Weakness of Will from Plato to the Present (Studies in Philosophy and the History of Philosophy, Volume 49)

Weakness of Will from Plato to the Present (Studies in Philosophy and the History of Philosophy, Volume 49)

General Editor Dougherty Jude P.
Edited by Tobias Hoffmann
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  • Book Info
    Weakness of Will from Plato to the Present (Studies in Philosophy and the History of Philosophy, Volume 49)
    Book Description:

    In thirteen original essays, eminent scholars of the history of philosophy and of contemporary philosophy examine weakness of will, or incontinence--the phenomenon of acting contrary to one's better judgment.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-1850-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xx)

    That I may do something contrary to what I consider best to do is not necessarily perplexing: I want to score a goal at a soccer game but fail to do so because of lack of skill; I want to drive south but unknowingly drive north instead; I fall from my bike because the road is slippery. However, that I act against my better judgment intentionally, that is, knowingly and freely, is puzzling indeed: no one wants to kick wide of the net, get lost on the road, or take a painful tumble, while judging that it would be desirable...

  5. 1 Weakness and Will in Plato’s Republic
    (pp. 1-21)

    The central problem in determining Plato’s attitude toward moral weakness lies in the apparent discrepancy between what Socrates says in dialogues like the Protagoras, Laches, Charmides, and Meno, on the one hand, and Book 4 of the Republic, on the other. The former are characterized by moral intellectualism, the view that since we always want good things for ourselves, once we know that something is good we will act in accordance with that knowledge; they argue that knowledge has an intrinsic power too great for it to be enslaved by inferior principles like appetite and spiritedness.¹ While the Protagoras scornfully...

  6. 2 Aristotle Reads the Protagoras
    (pp. 22-41)

    The discussion of incontinence in the Nicomachean Ethics mentions only one philosopher who held views on this topic. Aristotle begins by criticizing Socrates, but ends by agreeing with him, with qualifications, on one important point. We might hope to understand Aristotle’s discussion better if we can see what view he ascribes to Socrates and why he rejects and accepts different parts of Socrates’ position. But if we try to answer these questions, we face some prior questions: (1) What does Aristotle mean by attributing a view to “Socrates”? Does he intend a historical claim about the historical Socrates, or is...

  7. 3 Plotinus on Weakness of the Will: The Neoplatonic Synthesis
    (pp. 42-57)

    Porphyry tells us that “mixed in” with Plotinus’s Enneads are “concealed Stoic and Peripatetic teachings.”¹ Nowhere is this more apparent than in his understanding of moral psychology, broadly speaking. At the same time, Plotinus thought of himself as an unwavering adherent of Platonism, certainly more a “paleo-Platonist” than a “neo-Platonist.” It is misleading to suggest that this Platonism is a type of syncretism, which I understand to be the view that an amalgam of philosophical positions is thought to result in something new. Rather, it is an application of the principle that Aristotle’s philosophy and, at least in psychological and...

  8. 4 Body Double: Saint Augustine and the Sexualized Will
    (pp. 58-81)

    ”What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.” So says Paul in Romans 7, where he is describing the torment of not being able to keep God’s law, despite a desire to do so. Many readers of Paul, including Augustine for a time, assume that Paul is adopting a persona in Romans 7 for dramatic purposes and so is not speaking directly about an inner torment that is his own. Augustine changes his mind about this as he begins to engage in a long and bitter argument...

  9. 5 Thomas Aquinas on Weakness of the Will
    (pp. 82-114)

    St. Paul, speaking in the first person, characterizes his own feelings of moral weakness with unsurpassed poignancy: “For I do this, not what I will but what I hate” (Rom 7:15).¹ Commenting on St. Paul’s remark, St. Thomas Aquinas observes, speaking as usual impersonally, that it is evident that men are morally weak: “The weakness of a human being is manifest from this fact that he does what he understands ought not to be done.”² The experience of moral weakness, though, is universal, and Aquinas knew that it was long attested before St. Paul. In the fifth century B.C., it...

