How Is Weakness of the Will Possible?

Donald Davidson

in Essays on Actions and Events

Published in print September 2001 | ISBN: 9780199246274
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191715198 | DOI:

Series: The Philosophical Essays of Donald Davidson (5 Volumes)

 How Is Weakness of the Will Possible?

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Davidson attempts to analyse the case in which an agent deems some available course of action to be better on the whole than the one he actually, and intentionally, takes. He insists that the case presents a genuine problem that cannot be analysed away by tinkering with, or simply dismissing out of hand, the principles of practical reasoning that generate it––viz. that if I could, I would perform an action I want (provided I want it more than any other one), that I want to perform an action more than another one if I deem it better, and hence, that I would perform an action that I deem better than any other one if I could. Davidson dismisses various accounts from Socrates and Aristotle onwards that one way or another deny that the incontinent person acted intentionally, voluntarily, and with full knowledge of what he was doing (he also notes that these accounts mistakenly treat the problem as necessarily moral, ignoring that one might be overcome by an excessive sense of duty while knowing the course of pleasure to be the better on the whole). Presenting his own account, he notes that if reasons are causes, as Essay 1 argued, then the strongest reasons would seem to be the strongest causes––as this would evidently rule out incontinence, Davidson has to dissociate the ‘causally strongest’ reasons from those the agent deems best, to the effect that the conclusion of the practical syllogism based on the latter is no longer identical to the action the incontinent agent performs (as Essay 1 had claimed).

Keywords: akrasia; Aristotle; causal theory of action; practical syllogism; Socrates; weakness of will

Chapter.  9725 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Mind

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