Is addiction a myth? Donald Davidson’s solution to the problem of akrasia says not*

Nick Heather, Gabriel Segal


Heather, N., & Segal, G. (2015). Is addiction a myth? Donald Davidson’s solution to the problem of akrasia says not*. The International Journal Of Alcohol And Drug Research, 4(1), 77-83. doi:

An obvious problem for the concept of addiction is its portrayal as involving involuntary behavior in the face of the addict’s intentional actions. This has led some writers to call addiction a myth and to describe the self-labeling of persons as addicts as an illustration of causal attribution. We argue that this position is seriously mistaken. We propose that it is possible to construct a meaningful concept of addiction without assuming it involves completely involuntary behavior and to do so within the language of agents engaging in intentional action. One way of doing so arises from the work of Donald Davidson (1917-2003), particularly his essay "How is weakness of the will possible?" (Davidson, 1969). Davidson proposes a solution to the classic philosophical problem (called the problem of akrasia or incontinence) of how it is logically possible for someone to perform an action against her better judgement, and his solution is relevant to an understanding of addiction (i.e., addiction is a class of akratic action). Thus, Davidson’s solution to this philosophical problem is also an answer to the question of how it is possible to understand addiction without assuming it entails completely involuntary behavior. At the same time, Davidson’s conclusion at the end of his essay—that the akrates cannot give a reason for preferring incontinent over continent action—suggests what addicts mean when they say they feel compelled to behave the way they do.


Addiction; Akrasia; Weakness of will; Incontinence; Donald Davidson

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