Embodied Akrasia: James on Motivation and Weakness of Will

William James Studies 14 (1):26-53 (2018)
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Abstract
This paper presents an account of akrasia, drawn from the work of William James, that sees akrasia as neither a rational failing (as with most philosophical accounts) nor a moral failing (as with early Christian accounts), but rather a necessary by-product of our status as biological beings. By examining James’s related accounts of motivation and action, I argue that akratic actions occur when an agent attempts to act against her settled habits, but fails to do so. This makes akrasia a product of the agent’s practical failure to adequately structured her environment to bring about her desired action. Akratic action performs the vital function of revealing to the agent the exact point at which her cognitive effort was insufficient for bringing about her intended action. It also reveals that future improvement is within her control. As such, akratic action is the very foundation of James’s meliorism.
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Archival date: 2018-09-26
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2018-09-26

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