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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-V003-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 25, 2024, from

Article Summary

The Greek word ‘akrasia’ is usually said to translate literally as ‘lack of self-control’, but it has come to be used as a general term for the phenomenon known as weakness of will, or incontinence, the disposition to act contrary to one’s own considered judgment about what it is best to do. Since one variety of akrasia is the inability to act as one thinks right, akrasia is obviously important to the moral philosopher, but it is also frequently discussed in the context of philosophy of action. Akrasia is of interest to philosophers of action because although it seems clear that it does occur – that people often do act in ways which they believe to be contrary to their own best interests, moral principles or long-term goals – it also seems to follow from certain apparently plausible views about intentional action that akrasia is simply not possible. A famous version of the suggestion that genuine akrasia cannot exist is found in Socrates, as portrayed by Plato in the Protagoras. Socrates argues that it is impossible for a person’s knowledge of what is best to be overcome by such things as the desire for pleasure – that one cannot choose a course of action which one knows full well to be less good than some alternative known to be available. Anyone who chooses to do something which is in fact worse than something they know they could have done instead, must, according to Socrates, have wrongly judged the relative values of the actions.

Citing this article:
Steward, Helen. Akrasia, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-V003-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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