02
Dec
09

Akrasia

Sometimes, we judge that some course of action is the best option, yet we fail to perform it. For example, I had a lot of work to do last Saturday and I knew I should stay home and do it, but I went to Hartford instead to hang out with friends. How can my judgment about my all things considered best course of action fail to motivate me?

This philosophical problem ends up being a proving ground for various theories of action and moral motivation.

At first, the problem seems easy. Take fear. I know I should speak in my friend’s defense at his show trial, but fear of reprisal keeps me in my seat. So, sometimes I just can’t do what I think I ought. However, this is no solution to the problem because when I sit down, I’m not really sitting out of choice, rather I am compelled. An example in which my mouth was sewn shut and I was glued to my seat would be no different. I would in this case fail to do what I thought I should do, but not voluntarily; I was compelled.

In the case under consideration, I act against my better judgment not out of compulsion but voluntarily. I cooly and decisively violate my best judgment, as I did when I got my keys and turned off the lights to my apartment, all the while thinking about how I should be doing work.

Maybe the answer is that my best judgment was overridden by a strong desire. A natural answer. However, this answer too is trouble. If my judgment can’t win over my desire, then what power does my judgment have? How does my judgment win sometimes but lose other times? The answer to this question is complex and invites a range of positions.

Next time you are overcome with  weakness of the will, I invite you to examine the experience carefully, because in doing so you may gain insight into one of the most bedeviling philosophical problems.

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