Reasons and a Connection to Weakness of the Will

The other day I had this post about reasons (and a TON of people — I was surprised because I thought it was at least a little bit technical), and got some thought-provoking feedback.

Pretend you love surprise parties when you don’t know about them, and you’re standing outside the door to a surprise party. Do you have a practical reason to go inside?

The problem comes from the fact that you cannot explicitly ACT ON the reason that “there is a surprise party going on inside” without destroying the reason — because you would know about it.

But what if a friend says “you really ought to go in there.” You could go in on trust and find the surprise party. If this is possible, you could act on a reason without being able to elaborate it what it was.

I find this interesting because it connects to weakness of the will. When one acts weakly, one reaches a practical conclusion such as “I should not mock this person,” but then mock the person anyway. The key thing to note is that even though you act contrary to your final, conceptually elaborated, judgment, you still ACT. You act intentionally, which plausibly means that you acted on a reason.

But if your action was FOR or ON a reason, then it could not have been one that you elaborated conceptually, because someone who acts weakly acts AGAINST his/her best judgment about what to do.

There could be any interesting relationship here because in both cases it seems like one can act on a reason WITHOUT being aware of what it is. This is very philosophically puzzling, but exciting as well.


2 Responses to “Reasons and a Connection to Weakness of the Will”

  1. 1 SS
    March 10, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Again, interesting thoughts!

    You say: “There could be any interesting relationship here because in both cases it seems like one can act on a reason WITHOUT being aware of what it is.”

    When you put it this way, I’m suddenly not sure whether it’s puzzling. I’m inclined to say I act (or have acted) on reasons that I can’t articulate, and may even deny I have. Suppose I’m at sea and craving citrus. You *might* say that my reason for sucking on a lemon is that I’m vitamin C deficient, even if I don’t have any idea what that means, and even if I deny it (as I might if I lived in another time or place). It seems like it could be a very general phenomenon, especially where our evolved-creature instincts are in play.

    I suppose you could deny this move and say that I can only act on reasons that are deliberative conclusions. If so, I guess what these examples show is that, despite its plausibility, it’s not the case that you act on a reason when you proceed to mock the person. (Or you could deny that weakness of will is possible.)

    Anyway, not sure these are useful thoughts. Again, I’m pretty new to these problems, though I share your interest in them.

    • 2 questionbeggar
      March 10, 2011 at 2:56 pm

      Well I think one must act on a reason in cases of weakness because such actions are intentional, and a plausible account of intentional actions is that they are done for reasons.

      Four your lime case, I don’t think the reason FOR WHICH someone acted can be respecified at will. If I drink a poison which turns out to be a cure for a slowly crippling disease I have, it seems wrong to say that my reason for drinking it was to get better.

      are you a grad student at michigan? I applied there and am waiting to hear back…doesn’t look good right now.

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