Jessica Moss uses the paper Akrasia and Perceptual illusion to explain Aristotle’s view of Akrasia (Weakness of Will). She uses material across Aristotle’s works: de Anima, de Divinatione per Somnum, de Memoria, de Motu Animalium, de Insomniis, Eudemian Ethics, Nicomachean Ethics, Physics, and Rhetoric and as a result she is able to compile a strong assessment of what Aristotle means when he refers to Akrasia. I, however, will write primarily about her argument in section 4, in which she focuses primarily on what Aristotle says in Nicomachean Ethics Chapter VII Section 3 given that it is the only work with which I am familiar.
Moss begins section 4 by quoting Socrates belief that an individual cannot knowingly act in a manner that runs contrary to their own interests. However, Aristotle breaks the question down and makes several distinctions about what is meant by “Knowing.” An example is made that “one may act against the dictates of knowledge one is not presently exercising.” (Moss 140) and Moss goes on to use an example of a person not eating a morsel of dry food, despite it being good for them to do so. However through this distinction, Moss explains, is not Akrasia because there is no inner struggle about what to do. The agent simply lacks the knowledge that the eating the morsel is actually in their best interest.
Next, Moss explains that an individual that is Mad, drunk, or asleep can be akratic because they are subject to a pathos that alters their ability to accurately use their knowledge. The struggle comes from the fact that, if their faculties were working properly, they would have the knowledge of what is right and wrong, and would, assuming all other conditions were “right” the agent would make the choice that works most heavily in their favor. But as Moss says, “While under the influence the pathos they are literally unable to exercise their knowledge.” (Moss 141) I would argue, then that despite being under the influence of the pathos, that would make the action not applicable to akrasia based on the fact that an akratic action (according to statements made earlier in the section) require one to have an inner struggle. The influence of the pathos on decision making, if it renders the agent completely unable to reason logically against an action, would suggest that the will is not so much weak, as it is ignorant.
An action can also be a result of akrasia if it comes from an agent that speaks knowledge on a basis that they cannot comprehend. I agree with this point that Moss makes because being able to ignorantly speak knowledge is a symptom of a weak will insofar as the agent has not willed themselves to gain the appropriate knowledge so as to become familiar with that which they speak. Subjecting oneself to a state of not truly knowing what one is saying, provides enough evidence to proclaim an agent akratic. For if they had a strong will, they would be certain of their knowledge and not speak outside of their means intellectually. Moss’s argument differs from mine in that she argues that one’s ignorance in this only results from akrasia if it stems from a “strong bodily pathos” (Moss 142) However, I maintain the belief that if a pathos causes akrasia, it is not truly akratic. For akrasia, by my understanding prevents one from being at conflict with oneself, which was the basis for denying that a person that lacks knowledge of what is best will not do what is best from akrasia.
I find Moss’s next argument to be the most appealing, for in her explanation, the inner struggle is apparent, and there seems to be no pathos to cause the agent to remain ignorant to their best interests. “But there is something else that ‘happens to be present’ in her, and appetite, and as we find out a few lines below, ‘the appetite is opposed […] to the correct logos’” (Moss 143) According to this line of argument, the appetite is opposed to the (correct) logos, which causes an inner struggle outside the presence of a pathos. When one’s appetite is contradictory to one’s correct logos, they find themselves deciding between what will better serve them, and what will better serve their appetite. By choosing to follow one’s appetite, they make a decision based on their motivational state, which is at odds (in this example) with their cognitive state. Moss explains that these states are actually pairs of states in that they are rational as well as motivational or cognitive. By making the point that each of the states are in fact rational as well, Moss makes it clear that the agent knows, at a cognitive level, that the decision they are making is either better for them or worse.
I do confess that as I review this chapter that perhaps I misunderstand what pathos actually is, and in doing so I would misunderstand the arguments being made. However, in in my acknowledgement of this, I find it difficult to come to terms with the fact that there are cases in which one’s ignorance still causes a conflict within themselves. According to my intuition conflict requires a disagreement which is prevented by the pathos in the arguments made by Moss.