Tag Archives: Precommitment

Weakness and the Memory of Resolutions

Jaffro, L. (2022). Weakness and the Memory of Resolutions. In C. Bagnoli (ed.), Time in Action. The Temporal Structure of Rational Agency and Practical Thought, New York, Routledge, Routledge Studies in Contemporary Philosophy, 221-242. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429259845

Contemporary moral theory tends to remain silent about the temporal aspect of practical reasoning. It overlooks the portion of our struggle for practical rationality which is due to the challenges of diachronic agency – planning a future conduct, acting on an earlier decision, following a judgment that took place in the past, etc. How can my earlier judgments and commitments exercise the right traction on my later choices and conduct? How can they fail to do so, and how is this kind of lapse a distinctive kind of “practical irrationality”? The chapter focuses on the moral psychology of solemn resolutions – an area, if any, where the diachronic dimension of agency is especially salient. The first part follows a lead from Leibniz’s account of akrasia and compensatory techniques of self-control: both practical irrationality and self-control are concerned with problems of memory. The second part elaborates on a classification of types of memory and applies it to remedies for weakness of will and thus to self-control over time. The main argument aims to answer two questions. The first concerns the nature of weak agents’ normative memory of important resolutions. What kind or degree of memory is required (and accessible) to stick to one’s resolutions? The second question concerns devices of diachronic self-control that may be useful to agents who are aware of their weakness and willing to cope with it. The proposal pays particular attention to intrapsychic means such as “personal rules” as opposed to external constraints.

Practical Irrationality and Anticipatory Self-Command

L. Jaffro (2016). Irrationalité pratique et contrôle de soi par anticipation. Philonsorbonne, 10, 131-152. https://journals.openedition.org/philonsorbonne/810

What could an ethics for weak agents look like? The weakness envisaged here is not contingent, but constitutional. If we assume that practical irrationality, understood as the consequence of a gap between evaluation and motivation, is a background condition and not a pathological exception, several traditional questions of moral philosophy arise in a new light: (a) What is the use of the ‘better self’ perspective in moral life? In what sense is the self multiple? (b) What techniques can agents who do not have a high degree of self-command mobilize? (c) How can freedom, autonomy and the role of voluntary commitments be conceived under this pessimistic assumption?

Cyrus’ Strategy. Shaftesbury on Human Frailty and the Will

L. Jaffro (2014). Cyrus’ Strategy. Shaftesbury on Human Frailty and the Will. In P. Müller (ed.), New Ages, New Opinions. Shaftesbury in his World and Today. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 153-166. https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-01011032/document

In Soliloquy or Advice to an Author (part I, sect. 2), Shaftesbury tells the ‘story of an amour’ in order to illustrate ‘how far a lover by his own natural strength may reach the chief principle of philosophy, and understand our doctrine of two persons in one individual self’. This ten page narrative, which silently draws on Xenophon’s story of Araspas and Pantheia (Cyropaedia, 5. 1 and 6. 1) deserves our attention for several reasons: (a) embodying Shaftesbury’s attempt to convey ancient philosophy to a modern ear, the story is a good instance of the method of teaching philosophy by fables; (b) it explores what may be termed a case of multiple self and thus reveals Shaftesbury’s views on the will and connected issues (the questions how we should construe cases of weakness of will and whether the will is free); (c) it shows the significance, for Shaftesbury, of the Stoic topos of the dangers of ‘admiration’ and of the necessity for beginners of repressing desire and practising ‘aversion’. The aim of this paper is to unfold Shaftesbury’s way of grounding the control of practical choice in the control of ‘opinion’, i.e. of judgement. According to the strongly cognitivist (Socratic) view that Shaftesbury finds in the Roman Stoics, personal integrity, practical rationality, and moral identity are dependent on our ability to respond to truth.