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.