Addiction and Self-Control

Behavior and Philosophy 24 (2):99 - 117 (1996)

Authors
Alfred Mele
Florida State University
Abstract
Addicts often are portrayed as agents driven by irresistible desires in the philosophical literature on free will. Although this portrayal is faithful to a popular conception of addiction, that conception has encountered opposition from a variety of quarters (e.g., Bakalar & Grinspoon, 1984; Becker & Murphy, 1988; Peele, 1985 and 1989; Szasz, 1974). My concern here is some theoretical issues surrounding a strategy for self-control of potential use to addicts on the assumption that their pertinent desires fall short of irresistibility. I offer no defense of this assumption; rather, I treat it as a point of departure for one approach to understanding addiction in action. I begin by sketching some conceptual and theoretical background and then turn to a proposal of George Ainslie's (1992) about temptation and self-control and to some reservations that Michael Bratman (1966) has expressed about it. I will argue that in some scenarios typical of addicts, Ainslie's proposal survives Bratman's objections. My guiding question is this: How can behavior exhibiting self-control or its contrary in addicts who are concerned to resist relevant temptations be accommodated in a general theory of human action that features a broad array of so-called "intentional attitudes" as important explanatory items? The attitudes that primarily concern me here are desire, intention, belief, and a species of evaluative judgment.
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