Incontinence and addiction. Philosophical models in the interpretation of empirical data

Józef Bremer


Addictions, which are construed in some theories as involving involuntary pathological behaviour on the part of the addict, but in others as involving their voluntary acting, constitute a quite particular set of cases. The lack of exactitude in respect of how they have been construed has led some psychologists to claim that addiction is a myth, while others have treated the addicted person as operating in a typically compulsive manner. In the present article, I point to the possibility of building a philosophical model of addiction that does not presuppose the idea that it involves completely involuntary, compulsive acting. With this aim in mind, I briefly consider the issue of weakness of the will as it has figured in the history of philosophy. Then I refer to the contemporary philosophical model of incontinence proposed by Donald Davidson, which shows on the one hand the dependency relation between self-control and incontinence, and on the other hand that between the operational logic of the addict and their irrationality. This model lends itself in turn to the interpretation of data acquired from empirical research into addiction – especially research into cases of spontaneous remission and of those who represent their own addiction in divergent ways when interviewed by two different interviewers.


akrasia; intentional actions; irrationality; incontinence; compulsion; practical reasoning; self-control; conditional and unconditional judgements; addiction

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