  10. 6 Henry of Ghent’s Voluntarist Account of Weakness of Will
    (pp. 115-137)

    Although Henry of Ghent is generally not counted among the major figures in the history of philosophy, he deserves the attention of those interested in the problem of weakness of will since he arguably offers one of the most important contributions to this problem in the Middle Ages.¹ In his own time, Henry enjoyed a high reputation as one of the leading masters in theology. He became a regent master (i.e., ordinary professor) of theology at the University of Paris in 1275 or 1276.² As a secular cleric he had unlimited tenure; his tenure lasted sixteen years, which for Parisian...

  11. 7 Dante: Healing the Wounded Will
    (pp. 138-158)

    In De vulgari eloquentia, which was written between 1303 and the eve of 1304, after a detailed survey of the fourteen dialects into which the Italian language is subdivided, Dante formulates a theory of poetry and of the canzone. He considers it to be poetry’s highest form because of its harmonious order. Its ideal themes, or magnalia, are identified as salus, venus, and virtus, which are said to embody the three inclinations or appetites of the will—the useful, the pleasurable, and the honest—and which correspond to three subject matters: armorum probitas (prowess in arms), amoris accensio (fire of...

  12. 8 Montaigne’s Marvelous Weakness
    (pp. 159-174)

    The first thing that Montaigne says about himself in the Essays is: “I am marvelously weak.” How can his weakness be “marvelous”? I will attempt to show that, although Montaigne continues to use the language of the traditional, classical-medieval moral categories, he is actually introducing a new moral possibility and a new standard of human perfection. This new possibility is grounded in a rejection of Aristotelian metaphysics and results in a reordering of the traditional virtues and vices. At the same time, it is a response to Machiavelli’s claim that Christianity has made the world weak. I will conclude with...

  13. 9 Descartes’s Feeble Spirits
    (pp. 175-209)

    Few philosophers of his stature have written so sparingly about ethics and politics as Descartes. Although his correspondence inevitably touches upon such matters, there is no thematic treatment of the political in any of the four books he published, and only once in print does he enter expressly into a discussion of ethics, in the relatively brief prologue to his first book, the Discourse on the Method for Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and Seeking the Truth in the Sciences. Since the Discourse proves to be the only programmatic statement of his philosophy that he saw to print, it is fitting...

  14. 10 Kant on Weakness of Will
    (pp. 210-230)

    The topic of Kant and weakness of will is a large and complex one, made more difficult by the fact that Kant never gave us an explicit and thorough discussion of weakness of will. Thus we must try to reconstruct his position from his many writings on ethics, taking into account that his views, or ways of expressing them, evolved to some extent over time even in his critical period. It may also be helpful to see his view in contrast with those of certain prominent predecessors against whom he reacted. In any case the plan for my discussion is...

  15. 11 Nietzsche, the Will to Power, and the Weak Will
    (pp. 231-251)

    If there is a thinker in whom the various parts of the expression “weakness of will” seem to resonate, it might be thought to be Nietzsche. “Weak” and “strong” recur constantly; the “will” seems to be one of his touchstones. If, famously, all “life is will to power” then surely power is strength of will and weakness of will is lack of a powerful will. While the word akrasia appears but once¹ in all of Nietzsche’s writings, there is, as we shall see, discussion of wills that are in themselves weak.

    Nietzsche differs from most contemporary discussion of the will...

  16. 12 A Libertarian View of Akratic Action
    (pp. 252-275)

    According to a common conception, paradigmatic akratic actions are free, intentional actions that are contrary to a conscious belief that the agent has at the time, to the effect that it would be best to A (or best not to A)—best from the perspective of his own values, desires, beliefs, and the like, as opposed, for example, to a common evaluative perspective that he does not endorse. I dub such a belief a CB; that saves a lot of ink. My label in Irrationality for paradigmatic akratic action, on this conception, is strict akratic action.¹ Typically, the CB is...

  17. 13 Conflicts of Desire
    (pp. 276-292)

    To be human is to suffer from unresolved, or at least from imperfectly resolved, conflicts of desire. Yet we are of course under considerable pressure to suppress the expression of such conflicts, so that we may be able to function in a socially acceptable way in a variety of contexts, making choices, pursuing projects, acting and responding to the actions of others, in coherent and what are taken to be normal ways. In order to be able to function acceptably and effectively we need almost all of the time to present ourselves to ourselves as well as to others as...

  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 293-308)
  19. Contributors
    (pp. 309-312)
  20. Index of Names
    (pp. 313-316)