Weakness of Will
I know what to do
Motivation not present
I'm the only person with this interest, though a few people are interested in the Greek version, akrasia
and several (mainly Christian?) users and communities are interested in self-control
. Also related are willpower
, and incontinence, though I doubt these people
have the same thing in mind.
It's a subject that's familiar to most people, but it doesn't receive a lot of attention. Since at least Plato, philosophers have asked "Is knowledge sufficient for virtue?" That is, if a person knows that X is the right thing to do, will he do X? I think the answer is clearly "no," but it seems that most philosophers (Plato included) try to redefine "knowledge," "right," and so forth so that the answer is "yes," because that gives us higher hopes for our ethical theories.
Suppose you're on a diet. You know you shouldn't eat chocolate cake for dessert, and you tell your friends "I'm not going to have dessert." But then the waitress comes over and asks if she can get you anything else, and you blurt out "I'll have the chocolate cake." What's happened? Do you (momentarily) not believe that you shouldn't have chocolate cake? Doubtful. Did you talk yourself into thinking chocolate cake isn't fattening? (It's okay! I had Subway!) Maybe. Did one voice in your head say "I don't want any dessert" and another voice shouted "I want the chocolate cake!" and took over your executive function? This seems more likely. This is an example of weak will.
Weakness of will is a problem with lack of action as well. You're watching TV and Entertainment Tonight comes on and you say "I really should get up and do homework so I don't fail this class." But then you don't get up. You know you need to do homework. You know Entertainment Tonight is not a good use of your time. You don't even care
about Michael Jackson. You're motivated not to fail, because then you'll have to retake the class. But you can't get your body lifted off the couch. This is another example of weak will.
Sophomore year I took a "Philosophy and Literature" course where this was the main topic of discussion. It was at 9:30 AM, so I didn't grok as many of the nuances as I'd have liked, but the issues stewed in my mind for a while. I wrote a one-act play which involved a guy and his shadow as separate characters. I'm a slacker, so I haven't posted it in the 3.5 years I've had available. Will do so soon, however. The next year, I took an "Ethics and Psychology" seminar and wrote a pretty good paper
that I presented the next year at the Rocky Mountain Student Philosophy Conference. My argument was that we don't have a good framework for discussing (weakness of) will, so I drew some preliminary distinctions. For instance, it's important to distinguish actions based on the amount of conscious control we have over them. I used substance addiction as a recurring example, though I had trouble finding good research on substance abuse qua willpower. One cool thing about the paper was the meta-section, where I described my process of writing the paper while suffering from a lack of self-control.
I encourage my wonderful readers to post a comment describing a personal account of weak will (in haiku form, if you like). You can talk about a time when you knew what you should do but did something else. Or you can talk about a time when you knew what you should do but didn't do anything. Or you can talk about a time when you knew what you shouldn't do, but did it anyway.