Veronica Rodriguez Blanco: "Taking Akrasia Seriously"

Event date
26 October 2023
Event time
17:00 - 19:00
Oxford week
MT 3
Goodhart Seminar Room University College

Veronica Rodriguez Blanco (Surrey) 

Notes & Changes


In this paper I argue that akrasia provides the underpinning structural feature that explains ethical blameworthiness and judgements of responsibility for negligent acts. It will be argued that we act inadvertently because we act akratically, which is explained in terms of a specific defective engagement of practical reasoning by the performing agent, i.e. a failure of integration between character and thinking that should be understood as a failure to inhabit the deliberative-aspirational perspective. 

The concept of akrasia might not seem very helpful as this notion is plagued with multiple interpretations and ambivalences. Moreover in addition to the complexity of interpreting Socratic and Aristotelian technical notions, contemporary and ancient understandings of akrasia differ because the ancient understanding of practical reason and deliberation differs from contemporary understandings. Consequently, akrasia appears to be an elusive and inscrutable phenomenon.  

In §1 I discuss Rosen’s scepticism about responsibility for negligent actions. His position is that there cannot be responsibility for negligence unless we show that we have failed to discharge our procedural epistemic duties; this can lead, however, to an infinite regress. In order to stop the regress we need to identify an intentional action that shows the failure of discharging our epistemic duties. In this way, negligence either collapses into intentional action or leads to infinite regress. Alternatively, Rosen tells us, we could show that the negligent action is akratic as the agent considers ‘a’ to be a better choice than ‘b’ but nevertheless performs ‘b’. Rosen’s criticism targets ‘clear-eyed akrasia’ and states that it cannot be a potential solution to stop the infinite regress of responsibility for inadvertent acts. If we are aware or have a ‘clear eye’ on the wrongness of the act and, in spite of this, perform the action then, arguably, the action is either reckless or intentional. Furthermore, he also believes that akrasia is a cryptic and obscure concept and therefore cannot illuminate our judgements of responsibility in negligence. Contra Rosen I will show that our interpretation of acting akratically explains how we can act inadvertently and still be ethically and legally blameworthy and responsible.  

In §2 I distinguish the modern conception of akrasia from the view advocated by Socrates and Aristotle and discuss how some contemporary models of acting akratically are either deflationary or change the subject. Additionally, I advance the view that the Aristotelian practical syllogism is problematic as an explanation of how we act akratically.  We think about the diachronic structure of practical agency when we focus on how deliberation operates; by contrast, practical syllogisms are used as practical arguments once the action has been performed but cannot explain how deliberation actually operates. Practical syllogisms provide the structure of the practical argument of the agent when justifications are at stake or the action is seen as a matter of reconstruction by the agent or an observer. However, practical syllogisms do not represent what happens to the agent when she engages in acting akratically. To put the point differently, it is short of a true and powerful explanation as it ignores the dynamic and complex aspects of deliberation. There is something dubiously artificial and schematic about it. Arguably, to fully grasp the deliberative process and the exercise of the practical reason of the agent we need to understand the diachronic structure of the first-person perspective. This is at the core of a sound explanation of acting akratically.  

In §3 I show how we can fail to integrate thinking and desire, and how we can inhabit the deliberative-aspirational perspective. This is the core of a sound explanation of acting akratically which shows the underpinning structure of acting negligently. This paper establishes the foundations for the discussion of responsibility for negligent action, deliberation and diachronic agency which takes place in a book-length project. 

Veronica Rodriguez Blanco, inaugural holder of the Chair of Moral and Political Philosophy (Jurisprudence) in the School of Law, University of Surrey and member of the Surrey Centre for Law and Philosophy, presents the third paper of Michaelmas Term 2023 "Taking Akrasia Seriously".


This seminar takes place in the Arthur Goodhart Seminar Room, University College, at 5:00pm on Thursday October 26.

The Room is located in Logic Lane and can be accessed from High St. or Merton St. without having to go through the main entrance to Univ College.

This event is open to anyone. No registration needed.

Pre-reading is desirable and strongly suggested, but not a requirement to attend.


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