What is Self-control?

The appetites must be made subject to the control of reason, and not allowed to run ahead of it or to lag behind because of indolence or listlessness. Everyone should enjoy a quiet soul and be free from every type of passion. Then will strength of character and self control shine through in all their brilliance. But when appetites are unleashed to run wild, either by desire or aversion, and are not reigned in by reason, they exceed all restraint and measure. They throw off obedience and leave it behind. They refuse to obey the rule of reason to which they ought to be subject by the law of nature. Both the mind and the body can be well put in disarray by the appetites.

- Cicero, De Officiis, I, 29

Podcast of the Day

Neurophilosopher Pat Churchland discusses the nature of self-control and the light that neuroscience can throw on its mechanisms in conversation with Nigel Warburton. 

Listen to Pat Churchland on Self Control

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Walter Mischel had a terrible time quitting smoking. He had started young, and, even as his acumen and self-knowledge grew, he just couldn’t stop... Mischel’s story isn’t surprising—nicotine is addictive, and quitting is difficult—except for one thing: Mischel is the creator of the marshmallow test, one of the most famous experiments in the history of psychology, which is often cited as evidence of the importance of self-control. In the original test...

Continue reading Maria Konnikova's article: The Struggles of a Psychologist Studying Self-control

Further Reading

...Joseph did f rather than e, even though he was convinced that e was the better thing to do all things considered. Here, by contrast, we have a genuinely puzzling case, one we cannot make sense of in the same way. Why would Joseph do f when he assessed e as the superior course of action all things considered? Joseph's choice sounds so inexplicable that we might even query whether the case has been accurately described....

Joseph, then, appears to have acted, freely and intentionally, contrary to his better judgment. And this is precisely the phenomenon the philosophical tradition calls “weakness of will.” Philosophers have been perplexed by or dubious about such action for a very long time. Indeed, Plato's Socrates famously denied its possibility in the Protagoras. “No one,” he declared, “who either knows or believes that there is another possible course of action, better than the one he is following, will ever continue on his present course” (Protagoras 358b-c). And philosophers have been wrestling with the issue ever since. It is not surprising that weakness of will has such a long and distinguished pedigree as a topic of philosophical discussion: it is both an intrinsically interesting phenomenon and a topic rich in implications for our broader theories of action, practical reasoning, rationality, evaluative judgment, and the interrelations among these....

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Weakness of Will by Sarah Stroud

Related Topics

Hedonism | Hypocrisy | Human Nature | Moral Psychology


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