What Happens When Someone Acts Compulsively?

Philosophical Studies 131 (2):251-268 (2006)
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The standard philosophical view is that compulsive behaviors are caused by “irresistible” desires. Gary Watson famously argued that this view conflates compulsion with weakness of the will, and proposed differentiating weakness and compulsion by appealing to the normal strength-of-will of members of the community. This extrinsic distinction leaves no room for phenomenological differences between weakness and compulsion. Evidence from clinical psychology shows, however, that compulsion is associated with certain phenomenological features that are absent in cases of weakness. I therefore reject the irresistible desire account. Instead, I propose that psychological compulsions “wear down” an individual’s normal faculty of self-control, i.e., the will. The recurrent inhibition of the behavior by the will overexerts this faculty, causing the psychological stress noted by psychologists. This stress raises the cost of resistance until it is unbearable. The subject abandons resistance and therefore performs the behavior.



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Citations of this work

What is the Difference between Weakness of Will and Compulsion?August Gorman - 2023 - Journal of the American Philosophical Association 9 (1):37-52.
Belief, quasi-belief, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.Robert Noggle - 2016 - Philosophical Psychology 29 (5):654-668.
Addictive actions.Edmund Henden - 2013 - Philosophical Psychology 26 (3):362-382.

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References found in this work

Freedom of the will and the concept of a person.Harry G. Frankfurt - 1971 - Journal of Philosophy 68 (1):5-20.
Freedom of the will and the concept of a person.Harry Frankfurt - 2004 - In Tim Crane & Katalin Farkas (eds.), Metaphysics: a guide and anthology. Oxford University Press UK.
Skepticism about weakness of will.Gary Watson - 1977 - Philosophical Review 86 (3):316-339.
How is strength of will possible?Richard Holton - 2003 - In Sarah Stroud & Christine Tappolet (eds.), Weakness of will and practical irrationality. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 39-67.
Irresistible desires.Alfred R. Mele - 1990 - Noûs 24 (3):455-72.

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