Irrationality in Philosophy and Psychology: the Moral Implications of Self-Defeating Behavior

Journal of Consciousness Studies 5 (2):224-234 (1998)
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The philosophical study of irrationality can yield interesting insights into the human mind. One provocative issue is self-defeating behaviours, i.e. behaviours that result in failure to achieve one’s apparent goals and ambitions. In this paper I consider a self-defeating behaviour called choking under pressure, explain why it should be considered irrational, and how it is best understood with reference to skills. Then I describe how choking can be explained without appeal to a purely Freudian subconscious or ‘sub-agents’ view of mind. Finally, I will recommend an alternative way to understand self-defeating behaviour which comes from a synthesis of Peter Strawson’'s explanation of ‘self-reactive attitudes’, Mark Johnston’'s notion of ‘mental tropisms’, and revised Freudian descriptions of the causes of self-defeating behaviour.
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