Tag Archives: Will Power

Contra Ainslie: Multi-variable Measures of Akrasia

Throughout his explanation of akrasia as hyperbolic discounting, Ainslie focuses on the temporal dimensions of the discounting process, noting that when the possibility of experiencing satisfaction from a particular reward is less delayed, then the agent is more likely to engage in akratic actions or be swayed by akratic behavioral dispositions.

Ainslie uses the term “imminent” to describe how strongly an agent may feel an internal pull towards a particular reward and its accompanying satisfaction (Ainslie 30). “Imminent,” when properly understood within hyperbolic discounting, includes but should not be limited to temporal considerations. Akratic actions involve internal calculations guided by desire or emotion with an emphasis on, or at least a preference for, the likelihood of certainty in obtaining satisfaction from a reward. This aspect of certainty is what some psychological experiments mentioned by Ainslie fail to properly take into account.

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An Introduction to Akrasia

Skele Akrasia has traditionally been defined as “incontinence” or “weakness of will” and occurs when an agent, endowed with certain rational and volitional faculties (deliberation and free will), chooses a poorer course of action. Akrasia has wide-reaching implications for topics such as motivation (what causes akratic actions?), impulsiveness (how does one prevent akratic actions?), moral accountability (is akrasia similar enough to addiction or compulsion to warrant lesser moral culpability?), and the like. As scholar George Ainslie points out, the practical application of akrasia has been, and is currently being, studied by scholars coming from numerous disciplines including philosophy of mind, sociobiology, economics, neurophysiology, and cognitive psychology (Ainslie 7). The importance of understanding the concept and what it means for human beings should not be understated.

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