Monday, 15 February 2010

Weakness of Will

I am about to begin working on my 3rd Greek essay and thought I'd share some thoughts with you lot. I know some of you are philosophers and may appreciate my ramblings - to those of you who are not, you can always play along =p

"No man can know the better and be able to do it, but do the worst"

So basically, we can't do the wrong thing on purpose if we're capable of doing the right thing. I've been thinking about this for a few days now, trying to work out what my thoughts on it actually are. I have yet to actually do the reading, because I only just finished my Theaetetus essay this morning, where I concluded knowledge is not perception and that they are two very different things. I didn't quite work out what knowledge was, just that it was something special and a certain shape - it doesn't fit through the perception shaped holes in my understanding box. I realise that is probably a really confused analogy, but it helped me work it all out.

Anyway, I'm going off on a tangent. What do you think, can people err knowingly?

I think (today) that it's all a very subjective subject. I might think that your actions are wrong but you may not agree, which would mean I guess that you're not erring knowingly. But are you erring at all? Let us think about an example so we can try to get our heads around it: smoking.

People smoke even though they know it is bad for them. They know they will lose years off their lives and that their insides are being destroyed. But they do it anyway. 

This makes me think it has to be something to do with instant gratification vs long term gratification. In the moment they feel better for it which seems worth the worse later on. It's a value scale - what's more important to me? What is it I want more, to live freely or live longer? Maybe.

I think we like our instant gratification, us humans. We respond to instinct to feed animal desires. Hunger for example - we get hungry, we eat. But sometimes we go on diets, do delay instant gratification for that long term goal of being skinny. So how does it all weigh up?

This is just an informal idea soup. I will read Plato and a bit of Aristotle and come up with my essay and let you know what conclusion I came to on the matter. Let me know what you think in general about whether or not we are weak willed. Do we do things even when we don't want to do them? What does that even mean?


  1. I may be a hard-headed woman. I do many wrong things on purpose, and they all have something to do with freedom of choice. But it makes me a case study, I guess. =P

    I respect very few social conventions, I don't like being told what to do or wear and I generally don't do or wear what I'm told to, I'll reject any imposed idea or behavior.

    Friends call me crazy but I definitely choose to live freely over to live long.

    Excelent post, Pennie. I bet you'll do a great job with your essay.

    Much love.

  2. It's interesting that you don't think knowledge is perception. I am neither an idealist nor empiricist, but I am more inlcined towards of view of empircist. You may wanna check out 'The Analysis of Mind' by Bertrand Russell if you are interested in this subject.

    I suppose this is the essay you mentioned to me before, but I was too lazy to come up with any thoughts back then.

    'We can't do the wrong thing on purpose if we are capable of doing the right thing.'

    I agree with you that it's kind of subjective since what seems wrong to you may not seem wrong to me and even different cultures have different conceptions of right and wrong. My worry is that we usually don't do the wrong thing, but we do stupid or silly things which we think are right all the time.

    Smoking is probably not a good example since it's not necessarily wrong. It's not that bad when you have self-control. Many philosophers smoked too, but they didn't die at an early age. Smoking I think is more related to addiction than instant gratification.

    Speaking of gratification, I agree with you that humans love instant gratification. But the case is a bit more complicated for humans. Food is no longer made to merely satisfy our hunger. We have also made it artifical and stylistic in a way which seems to suggest there is an aesthetic value in food. It's also true of the case of smoking. We don't just smoke tobacco. We have turn them into cigarettes, cigars, shisha (Water pipes from the Middle East), ans pipes. What I am saying is long term gratification seems as important as instant gratification.

    I am not sure whether we are weak willed, but we are easily made stupid by education and the manupulation of the media. And don't forget that we are often forced to do a certain kind of things under peer pressure. If that is what you mean by weak, then I suppose we are all weak willed by nature. But that doesn't mean we can't change it.

    So I don't think we do things even we don't wanna do them, but we do them because we 'THINK' we wanna do them. We are all deluded. This is probably not gonna help much, but I would like to see what your response is.


  3. You can’t beat a bit of Socrates.

    I guess Socrates would say that if we are disagreeing about smoking then it is because at least one of us is lacking some knowledge. If we only applied the great mans famous method, then we could come to know whether short-term pleasure was more important than long-term health. At that moment we could all rationally agree to be entirely rational smokers, if we found it pleasurable (and who wouldn’t?), or nice and healthy clean-living folks. The problem with Socrates’ virtue ethics (imo) is that it is reliant upon a view of man as a rational-animal; capable of making our desires subordinate to reason. And as any smoker knows, that just ain’t the case. It is surely true that our reason can supply very powerful motives of it’s own, but that is a slightly different thing.

    I think as an ethical philosophy it is untenable nowadays. Post Freud, and our discovery that we really aren’t all that rational at all. But as a moral heuristic it is probably pretty good, if it encourages us to use our reason to develop desires that can overcome our baser natures.