Medieval Philosophy and Theology

The Fall of Humanity: Weakness of the Will and Moral Responsibility in the Later Augustine

a1 University of Scranton



Akrasia (or, weakness of the will), often defined as “the moral state of agents who act against their better judgment”—a definition first given by Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics, depicts one of the most human of predicaments. 1 We know what we ought to do, and we try. But, for one reason or other, we sometimes choose to act contrary to our better judgment. 2


1 Risto Sarrinen, Weakness of the Will in Medieval Thought: From Augustine to Buridan (New York: E. J. Brill, 1994), p. 1. Similar definitions can be found in, e.g., Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics VII, 1045b10–15; Donald Davidson, “How is Weakness of the Will Possible?” in Moral Concepts, ed. J. Feinberg (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970) p. 93; William Charlton, Weakness of Will (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988), p. 1.

2 Being influenced by Socratic reasoning, some philosophers have argued that, in principle, one cannot freely and intentionally choose to act against one’s better judgment, if (1) one rationally judges what is best for oneself, (2) one prefers to act according to one’s rational judgment, and (3) one is free to make one’s own choice. See, e.g., Davidson, “How is Weakness,” pp. 93–113; and R. M. Hare, Freedom and Reason (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963), pp. 78–79. Despite the logical difficulty, many believe that weakness of the will is a fact.