Weakness of Will

According to the traditional philosophical analysis of weakness of will, the weak-willed agent acts contrary to her all-things-considered judgment concerning what she ought to do.  This analysis is content-neutral, in the sense that it is not supposed to matter what the agent has concluded she ought to do–whatever it is, straying from that course of action may exhibit weakness of will.  Apparently folk intuitions do not support the traditional analysis (which may or may not be a problem depending on what the philosophical analysis of weakness of will is supposed to be an analysis of).  So-called ‘experimental philosophers’ have shown that judgments of akrasia depend partly on the judge’s beliefs about whether the subject performed a moral or immoral action.  Consider Huck’s inability to bring himself to notify Miss Watson of Jim’s whereabouts, despite his belief that he really ought to do so, all things considered.  The traditional analysis suggests that Huck is weak-willed, whereas the folk (so suggests the studies) do not want to say that Huck is weak-willed.  I have some thoughts about the significance of these studies, and whether they point to a genuine problem with the traditional analysis, but first I’m interested in hearing what your off-the-cuff intuitions are about weakness-of-will: Can one do the right thing out of weakness of will?

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2 Responses to Weakness of Will

  1. Nate says:

    I think we’ve talked about this before, but I’ve always had doubts about this way of using the Huck Finn example. It’s not obvious to me that this is an instance of Huck Finn going against his considered belief of what he really ought to do. I’ve always thought it more plausible to think of Huck as feeling the weight of what society expects him to do, but coming to recognize that some of these expectations are wrong. So, when he refers to being supposed to notify Ms. Watson, he’s recognizing the weight of society’s expectations, not stating his considered judgment.

    Whether or not that’s right, as Twain-scholarship, I suppose it doesn’t really answer your question. I suppose I’m OK with doing the right thing out of weakness of will, although I’m willing to be convinced otherwise.

  2. Lime says:

    I ought to write a long response to this post, but I don’t think I will.

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