge is not necessarily ignorant. (shrink)
Often we make decisions whose purpose is to reduce the likelihood of our making bad decisions in the future—for example, by turning off my phone to make it more difficult for me to go on Tik Tok during the work day, or staying at home on a Friday instead of going to a party where I know my friends will be drinking to excess. These decisions seem essential, but they raise some philosophical questions. Here is one of them: What is (...) the view that a person takes of her own future when she goes in for this kind of planning? And here is another: How does seeing ourselves as subject to temptation, in the way that this kind of planning presumes, not serve as an invitation to irresolution when tempting situations arise? In this essay, I show how the answers to these questions are mutually illuminating. (shrink)
Most authors who discuss willpower assume that everyone knows what it is, but our assumptions differ to such an extent that we talk past each other. We agree that willpower is the psychological function that resists temptations – variously known as impulses, addictions, or bad habits; that it operates simultaneously with temptations, without prior commitment; and that use of it is limited by its cost, commonly called effort, as well as by the person's skill at executive functioning. However, accounts are (...) usually not clear about how motivation functions during the application of willpower, or how motivation is related to effort. Some accounts depict willpower as the perceiving or formation of motivational contingencies that outweigh the temptation, and some depict it as a continuous use of mechanisms that interfere with re-weighing the temptation. Some others now suggest that impulse control can bypass motivation altogether, although they refer to this route as habit rather than willpower.It is argued here that willpower should be recognized as either or both of two distinct functions, which can be calledresolveandsuppression. Resolve is based on interpretation of a current choice as a test case for a broader set of future choices, which puts at stake more than the outcome of the current choice. Suppression is inhibiting valuation of (modulating) and/or keeping attention from (filtering) immediate alternatives to a current intention. Perception of current choices as test cases for broader outcomes may result in reliable preference for these outcomes, which is experienced as an effortlesshabit– a successful result of resolve, not an alternative method of self-control. Some possible brain imaging correlates are reviewed. (shrink)
According to a widely endorsed claim, intentional action is brought about by an agent’s desires in accordance with these desires’ respective motivational strength. As Jay Wallace has argued, though, this “hydraulic model” of the aetiology of intentional action has a serious flaw: it fails to leave room for genuine deliberative agency. Drawing on recent developments in the debate on self-control, the article argues that Wallace’s criticism can be addressed once we combine the hydraulic model with a so-called “divided mind” account (...) of self-control. (shrink)
Most of us have had the experience of resisting our currently strongest desire, for example, resisting the desire to eat another cookie when eating another cookie is what we most want to do. The puzzle of synchronic self‐control, however, says that this is impossible: an agent cannot ever resist her currently strongest desire. The paper argues that one prominent solution to this puzzle – the solution offered by Al Mele – faces a serious ‘mismatch problem’, which ultimately undermines its plausibility. (...) It is furthermore argued that this problem can be avoided if we adopt a ‘divided mind’ solution instead. (shrink)
Why should we typically act in accordance with our resolutions when faced with the temptation to do otherwise? A much-maligned view suggests that we should do so because resolutions themselves provide us with reasons for action. We defend a version of this view, on which resolutions provide second-order reasons. This account avoids the objections typically taken to be fatal for the view that resolutions are reasons, including the prominent bootstrapping objections.
In “Willpower with and without effort”, G. Ainslie advances our understanding of selfcontrol by theoretically unifying multiple forms of willpower. But one crucial question remains unanswered: How do agents pick the right forms of willpower in each situation? I argue that willpower requires tactical skill, which detects willpower-demanding contexts, selects context-appropriate tactics, and monitors their implementation. Research on tactical skill will significantly advance our understanding of willpower.
