What happens when someone acts compulsively?

Philosophical Studies 131 (2):251 - 268 (2006)
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.
Keywords Philosophy   Philosophy   Epistemology   Logic   Philosophy of Mind   Philosophy of Religion
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Gary Watson (1977). Skepticism About Weakness of Will. Philosophical Review 86 (3):316-339.

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