The problem of weakness of will

Noûs 23 (5):653-676 (1989)


Philosophical discussions of akrasia over the last fifteen years have focused on certain skeptical arguments which purport to question the possibility of a kind of akratic action which, following Pears, I call 'last ditch akrasia' (Pears [38]). An agent, succumbing to last ditch akrasia, freely, knowingly, and intentionally performs an action A against his better judgment that an incompatible action B is the better thing to do. (See Audi [1] for a detailed analysis.) Last ditch akrasia is not the only kind that has been discussed. Some philosophers (Mele [32], Scaltas [48]) have been concerned with a more extreme form of akratic action, viz. one in which the agent not only judges that action B is best, but in addition intends (chooses, decides) to B. Some have even questioned whether freely acting against one's better judgment is sufficient for akratic action (Schiffer [49]: 201-3).1 Weaker types of akratic action have been discussed, though to a much lesser extent, since they are thought less problematic. Pears distinguishes last ditch akrasia from what he calls, "motivated irrational action" ([38]: 160). In cases of the latter, the akrates' rebellious desire infects his prior reasoning and thinking in such a way that his contemplated action seems to him warranted, and he acts accordingly. (For a taxonomy of cases of akratic action, see Rorty ([44])). Nor has the discussion of akrasia been restricted to akratic action. Philosophers have discussed whether akrasia can be exhibited in the formation of intentions, wants (See Audi [1]: 181-185), and beliefs (Mele [32]: ch. 8; Heil [19]). The primary focus in this paper is on last ditch akratic action.

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