Researchers often claim that self-control is a skill. It is also often stated that self-control exertions are intentional actions. However, no account has yet been proposed of the skillful agency that makes self-control exertion possible, so our understanding of self-control remains incomplete. Here I propose the skill model of self-control, which accounts for skillful agency by tackling the guidance problem: how can agents transform their abstract and coarse-grained intentions into the highly context-sensitive, fine-grained control processes required to select, revise and (...) correct strategies during self-control exertion? The skill model borrows conceptual tools from ‘hierarchical models’ recently developed in the context of motor skills, and asserts that self-control crucially involves the ability to manage the implementation and monitoring of regulatory strategies as the self-control exercise unfolds. Skilled agents are able do this by means of flexible practical reasoning: a fast, context-sensitive type of deliberation that incorporates non-propositional representations into the formation and revision of the mixed-format intentions that structure self-control exertion. The literatures on implementation intentions and motivation framing offer corroborating evidence for the theory. As a surprising result, the skill of self-control that allows agents to overcome the contrary motivations they experience is self-effacing: instead of continuously honing this skill, expert agents replace it with a different one, which minimizes or prevents contrary motivations from arising in the first place. Thus, the more expert you are at self-control, the less likely you are to use it. (shrink)
Practical cognitivism is the view that practical reason is the self-conscious will and that practical cognition is self-conscious volition. This essay addresses two puzzles for practical cognitivism. In akratic action, I act as I understand is illegitimate and not as I understand is legitimate. In permissible action, I act as I understand is legitimate and also do not act as I understand is legitimate. In both types of action, practical cognition seems to come apart from volition. How, then, can practical (...) reason be our will and practical cognition be volition? Practical cognitivists can solve these puzzles because the claims that practical reason is our will and that practical cognition is volition are about the nature of a capacity, and the nature of a capacity establishes standards of correctness for its exercises. Akratic action is a type of erroneous exercise of practical reason as tripping is an erroneous exercise our capacity to walk. Permissible action is a successful exercise of practical reason as stepping first with my right foot rather than my left is a successful exercise of my capacity to walk. The puzzles of akratic and permissible action do not refute practical cognitivism. (shrink)
This paper draws on work in the sciences of the mind to cast doubt on some assumptions that have often been made in the study of self-control. Contra a long, Aristotelian tradition, recent evidence suggests that highly self-controlled individuals do not have a trait very similar to continence: they experience relatively few desires that conflict with their evaluative judgments and are not especially good at directly and effortfully inhibiting such desires. Similarly, several recent studies have failed to support the view (...) that self-control capacities are constituted, at least in part, by excellent inhibitory executive function ability. I propose an alternative “indirect harmony” hypothesis about trait self-control. According to this hypothesis, if there is a character trait of being highly self-controlled, it consists in motivational harmony within the mind that is brought about through the effective use of indirect resistance strategies that prevent occurrent motivational conflict from emerging in the first place. If this hypothesis is correct, high trait self-control in actual humans does not fit neatly into the traditional categories of either continence or temperance. I conclude by drawing out several implications this hypothesis has for future research on trait self-control and its relation to executive functions. (shrink)
Feeling like doing something is not the same as deciding to do it. When you feel like doing something, you are still free to decide to do it or not. You are having an inclination to do it, but you are not thereby determined to do it. I call this the moment of drama. This book is about what you are faced with, in this moment. How should you relate to the inclinations you “have,” given that you are free to (...) “act on” them or not? To answer this question, we need an account of what sort of thing we are relating to, in this moment. But here we find a genuine philosophical problem. Our inclinations are forms of motivation, with respect to which we are distinctively passive. To be motivated is to be self-moved. But how can we be passive in relation to our own self-movement? Is our relation to our inclinations like that of rider to horse? Or is it like our relation to our own, spontaneous judgments or perceptions? I lay out three constraints on any theory of inclination, and I argue that familiar theories fail to meet them, because they make being inclined to φ too similar or dissimilar to φ-ing. I then put forward the “inner animal” view, which holds that when you are merely inclined to act, the instinctive part of yourself is already active, while the rest of you is not. In this moment, your will is “at a crossroads.” You can humanize your inclination, or dehumanize yourself. (shrink)
