Addiction and Self-Control

Behavior and Philosophy 24 (2):99 - 117 (1996)
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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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Alfred Mele
Florida State University

Citations of this work

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