Guard against temptation: Intrapersonal team reasoning and the role of intentions in exercising willpower

Noûs 56 (3):554-569 (2022)


Sometimes we make a decision about an action we will undertake later and form an intention, but our judgment of what it is best to do undergoes a temporary shift when the time for action comes round. What makes it rational not to give in to temptation? Many contemporary solutions privilege diachronic rationality; in some “rational non-reconsideration” (RNR) accounts once the agent forms an intention, it is rational not to reconsider. This leads to other puzzles: how can someone be motivated to follow a plan that is contrary to their current judgment? How can it be rational to form a plan to resist if we can predict that our judgment will shift? I show how these puzzles can be solved in a framework where there are multiple units of agency, distinguishing between the judgments of the timeslice and those of the person over time, and allowing that the timeslice can “self identify”, taking the person over time as the relevant unit of agency and doing intrapersonal team reasoning (with a different causal role for intentions than RNR accounts). On my account, resisting temptation is compatible with synchronic rationality, so synchronic and diachronic rationality are aligned. However, either resisting or succumbing to temptation can be instrumentally rational, depending on the unit of agency that is identified with. In order to show why we ought to resist temptation, we need to draw on a non-instrumental rationale. I sketch possible routes for doing this.

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Natalie Gold
London School of Economics

References found in this work

Reasons and Persons.Derek Parfit - 1984 - Oxford University Press.
The Principles of Psychology.William James - 1890 - London, England: Dover Publications.
Morals by Agreement.David P. Gauthier - 1986 - Oxford University Press.

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