To cure his weakness of will, John bought a neural implant that forced him to act on his judgements.

As the chip zapped him into confessing his many crimes, John realised he’d needed an implant that forced him to do what he wanted, not what he had reason to do.

                                                      

Weakness of will, also known as akrasia, is usually characterised as failing to act in accordance with what one judges best (or perhaps acting contrary to that judgement).  You might for instance judge that you have reason to get up early in the morning for some bracing exercise but when the time arrives find yourself unable to bring yourself to act on that judgement; in the warmth of your bed you find yourself too weak to will yourself from under the covers and onto your feet. In these moments we seem to lose some control over ourselves.

What if you could have a chip installed in your brain that would zap your motor cortex to force you into carrying out all the actions you judged you had most reason to perform? Judge you have reason to take that run, you’ll find yourself putting on your running shoes and heading for the door; judge you have more reason to abstain from that chocolate gateau, and you’ll find yourself waving the desserts menu away. Would you be more in control of yourself or less?

Your actions would always be guided by your recognising reasons to do this or that, but would they be appropriately guided by you? From John’s case it looks like something has gone wrong: He doesn’t want to tell his wife about his numerous infidelities, but he thinks he has more reason to do so than not. Even though his action is caused by his recognition of the reasons he has for acting, it doesn’t really seem like he is acting. John isn’t doing what he wills, just what he thinks he ought to do.

What’s the motto here? Self-control involves more than just doing what you judge. Your actions need to be appropriately connected to your reasons via your guiding those actions. Just what the right kind of link between reason and action is to ensure that you have control is pretty illusive.

Just some thoughts on a thought experiment from a paper of mine I’ve been working on of late…

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