The implications of ego depletion for the ethics and politics of manipulation

In C. Coons M. E. Weber (ed.), Manipulation:Theory and Practice. Oxford University Press. pp. 201-220 (2014)
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Abstract

A significant body of research suggests that self-control and willpower are resources that become depleted as they are exercised. Having to exert self-control and willpower draws down the reservoir of these resources and make subsequent such exercises more difficult. This “ego depletion” renders individuals more susceptible to manipulation by exerting non-rational influences on our choice and conduct. In particular, ego depletion results in later choices being less governable by our powers of self-control and willpower than earlier choices. I draw out three implications of this phenomenon: first, manipulation can exploit ego depletion through the fashioning of social environments that tax willpower or self-control; second, ego depletion undermines the Platonic-Aristotelian picture of character and strength of will; and third, ego depletion needs to be a more central focus of theorists of justice, since it appears to be a significant contributor to poverty and other persistent injustices.

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Michael Cholbi
University of Edinburgh

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