Prima facie, it seems highly plausible to suppose that there is some kind of constitutive relationship between self-control and the self, i.e., that self-control is “control at the service of the self” or even “control by the self.” This belief is not only attractive from a pre-theoretical standpoint, but it also seems to be supported by theoretical reasons. In particular, there is a natural fit between a certain attractive approach to self-control—the so-called “divided mind approach”—and a certain well-established approach to (...) the self—the so-called “deep self” approach. I argue, however, that this initial impression is misleading: on closer inspection, the combination of the divided mind approach to self-control with the deep self approach fails to provide us with a theoretical foundation for the claim that self-control is constitutively linked to the self. I show that, in an interesting twist, combining these two approaches actually supports the opposite claim, leading us to the view that self-control and the self can come apart, and, more specifically, that we sometimes exercise self-control without our self or even against our self. (shrink)
Os casos de fraqueza da vontade (incontinência) são tidos como paradoxais. Há, pelo menos, uma tensão entre tais casos e a lei psicológica que relaciona avaliações e volições: se julgamos que fazer x é melhor do que fazer y, então queremos fazer x; porém, por vezes, julgamos que fazer x é melhor do que fazer y e, ainda assim, queremos fazer y em vez de x. Como noutras propostas, defendo que a incompatibilidade é aparente. Porém, não rejeito que haja verdadeiros (...) casos de fraqueza da vontade. Proponho que, em tais casos, há uma cisão entre a força psicológica e o conteúdo axiológico das avaliações: o que o agente representa como mais valioso não é o que se encontra mais representado como valioso no agente e, portanto, aquilo que tem eficácia causal. Proponho, ainda, que o sistema volitivo desenvolveu um mecanismo de correção de tais anomalias, pelo qual o agente tem a capacidade de determinar volições de acordo com a avaliação do melhor. (shrink)
This paper shows that our popular account of weakness of will is inconsistent with dilemmas. In dilemmas, agents judge that they ought to do one thing, that they ought to do something else, and that they cannot do both. They must act against either of their two judgments. But such action is commonly understood as weakness of will. An agent is weak-willed in doing something if she judges that she ought to and could do something else instead. Thus, it seems (...) that, in a dilemma, the agent is weak-willed by definition. But this is puzzling: clearly, the two are different phenomena. The puzzle may support scepticism about weakness of will or dilemmas. Here, I argue that the two are consistent on a revised understanding of weakness of will. To do so, I further distinguish the mental states of an agent in a dilemma from those of a weak-willed person. (shrink)
One of the main obstacles to the realization of intentions for future actions and to the successful pursuit of long-term goals is lack of self-control. But, what does it mean to engage in self-controlled behaviour? On a motivational construal of self-control, self-control involves resisting our competing temptations, impulses, and urges in order to do what we deem to be best. The conflict we face is between our better judgments or intentions and “hot” motivational forces that drive or compel us to (...) act in opposing ways. In contrast, on an executive construal of self-control, the emphasis is not on overcoming temptation, but on overriding or inhibiting “cold” automatically triggered routines and habits that are at odds with what we intend to do. Our general aim in this chapter is to contribute to the development of an overarching theory of self-control by exploring ways in which these two apparently competing frameworks can be reconciled. We propose that self-control is best understood as a hybrid set of skills. We draw on recent work on expert motor skill to highlight important ways in which experts differ from novices in the capacities they deploy and the ways in which they deploy them. We consider analogies (and disanalogies) between the domain of sports expertise and the domain of self-control. We end by considering how such a hybrid approach can help us reconcile a motivational and an executive approach to self-control. (shrink)
This paper argues that Epictetus’ ethics involves three features which are also present in Aristotle’s discussion of akrasia in the Nicomachean Ethics: 1) A major problem for agents is when they fail to render a universal premise effective at motivating a particular action in accordance with that premise. 2) There are two reasons this occurs: Precipitancy and Weakness. 3) Precipitancy and Weakness can be prevented by gaining a fuller understanding of our beliefs and commitments. This comparison should make clear that (...) akrasia is certainly not absent from Epictetus. Rather a very Aristotelian understanding of why we fail to act in accordance with what we take to be in our own best interests remains at the center of his ethics. (shrink)
