Deliberative Happiness: Part 2

August 26, 2016

With virtues in mind, an inability to reason properly, to ignore the extremes and remain ignorant to our own deficiencies can result in giving rise to akrasia. Akrasia is exemplified when individuals are prone to act against their better judgement through weakness of will. Habituation and upbringing are stressed to the fullest extent when we consider the akratic man, as he chooses badly through his inability to reason towards eudaimonia and the highest good. Instead he is ruined by pleasure or pain as he only seeks out what is pleasant and good as it appears to be (orexis), not for the overarching good. For example, let us take our example last time of Donald Trump. There is no denying he is greedy, he reasons non-rational to obtain an excessive amount, be it money, fame or publicity. Trump exhibits the opposite of what practical reasoning teaches us through deliberation. Those who act from orexis are tied down by their non-rational desires, with no organisation or structure, opting for apparent goods as their strong desire for the instantaneously pleasurable overrides their capacity to think rationally, as they experience a mental struggle between reason and passion.

Failing to understand phronesis through no experiences of the truly good, the akratic or weak willed person fails to put his wish of a flourishing life first to choose the truly good and not the mere pleasurable. In an akratic state, his desires are not enough for him to feel motivated to act correspondingly with his ethical knowledge. Instead he acts, as Aristotle notes, as if he were mad or drunk. Incapable of utilising practicality, his reasoning becomes corrupted by vile pleasures, which add nothing to his flourishing. As a result, it is through such corruption that the individual becomes victim to choosing the wrong pleasures by means of habit. Choosing wrongly through a lack of experience of what is noble and fine means they have no conception of what is noble. The akratic mind finds it difficult to even comprehend the most base understandings of virtues, finding great difficulty in deciding between rational and non-rational decisions. We begin to see the complications of Aristotle's concept of eudaimonia and the skill of practical reason; for if we have no experienced it, how are we to know choosing what is good is better than choosing what is pleasurable? If we have begun from an early age, to form such bad habits, do we have any real chance of escaping them and in turn being capable of forming more virtues ones in their place?

In stark contrast, individuals who have acquired the skill of phronesis are aware that 'both the reasoning must be true and the desire right if the choice is to be good. Choosing something which is both good in itself and aims at eudaimonia is choosing what is truly good, leading to phronesis. Individuals who act in such a way have a true and reasoned state of capacity, to act with regards to the things which are both good and bad for man. Striving for what is truly good for oneself and the best means to his complete end, the man of phronesis reflects of his decisions.  But what motivates him to act and deviate from the noble and fine is his awareness of guilt and shame. Unlike the akratic man, he is aware that choosing what is solely pleasurable in its nature leads to feelings like shame. He must continue his reflective reasoning as he is aware that such a state of akrasia can be forgotten, but practical wisdom cannot. Non-rational action is acting against ones better judgement, the man who reasons rationally feels wrongdoing, regretting decisions when they're passion based. Such regret following the non-rational has repercussions, synonymous with his guilt and shame of why he shouldn't act in the same way again. Through acting with non-rational motives he becomes aware he is only choosing as a means to an end rather than reflectively considering all that is actually good. When the individual accomplishes practical reason, they are no longer afraid of punishment, but the shame which arises from lack to deliberation in their decision.

Through shame, duty naturally emerges for men are 'responsible for themselves, for being unjust or self-indulgent', their ability to make choices means individuals are morally obliged to recognise what is noble and pleasurable intrinsically from the habits which they have formed. Constant structuring and ordering of this part of the soul, as well as training to correct passional response are necessary to achieve practical reasoning. Therefore it is through habituation that an individual is able to comprehend the noble, diverting him from a desire to seek out pleasure. He is lead following this comprehension of what is truly good to form baseness which he can flourish from as he becomes acquainted with an aspiration to seek out good and avoid shame at all costs.

However, is this aspiration possible for someone who has not yet established a baseness of ethical action? How can the man who has no conception of core and base right action consciously avoid the emotional aftershock of choosing wrongly if he still associates bad action with being in trouble instead of shame and feelings of guilt and remorse? As a result, before he can aspire to avoid shame his construed perception of goodness and choice must be corrected. With his views embedded in his action, the difficulty of rectifying the agent's understanding cannot be stressed enough. Is this a difficult task, or an impossible one?

We shall consider this in further detail in the forthcoming weeks. Adding to this distorted view of what is right and wrong, next week we shall dive into what is known as the egoistic problem. 


Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics, Edited by Roger Crisp, (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2000)
Burnyeat, M. F: Aristotle on Learning to be Good in Essays on Aristotle's Ethics, Edited by Amelie Rorty, (University of California Press, Los Angeles, California, 1980)
Nussbaum, Martha: The Fragility of Goodness, (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1986)
Ross, David: The Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2013)
Williams, Bernard: Justice as Virtue in Moral Luck (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1981)

You Might Also Like


recent posts