Journal Entry – Wed Nov 25

Well … After 92 days in suspension, I am officially back in good standing with PMI until August 23, 2023. That leaves me 2 years 8 months 29 days or 32 months 29 days, or 143 weeks, or 1,001 days, or 24,024 hours or 1,441,440 minutes, or 86,486,400 seconds (and counting) until renewal.

With all of that said, August 23, 2023 is still going to sneak up on me. On August 1, I will say, “Oh shit! I only have 3 weeks 1 day, or 22 days, or 528 hours, or 31,680 minutes, or 1,900,800 seconds to get 60 PDUs. Damn it! WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME!!!!!!!!!!” Then I am going to frantically play catch-up, stressing myself out along the way. Oh Sam! smh.

I feel exhausted; maybe I consumed too many different things today. I read about:

  •  Lockheed Martin’s Skunking (I’m not sure yet how to apply that to dev work)
  • Accurately capturing value proposition on projects
  • Calculating benefits as an outcome of project implementations
  • Applying design thinking to organizational processes/services
  • Roadmap planning

Whenever I don’t have projects on the go, I focus on my enterprise PMO implementation and general process improvements.

Lecture 17 – Weakness of Will or Why I eat gummy bears

Suffering from weakness of will isn’t the same as suffering from sin or vice, but it certainly is a failure that keeps us from doing what we think, or sometimes know, is best. The ancient Greek word meaning “lack of self-restraint” is akrasia. According to Aristotle, someone who is akratic goes against their better judgment due to some kind of feeling or desire. He notes that there are really two kinds of akratic people:

  1. Those who act impetuously act directly from their feelings without deliberating about what they should do. 
  2. Those who act from weakness experience an internal conflict as they deliberate about what they should do. People who act like this suffer from weakness of will.

Aristotle suggests that weakness of will is a cognitive failure. In the moment of deliberation, the akratic person sort of knows they shouldn’t do something, but they don’t fully know it. In this way of reading Aristotle, weakness of will is less about going against our better judgment and more a point of allowing desire to ruin our decisions. Weakness of will is a matter of having our better judgment temporarily derailed.

11th Century neo-Confucian philosopher Cheng Yi thinks weakness of will is just a failure of knowledge. For him, there are two kinds of knowledge:

  1. Genuine knowledge: This is when your thoughts match your deeds. If you know something is wrong and still do it, you do not have genuine knowledge. If you did, then you definitely would not do the wrong thing.
  2. Common knowledge: This is superficial knowledge, where you really do not have a solid understanding of something (I think).

According to Donald Davidson, (you guessed it, another philosopher with another view 🙂 ) Aristotle gives us a picture of weakness of will that emphasizes a struggle between two contestants: reason and desire. Weakness of will arises when reason is overpowered by desire. Davidson thinks this is inaccurate. His way of explaining weakness of will emphasizes what it means to say that someone has made an “all-things-considered” judgment.

“All-things-considered” judgments are conditional rather than categorical. A conditional judgment depends on and is relative to a set of considerations. Conditional judgments take the form of something like this: Relative to these particular considerations, this, at least at first blush, is better than that. Conditional judgments differ from categorical judgments, which simply affirm that one thing is best, without qualification.

Conditional judgments give us prima facie (first impression) judgments that depend on comparative considerations. For example, because bacon is delicious, Sarah might judge that eating bacon is prima facie better than eating salad. Or, because salad is healthy, Sarah might judge that salad is prima facie better than bacon. With this in mind, Davidson argues that Sarah suffers from weakness of will when she eats some bacon only if:

  • She eats that bacon intentionally.
  • She believes she could choose to eat a salad instead.
  • She has a reason to eat bacon.
    • She eats the bacon for this reason, even though she has other considerations on why eating the salad would be better than eating the bacon.

When Sarah considers everything, she decides that eating bacon is a bad idea and eating salad is best. However, when she thinks ONLY of the bacon’s deliciousness, she has a reason to eat it. Though she has a reason to eat the bacon (deliciousness), her “all-things-considered” judgment says she shouldn’t eat it. So … she doesn’t really have an adequate reason to eat the bacon, even by her own thinking. However, she never fully commits to the view that the bacon is not the sort of thing she should eat. So, Davidson argues, she never actually contradicts herself.

For Davidson, this is how weakness of will is possible. There’s no contradiction in choosing against our better judgment. We simply go against our better judgment, all the while having a reason to do so (the bacon’s deliciousness in this case). Davidson doesn’t require that we see weakness of will as a battle between reason and desire; instead, it’s a matter of weighing reasons. Those who suffer from weakness of will are actually irrational in the sense that we go against our better judgment, even if we don’t strictly contradict ourselves.

The philosopher Neil Levy offers a slightly different perspective on weakness of will. As he sees it, weakness of will isn’t a distinctive failure. Instead, he thinks it’s just a special case of a broader phenomenon: ego depletion. Ego depletion results from the depletion of certain mental resources associated with cognitive processes like logical reasoning and self-control.

Understanding the Dark Side of Human Nature

In a 1999 article, the philosopher Richard Holton argues that weakness of will isn’t about acting against our better judgment. Rather, it’s about our failure to follow through on our intentions. Holton’s revisionist view of weakness of will presents a pair of alterations to the subject. The first change is that weakness of will is no longer about the contradiction between our better judgment and what we actually do. Now it’s about a contradiction between what we intend to do and what we actually do.

The second change is that weakness of will is no longer about a conflict with our present judgments. This is because now we can exhibit weakness of will by giving up on plans we made in the past. Holton points out that one crucial factor is whether giving up on our previous plans is reasonable or not. For instance, if a person plans to go to a party but decides not to attend for good reasons, the person is not suffering from weakness of will.

Holton also points out that some of our plans for the future are more important than others. For example, we make resolutions to ensure we do something we might not feel like later. Holton’s ideas help explain why some people are better at sticking to their resolutions than others and why some people suffer more or less from weakness of will. Even if we’re all more or less reasonable, we might not all have the same willpower.

In conclusion, in The Way of the Bodhisattva, the great Buddhist philosopher Shantideva notes that perhaps just by luck, he has found himself in a good position. Things are going well, and he’s aware of that fact. However, he worries that he might not stay on that path. He might stray for reasons that he’s not entirely sure of. As he puts it, his mind might well end up being reduced to nothing, as though he were bewitched by spells. In that case, he won’t know the source of what dwells within him, driving him to fall back into old habits.

However, Shantideva has a suggestion. The important factor is being able to pay attention to the right things at the right time. He knows people can focus and control themselves when things really matter to them. The trick is conscientiousness or vigilance – that is, paying attention to what matters at all times, as a skillful habit. For Shantideva, conscientiousness helps us keep our resolutions because it’s a virtue that keeps what’s important in view even when we’re flooded with emotion, depleted, tempted, and tired.

(Source: The Great Courses – Understanding the Dark Side of Human Nature)

I think weakness of will is about going against our better judgement, assuming we have the knowledge to judge what is better in the first place.

As you know, sometimes I just want to throw this course in the garbage, but I can’t cause it’s digital – the satisfaction from physically throwing it out doesn’t exist. I only have six more lectures, so I’m almost done. In reflecting, I think I forgot what philosophy is all about, I shouldn’t be looking for concrete answers and even thought I complain about this damn course, I still enjoy the topic.

Maybe tomorrow I will tell you about Lecture 18 – Luck and the Limits of Blame. BTW – I’m still substance free 🙂

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