This paper advances a new agentially undemanding account of the conditions of attributability, the Minimal Approval account, and argues that it has a number of advantages over traditional Deep Self theories, including the way in which it handles agents with conditions like addiction, Tourette syndrome, and misophonia. It is argued that in order for an agent to be attributionally responsible, the mental process that leads to her action must dispose her to be such that she would, upon reflec-tion, approve to (...) some minimal degree of being moved to action by the motive on which she in fact acts. (shrink)
The standard case of weakness of will involves a strong temptation leading us to reconsider or act against our judgments. Here, however, I consider cases of what I call ‘habitual weakness', where we resolve to do one thing yet do another not to satisfy any grand desire, but out of habit. After giving several examples, I suggest that habitual weakness has been under-discussed in the literature and explore why. These cases are worth highlighting for their ubiquity, and I show three (...) further advantages of appreciating habitual weakness as a kind of weakness: It challenges purportedly necessary conditions on akrasia, it side-steps outstanding skeptical concerns, and it provides a new model for considering the weak-willed behavior of group agents. I conclude by arguing that cases of habitual weakness are genuine cases of akrasia and weakness of will. Rather than lacking strength of will, habitual weakness involves lacking diligence, vigilance, or fortitude. (shrink)
This paper presents an account of akrasia, drawn from the work of William James, that sees akrasia as neither a rational failing (as with most philosophical accounts) nor a moral failing (as with early Christian accounts), but rather a necessary by-product of our status as biological beings. By examining James’s related accounts of motivation and action, I argue that akratic actions occur when an agent attempts to act against her settled habits, but fails to do so. This makes akrasia a (...) product of the agent’s practical failure to adequately structured her environment to bring about her desired action. Akratic action performs the vital function of revealing to the agent the exact point at which her cognitive effort was insufficient for bringing about her intended action. It also reveals that future improvement is within her control. As such, akratic action is the very foundation of James’s meliorism. (shrink)
Intellectualism is the widespread view that practical reason is a species of theoretical reason, distinguished from others by its objects: reasons to act. I argue that if practical reason is a species of theoretical reason, practical judgments by nature have nothing to do with action. If they have nothing to do with action, I cannot act from my representation of reasons for me to act. If I cannot act from those representations, those reasons cannot exist. If they cannot exist, neither (...) can a species of theoretical reason about them. Intellectualism is thus self-undermining. (shrink)
This paper presents an empirical solution to the puzzle of weakness of will. Specifically, it presents a theory of action, grounded in contemporary cognitive neuroscientific accounts of decision making, that explains the phenomenon of weakness of will without resulting in a puzzle.
In line with recent efforts to empirically study the folk concept of weakness of will, we examine two issues in this paper: (1) How is weakness of will attribution [WWA] influenced by an agent’s violations of best judgment and/or resolution, and by the moral valence of the agent’s action? (2) Do any of these influences depend on the cognitive dispositions of the judging individual? We implemented a factorial 2x2x2 between–subjects design with judgment violation, resolution violation, and action valence as independent (...) variables, and measured participants’ cognitive dispositions using Frederick’s Cognitive Reflection Test [CRT]. We conclude that intuitive and reflective individuals have two different concepts of weakness of will. The study supports this claim by showing that: a) the WWA of intuitive subjects is influenced by the action’s (and probably also the commitment’s) moral valence, while the WWA of reflective subjects is not; b) judgment violation plays a small role in the WWA of intuitive subjects, while reflective subjects treat resolution violation as the only relevant trait. Data were collected among students at two different universities. All subjects (N=710) answered the CRT. A three-way ANOVA was first conducted on the whole sample and then on the intuitive and reflective groups separately. This study suggests that differences in cognitive dispositions can significantly impact the folk understanding of philosophical concepts, and thus suggests that analysis of folk concepts should take cognitive dispositions into account. (shrink)
