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Weakness of the will and akrasia: responding to Holton's account.

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There is a standard problem in action theory regarding weakness of the will. The problem arises from a pair if claims that seem to be mutually exclusive. On the one hand there is the traditional account of action as put forward by Davidson in 1963 which says that an action x is intentional if the agent judges there to be a good reason to x , and so does x. On the other hand it seems that often an agent intentionally performs some action and yet that action is not what they judged to be best and so we call that action weak willed. The former statement of intentional action cannot account for the intentional action in the latter claim, and so there is on the face of things, a problem for the traditional Davidsonian account of action. Richard Holton argues that we need to completely redefine weakness of the will in terms of the revision of resolutions. He offers a range of arguments which he thinks show the traditional account to be flawed. In his book Willing, Wanting, Waiting (2009) Holton argues that there is both theoretical room for, and evidence of, intentions (and more specifically resolutions) as self-standing states. Resolutions are a second-order type of intentions with the specific goal of defeating contrary inclinations. Holton argues that, using resolutions, we can redefine weakness of the will. His claim is that an agent is weak willed if an only if the agent unreasonably reconsiders and revises their resolution to act. Much of this relies on his exposition of the notion of choice, where he argues that intentions and resolutions are formed independently of judgments. This means that weakness of the will in terms of resolutions avoids some of the problems posed by unorthodox cases of weakness of the will. In this dissertation I will argue three central points. First, Holton does not show adequately that resolutions are the sorts of intentions that can be formed prior to judgment. Second I will argue that even if the first argument were to fail, there is no real problem for the Davidsonian account of weakness of the will. Finally I will argue that the inclusion of intentions warrants much further investigation. I will show that following Holton's elucidation of choice, the intentions-theorist faces a dilemma. I will argue that neither of these options is palatable for the intentions-theorist.


Thesis (M.A.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2012.


Will., Free will and determinism., Judgement., Theses--Philosophy.