Trait Self-Control, Inhibition, and Executive Functions: Rethinking some Traditional Assumptions

Neuroethics 14 (2):303-314 (2021)
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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.



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Matthew Haug
College of William and Mary

Citations of this work

Resolving two tensions in (Neo-)Aristotelian approaches to self-control.Matthew Haug - 2022 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 25 (4):685-700.

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References found in this work

Intelligent Virtue.Julia Annas - 2011 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
Practical intelligence and the virtues.Daniel C. Russell - 2009 - New York: Oxford University Press.
精神状态的性质.Hilary Putnam - 1967 - In W. H. Capitan & D. D. Merrill (eds.), 艺术、思想和宗教. Pittsburgh University Press. pp. 1--223.

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