Self-Control and Overcontrol: Conceptual, Ethical, and Ideological Issues in Positive Psychology


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Michael Brownstein
John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY)
Abstract
In what they call their “manual of the sanities”—a positive psychology handbook describing contemporary research on strengths of character—Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman argue that “there is no true disadvantage of having too much self-control.” This claim is widely endorsed in the research literature. I argue that it is false. My argument proceeds in three parts. First, I identify conceptual confusion in the definition of self-control, specifically as it pertains to the claim that you cannot be too self-controlled. Second, I consider disadvantages to having too much self-control, several of which point to the value of acting spontaneously from time to time, in a pointedly uncontrolled way. Third, I raise worries about the social and political values embedded in the science of self-control. Self-control as it is understood in the positive psychology literature benefits some people more than others, depending, for example, on their race and their socio-economic status. I conclude by briefly outlining an empirical framework for understanding self-control in traditional virtue theoretic terms as something that admits of deficiencies and excesses.
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DOI 10.1007/s13164-018-0390-7
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References found in this work BETA

Responsibility for Implicit Bias.Jules Holroyd - 2012 - Journal of Social Philosophy 43 (3):274-306.
Moral Saints.Susan Wolf - 1982 - Journal of Philosophy 79 (8):419-439.

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