Weakness and compulsion: the essential difference

Philosophical Explorations 14 (1):81-97 (2011)
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This paper aims to defend the common-sense view that we exempt compulsive agents from responsibility to the extent that they are unable to choose what they do and hence they cannot control their actions by their choices. This view has been challenged in a seminal paper by Gary Watson, who claimed that akratic agents lack control in the same sense but they are responsible nonetheless. In the first part of the paper, I critically examine the arguments Watson advances for this claim first in his original paper and then in some more recent works. I conclude that his account is based on the widely held assumption that both compulsive behavior and weakness of the will must be understood as a direct result of some inner motivational conflict. In the second part, I argue for an alternative understanding of the difference between weakness and compulsion. My claim is that compulsion is a cognitive rather than a motivational deficiency, since the compulsive, unlike the weak-willed, does not desire to perform the action which she actually performs. Furthermore, I argue that compulsive agents cannot control their actions by their choices because they have a distorted view of their own actional abilities. In the final part of the paper, I discuss a consequence of this account to the conditional analysis of free will as a condition of responsibility.



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Ferenc Huoranszki
Central European University

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References found in this work

Intention, Plans, and Practical Reason.Michael Bratman - 1987 - Cambridge: Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
On Action.Carl Ginet - 1990 - Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
How Is Weakness of the Will Possible?Donald Davidson - 1969 - In Joel Feinberg (ed.), Moral Concepts. Oxford University Press.

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