In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Weakness of Will

  • Introduction
  • Overviews and Anthologies
  • Contemporary Conceptions
  • Classical Ideas
  • The Possibility of Weakness of Will
  • The Irrationality of Weakness of Will
  • Akrasia and the Guise of the Good
  • Akrasia and Intentionality
  • Freedom and Weakness of Will
  • The Contrast with Compulsion
  • The Role of Temptation
  • Inverse Akrasia
  • Akratic Action and Irrational Belief
  • Akratic Attitudes

Philosophy Weakness of Will
Lubomira Radoilska
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0111


Weakness of will, or akrasia, is an exciting issue at the heart of moral psychology and the philosophy of mind and action. This articleoffers a problem-centered guide to the relevant literature in contemporary analytic philosophy with reference to the main classical texts. The topics covered include: contemporary versus classical conceptions of akrasia, the possibility of weakness of will and its significance within instrumental and substantive theories of practical rationality, the nature of akratic actions and akratic attitudes, and the plausibility of a theoretical counterpart of weakness of will, such as epistemic akrasia.

Overviews and Anthologies

The most accessible introductions to the topic are offered in Stroud 2008 and Steward 1998: the former focuses on the contemporary debates, whereas the latter gives a good idea of the historical background of the problem, especially in ancient philosophy. Mele 2004 is an excellent guide to the overall debate and will be particularly useful to scholars and postgraduates interested in the putative irrationality of weakness of will. Gosling 1990 contains both an illuminating discussion of the history of the problem of weakness of will and a helpful analysis of contemporary developments, which could be used for undergraduate teaching. Price 1995 explores the related notion of mental conflict in ancient Greek philosophy. The three early-21st-century anthologies cited in this section offer complementary overviews: Stroud and Tappolet 2003 is representative of the state of the art in analytic moral psychology and philosophy of action; Hoffmann 2008 sums up the development of conceptions of weakness of will throughout the history of Western philosophy; and Bobonich and Destrée 2007 discusses classical conceptions of akrasia in relation to the present debates.

  • Bobonich, Christopher, and Pierre Destrée, eds. Akrasia in Greek Philosophy: From Socrates to Plotinus. Philosophia Antiqua 106. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1163/ej.9789004156708.i-308

    An excellent collection of exegetical essays on ancient conceptions of akrasia in relation to the contemporarydebates.

  • Gosling, Justin. Weakness of the Will. Problems of Philosophy. London and New York: Routledge, 1990.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203405239

    The first section outlines the history of the problem, while the second focuses on late-20th-century developments, e.g., a critical analysis of Davidson’s 1970 seminal account of weakness of will (see Davidson 2001, cited under Contemporary Conceptions). The book contains useful summaries at the start and end of each chapter and is suitable for undergraduate students.

  • Hoffmann, Tobias, ed. Weakness of Will from Plato to the Present. Studies in Philosophy and the History of Philosophy 49. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2008.

    A fine overview of weakness of will throughout the history of Western philosophy, bringing together textual exegesis and conceptual analysis. The chapters on Plato, Montaigne, and Kant merit special attention. Suitable for postgraduate students.

  • Mele, Alfred R. “Motivated Irrationality.” In The Oxford Handbook of Rationality. Edited by Alfred R. Mele and Piers Rawling, 240–256. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    A concise account of the nature and causes of irrationality, discussing akratic action in relation to motivationally biased belief; an excellent guide to contemporarydebates in the field.

  • Price, Anthony W. Mental Conflict. Issues in Ancient Philosophy. London: Routledge, 1995.

    An overview of four major solutions to the problem of mental conflict in ancient Greek philosophy, clarifying the difficulties to accommodate instances of hard or clear-eyed akrasia within a rationalist moral psychology. The discussion concentrates on primary sources.

  • Steward, Helen. “Akrasia.” In Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Vol. 8, Questions to Sociobiology. Edited by Edward Craig, 19–20. London: Routledge, 1998.

    This is an accessible introduction to the history of the issue from Socrates to Davidson; it contains helpful summaries of Plato’s and Aristotle’s views. Available online by subscription.

  • Stroud, Sarah. “Weakness of Will.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2008.

    This is a comprehensive introduction to the contemporary debates on weakness of will, with detailed presentations of some of the central arguments. Suitable for postgraduate and advanced undergraduate students.

  • Stroud, Sarah, and Christine Tappolet, eds. Weakness of Will and Practical Irrationality. Oxford: Clarendon, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1093/0199257361.001.0001

    This collection of eleven original essays offers a comprehensive overview of the contemporarydebates on weakness of will at the intersection of philosophy of mind and ethics. A good starting point for scholars and postgraduates new to the field.

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