It is undeniable that human agents sometimes act badly, and it seems that they sometimes pursue bad things simply because they are bad. This latter phenomenon has often been taken to provide counterexamples to views according to which we always act under the guise of the good. This paper identifies several distinct arguments in favour of the possibility that one can act under the guise of the bad. GG seems to face more serious difficulties when trying to answer three different, (...) but related, arguments for the possibility of acting under the guise of the bad. The main strategies available to answer these objections end up either undermining the motivation for GG or failing to do full justice to the nature of perverse motivation. However, these difficulties turn out to be generated by focusing on a particular version of GG, what I call the “content version”. But we have independent reasons to prefer a different version of GG; namely, the “attitude version”. The attitude version allows for a much richer understanding of the possibility of acting on what we conceive to be bad. Drawing on an analogy with theoretical akrasia and theoretical perversion, I try to show how the attitude version can provide a compelling account of perverse actions. (shrink)
In philosophy of action, we typically aim to explain action by appealing to conative attitudes whose contents are either logically consistent propositions or can be rendered as such. Call this “the logical criterion.” This is especially difficult to do with clear-minded, intentional incontinence since we have to explain how two judgments can have non-contradicting contents yet still aim at contradictory outcomes. Davidson devises an innovative way of doing this but compromises his ability to explain how our better judgments can cause (...) our continent behaviors. In this essay, I preserve Davidson’s approach to the logical criterion but deviate from his broader theory of action by developing a default-interventionist dual systems theory of action. To do this, I focus on the dynamical relationship between System 1 and System 2: the logical construction of value judgments in System 2 from System 1 and the imaginative construction of non-propositional conative attitudes in System 1 from System 2. I draw on Street’s Humean constructivism and Peacocke’s theory of imagination for logical and imaginative construction, respectively. Within this framework, I provide a new definition of continence and incontinence that satisfies the logical criterion and explains how our better judgments can cause our continent behaviors. (shrink)
Akrasia is a classical Greek term that is typically translated as “incontinence,” although it is sometimes translated as “weakness of the will”. Someone who displays practical akrasia exhibits a failure of control, but not an absence of control. In the practical case, the akratic individual intentionally and voluntarily acts in a way that is contrary to what she judges she ought to do. I tuck into a large piece of cheesecake even though I know I ought not to, or I (...) light up a cigarette although I have avowed to quit. In cases of akrasia, practical judgments go in different directions; the agent acts against her best... (shrink)
How is it conceivable or even psychologically possible that rational agents sometimes appear to act against their own acknowledged self-interest? This issue, commonly known as “weakness of the will”, has contributed to much of our individual and collective failure to address pressing problems even if solutions are well-known and readily available. It has fascinated philosophers since ancient times. Recent advances in psychology, behavioural economics and neuroscience have allowed us to approach the phenomenon from a new perspective. A novel account that (...) draws on empirical research characterises weakness of will as a failure to persist in an intention in the face of temptation. However, contemporary work finds it difficult to determine whether this account should replace or supplement orthodox views. This is partially due to a larger problem: philosophers struggle to understand and conceptually connect the various independent strands of empirical research into self-control, willpower, delay of gratification, ego depletion, implementation intentions, delay discounting, etc. Targeting both issues, the present work advances current research into weakness of will in two ways: first, it raises a novel challenge specific for orthodox accounts in philosophy. More precisely, I argue that they yield absurd results in dilemmas, and I show that this puzzle has repercussions for decision theory and epistemology. Second, my thesis renders econometric and psychological research into delay discounting intelligible to a philosophical readership. More specifically, I explain why standard discounting models fail to capture core cases of weakness of will that are also the object of research in developmental psychology. I thereby rectify rampant myths about preference reversals and discount functions in the philosophical and scientific literature. In short, my dissertation connects empirical and philosophical work into weakness of will conceptually in order to tackle issues in current research and advance our joint understanding of a longstanding and problematic phenomenon. (shrink)
