Akrasia

Tuesday

0606  |  I went to sleep a bit early last night, and so I’m getting an early start on my day’s studies today.

It’s been a couple days, but I have barely made any progress in Scanlon’s book, in terms of page count — only about four pages or so, in the course of two or three days! All day yesterday, I’ve been obsessing over something he said about akrasia, and I couldn’t really go on until I worked it out. This is likely why I read so slow. I end up writing a short book myself in between the pages that I read. But it’s the only way that I know how, if I am to digest these things properly. And if I don’t digest things as well as I should, what is the point of reading anything?

♦ Continuing a study of Scanlon’s book, What We Owe To Each Other

On page 36, Scanlon seems to say that he thinks that “akratic belief” is possible. He writes:

“Even if it is true that in order to believe something one must take there to be a reason for thinking it true (so there can be no such thing as believing something simply because one would like it to be true), this would not rule out “akratic belief.” For example, in the case of the false friend, mentioned above, there is something that I take to be a reason for believing in his genuineness, namely his appearance of genuineness. Given all that I know about him, of course, I know that this is not a good reason in this case, but it can serve as my reason nonetheless. In this respect the situation is quite parallel to some examples of akratic action: even though I accept the judgment that the pleasure of going for a walk is not a good reason for missing my appointment, I act on it nonetheless.” (p.36)

Furthermore, Scanlon views akrasia as a malfunction of rational capacities, rather than an overpowering of rationality by the force of desire. On page 40, he writes about akrasia in action: “Akratic actions (and irrational thoughts) are cases in which a person’s rational capacities have malfunctioned, not cases in which these capacities are overmastered by something else, called desire.”

And so Scanlon’s definition of akrasia seems to be this: having false beliefs, but due to being overpowered by the force of appearances (ie, the belief is not based on truth).

So now, if I try to make a summary of Scanlon’s view of akratic beliefs using Eichmann as an example (because he is a very interesting example after all, thanks to Hannah Arendt), the following will be true on Scanlon’s view:
(a) Eichmann does have self-knowledge. (ie, Eichmann accepted some evidence that shows his beliefs about himself is/was false)
(b) But Eichmann also held false-beliefs, presumably based on appearances. (ie, based on his “elatedness” as reported by Arendt, he believed himself to be “not-guilty” of many of the charges, and in fact, he likely thought himself to be admirable)
(c) Eichmann’s false-beliefs goes against his self-knowledge; Eichmann chose to go with his false-beliefs over his self-knowledge. (eg, though he had accepted some evidence that shows his beliefs about himself is/was false, he still had moments of “elation”)
(d) Hence, Eichmann’s self-knowledge was overpowered by his false-beliefs (false-beliefs which he held due to the force of appearances). This event is called akrasia [in terms of beliefs], and basically results in his Stoically-induced feelings of “elatedness.”

Now, on my view, the Socratic view, there can be no such thing as akrasia; it’s not even possible. Usually, my argument against the possibility of akrasia goes like this:
(p1) The recipe for “knowledge” goes like this: JTB=K — ie, justified true belief is what “knowledge” is.*
(p2) It is not considered “knowledge” when it is based on actually-false beliefs. (Perhaps the technical term that Harry Frankfurt might use to name the “it” in this context is, “bullsh-it” — though, to be fair, I have not actually read his book, On Bullshit. Well, he seems to be the self-acclaimed expert on that matter.)
(p3) Akrasia is the overpowering of the intellect by the appetite. (NB: akrasia is a term originally used for actions, not propositions. But some think that “believing” is an action, because it implies a choice, and choosing is an act. But if “believing” is an act because it is a kind of “choosing” or “willing”, then it isn’t it a kind of “melieving“?)
(p4) Since actually-false beliefs are not considered to be knowledge proper, it simply is not akrasia when actually-false beliefs are overpowered by the appetites. It is only akrasia when actually-true beliefs are overpowered by the appetites. Furthermore, it is also not akrasia when potentially-true beliefs (ie, the actually-false ones) are overpowered by the appetites.

*There’s some complications as to what “justification” and “true” and “belief” means exactly. Mostly, the squabbling happens with the word “justified.” But here, I am now going to assert a tentative position on what “justified true belief” means (based largely on my “intuition”) — simply to prevent stupidity arising from equivocations on the one hand, but also to form an unchangeable position (an arche of sorts) against which future arguments can either challenge or build upon — and it is this: to start, “justified” implies “actuality” and is supervenient upon consciousness and language, and typically when something is “justified” it just means that there is a logical account or explanation for it; “true” is a property that is attributed to whatever is in touch with the “nameless-reality” that Socrates/Plato/Parmenides would call the “no-thing”; and finally, “belief” is a proposition that a person holds which can be assessed as being either true or false.

