Luch Lecture Annemarie Kalis (12-13)

Location: Stijlkamer (0.06), JKH13

Title: ‘Self-control as a normative disposition'

Abstract: In this paper I discuss two apparent truisms about self-control that have recently been questioned: the idea that exercises of self-control are active interventions by an agent, and the idea that self-control is inherently good. Both truisms have come under threat because self-control is increasingly understood as a mental mechanism, and mechanisms cannot possibly be inherently good or active in the required sense. However, it is not evident that self-control should be understood as a mechanism, and this observation opens the theoretical possibility to argue the other way around: if we have independent reason to understand self-control as inherently good and active, the conclusion might have to be that self-control cannot be a mechanism. In the second half of the paper I will argue that Aristotle’s original analysis of self-control as a normative disposition actually offers grounds for holding onto both truisms: for Aristotle, the connections between self-control and goodness / activity are conceptual, not empirical. By showing how these conceptual connections still form the basis of many contemporary ways of thinking about self-control, I offer the suggestion that exercises of self-control might, in fact, be active interventions that are inherently good.

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