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Backsliding: Understanding Weakness of Will [Hardcover]

Alfred R. Mele

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Book Description

April 18 2012
People backslide. They freely do things they believe it would be best on the whole not to do - and best from their own point of view, not just the perspective of their peers or their parents. The aim of this book is to explain why that happens. The first main item of business is to clarify the nature of backsliding - of actions that display some weakness of will. To this end, Mele uses traditional philosophical techniques dating back to Plato and Aristotle (whose work on weakness of will or "akrasia" he discusses) and some new studies in the emerging field of experimental philosophy. He then attacks the thesis that backsliding is an illusion because people never freely act contrary to what they judge best. Mele argues that it is extremely plausible that if people ever act freely, they sometimes backslide. The biggest challenge posed by backsliding is to explain why it happens. At the book's heart is the development of a theoretical and empirical framework that sheds light both on backsliding and on exercises of self-control that prevent it. Here, Mele draws on work in social and developmental psychology and in psychiatry to motivate a view of human behavior in which both backsliding and overcoming the temptation to backslide are explicable. He argues that backsliding is no illusion and our theories about the springs of action, the power of evaluative judgments, human agency, human rationality, practical reasoning, and motivation should accommodate backsliding.

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Full of intellectually stimulating arguments. CHOICE

About the Author

Alfred R. Mele is the William H. and Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy at Florida State University. He is the author of six previous OUP books: Irrationality (1987), Springs of Action (1992), Autonomous Agents (1995), Motivation and Agency (2003), Free Will and Luck (2006), and Effective Intentions (2009). He also is the editor of The Philosophy of Action (OUP 1997) and a coeditor of four other OUP volumes: Mental Causation (1993), The Oxford Handbook of Rationality (2004), Rationality and the Good (2007), and Free Will and Consciousness: How Might They Work? (2010).

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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars boring May 31 2014
By Mark Pressman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
never really gives an answer or a defensible position, just cites lots of studies about what students think and gives background on different possible ways of understanding the issue.
5.0 out of 5 stars An accessible account of Al Mele's writing on will-power over the last two decades. May 14 2014
By mike funke - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It was good. If you are interested in academic work on weakness of will, you should read it.

Of special note is the shift from "strict akratic action" in Mele's seminal 1987 Irrationality and toward the slightly modified "core akratic (or weak-willed) action." Core akratic action includes the earlier "free intentional action against the agents own better judgment" but clarifies that the action be "sane," "based on practical reasoning," and that the agent be "non-depressed." Here Mele is both shoring up his position against criticism and positioning his view rhetorically as the central account.

Mele addresses the common language controversy between himself and Richard Holton. He is less than thorough about it and so the argument is only somewhat persuasive. But, the dispute made is clear.

The section on free-will is aimed at avoiding a full blown account of free action, but is still moderately technical. Not a good primer on free will, but a fair accounting of how to discuss weakness of will without such an account. Mele draws together lots of his previous work.

By far the most exciting element of the book is the chapter explaining "backsliding" or the process of failing to act on a reasoned judgment about what all things considered ought to be done. This section is a very helpful synthesis of Mele's previous work into a compelling account of practical rationality and failure.

Mele ends by discussing some of the results described in Baumeister's recent book Willpower.

All in all, this is a good book, well written and packed with connections between more tightly argued articles.

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