Aristotle’s Akrasia: The Role of Potential Knowledge and Practical Syllogism

Proceedings of the XXIII World Congress of Philosophy 2 (2):233-238 (2018)
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Abstract

In Nicomachean Ethics VII Aristotle describes akrasia as a disposition. Taking into account that it is a disposition, I argue that akrasia cannot be understood on an epistemological basis alone, i.e., it is not merely a problem of knowledge that the akratic person acts the ways he does, but rather one is akratic due to a certain kind of habituation, where the person is not able to activate the potential knowledge s/he possesses. To stress this point, I focus on the gap between potential knowledge and its activation, whereby I argue that the distinction between potential and actual knowledge is at the center of the problem of akrasia. I suggest that to elaborate on this gap, we must go beyond the limits of Nicomachean Ethics to Metaphysics IX, where we find Aristotle’s discussion of the distinction between potentiality and actuality. I further analyze the gap between potential and actual knowledge by means of Aristotle’s discussion of practical syllogism, where I argue that akrasia is a result of a conflict in practical reasoning. I conclude my paper by stressing that for the akratic person the action is determined with respect to the conclusion of the practical syllogism, where the conclusion is produced by means of a ‘conflict’ between the universal opinion which is potential and the particular opinion which is appetitive.

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Imge Oranli
Arizona State University

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