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Self-defeating behaviour, personal rules and social norms.

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This dissertation explores Ainslie's account of self-defeating behaviour as portrayed in Breakdown of Will (2001). Self-defeating behaviour can be described as voluntarily doing that which we know we are going to end up regretting (Ainslie 2001:3). It is puzzling why anyone would willingly choose to behave in such an ill-rewarding manner of which they know the negative consequences it will bear prior to them engaging in that behaviour; yet, at the same time, it is also fascinating, as despite it being behaviour people know that they are undoubtedly going to regret; many can claim to have fallen prey to it. Exploring this weakness of self-defeating behaviour, I refer to Ainslie's explanation of the phenomenon and his suggestions regarding possible strategies for curbing it. One of the strategies Ainslie suggests against self-defeating behaviour is personal rules (also known as the will), which he argues is a form of intertemporal bargaining between the successive interests, or temporal stages of the self (Ainslie 2001:78-85). Although, for the most part, his description is quite detailed, comparing our successive selves to players in an iterated prisoner’s dilemma game, there are limitations in his explanation as he seems, for one, not to consider some of the conditions for cooperation associated to the concept of an iterated prisoners' dilemma game. I, thus, turn to social norm theorist, Bicchieri's The Grammar of society (2006), in an attempt at an improved illustration of personal rules beyond its comparison to an iterated prisoner's dilemma game. I note similarities between social norms (Bicchieri) and personal rules (Ainslie) such that the reasons we follow social norms could be analogous to the reasons behind us following certain personal rules. But Bicchieri's description of social norms can be explained in a more general way, which I suggest may be a better framework for thinking about the will than an iterated prisoner's dilemma.


Thesis (M.A.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, 2011.


Ainslie, George, 1944- Breakdown of will., Bicchieri, Cristina. Grammar of society., Self-defeating behaviour., Social norms., Theses--Philosophy.