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Akrasia and Ron

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Member Ascendant
since 08-20-99
Posts 5896
Jejudo, South Korea

0 posted 01-16-2003 08:23 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Roughly speaking this is an example of akrasia:


At a party, you offer me cigarette and I consider your offer. On the one hand, I reckon that smoking a cigarette now would be very enjoyable. On the other hand, I believe that smoking is detrimental to my health. Not only would smoking this cigarette be harmful in itself, I think, but it would also increase the probability of my picking up an abandoned habit of smoking. In short, accepting your offer for a cigarette decreases my chances of leading a long and healthy life. I consider this goal superior to that of enjoying the short-term pleasure to be gotten out of smoking. Given my own values and goals, as well as the extent to which, I believe, accepting your offer would interfere with or satisfy them, I judge that I ought to decline your offer. Next, I take the cigarette, muttering uncomfortably: "Just this once."

From "Akrasia and the Principle of Continence or What the Tortoise Would Say to Achilles", p. 381 in The Philosophy of Donald Davidson .

Reading Ron's comments, this event would seem to be, consciously and unconsciously, more or less fundamental to what human beings, more or less, do. I don't know how fundamental this point is, I don't know how fundamental Ron would takes this to be (At the very least, I think that when we follow reasoning such as this, he might say that it's probably more that a reasonable explanation coincides with our desires more than it decides what we desire.).

I suppose it doesn't say much for our self- proclaimed label: homo sapiens sapiens.

My difference, and I'm not sure how much of a difference it really is, is that those desires are always already affected by previous reasoning rather than being somehow pure and dominant all the time. I suspect we both agree the effects of talking yourself into something (As Golem does in the Two Towers.) has a minimal effect at best.

It takes time to do what we want, to train ourselves to do what we want.

Member Rara Avis
since 05-19-99
Posts 9708
Michigan, US

1 posted 01-16-2003 11:37 PM       View Profile for Ron   Email Ron   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Ron's Home Page   View IP for Ron

Yep. That's it. Well, almost

I don't think a reasonable explanation coincides with our desires so much as it is usually born of our desires. We believe what we need to believe. We justify.

That's not really as cynical as it might sound, though. As you implied, we can and do change what we want, sometimes through conscious effort, sometime just through happenstance. Yes, it takes time to change. Lots of time. And lots and lots of consistent effort. I'm not sure we do it through "previous reasoning," however. I think most change occurs as a result of redirection. To free ourselves of a particular desire, and the belief system that supports that desire, we find something we desire more. For example, in Davidson's anecdote, the smoker is trying to replace his desire to smoke with a desire to live a "long and healthy life." Unfortunately, he discovers that the future promise of fulfillment is rarely as strong as immediate fulfillment. He takes the cigarette. And I'm sure he truly believes it will be "just this once," and that once isn't going to kill him. He believes it because he must.

(Notice how I call him a smoker? That's because he still sees himself as a smoker, else there would have been no temptation. He needs to find a short-term desire, such as the feeling of pride that comes from refusing the cigarette, to combat the short-term gratification of accepting the cigarette.)

Ironically, my analysis seems to refute my conclusions. I am obviously using thought to determine what I believe to be true about emotions and desires. And I consciously use what I believe to help shape my own desires to what I hope are intelligent choices. So, I must be wrong? Or maybe this whole theory is simply a justification for what I REALLY want?
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