July 18th, 2006

How can we be authentic if we don’t know who we are? My hand writing even changes; without knowledge, without exerting my will and certainly without my consent!

Is “who I am” summarized by what I’m feeling at any given moment? In the truest sense of the word “feelings” we do not CHOOSE them – so they cannot be generated by a self, they are experienced BY or manifested WITHIN a self. Therefore they are authentic.

But “authentic feelings” don’t account for everything that seems to comprise what we experience as self.

Echhart Tolle talks of a “Self” that is aware of feelings – not the feelings themselves. Paul talks of “self control” Interesting word…hold. looking it up:

Temperance, continence, self-restraint especially with regard to diet and chastity

Classically, temperance was defined as governing natural appetites for the pleasure of senses according to the bounds of reason. No virtue could be sustained in the face of inability to control oneself, if the virtue was opposed to some desire; this is why it is classified as a cardinal virtue, where “cardinal” signifies “pivotal.”

Akrasia, occasionally transliterated as acrasia (from Greek, “lacking command (over oneself)”) is the state of acting against one’s better judgment. Although this philosopher’s technical term is usually employed in its Greek form (i.e., akrasia/akratic) in English texts, it was once the philosophers’ English language convention to use the precise English equivalent of akrasia/akratic, incontinence/incontinent. However, it now seems that the correct, widely established convention is to use the term akrasia.

Examples of acting against one’s better judgment would include a man who believes extra-marital sex would imperil his soul (or his marriage), but has an affair anyway, or a person who believes eating high-fat food is unhealthy and violates his New Year’s resolution not to do so.

A puzzle posed by Socrates (in Plato‘s Protagoras) is precisely how this is possible – if one judges action A to be the best course of action, why would one do anything other than A? Donald Davidson sees the problem as one of reconciling the following apparently inconsistent triad:

  • If an agent believes A to be better than B, then he wants to do A more than B.
  • If an agent wants to do A more than B, then he will do A rather than B if he only does one.
  • Sometimes an agent acts against his better judgment.

Davidson solves the problem by saying that, when people act in this way, they temporarily believe that the worse course of action is better, because they have not made an all-things-considered judgment, but only a judgment based on a subset of possible considerations.

A less philosophical, more obvious answer is that there are different forms of motivation, which can conflict with each other. Throughout the ages, many have identified a conflict between reason and emotion, which might make it possible to believe that one should do A rather than B, but still end up wanting to do B more than A.

Much of the philosophical literature takes akrasia to be the same thing as weakness of the will. So, for example, a smoker who wants to quit – yet cannot – acts against her better judgment (that quitting smoking is best) due to a weak will. But a few have challenged the link. Richard Holton for example sees weakness of the will as a tendency to revise one’s judgment about what is best too easily. So the smoker might one moment feel that she should give up, but at another that the joy of smoking outweighs the risks, oscillating back and forth between judgments. Such a person has a weak will but is not acting akratically.

Under this view, it is also possible to act against one’s better judgment, but without weakness of will. One might, for example, decide that taking revenge upon a murderer is both immoral and imprudent, but decide to take revenge anyway, and never flinch from this decision. Such a person behaves akratically but does not show weakness of will.

All of this has the flavor of “two entities”: the SELF and that thing which controls the SELF.

Seeing both parts as an integer seems central. But without a grasp of the component parts, how to?

George McDonald’s character, Anodos in Phantastes acquires a “shadow” which haunts him throughout his journey. Eventually the shadow leaves him after an experience of being humbled.

But this has the quality of LOSING something – not integrating something.

In Romans 8, Paul talks of losing something – the SIN NATURE. He also talks of the Spirit. Now we have 4 players in this drama.

I need a program….

These Greek words all smack of sin management. I’m not interested in simply managing sin.

1 thought on “July 18th, 2006

  1. I think the idea of conflicting motivations is on the mark. There are multiple apps running at a once, and they all want processor time.

    I told the kid during one of The Talks: “The part of your brain that wants to mate is a lot older than the part that can think it through. Don’t let your lizard brain make decisions that have consequences.” (But I wish I’d said it that well the first time.)

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