In summary: a “justified-true-belief” is a proposition that relates to reality insofar as the “no-thing” can be accessible by the Mind/consciousness. This is what “knowledge” is — or, at least, what I think that it’s supposed to be. I’ll also call these “actually-true beliefs” since the philosophical use of the word “actually” (in English) is often the word used to speak of the “speakable mental stuff” versus the “unspeakable material stuff” (ie, the Chaos), and this is relevant. But I’ll use that term because actuality also suggests a particular moment along a timeline, whereas potentiality suggests all of the points along a timeline. Furthermore, I want to differentiate between the “actually-true beliefs” (ie, what one “believes”) from the “potentially-true beliefs” (ie, what one “meleives“), with the distinction that the former can rightly be called “knowledge” while the latter cannot (perhaps, the latter can be called “faith” or even “trust”).

Question: Well, can whatever Eichmann had at line (a) be rightly called [self] “knowledge” in the first place? It seems debatable. If what Eichmann possessed were not knowledge proper, then it can’t be a true case of akrasia. For it might turn out to be the case that what most people mistakenly believe to be what Eichmann had at line (a), was not knowledge but were actually false-beliefs with an account. And that what Eichmann had at line (b) were not false-beliefs, but were actually true-beliefs — presumably with some sort of account that perhaps only he (and some rare few others?) possessed.

But Scanlon seems to think that akrasia is possible. It’s evident that he thinks so, since he gives an example in which the power of appearances overpowers his what he calls “knowledge.” And I, being the good Socratist, must argue for the opposite position: the impossibility of akrasia…

So now, if knowledge is an actually-true belief with an account, as I say it is, then I must ask: What is it for something to be actual? And, what (or who) determines that it is actual? And, how is this determined?

My prima facie hypothesis is to think that actuality is entrenched in the aspect of justifiability, as I had said earlier. This hypothesis is based on my prima facie understanding of Parmenides’ Poem. I hypothesize that it is up to the individual mind to judge what is actually-true and what is actually-false. And here, the situation is a bit like the way it is with Euthyphro’s evolved gods: whatever is actual is so in virtue of the mind judging it to be so (but whether the actuality is true or not is another matter, and is quite the opposite of the situation with Euthyphro’s evolved gods).

But knowledge — as I had said — requires actually-true beliefs, not merely potentially-true ones, and obviously not actually-false beliefs. Though, I think it must be said that all actually-true beliefs are always potentially-true beliefs in some sense (but not the other way around).

So can it be said that what Eichmann possessed at line (a) was knowledge, or not? It seems to be the case that on one interpretation of the case of Eichmann (the interpretation explicated above), what Eichmann possessed at line (a) was not self-knowledge because the relevant proposition at line (a) was something held to be true by other people, but not by Eichmann himself. Since, the account which other people believed to be true about Eichmann’s involvement in the mass-murder of Jews may have been extensionally true for Eichmann (which he did admit to), but Eichmann himself didn’t quite accept the accusation wholesale (as Arendt noted, and shared with us in her report). [As clever as Socrates, that one…]

And so, [Socratic] self-knowledge required the official stamp of final approval of Eichmann himself — something which the potentially-true beliefs at line (a) did not in fact have. And if the beliefs weren’t actually-true for Eichmann, then whatever the people thought about Eichmann can’t be said to be knowledge that Eichmann had. And if whatever the people thought about Eichmann was overpowered by Eichmann’s own beliefs about himself, then such a thing can’t be said to be a case of akrasia.

On the other hand (and on another interpretation of the case of Eichmann), if Eichmann’s actual inferiority and smallness were overpowered by means of his internalization of accounts given by others which seemed to report of his superior courage and greatness, and if this internalization is what produced his moments of “elation,” then his “self-esteem” based on the accounts of others would count as a case of akrasia. But again, on my [Socratic] view, akrasia is not possible — at least, not in a Socratic world, anyways! But if akrasia did occur in Eichmann, then sadly, Eichmann did not live in a Socratic world; instead, he lived in an Aristotelian world (since, akrasia is indeed possible there). [And here, at this juncture, I sense that there is a lot to be said about the internalization of the collective-consciousness. (Refer to the journal entry, “Reason” for June, 11. 2017) Though, perhaps I’ve already said a lot on that a few days ago when I was philosophizing about the Kantian categorical imperative.]

What do I think? I’m not quite sure. But I do know that I will likely always argue for the Socratic position, wherever it will take me…

Well, perhaps that is how they — the oi-polloi — managed to kill Eichmann (just as they killed Socrates) without feeling guilty about it. But I should stop here, and take a break and get something to eat (and get my sanity back). I’ve been working on this for over five hours straight this morning.

I must add Donald Davidson’s Essays on Actions and Events to my list of books to read…

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