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Spinoza on the Problem of Akrasia



Abstract: Two common ways of explaining akrasia will be presented, one which focuses on strength of desire and the other which focuses on action issuing from practical judgment. Though each is intuitive in a certain way, they both fail as explanations of the most interesting cases of akrasia. Spinoza's own thoughts on bondage and the affects follow, from which a Spinozist explanation of akrasia is constructed. This account is based in Spinoza's mechanistic psychology of cognitive affects. Because Spinoza's account explains action asissuing from modes of mind that are both cognitive and affective, it captures the intuitions that motivate the two traditional views while avoiding the pitfalls that result from their one-sided approaches. This project will allow us a fuller understanding of Spinozist moral psychology. In addition to this historical value, the Spinozist theory may offer a satisfactory explanation of certain hard cases of akrasia while avoiding the problems be set by other theories. For this reason, the Spinozist account could also be seen as a useful contribution to our philosophical understanding of the phenomenon of akrasia.