Read: Aristotle, Metaphysics, Books I, VII (7-9), Physics I, II (1-3), III (1-3)
(This may seem like a lot of pages when you open the pdf, but the font is quite large so it is less than it appears.)
One thing we missed on Tuesday but we will discuss on Thursday is akrasia, or weakness of will. These are cases where you know or believe that some option is worse than another but do it anyway, e.g. I believe I ought not to eat the cupcake but I end up giving into my desires and in a moment of weakness I eat it anyway.
One way to think about the problems related to the existence of weak-willed action is with reference to an inconsistent triad of premises that we have from Donald Davidson, a modern philosopher. Imagine a case where Joan knows she ought to be working on a paper but ends up giving into weakness and going to a party instead. Take the following three claims (slightly altered from Davidson’s):
(1) Joan believes that writing is better than going to the party (i.e. she believes that she ought to write her paper).
(2) Whenever anyone believes that A is better than B, and voluntarily chooses between A and B, she does A.
(3) Joan voluntarily chose to go to the party.
Each of these individually seems to be true. For (1), Joan would report throughout the whole night that she ought to be writing her paper and that it was the better choice. For (2), it seems like a general truth about motivation that if I voluntarily choose between two options, I will always pick the one I think best – why would I ever choose to do the worse when I could just as easily pick the better? For (3), we want to say that Joan chose to go to the party and that she is responsible and blameworthy for her choice.
The problem is that when taken all together, the three are inconsistent – not all three can be true at the same time, so we must give one up and explain why it seems to be true even though it is not. We’ll talk in class about how our historical figures might respond to the triad, but at first glance, which of the three would you give up? Is it that Joan is just lying when she says that writing is better, so that (1) is false when she goes to the party? Or is it that sometimes we can freely decide to choose an option, make that choice, and then somehow end up doing something else entirely? Or is it that when we are weak-willed, we are forced to act by our appetites so that we cannot say that Joan voluntarily chose to go to the party – she was “overwhelmed by desire”? Explain your thoughts.