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Akrasia, occasionally transliterated as acrasia (from Greek, "lacking command (over oneself)") is the state of acting against one's better judgment.

Psychologists are well aware that some people are more able to defer gratification than others; that is, some people are more able to refuse a small reward now for the sake of a bigger reward later. The question is why this should be so.


The problem goes back at least as far as Plato. Socrates (in Plato's Protagoras) asks 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.

Another explanation 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.

Views on akrasia[]

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.

Other uses of the term:[]

  • A rock band from Pittsburgh. [1]
  • Acrasia, a character in The Faerie Queene, an epic poem by Edmund Spenser.

See also[]



  • Adler, J.E., "Akratic Believing?", Philosophical Studies, Vol.110, No.1, (July 2002), pp.1-27.
  • Arpaly, N., "On Acting Rationally against One’s Best Judgement", Ethics, Vol.110, No.3, (April 2000), pp.488-513.
  • Arpaly, N. & Schroeder, T., "Praise, Blame and the Whole Self", Philosophical Studies, Vol.93, No.2, (February 1999), pp.161-188.
  • Audi, R., "Weakness of Will and Practical Judgment", Noûs, Vol.13, No.2, (May 1979), pp.173-196.
  • Bovens, L., "The Two Faces of Akratics Anonymous", Analysis, Vol.59, No.4, (October 1999), pp.230-236.
  • Cameron, M.E., "Akrasia, AIDS, and Virtue Ethics", Journal of Nursing Law, Vol.4, No.1, (1997), pp.21-33.
  • Campbell, P.G., "Diagnosing Agency", Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology, Vol.7, No.2, (June 2000), pp.107-119.
  • Chan, D.K., "Non-Intentional Actions ", American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol.32, No.2, (April 1995), pp.139-151.
  • Davidson, D. (Donald Davidson), "How is Weakness of the Will Possible?", reprinted at pp.21-42 in Davidson, D., Essays on Actions and Events, Oxford University Press, (Oxford), 1980. (Essay originally published in 1969.)
  • Gilead, A., "How is Akrasia Possible After All?", Ratio, Vol.12, No.3, (September 1999), pp.257-270.
  • Haggard, P., Cartledge, P., Dafydd, M. & Oakley, D.A., "Anomalous Control: When ‘Free-Will’ is not Conscious", Consciousness and Cognition, Vol.13, No.3, (September 2004), pp.646-654.
  • Haji, I., "Moral Responsibility and the Problem of Induced Pro-Attitudes", Dialogue, Vol.35, No.4, (Fall 1996), pp.703-720.
  • Hardcastle, V.G., "Life at the Borders: Habits, Addictions and Self-Control", Journal of Experimental and Theoretical Artificial Intelligence, Vol.15, No.2, (2003), pp.243-253.
  • Hartmann, D., "Neurophysiology and Freedom of the Will", Poiesis & Praxis: International Journal of Technology Assessment and Ethics of Science, Vol.2, No.4, (May 2004), pp.275-284.
  • Henry, D., "Aristotle on Pleasure and the Worst Form of Akrasia", Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, Vol.5, No.3, (September 2002), pp.255-270.
  • Hodgson, D., "Plain Person's Free Will", Journal of Consciousness Studies, Vol.12, No.1, (January 2005), pp.3-19.
  • Holton, R., "Intention and Weakness of Will", The Journal of Philosophy, Vol.96, No.5, (May 1999), pp.241-262.[2]
  • Hookway, C., "Epistemic Akrasia and Epistemic Virtue", pp.178-199 in Fairweather, A. & Zagzebski, L. (eds.), Virtue Epistemology: Essays on Epistemic Virtue and Responsibility, Oxford University Press, (Oxford), 2001.
  • Jiang, X.-Y., "What Kind of Knowledge Does a Weak-Willed Person Have? — A Comparative Study of Aristotle and the Ch’eng-Chu School", Philosophy East & West, Vol.50, No.2, (April 2000), pp.242-253.
  • Joyce, R., "Early Stoicism and Akrasia", Phronesis: A Journal for Ancient Philosophy, Vol.40, No.3, (1995), pp.315-335.
  • Martin, M.W., "Alcoholism as Sickness and Wrongdoing", Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, Vol.29, No.2, (June 1999), pp.109-131.
  • Mele, A.R., "Akrasia, Self-Control, and Second-Order Desires", Noûs, Vol.26, No.3, (September 1992), pp.281-302.
  • Mele, A.R., "Akratic Feelings", Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol.50, No.2, (December 1989), pp.277-288.
  • Mele, A.R., "Incontinent Believing", Philosophical Quarterly, Vol.36, No.143, (April 1986), pp.212-222.
  • Mele, A.R., "Is Akratic Action Unfree?", Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol.46, No.4, (June 1986), pp.673-679.
  • Mele, A.R., "Real Self-Deception", Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Vol.20, No.1, (March 1997), pp.91-102.
  • Metcalfe, J. & Mischel, W., "A Hot/Cool-System Analysis of Delay of Gratification: Dynamics of Willpower", Psychological Review, Vol.106, No.1, (January 1999), pp.3-19.
  • Owens, D., "Epistemic Akrasia", The Monist, Vol.85, No.3, (July 2002), pp.381-397.
  • Peijnenburg, J., "Akrasia, Dispositions and Degrees", Erkenntnis, Vol.53, No.3, (2000), pp.285-308.
  • Rorty, A.O., "The Social and Political Sources of Akrasia", Ethics, Vol.107, No.4, (July 1997), pp.644-657.
  • Santas, G., "Aristotle on Practical Inference, the Explanation of Action, and Akrasia", Phronesis, Vol.14, (1969), pp.162-189.
  • Santas, G., "Plato's Protagoras and Explanations of Weakness", The Philosophical Review, Vol.75, No.1, (January 1966), pp.3-33.
  • Searle, J.R. (John Searle), Rationality in Action, MIT Press, (Cambridge), 2001.
  • Shand, A.F., "Attention and Will: A Study in Involuntary Action", Mind, Vol.4, No.16, (October 1895), pp.450-471.
  • Valverde, M., Diseases of the Will: Alcohol and the Dilemmas of Freedom, Cambridge University Press, (Cambridge), 1998.
  • Walker, A.F., "The Problem of Weakness of Will", Noûs, Vol.23, No.5, (December 1989), pp.653-676.
  • Wallace, R.J., "Three Conceptions of Rational Agency", Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, Vol.2, No.3, (1999), pp.217-242.
  • Wegner, D.M., "Ironic Processes of Mental Control", Psychological Review, Vol.101, No.1, (1994), pp.44–52.
  • Wegner, D.M., The Illusion of Conscious Will, Bradford Books, MIT Press, (Cambridge), 2002.
  • Wegner, D.M. & Wheatley, T., "Apparent Mental Causation: Sources of the Experience of Will", American Psychologist, Vol.54, No.7, (July 1999), pp.480-492.
  • Williams, B., "Voluntary Acts and Responsible Agents", Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Vol.10, No.1, (1990), pp.1-10.
  • Zheng, Y., "Akrasia, Picoeconomics, and a Rational Reconstruction of Judgement Formation in Dynamic Choice", Philosophical Studies, Vol.104, No.3, (June 2001), pp.227-251.
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