Akrasia, reasons, and causes

Philosophical Studies 44 (3):345-368 (1983)
The occurrence or apparent occurrence of incontinent actions challenges several influential views in ethics and the philosophy of mind, e.g., Hare's prescriptivism and the Socratic idea that we always act in the light of the imagined greatest good. It also raises, as I shall explain, an interesting and instructive problem for proponents of causal theories of action. But whereas Socrates and Hare attempt to avoid the difficulties with which akrasia confronts them by denying - wrongly, I shall argue - that there are akratic actions ([15], 352a-358d; [13], Ch. 5), the causal theorist need not take this unhappy tack. In this paper I shall argue that the truth of a causal theory of action (CTA) is compatible with the occurrence of akratic actions and, in particular, with akratic actions against what I shall call a "here-and-now" intention - i.e., an intention of the agent to do an A here and now. I shall suggest that akratic actions of this type plainly do occur, and I shall attempt to explain how they might be accommodated by a causal theory of action.
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