How should addictive behavior be explained? In terms of neurobiological illness and compulsion, or as a choice made freely, even rationally, in the face of harmful social or psychological circumstances? Some of the disagreement between proponents of the prevailing medical models and choice models in the science of addiction centres on the notion of “loss of control” as a normative characterization of addiction. In this article I examine two of the standard interpretations of loss of control in addiction, one according (...) to which addicts have lost free will, the other according to which their will is weak. I argue that both interpretations are mistaken and propose therefore an alternative based on a dual-process approach. This alternative neither rules out a capacity in addicts to rationally choose to engage in drug-oriented behavior, nor the possibility that addictive behavior can be compulsive and depend upon harmful changes in their brains caused by the regular use of drugs. (shrink)
To act akratically is to act, knowingly, against what you judge is best for you to do, and it is traditionally assumed that to do this is to be weak-willed. Some have rejected this identification of akrasia and weakness of will, arguing that the latter is instead best understood as a matter of abandoning one's reasonable resolutions. This paper also rejects the identification of akrasia and weakness of will, but argues that this alternative conception is too broad, and that weakness (...) of will is best understood in relation to certain kinds of pain and pleasure. Moreover, the phenomenon of strong-willed akrasia, cases in which a person must exhibit strength of will to do precisely what she judges she should not do, suggests that strength of will is an executive virtue, and that being weak-willed is just one way (among others) in which a person can fail to manifest this virtue. (shrink)
G.E. Moore noticed the oddity of statements like: “It's raining, but I don't believe it.” This oddity is often seen as analogous to the oddity of believing akratically, or believing what one believes one should not believe, and has been appealed to in denying the possibility of akratic belief. I describe a Belief Akratic's Paradox, analogous to Moore's paradox and centered on sentences such as: “I believe it's raining, but I shouldn't believe it.” I then defend the possibility of akratic (...) belief against appeals to this analogy, arguing both that akratic belief does not require belief-akratic-paradoxical belief, and that the latter is importantly different from Moorean belief. I conclude by considering the implications of these arguments for an understanding of both Moorean and akratic belief. (shrink)
This paper argues that most contemporary accounts of weakness of will either implicitly or explicitly assume that regret is a typical or even necessary element of standard cases of weakness of will and that this assumption is mistaken. I draw on empirical and philosophical work on self-assessment to show that regret need not accompany typical weak-willed behavior, and that we should therefore revise the dominant account of the difference between weakness of will and changes of mind.
In Willing, Wanting, Waiting, Richard Holton lays out a detailed account of resolutions, arguing that they enable agents to resist temptation. Holton claims that temptation often leads to inappropriate shifts in judgment, and that resolutions are a special kind of first- and second-order intention pair that blocks such judgment shift. In this paper, I elaborate upon an intuitive but underdeveloped objection to Holton’s view – namely, that his view does not enable agents to successfully block the transmission of temptation in (...) the way that he claims, because the second-order intention is as equally susceptible to temptation as the first-order intention alone would be. I appeal to independently compelling principles – principles that Holton should accept, because they help fill an important explanatory gap in his account – to demonstrate why this objection succeeds. This argument both shows us where Holton’s view goes wrong and points us to the kind of solu-tion we need. In conclusion, I sketch an alternative account of resolutions as a first-order intention paired with a second-order desire. I argue that my account is not susceptible to the same objection because a temptation that cannot be blocked by an intention can be blocked by a desire. (shrink)
Argues that we do not act intentionally ‘under the guise of the good.’ This makes it hard to explain why akrasia is distinctively irrational; but this is no objection, since it is just as hard to explain on the opposing view. Ends with a problem of akrasia for ethical rationalists.
Joseph Raz and Sergio Tenenbaum argue that the Guise of the Good thesis explains both the possibility of practical reason and its unity with theoretical reason, something Humean psychological theories may be unable to do. This paper will argue, however, that Raz and Tenenbaum face a dilemma: either the version of the Guise of the Good they offer is too strong to allow for weakness of will, or it will lose its theoretical advantage in preserving the unity of reason.
