SOPhiA 2019

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Demystifying Strength of Will
(Philosophy of Mind, English)

Strength of will (SOW), common sense has it, is the ability to resist contrary inclinations ("temptations") in order to achieve certain goals. Philosophers of action (e.g. Mele 1987, 2012; Kenneth & Smith 1997; Sripada 2014) traditionally distinguish between two varieties of SOW: we display diachronic SOW when we take actions prior to experiencing a temptation so as to resist it when it later arises, while we display synchronic SOW when we resist a temptation while experiencing it.

Since only the latter variety is assumed to be effortul and difficult, it has generated a vivid discussion around the following question: how is synchronic SOW possible? Following psychologist Roy Baumeister and colleagues (e.g. Baumeister, Vohs and Tice 2007), Richard Holton (2009) contends that SOW requires the employment of a special faculty which, much like a muscle, runs on limited resources, tires with use and can be strengthened with exercise.

My talk is divided into two parts. In the first part, I draw from recent developments in experimental research (e.g. Job et al. 2015; Klinger et al. 2018), as well as from conceptual considerations (Levy 2011), to show that Holton's "muscle model" is misguided, as it wrongly conflates an affectively loaded experience of struggle with the efforts supposedly at work in SOW.

In the second part, I put forward an alternative and more parsimonious account of SOW that gives pride of place to intentions (Bratman 1987, 2007) and plans (e.g. Gollwitzer & Oettingen 2018). I first argue that the diachronic/synchronic distinction is misbegotten, as SOW requires mental action at both levels: diachronically, in the elaboration of intentions and plans, and synchronically, in the direction of one's attention. I then clarify the sense(s) in which these actions can be deemed effortful.

In closing, I briefly connect this "reductionist" account of SOW with the related, Aristotelian virtue of temperance and its praiseworthiness.

Chair: Louis Longin
Time: 11:20-11:50, 19 September 2019 (Thursday)
Location: SR 1.007

Antoine Rebourg 
(University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland)

My name is Antoine Rebourg and I am 27 years old. I completed two Master's degrees at the University of Geneva: the first (2015) in French Literature, and the second (2017) in Philosophy. My Master's thesis in Philosophy is titled: The Unity of Consciousness: A Self-representational Account. It was supervised by Prof. Fabrice Teroni.

In parallel with my studies, I taught both French literature and introductions to analytic philosophy at a high school level.

Since September 2018, I am a PhD student at the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, on a four-year grant awarded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. My research focuses on strength of will and cognate concepts such as effort. It is supervised by Profs. Olivier Massin (Neuchâtel) and Richard Holton (Cambridge).

In my free time, I enjoy practicing various sports including football, basketball, running and cycling.

Testability and Meaning deco