Making sense of akrasia

Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 17 (5):939-971 (2018)
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Abstract

There are two extreme poles in the literature on akrasia. Internalists hold that it's impossible to act intentionally against your better judgment, because there's a necessary internal relation between judgment and intentional action. To the contrary, externalists maintain that we can act intentionally against our better judgment, because the will operates independently of judgment. Critics of internalism argue that it fails a realism test—most people seem to think that we can and do act intentionally against our better judgment. And critics of externalism argue that it flirts with incoherence by severing the intimate link between judgment and action. Drawing on resources from phenomenology, the cognitive sciences, analytic action theory, and recent “hybrid models” of skilled action, I argue that one route beyond this theoretical impasse is to understand akrasia as a form of skillful pre-reflective intentional action. This strategy, I argue, preserves the internalist insight that there is indeed an intimate relation between judgment and intentional action; and it also confirms the externalist claim that this relation is defeasible, but it does so without falling into incoherence.

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