, Volume 191, Issue 16, pp 3935–3954 | Cite as

Non-psychological weakness of will: self-control, stereotypes, and consequences

  • Mathieu Doucet
  • John Turri


Prior work on weakness of will has assumed that it is a thoroughly psychological phenomenon. At least, it has assumed that ordinary attributions of weakness of will are purely psychological attributions, keyed to the violation of practical commitments by the weak-willed agent. Debate has recently focused on which sort of practical commitment, intention or normative judgment, is more central to the ordinary concept of weakness of will. We report five experiments that significantly advance our understanding of weakness of will attributions by showing that the ordinary concept of weakness of will is less thoroughly psychological than the philosophical debate has assumed. We begin by showing that a sizable minority of people attribute weakness of will even in the absence of a violated commitment (Experiment 1). We then show that weakness of will attributions are sensitive to two important non-psychological factors. First, for actions stereotypically associated with weakness of will, the absence of certain commitments often triggers weakness of will attributions (Experiments 2–4). Second, the quality of an action’s outcome affects the extent to which an agent is viewed as weak-willed: actions with bad consequences are more likely to be viewed as weak-willed (Experiment 5). Our most important finding is that the ordinary concept of weakness of will is sensitive to two non-psychological factors and is thus much broader than philosophers have thus far imagined. We conclude by suggesting a two-tier model that unites our findings with traditional philosophical theorizing about weakness of will.


Weakness of will Akrasia Self-control Resolution Intention Commitment violation experimental philosophy Folk psychology 



For helpful discussion and feedback, we thank Wesley Buckwalter, Joshua Knobe, Alfred Mele, Josh May, James Beebe, Ryan Ehrlich, Richard Forbes, Natalie Galloway, Julia Hill, Charles Millar, Jay Solanski, Ayomide Yomi-Odedeyi, Angelo Turri, Christine Tappolet, the audience at the 2014 Canadian Philosophical Association meetings at Brock University, and the anonymous referees at Synthese. This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and an Early Researcher Award from the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of WaterlooWaterlooCanada

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