Die aus dem Alltag bekannte Charaktereigenschaft stellt die Handlungstheorie und Moralphilosophie seit der Antike an vor zahlreiche Rätsel. Von verschiedener Seite wurde bezweifelt, dass eine kohärente Konzeption von Willensschwäche, die sowohl dem alltäglichen Begriff als auch reflektierten handlungstheoretischen wie moralphilosophischen Grundsätzen gerecht wird, überhaupt möglich ist. Dabei taucht das Phänomen in unterschiedlicher Gestalt in verschiedenen Wissenschaften auf: als Problem irrationaler Weisen der Diskontierung (Ökonomie), als mangelnde motivationale Kraft (Psychologie) und schließlich in seiner Reinform als Handeln wider das eigene, bessere Urteil (...) (Philosophie). Hauptsächliches Ziel dieser systematischen Untersuchung ist daher die Entwicklung einer solchen kohärenten Konzeption von Willensschwäche sowie ein besseres Verständnis derselben hinsichtlich grundlegender Theorien des Handelns und Urteilens von Personen. (shrink)
In Romans 7:14-25, Paul declares, "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want, is what I do" (KJV). St. Paul's statement is a universal truth for all human beings; humans--whether Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, or atheists--are prone to committing free actions that are not "good." Furthermore, and irrespective of how we might construe the notion of "good" (whether as acting in accordance with some religious or spiritual precept or simply doing what (...) is in one's best interest), we often knowingly and freely choose actions that may, or in fact do, harm us. There is a name given to such actions. We call them "weak-willed." "Weakness of will," or akrasia, has perplexed philosophers, theologians, and laypersons alike for centuries. This book reveals why the idea has caused so much bafflement and consternation for so many. The main thrust of the work, however, is to illuminate and inspire: Lightbody seeks to demonstrate, concretely, how and why we are weak-willed. By extracting an "alchemical touchstone" from Plato's middle period philosophy, Lightbody, in addition, reveals how we may transmute harmful appetites into life-edifying passions. (shrink)
The most discussed puzzle about weakness of will (WoW) is how it is possible: how can a person freely and intentionally perform actions that she judges she ought not perform, or that she has resolved not to perform? In this paper, we are concerned with a much less discussed puzzle about WoW?how is overcoming it possible? We explain some of the ways in which previously weak-willed agents manage to overcome their weakness. Some of these are relatively straightforward?as agents learn of (...) the real costs of weakness, or as those costs mount dramatically, they can become strongly motivated to do what they already judged best. But other cases are more difficult to explain: sometimes, agents with a long history of forming and then weakly abandoning resolutions manage to stick to their guns. We argue that these cases can be explained by combining George Ainslie's model of agents as multiple preference orderings competing in game theoretic interactions along with the insights of evolutionary game theory. This can explain the puzzling cases where agents suddenly adopt successful strategies for avoiding weak-willed behavior, especially where agents gain no new information about themselves or the consequences of their actions. (shrink)
The paper defends three claims about Aristotle’s theory of uncontrolled actions (akrasia) in NE 7.3. First, I argue that the first part of NE 7.3 contains the description of the overall state of mind of the agent while she acts without control. Aristotle’s solution to the problem of uncontrolled action lies in the analogy between the uncontrolled agent and people who are drunk, mad, or asleep. This analogy is interpreted as meaning that the uncontrolled agent, while acting without control, is (...) still in possession of her knowledge but she is unable to use it as knowledge due to the temporary disablement of her reason by appetite. Due to this disablement, the uncontrolled agent is temporarily unable to be motivated to act by her knowledge and acts merely on her appetite. Second, I argue that the second part of NE 7.3 provides an analysis of the particular mental state from which the uncontrolled action issues. Its central passage is a description of the uncontrolled agent’s state of mind before the uncontrolled action and not, as it has been traditionally understood, a description of her state of mind during the uncontrolled action. Third, I argue that, on Aristotle’s view, the transition from the state before the uncontrolled action to the state in which the agent already acts without control does not involve any psychological state that would constitute the agent’s choice to abandon her decision and give in to her desires but proceeds on a purely physiological level. (shrink)
Past research has identified a number of asymmetries based on moral judgments. Beliefs about what a person values, whether a person is happy, whether a person has shown weakness of will, and whether a person deserves praise or blame seem to depend critically on whether participants themselves find the agent's behavior to be morally good or bad. To date, however, the origins of these asymmetries remain unknown. The present studies examine whether beliefs about an agent's “true self” explain these observed (...) asymmetries based on moral judgment. Using the identical materials from previous studies in this area, a series of five experiments indicate that people show a general tendency to conclude that deep inside every individual there is a “true self” calling him or her to behave in ways that are morally virtuous. In turn, this belief causes people to hold different intuitions about what the agent values, whether the agent is happy, whether he or she has shown weakness of will, and whether he or she deserves praise or blame. These results not only help to answer important questions about how people attribute various mental states to others; they also contribute to important theoretical debates regarding how moral values may shape our beliefs about phenomena that, on the surface, appear to be decidedly non-moral in nature. (shrink)